THE GEISHA OF GORE Takes On:
THE NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL AND JAPAN CUTS – 2012
By Colleen Wanglund
Once again I, your Geisha of Gore, attended this year’s New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) and the Japan Cuts film festival, although this time as a legitimate member of the press. During the month of July I experienced some very cool films from all over Southeast Asia and in varying genres—not just the horror that I’m so overwhelmingly fond of. The NYAFF, which is put together by Subway Cinema and The Film Society of Lincoln Center, just celebrated its eleventh year, and it’s bigger than ever. Japan Cuts is a festival of contemporary Japanese cinema held every year at The Japan Society in the Turtle Bay neighborhood of Manhattan and is in its sixth consecutive year. NYAFF movies are shown at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, The Japan Society (where the two festivals overlap and support each other) and sometimes a midnight movie at the IFC Center. Both film festivals are run by some very cool people, who welcomed me into the fold officially this past July…and that was due to the help of my wingman from another website, Stan Glick, who knows more about Asian films than most people I’ve met.
Opening night was a blast, as Stan, fellow Knife Fighter Nick Cato and I saw the comedy VULGARIA (Hong Kong, 2012) about a producer who is desperately trying to get his porn film made—an ambitious remake of a Shaw Brothers 1970’s sexploitation classic. Not only does the movie get made, but the producer ends up creating a viral marketing campaign that makes his movie a huge hit. The movie’s director Pang Ho-cheung took questions from the sold-out audience, telling us that the film is actually based on true events—which makes it that much funnier. It was filmed in just twelve days on an extremely low budget, and the script was written by almost everyone involved as it went along! It’s a raunchy comedy without actually being visibly raunchy or vulgar, which is quite the feat, considering the subject matter. I truly laughed so hard I cried. VULGARIA stars Chapman To, who starred in INFERNAL AFFAIRS (2002), INFERNAL AFFAIRS 2 (2003), and TRIPLE TAP (2010), and has had a long career in Hong Kong cinema. There is also the very interesting character of Popping Cherry, played by Dada Chan, who will do just about anything to get into the movies. How she got her name is priceless.
Afterwards, everyone was invited into the theater’s gallery where we enjoyed some complimentary Kirin beer to celebrate the opening of NYAFF. The next afternoon I was lucky enough to participate in a press conference with Choi Min-sik, star of OLDBOY (2003), I SAW THE DEVIL (2010) and his latest, NAMELESS GANGSTER (2012). NYAFF held a four-film mini retrospective of Choi’s films, including OLDBOY, NAMELESS GANGSTER, FAILAN (2001), and CRYING FIST (2005). Choi Min-sik is one of the biggest stars in South Korea and for good reason—the man is a brilliant actor. I was thrilled to meet him and be able to ask him at least one question during the conference.
Below is a brief synopsis of some of the other films that screened at NYAFF and Japan Cuts.
NAMELESS GANGSTER (Korea, 2012)—Choi Min-sik stars as a crooked customs inspector who is about to go to prison, but finds a stash of confiscated cocaine and ends up a gangster, using his family connections to stay in power for quite some time. When he faces his impending downfall, he has no problem betraying some of those same family members who helped his rise in the Korean underworld. The movie is brilliant and if you get a chance, go see it!
NASI LEMAK 2.0 (Malaysia, 2011)—Directed by and starring rapper Namewee, NASI LEMAK 2.0 is a comedy surrounding food….namely the national dish of Malaysia. At its core, it is about ethnic division in the country using kung fu, Bollywood dance numbers, outrageous stereotypes and surreal comedy in an attempt to get across a message of unity. Not my favorite of the festival movies, but funny and entertaining, nonetheless.
THE KING OF PIGS (Korea, 2011)—An animated film employing washed-out, muted colors and harsh lines to set the tone, THE KING OF PIGS tells the story of the effects of bullying on young school boys and how it continues to affect their adult lives. It is at times a brutal and unflinching look at how class plays a role in Korean society. Directed by Yeun Sang-ho, the film isn’t the most graceful anime I’ve ever seen, but it is based on some of Yeun’s own experiences while in middle school and displays its darkness effectively.
