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Ninja Girl directed by Yu Irie
Ninja Girl directed by Yu Irie © Yu Irie & cogitoworks Ltd

The 20th edition of the New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) will screen over 60 films, both virtually and in person, to audiences in New York and across the country from August 6 – 22, 2021.

Following a fully virtual 19th edition, NYAFF will present almost half of this year’s 60+ titles in person. To celebrate, as well as to mark its 20th year, the Festival will be co-hosting, with the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in New York and Film at Lincoln Center, a free outdoor screening in Damrosch Park of Raymond Lee’s wuxia classic Dragon Inn AKA New Dragon Gate Inn on August 11. The all-star remake of King Hu’s iconic Dragon Inn is one of the wildest and most epic films ever produced by Tsui Hark.

NYAFF will host the world premiere of Yu Irie’s Ninja Girl, a pointed political satire that is as sneakily subversive as its old-school superspy namesake. Japanese director Irie (8000 Miles, NYAFF 2010) has crafted a breezy, brave condemnation of racism and willful ignorance that also happens to be hilarious, action-packed, and surprisingly moving.

Among the many other festival highlights is the North American premiere of Tough Out, by veteran social-issues documentarian Xu Hui-jing, who brings a Hoops Dreams–level depth and an admirable lack of sentimentality to this film about underprivileged youngsters in a baseball camp near Beijing. The coaches’ unwavering commitment to the children is a resounding humanist outcry that demands to be heard. NYAFF will also host the North American premiere of Maung San’s Money Has Four Legs, a satire about indie filmmaking set in Myanmar. With the ongoing political crisis in the country, and the film’s producer Ma Aeint currently detained by the military, Money Has Four Legs deserves to be seen now more than ever.

From South Korea comes The Book of Fish, a gorgeously lensed homage to classical black-and-white cinema by Lee Joon-ik (The King and the Clown). Inspired by real events and infused with poetic humanism, it stars Sol Kyung-gu and Byun Yo-han and is set on beautiful Heuksando Island during the Joseon era. In the sweet, sexy, sassy Here and There from the Philippines, Janine Gutierrez (star of NYAFF 2020 Opening Film The Girl and the Gun) and JC Santos are perfectly paired in a meditation on the COVID-19 pandemic, a wonderful blend of romantic escapism and heavier topics of family, health, and distance that have impacted us all.

Also in store for in-person audiences are three premieres from Japan that run the gamut of styles and genres: the indescribable stop-motion masterwork Junk Head, a dystopian sci-fi tale that took seven years to complete and has become one of Guillermo del Toro’s personal favorites; a no-holds-barred send-up of the patriarchy, jigoku-no-hanazono: Office Royale, featuring brawling, bruising “office ladies” who take aim at workplace emancipation with their own fists and flying feet; and Last of the Wolves, Kazuya Shiraishi’s ferocious sequel to The Blood of Wolves (NYAFF 2018). A rousing homage to Kinji Fukasaku’s meanest pictures, it takes no prisoners and knows no bounds.

This year’s Hong Kong Panorama includes 12 diverse and exciting titles, many of them by emerging directors, sending a positive message of hope for the future of cinema in Hong Kong. Among the remarkable debuts are: Shadows, Time, Zero to Hero (produced by and starring Sandra Ng, a NYAFF guest in 2014), and the documentary Keep Rolling.

The lineup also includes exceptional new work by masters, such as Soi Cheang’s electrifying Limbo, a brutal thriller about the hunt for a serial killer starring Gordon Lam Ka Tung. And on a lighter note, there are Breakout Brothers, a prison escape dramedy, and All U Need is Love, an infectious (pun intended) response to the pandemic initiated by prolific superstar Louis Koo.

Along with the Uncaged Award for Best Feature Film competition, the Festival has established exciting new sections for its 20th edition. Films will now be grouped thematically, in the following sections: Beyond Borders, Crowd Pleasers, Frontlines, Genre Masters, Next/Now, Standouts, and Vanguards (see descriptions below).

While the festival is showcasing an unusually high number of feature debuts with this edition, it is also highlighting improved gender parity in the film industry. Commented NYAFF Associate Director Claire Marty, “After our special focus on women in front of and behind the camera at the 2020 NYAFF, we’re honored to continue championing female-forward films this year. The festival has some great films by women directors, including Taiwan’s The Silent Forest, based on harrowing true events, and Japan’s Hold Me Back, a vibrant female-driven dramedy.” Another of the highlights is Barbarian Invasion, by Tan Chui Mui, a pioneer of the Malaysian New Wave, who returns after a decade’s break to star in and direct a self-described cross between Korean art-house auteur Hong Sangsoo and the Jason Bourne action franchise.

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 August 6 – 22, 2021 at FLC’s Walter Reade Theater (165 West 65th Street) and in the FLC Virtual Cinema, and from August 9 – 22 at SVA Theatre (333 West 23rd Street).

