The Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) unveiled its full lineup of films for the acclaimed 2016 Dragons & Tigers film series. Part of VIFF’s Gateway programming stream, which invites festival-goers to journey into the compelling cinematic worlds envisioned by some of East Asia’s most adventurous artists, Dragons & Tigers represents one of the world’s largest collections of East Asian films exhibited outside of Asia.
The full lineup of 25 features and one mid-length/animated shorts package includes:
After the Storm
(DIR. KORE-EDA HIROKAZU, JAPAN)
Japanese master Kore-eda Hirokazu (Like Father, Like Son) returns with this bittersweet take on life’s rewards and disappointments. A failed writer and full-fledged gambling addict (Hiroshi Abe) may lose partial custody of his beloved son due to unpaid child support. As this fractured family tries to find peace, the film proves smart, funny, beautiful and profoundly moving—nothing less than what we’d expect from Kore-eda. “[An] achingly beautiful ode to the quiet complexities of family life.” — Telegraph
(DIR. PARK HONGMIN, SOUTH KOREA)
After witnessing and photographing the murder of a woman by masked men, Soomin wakes naked and amnesiac in a night alley near his studio. What has happened to him, to the dead woman and to the killers? Park’s follow-up to A Fish is a gripping mystery thriller in the vein of Christopher Nolan’s Memento: a man apparently trapped in a nightmare struggles to find the exit from the maze.
(DIR. E J-YONG, SOUTH KOREA)
The lady of this film’s title (played by veteran Youn Yuhjung) is an elderly prostitute who plies her trade in a city park. Don’t be too shocked: this is a real phenomenon in South Korea and this film treats its subject with compassion, empathy and a dose of bawdy humour. “A tour de force from the grand dame of Korean cinema… The Bacchus Lady is certainly audacious, and a powerful reminder of how lives could or would be lived once the youthful vigor is gone.” — Hollywood Reporter
(DIR. JIA ZHANGKE/STANLEY KWAN/NAKATA HIDEO/ALEC SU, HONG KONG/CHINA)
The Hong Kong IFF’s annual project to commission shorts from leading Asian directors yields its richest harvest yet. Nakata Hideo has an old lady reliving a lost love, Stanley Kwan (with the late Anita Mui in mind) looks at a diva in trouble, and Jia Zhangke delivers the show-stopper with a funny/sad tale of out-of-work miners looking for jobs in the gangster and showbiz industries.
By the Time It Gets Dark
(DIR. ANOCHA SUWICHAKORNPONG, THAILAND)
Bangkok’s 1976 Thammasat University massacre is the starting point for Anocha Suwichakornpong’s ethereal collage, which amalgamates multiple shifts in genre, tone and visual style while jumping between the lives of a filmmaker, an underemployed woman constantly switching jobs and a pop star. “Moving from country roads to expressways, and through photographs, films, and dreams, its many narratives converge into an Odyssean reflection on the effects of a single moment on the lives of many…” — Film Comment
A Copy of My Mind
(DIR. JOKO ANWAR, INDONESIA/SOUTH KOREA)
Before it turns into a noir-ish thriller with a strong political edge, Joko Anwar’s devastating new movie looks like a low-life love story: a subtitler of pirated DVDs meets a young beautician and they find plenty of ways to amuse themselves in his room. But then the girl impulsively steals an unlabelled data-disc and all hell starts to break loose. Sharper (and sexier!) than a tabloid headline.
(DIR. YANG CHAO, CHINA)
Poetic, enigmatic, sublime and achingly beautiful: Yang Chao’s long-awaited masterpiece sets a new standard for Chinese cinema. Signed up for a mysterious boat journey up the Yangtze River, a sailor finds a book of poetry, inspiring visions of a beautiful woman (or is it several women?) in each of the riverside ports he traverses. As their intimacy intensifies, their passion permeates through the film’s poetic texts and classical landscapes. Sensuality made visible: a triumph of cinema art.
