After last year’s Savage Seventeen, this year’s 18th edition of the New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) is dubbed the “Still Too Young to Die” edition and will run June 28 to July 14, 2019.
Eighteen – Still Too Young to Die: Many will recognize the cheeky reference to NYAFF 2016 audience award winner, Kudo Kankuro’s Too Young to Die!, in which a busload of high-school students plummet to their deaths. They either end up in heaven or hell, both of which defy expectations.
Opening Night is the North American premiere of Bernard Rose’s Samurai Marathon, featuring a star-studded cast and a score by Philip Glass. This original take on the jidaigeki (period piece) reinterprets a lesser-known real event out of history in the wake of the West’s arrival in Japan during the 1850s. Packed full of intrigue, thrills, and comic relief, and including both ninjas and royal rebels, the film is a marvelous amalgam of transnational aesthetics and distinctly Japanese genre traditions.
The Centerpiece is the North American premiere of The Fable, directed by Kan Eguchi, who will attend the festival. The film captures the spirit that has sustained NYAFF over the years: a sprightly combination of action and pop comedy that never takes itself seriously but never completely leaves its brain at the door.
Seven films will vie for the Uncaged Award for Best Feature Film in the third edition of the festival’s Main Competition: Moon Sungho’s 5 Million Dollar Life (Japan), Kim Yoon-seok’s Another Child (South Korea), Huang Chao-liang’s Han Dan (Taiwan), Katsumi Nojiri’s Lying to Mom (Japan), Kenneth Lim Dagatan’s MA (Philippines), Yi Ok-seop’s Maggie (South Korea), and Wu Nan’s Push and Shove (China).
Vietnamese singing and dancing sensation turned movie star Veronica Ngo burst into action with her starring role in the breakthrough martial-arts megahit The Rebel (NYAFF 2008). She continued to flex her fighting muscles in Clash and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, as well as acting in films of other genres, including Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Ngo also took to producing as well and has proved one of the most dynamic forces in the Vietnamese film industry today. NYAFF commemorates her incredible contributions to cinema with the Daniel A. Craft Award for Excellence in Action Cinema and a special screening of what may be her best film to date, the phenomenal action opus Furie. Ms. Ngo will also serve on this year’s competition jury.
The Star Asia Lifetime Achievement Award will go to Hong Kong action choreographer and director extraordinaire Yuen Woo-ing, perhaps best known to Western audiences for his work on The Matrix; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; and Kill Bill.
The Screen International Rising Star Asia Award will be given to both Nana Komatsu and Ryu Jun-yeol. Komatsu will receive her honor before the festival’s Opening Night screening of Samurai Marathon on June 28, and Ryu will receive his award on July 6.
This year’s Hong Kong Panorama offers an exciting feast of compassion, innovation, and nostalgia across 10 diverse and exciting films. The Tribute to Yuen Woo-ping honors the legendary master with screenings of three stellar martial-arts films from his incredible oeuvre: Iron Monkey (1993), a rare showing of The Miracle Fighters (1982), and Master Z: Ip Man Legacy (2018). G Affairs (Lee Cheuk Pan) has its North American premiere, showcasing a fierce, transgressive directorial voice. Another debut, Still Human (Oliver Siu Kuen Chan), produced by Fruit Chan, reveals a bittersweet and touching side of Hong Kong. See You Tomorrow (Zhang Jiajia), a gonzo high-concept rom-com and then some, produced by Wong Kar-wai and starring Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, and Angelababy, has been unearthed by the programmers to make its North American premiere, two years after it wrapped production. Veteran filmmakers are further represented by the international premiere of The Attorney (Wong Kwok Fai), an exciting and insightful courtroom mystery-thriller, and wild auteur Pang Ho-cheung’s outrageous Chinese New Year comedy Missbehavior. No Hong Kong lineup would be complete without hyperkinetic modern action. The Fatal Raid (Jacky Lee) is an explosive new take on the classic “girls with guns” genre, featuring Jade Leung (Black Cat).
