The 16th New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) will take place from June 30 to July 13 at the Film Society and July 14 to 16 at the SVA Theatre. North America’s leading festival of popular Asian cinema will showcase 57 feature films, including 3 International Premieres, 21 North American Premieres, 4 U.S. Premieres, and 15 films making their New York City debuts.
This year, all three of NYAFF’s Gala screenings are brilliant reinventions of the thriller genre. The Opening Gala will be the International Premiere of Nattawut Poonpiriya’s Bad Genius, the first Southeast Asian film to open the festival, with the director and stars in attendance. In this exhilarating high school thriller, straightA students Lynn (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying) and Bank (Chanon Santinatornkul) stage a heist that will undermine the U.S. university entrance system after they lose their own scholarships. The Centerpiece Gala of the festival will be the North American Premiere of Mikhail Red’s Birdshot, a continuation of the festival programmers’ efforts to champion films from Southeast Asia, and the Philippines in particular. The Closing Gala is the U.S. Premiere of Jung Byunggil’s The Villainess, fresh from its Midnight screening in Cannes. The adrenaline soaked action film stars Kim Okvin as a ruthless female assassin trained in China who starts a new life with South Korea’s Intelligence Agency.
New to NYAFF in 2017 is the Main Competition section, featuring seven diverse works by first or second time directors that are all having their North American premieres at the festival. Competing are Bad Genius (Thailand), Birdshot (Philippines), A Double Life (Japan), The Gangster’s Daughter (Taiwan), Kfc (Vietnam), Jane (South Korea), and With Prisoners (Hong Kong). The competition jury will be announced at a later date, with winners revealed on the festival’s final night at Film Society of Lincoln Center on July 13.
More now than ever, Hong Kong cinema is at the core of the festival’s programming: faithful to its Chinatown origins, this year’s edition celebrates the best filmmaking from the Special Administrative Region with a central Hong Kong Panorama section, commemorating the 20th anniversary of its establishment, with major support from the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in New York. Over the past two decades, Hong Kong cinema has continuously influenced and inspired many filmmakers in Asia and in the world. This year’s lineup proves the originality and excellence of its production is intact: from a powerful condemnation of life inside the territory’s juvenile detention centers (With Prisoners), to a wartime epic about resistance heroes during the Japanese occupation (Our Time Will Come), to a tale of corruption and redemption set in the underbelly of 1960s Hong Kong (Dealer/Healer), the films bear testimony to the city’s rich cinema history.
The core of the panorama will be a special (and first of its kind) focus on the exciting new generation of directors, titled Young Blood Hong Kong. As part of the 20th anniversary, the festival is looking to the future of Hong Kong cinema, rather than its past: these recent Hong Kong directors are working in various genres, tackling a range of social issues, and paying homage to the film traditions they grew up with, from tenement dramas to vampire comedies. Meanwhile, NYAFF continues to bring established, major filmmakers from the region: Lawrence Lau, who, along with Ann Hui, is one of Hong Kong’s best neorealist directors, will be introducing his star studded crime action drama Dealer/Healer; the Panorama will spotlight the new generation from the region with guest filmmaker Wong Chun and screenwriter Florence Chan with Mad World, Derek Hui with This Is Not What I Expected, and Alan Lo with Zombiology: Enjoy Yourself Tonight. Other films by first time Hong Kong directors in this year’s lineup are Derek Tsang’s Soul Mate, Yan Pakwing and Chiu Sinhang’s Vampire Cleanup Department, and Andrew Wong’s With Prisoners.
The 2017 lineup also includes five LGBTQ themed films: two dramas with transsexual protagonists, Naoko Ogigami’s CloseKnit from Japan, and Cho Hyunhoon’s drama Jane from South Korea; two coming of age high school youth dramas, Ahn Jungmin’s Fantasy of the Girls from South Korea, and Leste Chen’s 2006 Eternal Summer from Taiwan, which merits a second look a decade on; and Lee Sangil’s wild and violent mystery thriller Rage, featuring Go Ayano (NYAFF 2016 Rising Star Asia awardee) as a homeless stranger invited into the home of a semi closeted salaryman (Satoshi Tsumabuki) as his live in lover.
Another highlight of this year’s festival are three films that celebrate Japan’s unique “Roman Porno” genre, each having their North American premieres: Aroused by Gymnopedies, Dawn of the Felines, and Wet Woman in the Wind. Nikkatsu, Japan’s oldest film studio, is celebrating 45 years since they birthed the soft core Roman Porno genre (roman derives from the French word for novel). Invented to save a dying industry, they gave carte blanche to directors with minimal rules: keep it under 80 minutes with a sex scene every ten. This allowed for wild stream of consciousness works of both the highest and lowest caliber. Now, Nikkatsu has enlisted top contemporary talent for the Roman Porno Reboot Project, taking the provocative, envelope pushing format to a whole new level.