(DIR. CHUNG MONG-HONG, TAIWAN)
The sensational, long-awaited return to the silver screen of iconic Hong Kong comedy legend Michael Hui marks this film as a major cinematic event. This is a road movie, a buddy movie, a gangster adventure and a black comedy rolled into one: Hui plays a charismatically garrulous and profane cab driver who picks up a stranger with a mysterious package. Over the course of 24 hours, they become embroiled in a series of frequently hilarious, sometimes bizarre, sometimes terrifying adventures…
(KÔJI FUKADA, JAPAN/FRANCE)
You’ve never seen a domestic drama like this. Toshio (Kanji Furutachi) and his family are living a dull, happy existence when a man from the past arrives at their doorstep. Yasaka (Tadanobu Asano) is an ex-con, but that doesn’t stop the family from welcoming him into their lives. Big mistake. “[Kôji Fukada’s] slow-burning, quietly told thriller commands attention from start to finish… The film’s insights… don’t merely hit their targets; they smash them with a sledgehammer.” — Screen
Knife in the Clear Water
(DIR. WANG XUEBO, CHINA)
In Ningxia province in China’s remote northwest, Hui minority Muslim farmer Ma and his family eke out an existence on an arid moonscape. After his wife dies, Ma decides to sacrifice their aging cow to mark the end of the mourning period. But the cow stops eating and drinking, as if in anticipation of its slaughter. This fiction film, made with astonishingly expressive non-professional actors, mixes super-reality with magical intensity; it has a stark spiritual purity whose beauty infuses every shot.
Life After Life
(DIR. ZHANG HANYI, CHINA)
In a barren and depopulated Chinese village, a young boy, Leilei, announces to his farmer father that his body has been taken over by the spirit of his deceased mother. She has one request: that the tree in the family’s front yard be moved. With natural, easy gravity and perfectly poised nonchalance, this modern-day ghost story presents strange transformations as everyday occurrences and ordinary, dusty, impoverished Chinese rural life as something enchanted and full of wonder.
(DIR. SHIOTA AKIHIKO, JAPAN)
The sparkiest trip to Heartbreak Hotel since Chungking Express, Shiota’s wonderful film throws together a boy who reluctantly runs a gas station in the sticks and a seemingly flaky girl who just can’t leave him alone. Very special! With Shiota’s virtually unseen short The Promise (Japan), about a divorced father and his young daughter.
The Long Excuse
(DIR. NISHIKAWA MIWA, JAPAN)
On the day that his wife dies in a road accident, novelist Tsumura is with his secret lover – so his public display of grief is not exactly heartfelt. And when he’s drawn into ‘solidarity’ with the husband of another victim of the crash, he grows acutely conscious of his own hypocrisy. Nishikawa cements her reputation as one of Japan’s leading directors with this searing film about self-discovery.
(DIR. RIRI RIZA, INDONESIA)
The Muslim boss of a thriving trading company in Makassar in the late 1950s decides to take a second wife in Jakarta, leaving his first wife Athirah and their kids feeling betrayed and confused. Riri Riza’s elegant film, infused with his signature lyrical realism, focuses on Athirah’s stoic efforts to keep herself and her family together. Tender but emotionally tough.
(DIR. ADOLFO ALIX JR., PHILIPPINES)
There are distant echoes of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane in Adolfo Alix’s powerful drama, but it’s not exactly a horror film. The widowed Mrs Ventura lives in a too-large mansion, fending off needy relatives and dreaming of a reunion with her son, a communist guerrilla. Her immediate problem is her home-help Delia, who’s unmarried and pregnant. There will be blood.
Our Love Story
(DIR. LEE HYUNJU, SOUTH KOREA)
A healthy corrective to other Korean films about lesbianism, Lee Hyunju’s debut is fresh, keenly observed and emotionally truthful. Art student Yoonju, who has never liked boys, finds herself attracted to the self-confident Jisoo and the two start dating. But both young women are under pressure to find husbands, and their relationship begins to suffer. True love hurts, indeed.
Out of the Frying Pan… + Dazzling Anime Shorts
(DIR. KOMATSU TAKASHI, JAPAN)
A middle-aged poet lives with his alcoholic father and newly arrived stepmother in a fantastically cluttered house, but they don’t eat together – or even speak much. Gradually, though, things change. Komatsu’s debut could be the funniest deadpan tragicomedy since Jim Jarmusch started out. With a selection of six dazzling alternative anime shorts from Japan.