Finally, this year’s Secret Screening is a Hong Kong classic given a novel live-music treatment by the hip-hop collective Shaolin Jazz. Conceived by Gerald Watson and produced by DJ 2-Tone Jones, “Shaolin Jazz – The 37th Chamber” is a testament to the stylistic connections between both Jazz and hip-hop. It is a mix project whereby various jazz songs and breaks are fused with a cappellas and vocal samples from the iconic hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan. The music and lyrics are astutely crafted to match both in cadence and tone, with the jazz selections used also helping to further accentuate the essence and intensity of the Clan.
The creators of Shaolin Jazz’s unique film experience “Can I Kick It?” caters to lovers of kung-fu flicks and the music they inspired. For each event, cult-classic martial-arts films are screened and scored (scene by scene) with a blend of hip-hop, soul, funk, and more mixed on stage by DJ 2-Tone Jones. The result is a live, remixed soundtrack using music and DJ techniques to accentuate elements of specific scenes and fight sequences. Shaolin Jazz presents “Can I Kick It?” as this year’s NYAFF secret screening.
The China selection continues to grow exponentially and includes a wide-ranging selection of titles reflecting the complexities and contradictions of a film world whose theatrical market has surpassed that of North America. Bold and already masterful directorial visions such as The Crossing by female director Bai Xue or Wushu Orphan by Huang Huang will be screened alongside movies that show the China familiar to the audiences of European international film festivals and their art-house fare: A First Farewell (Wang Lina, 2018), a rare look at the struggles of growing up as a member of the Uighur minority in Muslim-dominated Xinjiang; Jinpa (Pema Tseden, 2018), an abstract Tibetan Western produced by Wong Kar-wai; or The Rib (Wei Zhang, 2018), a raw gem focusing on transgender issues, that miraculously passed censorship. The deliberately broad selection gives a glimpse of entire worlds beyond the films of Bi Gan and Jia Zhangke and puts the spotlight on a new Chinese cinema yet to be museified and mummified. Further to this point, this year’s edition showcases unorthodox, smart social comedies, filled with pop energy and eccentricity: Push And Shove (Wu Nan, 2019), Uncle and House (Luo Hanxing, 2018), which put the spotlight on a living culture miles away from the CNN caricatures. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the selection offers a dark but superb discovery with the highly aestheticized historical observations of Winter After Winter (Xing Jian, 2019). At the same time, NYAFF never ignores films that are beloved in their home countries, as represented here by the animated fantasy White Snake (Amp Wong and Ji Zhao, 2019), a massive box-office hit domestically, and the action-packed wintry Western Savage (Cui Siwei, 2018).
The New Cinema from Japan lineup represents both the popular and the highbrow from a film culture that has established itself as one of the pillars of world cinema. The group of selected titles demonstrate the perennial and proverbial originality of Japanese visual storytelling, most of all with SABU’s new film, Jam, an almost indescribable dramedy driven by random yet fateful encounters. For the occasion, the festival is bringing back the director’s 2017 film Mr. Long, the strange tale of a Taiwanese hit man stranded in Japan after a disastrous job. Two Japanese titles made the cut for the competition this year: 5 Million Dollar Life (Moon Sungho, 2019) and Lying to Mom (Katsumi Nojiri, 2018). Both films share exceptionally compelling narratives on the fundamentals of life, death, and the hardships of dealing with family and strangers alike, navigating the thin line between comedy and tragedy. As can be expected from Japan, the quirky, the poignant, and the absolutely nuts find a cinematic home in the following, just to name a few: Fly Me to the Saitama (Hideki Takeuchi, 2019), Hard-Core (Nobuhiro Yamashita, 2018), and the obsessive noir The Gun (Take Masaharu, 2018). This is all a far cry from your average tea ceremony.