In addition to the festival’s screenings, the NYAFF awards a number of honorees each year, including this year’s recipients:
The 2017 NYAFF Lifetime Achievement Award goes to veteran Hong Kong actor Tony Leung Kafai, who will attend a three film tribute, including Johnnie To’s Election, Longman Leung & Sunny Luk’s Cold War 2 and Tsui’s Hark’s The Taking of Tiger Mountain 3D. In a career spanning 35 years, Leung has worked with the iconic directors Li Hanhsiang, Wong Karwai, Stanley Kwan, and JeanJacques Annaud, and starred opposite the screen legends Jackie Chan, Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Andy Lau, Jet Li, and Fan Bingbing. Leung was arguably the first Hong Kong star to become an international heartthrob, in JeanJacques Annaud’s The Lover.
THe Star Asia Award recipient is Korean movie star Gang Dongwon, whose charisma and emotional investment in his performances gives his films a unique edge. His most iconic films include Lee Myungse’s Duelist, Park Jinpyo’s Voice of a Murderer, and Jang Hoon’s Secret Reunion. Last year, NYAFF presented two of his films, The Priests and A Violent Prosecutor, and in 2017, the festival will be joined by Gang to present a special screening of the magical fable Vanishing Time: A Boy Who Returned.
The Screen International Rising Star Asia Award will be given to Thailand’s Chutimon “Aokbab” Chuengcharoensukying. The 21 year old model, who is still a student at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, found fame last year in Thank You for Sharing, an eight minute, viral short about cyberbullying. The NYAFF is opening with her feature debut, Bad Genius, in which she stars as a high school student who masterminds an ambitious heist of the American university entrance exam system. It’s a demanding role, in which her quick witted character must navigate a complex moral universe where parents and teachers don’t always know best.
FULL LINEUP (57)
Titles in bold are included in the Main Competition
Battle of Memories (Leste Chen, 2017)
Blood of Youth (Yang Shupeng, 2016)
Duckweed (Han Han, 2017)
Extraordinary Mission (Alan Mak & Anthony Pun, 2017)
Someone to Talk to (Liu Yulin, 2016)
Soul on a String (Zhang Yang, 2016)
HONG KONG PANORAMA (11)
Cold War 2 (Longman Leung, Sunny Luk, 2016)
Dealer/Healer (Lawrence Lau, 2017)
Election (Johnnie To, 2005)
Mad World (Wong Chun, 2016)
Our Time Will Come (Ann Hui, 2017)
Soul Mate (Derek Tsang, 2016)
The Taking of Tiger Mountain (Tsui Hark, 2014)
This Is Not What I Expected (Derek Hui, 2017)
Vampire Cleanup Department (Yan Pakwing, Chiu Sinhang, 2017)
With Prisoners (Andrew Wong, 2017)
Zombiology: Enjoy Yourself Tonight (Alan Lo, 2017)
Aroused by Gymnopedies (Isao Yukisada, 2016)
CloseKnit (Naoko Ogigami, 2017)
Dawn of the Felines (Kazuya Shiraishi, 2016)
Destruction Babies (Tetsuya Mariko, 2016)
A Double Life (Yoshiyuki Kishi, 2016)
Happiness (Sabu, 2016)
Japanese Girls Never Die (Daigo Matsui, 2016)
The Long Excuse (Miwa Nishikawa, 2016)
Love and Other Cults (Eiji Uchida, 2017)
The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio (Takashi Miike, 2016)
Rage (Lee Sangil, 2016)
Suffering of Ninko (Norihiro Niwatsukino, 2016)
Survival Family (Shinobu Yaguchi, 2017)
Traces of Sin (Kei Ishikawa, 2016)
Wet Woman in the Wind (Akihiro Shiota, 2016)
SOUTH KOREA (11)
Fabricated City (Park Kwanghyun, 2017)
Fantasy of the Girls (Ahn Jungmin, 2016)
Jane (Cho Hyunhoon, 2016)
Ordinary Person (Kim Bonghan, 2017)
A Quiet Dream (Zhang Lu, 2016)
A Single Rider (Lee Jooyoung, 2017)
Split (Choi Kookhee, 2016)
The Tooth and the Nail (Jung Sik, Kim Whee, 2017)
The Truth Beneath (Lee Kyoungmi, 2016)
Vanishing Time: A Boy Who Returned (Uhm Taehwa, 2016)
The Villainess (Jung Byunggil, 2017)
SOUTHEAST ASIA (6)
Bad Genius (Nattawut Poonpiriya, Thailand, 2017)
Birdshot (Mikhail Red, Philippines, 2016)
Kfc (Le Binh Giang, Vietnam, 2017)
Mrs. K (Ho Yuhang, Malaysia, 2016)
Saving Sally (Avid Liongoren, Philippines, 2016)
Town in a Lake (Jet Leyco, Philippines, 2015)
Eternal Summer (Leste Chen, 2006)
The Gangster’s Daughter (Chen Meijuin, 2017)
Godspeed (Chung Monghong, 2016)
Mon Mon Mon Monsters (Giddens, 2017)
The Road to Mandalay (Midi Z, 2016)
The Village of No Return (Chen Yuhsun, 2017)
Bamseom Pirates Seoul Inferno (Jung Yoonsuk, 2017)
Mrs. B., A North Korean Woman (Jero Yun, 2016)