(DIR. JO SUNGHEE, SOUTH KOREA)
Hong Gildong is actually not a phantom, but he’s been haunted all his life by the murder of his mother. Now, as an adult gumshoe, he’s closing in on the killer at last – only to find himself facing a much larger and more sinister threat, an unstoppable, murderous cult. Fans of Jo’s previous films won’t be disappointed: this is as strange, disturbing and darkly exciting as anything he’s done.
The Road to Mandalay
(DIR. MIDI Z, TAIWAN/MYANMAR/FRANCE/GERMANY)
Burmese indie director Midi Z is a festival favourite. His newest film, about a young, undocumented Burmese migrant looking for work in Thailand, shows why. Lianqing has no papers, but she has unlimited determination, moving from the Bangkok underground economy to an illegal factory job in the sticks, just a few steps ahead of the corrupt police. As she becomes more and more intimately involved with solicitous young Burmese co-worker, her life takes an unexpected and frightening turn…
A Simple Goodbye
(DIR. DEGENA YUN, CHINA)
In this piercing drama, writer-director Degena Yun also stars as Shanshan, who’s back in Beijing after an attempt at studying in the UK. With her estranged parents back under the same roof, a fractious household must constantly reconcile piques of anger with the abiding love that can keep families together, in spirit if not in fact. Yun’s subtle sketching of family dynamics and overall precision recall masters like Chekhov and Ozu, but this film is as unique as its creator: intimate, urgent and personal.
Suffering of Ninko
(DIR. NORIHIRO NIWATSUKINO, JAPAN)
We’re in ancient Japan and Ninko is a virtuous Buddhist monk who’s embarrassed to discover that he’s irresistible to many women (and some men). He goes on a journey to ‘purify’ himself, but nothing turns out as he expects. Niwatsukino’s wildly enjoyable debut is crammed with humour and visual surprises. With Hirabayashi Isamu’s magical short Heaven (Japan): the beauties and terrors of decay.
(DIR. WANG BING, CHINA/HONG KONG/FRANCE)
The great Chinese documentarian Wang Bing trains his spectacularly sensitive camera on war refugees from Myanmar who cross the Chinese border in search of survival. Ta’ang minority families, fleeing local violence, confront bewilderingly difficult conditions in camps in Yunnan, southwestern China. As children play and elders tell their horror stories around campfires, Wang’s humane, compassionate camera creates documentary fact and poetry: this is a film of incantatory power and majestic beauty.
(DIR. KWOK ZUNE, WONG FEI-PANG, JEVONS AU, CHOW KWUN-WAI, NG KA-LEUNG, HONG KONG)
This omnibus offers five dark visions of Hong Kong’s future. Set in 2025, it expresses deep foreboding about the chances for freedom under Mainland rule. The Chinese government is not pleased: its state paper called this a “thought virus.” So how subversive is it? Well, it contains political assassination, self-immolation and children as Red Guard recruits—it’s a collective courageous gesture against government oppression, honouring the best dystopian traditions. It’s also terrifically entertaining!
While the Women are Sleeping
(DIR. WAYNE WANG, JAPAN)
Working in Japan and adapting a story by Javier Marías, Wayne Wang delivers his most accomplished and resonant movie in some time. On vacation in a luxury beachfront hotel, writer Kenji grows obsessed by an ‘odd couple’ – an old man and a much younger woman – and tries to discover their story. But is he really questioning himself? Secrets, lies and enigmas under the tropical sun.
(DIR. CHAN TZE-WOON, HONG KONG)
Hong Kong’s fraught, tense relationship with mainland China came to a head in 2014’s Umbrella Movement. Vivid, moving portraits of selected students who camped out on the streets and organized a temporary, alternative, communitarian Hong Kong animate this fly-on-the-wall documentary. Richly detailed, engrossing and dramatic, it captures the sights, sounds and feelings of a time when tens of thousands of Hong Kong citizens—energized idealistic youth—defied their government and demanded democracy.
Yourself and Yours + Soju and Ice Cream
(DIR. HONG SANGSOO, SOUTH KOREA)
In a (deceptively?) sweet film, exploring the idea of starting over in a relationship, Hong Sangsoo focuses on issues of identity and wish-fulfilment. Minjung leaves the painter Youngsoo after a row about drinking and starts seeing other men – literally as a new woman. With Lee Kwangkuk’s brilliant short Soju and Ice Cream (South Korea): humour, absurdism and melancholy.