HARD ROMANTICKER (Japan, 2011)—Written and directed by Gu Su-yeon and based on Gu’s own childhood growing up in a Korean ghetto, the film is a hard-ass look at loner Gu (Shota Matsuda—whose father was a star of 70s yakuza flicks) who causes trouble and attempts to elude payback among different gangs. He’s also hounded by a cop looking for Gu to rat out others, but just feeds the cop info on low-level drug users instead. HARD ROMANTICKER is fast, furious and violent, but an entertaining film for those who like the gangster genre.
ASURA (Japan, 2012)—Another animated film, ASURA is about a young boy surviving as a cannibal in war-torn Medieval Japan, who is then befriended by a young woman who shows the boy compassion. The Lord of the village is determined to find and kill the boy and things get dangerous for everyone involved. The film uses an animation process that involves 3D characters over a 2D painted background. The result is a beautiful watercolor effect with an amazing depth. The story is brutal and bloody, but heartbreaking as well.
NO MAN’S ZONE (Japan, 2012)—A moving documentary that was filmed by a crew that basically wandered around the 20-kilometer exclusion zone affected by the radiation from the Fukushima nuclear reactors. It is a few months after the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster, but some of the small villages and towns have yet to be evacuated. It is both heartbreaking and infuriating to see the devastation and the lack of response by the government.
TORMENTED (Japan, 2011)—Directed by Takashi Shimizu, Christopher Doyle was Director of Photography on this follow-up to THE SHOCK LABYRINTH (Japan, 2009). While not a sequel, TORMENTED (orig. title: RABBIT HORROR 3D) contains some of the same elements and places as THE SHOCK LABYRINTH and a scene from SHOCK is included at one point in TORMENTED. It’s a huge departure from Shimizu’s famous JU-ON films, but a fantastic effort.
HENGE (Japan, 2012)—Directed by Hajime Ohata, HENGE, which translates to metamorphosis, is a short film that clocks in at just around 54 minutes. It is a disturbing film about a man who suffers violent seizures and speaks in an alien language. Over time the man transforms into a bloodthirsty insectoid creature, but his wife stands by her man, even luring victims to the house for him to feed on. It’s gory and worth a watch, IF you can find it. Unfortunately it’s tough for shorts to get decent distribution deals. The film was shown with two other short films as part of “The Atrocity Exhibition.”
LET’S-MAKE-THE-TEACHER-HAVE-A-MISCARRIAGE CLUB (Japan, 2012)—Another short film that was part of The Atrocity Exhibition, this disturbing film follows a group of middle-school girls led by the psychologically damaged Mizuki. Mizuki decides that the girls’ pregnant teacher is dirty and her pregnancy must be ended as a punishment for having had sex. What makes this film even more disturbing is that it is based on true events. This is a fantastic film that will unfortunately not see a distribution deal because of its length, which is an even 60 minutes.
And these were just the films I got to see during the festivals!
Other wonderful films that were screened during the two festivals and must be seen, if you haven’t already (and seriously, what are you waiting for?) included OLDBOY (Korea, 2003), the cult classic starring Choi Min-sik; the bleak horror film GOKE: BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL (Japan, 1968); INFERNAL AFFAIRS 1 and 2 (Hong Kong, 2002/2003), the far superior original versions of Martin Scorsese’s THE DEPARTED (2006); FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH (Hong Kong, 1972), one of the best kung fu films ever made and one that established the genre; ACE ATTORNEY (Japan, 2012) based on a popular video game and directed by Takashi Miike; THIRTEEN ASSASSINS (Japan, 2010) a samurai film, also directed by Takashi Miike; and ZOMBIE ASS:TOILET OF THE DEAD (Japan, 2011) the latest offering from Sushi Typhoon and directed by Noboru Iguchi.
NYAFF and Japan Cuts combined to showcase new movies, classic films, special guests, and parties. There were almost 100 films screened between the two festivals, and they get bigger each year. Some of this year’s guests included Donnie Yen, Choi Min-sik, Michelle Chen, Yoon Jin-seo, and Jeff Lau. I’ve looked forward to the festivals every year since I first began attending over three years ago. Samuel Jamier is the head programmer for Japan Cuts and would love to see the festival become one of the biggest showcase for Japanese films of all genres in North America. Some of the cool people involved with the New York Asian Film Festival are Ted Geoghegan, Grady Hendrix, Rufus de Rham, and Goran Topalovic.
© Copyright 2012 by Colleen Wanglund
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