2021 New York Asian Film Festival Lineup

SPECIAL 20TH ANNIVERSARY CLASSIC SCREENING IN DAMROSCH PARK

Dragon Inn AKA New Dragon Gate Inn | dir. Raymond Lee, Hong Hong 1992 | In-person Only

CROWD PLEASERS

Films with broad appeal and titles accessible to all tastes

– All U Need is Love | dir. Vincent Kok, Hong Kong 2021 | North American Premiere. Virtual Only
– Breakout Brothers | dir. Mak Ho Pong, Hong Kong 2020 | North American Premiere. Virtual Only
– The Con-Heartist | dir. Mez Tharatorn, Thailand 2020 | North American Premiere. Virtual Only
– From Today, It’s My Turn!! | dir. Yuichi Fukuda, Japan 2020 | U.S. Premiere. Virtual Only
– Hold Me Back | dir. Akiko Ohku, Japan 2020 | U.S. Premiere. Virtual Only
– jigoku-no-hanazono: Office Royale | dir. Kazuaki Seki, Japan 2021 | North American Premiere. In-person Only
– My Missing Valentine | dir. Chen Yu-hsun, Taiwan 2020 | New York Premiere. Virtual Only
– One Second Champion | dir. Chiu Sin-Hang, Hong Kong 2020 | New York Premiere. Virtual Only
– Tonkatsu DJ Agetaro | dir. Ken Ninomiya, Japan 2020 | North American Premiere. Virtual Only
– Zero to Hero | dir. Wan Chi-Man, Hong Kong 2021 | North American Premiere. In-person Only

GENRE MASTERS

Innovative new work that tweaks and twists genre conventions

– The Fable: The Killer Who Doesn’t Kill | dir. Kan Eguchi, Japan 2021 | North American Premiere. In-person Only
– Last of The Wolves | dir. Kazuya Shiraishi, Japan 2021 | North American Premiere. In-person Only
– Limbo | dir. Soi Cheang, Hong Kong, 2021 | North American Premiere. In-person Only
– Midnight | dir. Kwon Oh-seung, South Korea 2021 | International Premiere. Virtual Only
– Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It | dir. Yernar Nurgaliyev, Kazakhstan 2020 | North American Premiere. Virtual Only

NEXT/NOW

Highlighting emerging voices and promising works by up-and-coming directors

– Here And There | dir. JP Habac, Philippines 2021 | North American Premiere. In-person & Virtual
– Keep Rolling | dir. Man Lim Chung, Hong Kong 2020 | New York Premiere. Virtual Only
– Money Has Four Legs | Maung Sun, Myanmar 2020 | North American Premiere. Virtual Only
– The Old Town Girls | dir. Shen Yu, China 2020 | North American Premiere. Virtual Only
– Shadows | dir. Glenn Chan, Hong Kong 2020 | North American Premiere. Virtual Only
– Time | dir. Ricky Ko, Hong Kong 2021 | North American Premiere. Virtual Only.

BEYOND BORDERS

Films that tell stories about characters confronting different cultures

– The Asian Angel | dir. Yuya Ishii, Japan 2021 | North American Premiere. In-person Only
– Fighter | dir. Jéro Yun, South Korea 2020 | North American Premiere. Virtual Only
– Nasi Lemak 1.0 | dir. Namewee, Malaysia 2021 | International Premiere. TBD
– A Song for You | dir. Dukar Tserang, China 2020 | North American Premiere. In-person Only

FRONTLINES

Films grounded in the lives of those in marginalized communities, with narratives that examine pressing issues

– Babi | dir. Namewee, Malaysia 2020 | North American Premiere. TBD
– A Balance | dir. Yujiro Harumoto, Japan 2020 | North American Premiere. In-person Only
– I Don’t Fire Myself | dir. Lee Tae-Gyeom, South Korea 2020 | North American Premiere. Virtual Only
– Ninja Girl | dir. Yu Irie, Japan 2021 | World Premiere. In-person Only
– The Silent Forest | dir. Ko Chen-nien, Taiwan 2020 | New York Premiere. Virtual Only
– Three Sisters | dir. Lee Seung-won, South Korea 2020 | North American Premiere. Virtual Only
– Tough Out | dir. Xu Hui-jing, China 2020 | North American Premiere. Virtual Only
– The Way We Keep Dancing | dir. Adam Wong, Hong Kong 2020 | New York Premiere. Virtual Only

STANDOUTS

Exceptional films, regardless of their premiere status

– Blue | dir. Keisuke Yoshida, Japan 2021 | U.S. Premiere. Virtual Only
– The Book of Fish | dir. Lee Joon-ik, South Korea 2021 | International Premiere. In-person Only
– Samjin Company English Class | dir. Lee Jong-pil, South Korea 2020 | New York Premiere. In-person & Virtual
– Under the Open Sky | dir. Miwa Nishikawa, Japan 2020 | New York Premiere. In-person Only

VANGUARDS

Original films that break away from formalistic and/or narrative conventions

– As We Like It | dir. Muni Wei, Chen Hung-i, Taiwan 2021 | East Coast Premiere. Virtual Only
– Barbarian Invasion | dir. Tan Chui Mui, Malaysia 2021 | North American Premiere. In-person Only
– Junk Head | dir. Takahide Hori, Japan 2021 | U.S. Premiere. In-person Only
– Over the Town | dir. Rikiya Imaizumi, Japan 2021 | U.S. Premiere. Virtual Only
-Zokki | dir. Naoto Takenaka, Takayuki Yamada, Takumi Saitoh, Japan 2021 | North American Premiere. Virtual Only

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