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Subway Cinema’s New York Asian Film Festival

Rarely does a film festival stress popular and commercially successful movies, dispenses with intellectual and high brow aspiration, disregards art house films, and provides little or no amenities to journalist and media professionals. Yet the 4th annual New York Asian Film Festival presented thirty new Asian feature films not screened before in New York City in two venues, the venerable Anthology Film Archives and the uptown Imaginasian Theatre, In spite of the lack of festival accoutrements, like receptions with free food and drinks, the two week event that closed on July 2nd, played in sold-out houses for enthusiastic crowds, including a large components of Asian-Americans (and kids for the Godzilla screening). Anyone yearning for Hong Kong’s martial arts and crime action movies, Asian horror films, orientation of Asian genre films, or cinematic excesses, found this craving met in the savvy selection of films from China, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Korea, Japan, Thailand, and India.

Each screening was introduced by witty commentaries mocking the quality of films selected and by a rather popular raffle of cases of beer, t-shirts, DVDs, and other sponsored items. Themes and concerns of the films ranged widely. The selection included movies about the traffic cops’ daily life and mini dramas (CRAZY N’THE CITY, James Yuen, Hong Kong, 2005) and the fast moving action thriller depicting murders on Christmas eve (ONE NIGHT IN MONGKOK, Derek Yee, Hong Kong, 2004.) Japanese reality presentations with surreal overtones ranged from an comedy with seemingly unconnected and irrational but appealing story lines (SURVIVE STYLE 5+, Gen Sekiguchji, 2004) to Katsuhito Ishi’s 2004 film THE TASTE OF TEA, a production portraying with magic realism the principal characters of a Japanese family in the country side. The UNIVERSITY OF LAUGHS (Maoru Hoshi, Japan. 2004) a superbly acted two man film offers a satire of Japanese efforts in 1940 to legislate patriotisms through censorship, a satire applicable to the current US scene. Set in an urban slum, the Philippine GAGAMBOY by Erik Matti qualifies as the 2004 Asian ultra low cost response to SPIDERMAN with special effects seemingly held together by scotch tape. GODZIILLA FINAL WARS, directed in 2005 by Ryuhei Kitamura celebrated Godzilla’s 50th birthday and is the final film of the 28 Godzilla films released since 1955 by Toho. Godzilla films have their cult following, thus GODZILLA FINAL WARS played for a packed house of Godzilla fans waiving their toy godzillas. Bollywood’s 2005 MY BROTHER NIKHEL by Onir drew less of a crowd. It had been shown before at New York’s Asia Society in a program of Indian features incorporating the HIV/AIDS theme. As the title of the 2004 film THREE …. EXTREMES reveals, three established directors from Hong Kong, Korea and Japan produced highly innovative and well crafted versions of extreme horror tales. Takeshi Mike’s BOX shows in superb imagery the suffocation of a now grown up female contortionist by the handler who was in charge of her when, as a child, she burned her twin sister and tried to kill him in a fit of jealousy. In CUT by Park Chan-Wook we follow a horror film director held hostage by an extra who is forced to decide between killing a child and watching his wife, a pianist, having her fingers shopped off. The most original and controversial segment undoubtedly is DUMPLING by Fruit Chan. This film is a savage and very disturbing commentary about our quest for perpetual youth, achieved in this tale but eating dumplings made of aborted human fetuses.

The New York Asian Film Festival is a winner providing a superb collection of films and an enlightening introduction to current Asian cinema in an informal audience driven setting. Hopefully its success, as reflected in adding the uptown venue on Manhattan’s fashionable East Side will not result in obliterating its popular and independent roots.

Claus Mueller, New York Correspondent


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