There are nine films in the South Korean Cinema section: beyond Bong Joon-ho, the Palme d’Or, the glam of Park Chan-wook, and the commercial cinema that hits U.S. theaters via limited theatrical releases, the festival has shifted its attention to lesser-known but equally unique directorial visions that exist outside the system. In Kim Yu-ri’s Sub-Zero Wind and Jeong Seung-o’s Move the Grave, the programming team has found unforgettable portrayals of youths who endure the full force and fire of the hard times that only adults should fall on. Star actor Kim Yoon-seok’s remarkable debut behind the camera, Another Child, making its North American Premiere at the festival, displays the same stylized, somber realism, but with a light-touch comedic mastery that earned it a place in the competition section. Maggie (Yi Ok-seop, 2018), the other Korean entry for this year’s competition, shares this humorous streak but with more extravagant innovations. The historical drama A Resistance (Joe Min-ho, 2019), offers a formidable vehicle for actress Ko A-sung as the real-life heroine of the 1919 independence movement, exactly a hundred years ago. Last but not least, NYAFF expands for the first time to the grand Alice Tully Hall with the film concert Kokdu: A Story of Guardian Angels, a once-in-a-lifetime experience marrying cinema with traditional Korean music (gugak) performed live by a 20-member ensemble from the National Gugak Center, who will be playing the score for the first time in the U.S.
The four-film selection from Taiwan is resolutely pop, accessible, and unapologetically fun in a way not normally associated with productions from the island better known for its art-house and experimental output. The festival’s picks show a specific brand of Taiwanese cool, be it competition title Han Dan (Huang Chao-liang, 2019), a macho tale of friendship and betrayal anchored in the savagery of local tradition where fireworks are shot at a parading half-naked man; or in the madcap comedy about TV producers gone wild and wrong It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Show (Hsieh Nien Tsu, 2019); the violent action piece The Scoundrels (Hung Tzu-Hsuan, 2018); and the decidedly unrepentant rom-com Someone in the Clouds (Mitch Lin and Gary Tseng, 2018).
This year’s Southeast Asian Vanguard selection spotlights a fascinatingly varied breadth of electrifying cinema. From the Philippines comes MA, a chilling debut feature from a director who was born to make horror films. On the other side of the spectrum is Signal Rock, the Philippines’ entry for the Oscars earlier this year—a realist yet poetic drama that shows what life is really like on one of the country’s many little islands. In similar contrast are the two films from Vietnam. Furie is a balls-to-the-wall actioner starring the dynamic Veronica Ngo, while Song Lang is a sweeping and touching drama that combines a story of traditional opera with both crime and LGBTQ elements. Indonesia brings an old-school matinee-style comedy and martial-arts adventure with 212 Warrior, and from Malaysia comes the brooding (and actually quite scary) psychological horror film Walk with Me. The living dead are represented this year by the hilarious Singaporean zom-com Zombiepura. Capping it all off is Thailand’s The Pool, a stunningly original existentialist thriller that redefines the meaning of “hitting rock bottom” in the most literal way.
As TV and film increasingly converge, for the first time, NYAFF will screen, ahead of its August 12 release on AMC (at 9:00 p.m. ET/8:00 p.m. CT on AMC) The Terror: Infamy starring Derek Mio, Kiki Sukezane (Lost in Space, NYAFF 2018 jury), Shingo Usami (Unbroken) and renowned actor, producer, author and activist George Takei (Star Trek).
The New York Asian Film Festival is co-presented by the New York Asian Film Foundation and Film at Lincoln Center and takes place from June 28 through July 11 at FLC’s Walter Reade Theater (165 West 65th Street), and July 11-14 at SVA Theatre (333 West 23rd Street).
Titles in bold are included in the Main Competition; the list excludes the secret screening.
