NYAFF 2017 Review: The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio (Japan 2016)

Sick of serious Miike? 13 Assassins and Hara-kiri Miike? Yearning for the older, wackier V-cinema Miike? Look no further than The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio (a belated sequel to 2013’s The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji). This film is a totally ridiculous live action yakuza cartoon from start to finish, featuring such over-the-top flourishes as a flying squirrel themed-villain, plane crashes over Hong Kong, and a toilet plunger fight. Worried you don’t remember what happened in the first film? No problem, our hero exposits prior events while hanging naked from a cage of yakuza suspended from a helicopter. Continue reading

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NYAFF 2017 Review: Fabricated City (South Korea 2017)

So, so, so dumb but so, so, so fun. Fabricated City starts off with our lead, disaffected loner Kwon Ju (Ji Chang-wook) going into battle in a multi-player war game with his team of random internet gaming geeks, performing crazy Matrix-style stunts and showing why he is the best. What’s nuts is that the movie gets even more unrealistic when it transitions to the real world, to the point where I spent the entire film expecting a last-minute twist revealing that Kwon Ju was still playing a game. Continue reading

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NYAFF 2017 Review: Suffering of Ninko (Japan 2016)

More an erotic fable than a proper narrative, Suffering of Ninko puts a Japanese spin on the popular mythological concepts of the succubus and the incubus.  Ninko is a Buddhist monk, fixated on his own asceticism.  Unfortunately, his very presence drives women (and some men) into an absolute frenzy and he finds himself pursued by lustful devotees despite his increasingly frantic efforts to withdraw from the world.  After teetering on the edge of sanity, he eventually meets his counterpart in a female mountain spirit, who possesses the same powers of attraction and uses them to destroy men. Continue reading

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NYAFF 2017 Review: Split (South Korea 2016)

The festival program describes Split as a mash-up of Rain Man and Kingpin, and that’s exactly right.  The problem is that there is way too much Rain Man, and way too little Kingpin.  It’s a bowling dramedy, but weighted heavily on the drama side, and the hackneyed Rain Man premise can’t sell the drama effectively.  I really disliked this movie for about the first hour and a half.  It’s well crafted on a technical level and well performed, but shameless and manipulative in the service of an obnoxious, dated plot.  And then, somehow, in the last half an hour, Split became SO shameless and SO manipulative that I kind of circled back around into enjoying it as an massively overripe piece of cheese.  I still don’t much like it, but at least it left me with a good, albeit pungent, taste in my mouth. Continue reading

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NYAFF 2017 Review: Kfc (Vietnam 2017)

Kfc starts out with the opposite of the Fargo disclaimer – a emphatic reassurance that the film’s events are purely fictional.  Whether that’s a reaction against Fargo or just an attempt not to get sued, I don’t know, because Kfc will turn you off not just the titular chicken franchise, but food in general.  This grotty little Vietnamese indie constantly assaults its audience with graphic, repellent imagery and a wet, visceral soundtrack that is somehow even more nauseating than the film’s visuals.  Yet the film is strangely absorbing, and I found myself lost in its puzzle box structure. Continue reading

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NYAFF 2017 Review:  Extraordinary Mission (China 2017)

Extraordinary Mission is exactly the kind of movie that Hong Kong as always excelled at – a twisty undercover cop thriller that frequently breaks out into no-holds-barred action scenes.  Very much in the spirit of its direct cinematic forebears like Infernal Affairs, Hard Boiled and City on Fire, Extraordinary Mission exists very much in that HK world where undercover cops are constantly having to escape their own while proving to vicious crime lords just how cold they are.  Except, this isn’t a Hong Kong film at all, it’s another example of China drinking Hong Kong’s milkshake. Continue reading

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NYAFF 2017 Review: Bad Genius (Thailand 2017)

Bad Genius makes me feel like the Thai film industry just leveled up. I’ve watched a lot of Thai movies. There’s a ton of great action even beyond the filmography of Tony Jaa (stuff like Dynamite Warriors and Power Kids), plenty of creepy or gross-out horror, and an interesting art house undercurrent with movies like Tears of the Black Tiger and, of course, the works of Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Pen-Ek Ratanaruang. But by and large, when it comes to mainstream fare, Thai cinema has never reached the level that South Korea or even China routinely demonstrates these days.  Bad Genius could change all that – it’s the first time I’ve thought Thailand could really hold its own with Hollywood. Continue reading

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NYAFF 2017 Review:  Saving Sally (Phillippines 2016)

I really enjoyed Saving Sally, the passion project of director Avid Liongoren and screenwriter Charlene Sawit.  The film is bursting with creativity, the leads are sweet and likable, and the film has a lovely “Blues Clues meets Liquid Television” aesthetic with a charming blend of live action and animation.  So it kind of kills me to harsh Saving Sally’s buzz, but I have some major issues with the wish fulfillment elements of the plot (kind of like I thoroughly enjoy The Incredibles, but the more I think about the underlying philosophy, the more unhappy I get). Continue reading

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NYAFF 2017: Interview with Executive Director Samuel Jamier

Subway Cinema’s New York Asian Film Festival enters its 16th year in 2017, still going strong at Lincoln Center. The festival starts tomorrow night (June 30) with one of the strongest Thai films I’ve seen in years, the school thriller Bad Genius, and closes with Korean actioner The Villainess on July 16.

Cinema Strikes Back will be providing coverage throughout the festival, but to start things off, here’s an interview with NYAFF Executive Director Samuel Jamier, who’s has been involved in the NYAFF for years now in addition to his work with the Japan Society and their Japan Cuts festival. We discussed recent developments in Asian cinema, Bad Genius, and some of his favorite films in this year’s festival.

The NYAFF is now in its 16th year. What new trends or changes do you see emerging in pan-Asian films and regional industries since the last festival?

It’s a pretty broad question, and I think I can only skim the surface here. I see two things mainly, aside from the overall, global shift towards digital platforms that’s affecting the film industry worldwide.

1: China’s definitely upping their game when it comes to genre cinema, action, crime thrillers, horror (though we haven’t picked any horror films from China). Continue reading

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Review: Belladonna of Sadness (Japan 1973)

Wow, that was one hell of an acid trip of a movie. A remaster and re-release of an early animated film produced by Osamu Tezuka, this film is completely unique, the closest comparison being the more outré works of Ralph Bakshi like Heavy Traffic or Wizards, or the folkloric prologue to Watership Down. Continue reading

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