– The Crossing (Bai Xue, 2018)
– A First Farewell (Wang Lina, 2018) – U.S. Premiere
– If You Are Happy (Chen Xiaoming, 2019) – New York Premiere
– Jinpa (Pema Tseden, 2018) U.S. Premiere
– Push and Shove (Wu Nan, 2019) – North American Premiere
– The Rib (Wei Zhang, 2018) – North American Premiere
– Savage (Cui Siwei, 2018)
– Uncle and House (Luo Hanxing, 2019) – International Premiere
– Winter After Winter (Xing Jian, 2019) – North American Premiere
– White Snake (Amp Wong, Ji Zhao, 2019) – North American Premiere
– Wushu Orphan (Huang Huang, 2018) – North American Premiere
HONG KONG PANORAMA
– The Attorney (Wong Kwok Fai, 2019) – International Premiere
– The Fatal Raid (Jacky Lee, 2019) – North American Premiere
– G Affairs (Lee Cheuk Pan, 2018) – North American Premiere
– Iron Monkey (Yuen Woo-ping, 1993) – Tribute to Yuen Woo-ping
– Master Z: Ip Man Legacy (Yuen Woo-ping, 2018) – Tribute to Yuen Woo-ping
– The Miracle Fighters (Yuen Woo-ping, 1982) – Tribute to Yuen Woo-ping
– Missbehavior (Pang Ho-cheung, 2019)
– See You Tomorrow (Zhang Jiajia, 2016) – North American Premiere
– Still Human (Oliver Siu Kuen Chan, 2018) – New York Premiere
…and the secret screening!
– 212 Warrior (Angga Dwimas Sasongko, 2018) – North American Premiere
– 5 Million Dollar Life (Moon Sungho, 2019) – North American Premiere
– Complicity (Kei Chikaura, 2018) – New York Premiere
– Dare to Stop Us (Kazuya Shiraishi, 2018) – New York Premiere
– The Fable (Kan Eguchi, 2019) – U.S. Premiere
– Fly Me to the Saitama (Hideki Takeuchi, 2019) – New York Premiere
– The Gun (Take Masaharu, 2018) – North American Premiere
– Hard-Core (Nobuhiro Yamashita, 2018) – North American Premiere
– Jam (SABU, 2018) – North American Premiere
– Lying to Mom (Katsumi Nojiri, 2018) – North American Premiere
– Mr. Long (SABU, 2017)
– Samurai Marathon (Bernard Rose, 2019) – North American Premiere
– Walk with Me (Ryon Lee, 2019) – North American Premiere
– Ma (Kenneth Lim Dagatan, 2018) – International Premiere
– Signal Rock (Chito S. Roño, 2018) – New York Premiere
– Zombiepura (Jacen Tan, 2018) – North American Premiere
– Another Child (Kim Yoon-seok, 2019) – North American Premiere
– Dark Figure of Crime (Kim Tae-gyoon, 2018) – New York Premiere
– Kokdu: A Story of Guardian Angels (Kim Tae-yong, 2018) – U.S. Premiere
– Maggie (Yi Ok-seop, 2018) – North American Premiere
– Money (Park Noo-ri, 2018) – New York Premiere
– Move the Grave (Jeong Seung-o, 2018) ) – International Premiere
– The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale (Lee Min-jae, 2019) – North American Premiere
– A Resistance (Joe Min-ho, 2019) – North American Premiere
– Sub-Zero Wind (Kim Yu-ri, 2018) – North American Premiere
– Han Dan (Huang Chao-liang, 2019) – North American Premiere
– It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Show (Hsieh Nien Tsu, 2019) – North American Premiere
– The Scoundrels (Tzu-Hsuan Hung, 2018) – North American Premiere
– Someone in the Clouds (Mitch Lin and Gary Tseng, 2018) – International Premiere
– The Pool (Ping Lumpraploeng, 2018) – North American Premiere
– Furie (Le Van Kiet, 2019)
– Song Lang (Leon Le, 2018) – New York Premiere