NYAFF15: City of Fire

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The NY Asian Film Festival hosted its 14th annual film festival screening the best films from across the Asian continent. The films range in various genre from respected directors and new works from rising stars. NYAFF gave the “Lifetime Achievement Award” sponsored by the HKETONY to director Ringo Lam. “You are master of film, master of cinema, so we giving you this but more importantly we are giving you this because your films are the best and we look forward toward seeing more of your work.”

Ringo Lam is a well known  for his “On Fire” films and is an iconic figure in action cinema who’s movies has inspired future films such as Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs and Kathryn Bigelow‘s “Point Break” . At the Walter Reade Theater, Director Ringo Lam made his grand entrance dressed in a suit with sunglasses and gave a brief two minute ovation;

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Director Ringo Lam with the NYAFF crew

“I’m surprised I didn’t get this in Hong Kong I got this award in New York.” (applause) “I’m not much of a talker. Tonight I’m here to present a movie I did 30 years ago. In 30 years, I look around and I think my film is older than you. The film I’m afraid it might be very scratchy and a  moldy but that’s not the optical effect I want. (laughter) “I’m going to watch the film I did 30 years ago, here in the theater with you. And with this award,  and with the people her and with all of you, really set my heart on fire”

The NYAFF team was able to recover an original copy of his “City of Fire” that he made 30 years ago with the original film reel and English subtitles. For many of the audience members, many weren’t born at the time he made the film, which made the whole experience very exciting. Once the film began, everyone was transported back to 1985 Hong Kong. The film began with a quick shootout between an undercover cop and three thugs. After the shootout, Inspector Lau (Shun Yueh) meets with Chow (Chow Yun-fat) an average guy with a troubled relationship with his fiancée. In the midst of all this, we learn that Chow wanted to leave his life as a undercover cop because he’s always betraying his friends even if they happen to be the enemy he is fighting. However, Inspector convinces him to help him seek out the robbers from a recent jewelry heist. As he takes on this mission, he is haunted by his nightmares, is pressured by his fiancée to marry her or else she’ll leave him, and with a new police force trying to take control of the mission, Chow is constantly on the tip of his toes trying to keep track of the robbers and the new police force who mistaken him as a criminal.

With a series of blunders and misunderstandings, Chow is constantly juggling his priorities of his professional and personal life. Ringo Lam captures the essence of what it truly means to be a police officer who has to put his life on the line in order to catch dangerous criminals. Unlike other action films with exaggerated effects and often unrealistic car chases and fights, Ringo Lam keeps it real with relatable characters we can sympathize with, even when Chow runs out of breath when running and struggles to jump on the back of a truck, which adds a comedic effect. Even the crooks, who are later revealed to the audience, are men who want to enjoy life to the fullest just like anyone else, but resort to crime to gain quick cash. Through his fluid camera transitions and raw depictions of the gun fights and car chases that are often romanticized in other action films, Chow’s acting adds agony to the struggles of being a cop, a fiancée, a friend, and nephew. The ending is just as realistic as the rest of the film, raw with unfulfilled promises and a city on fire.

NYAFF15: Pale Moon

 

 

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“Pale Moon” directed by Daihachi Yoshida is a cinema adaptation of the popular contemporary novel “Kami no Tsuki” by Mitsuyo Kakuta. “Pale Moon” revolves around an ordinary housewife, Rika ( Rie Miyazawa ) who works as a bank teller. Well known in the office for her customers’ trust and reliability on her, she’s seems content with a good reputation. However, there is an obvious lack of enthusiasm in her daily routine and a distant relationship with her husband who is often stuck long hours at work. It isn’t until she meets one of the elderly client’s Kozo (Renji Ishibashi) for advice on bond sales that she meets his grandson, Kota (Sosuke Ikematsu). At first, she keeps distance from him but then becomes intrigued by his consistent wooing and elopes in a forbidden love.

As she keeps her love affair secret, she begins to contemplate her relationship with her husband who goes overseas to help out with a job. Her young co-worker Keiko (Yuko Oshima) convinces her to enjoy life to the fullest, regardless of the consequences while she too is having a secret love affair for embezzlement. As she ponders on this thought, her lover reveals his debt problem due to the high college tuition. When she asks why he hasn’t consulted his grandfather for a loan, he tells her how he keeps all the money for himself. This is when she takes it upon herself to help him by taking money from his grandfather’s bank account to help him pay off his debt. Her realization of being able to accomplish such a feat without being caught while also helping someone in need gives her a new revelation. She then takes the advice to heart and begins a new life of self indulgence, using forged bank notes and her clients accounts. At this point, her supervisor Yoriko (Satomi Kobayashi) and Rika’s boss (Yoshimasa Kondo), begin to notice discrepancies in her work, arousing suspicion.

With a series of subtle flashbacks, the viewer sees that it’s not the first time she has indulged in such behavior. As an ideal Catholic student, she has always had the “the ends justify the means” mentality. Even at her present state when confronted with the possibility of incarceration, she remains conflicted with her own desires in contrast to her compliance with society dictates as morally correct. Meanwhile, her supervisor makes her aware that even though she helped one person, she has ruined the lives of others in exchange. This becomes an eye opener as she realizes that she can no longer deny the truth of who she is and is later seen in a foreign country.

The film brilliantly explores the complexity of consequentialism but also reflects how money can provide the fuel to greatly impact people’s character and livelihood. With Rie Miyazawa’s interpretation of the character, she is able to portray the two faces of a woman who wants to do good but at the same time not sacrifice her own happiness. At the end of the film, director Daihachi Yoshida joined NYAIFF team to a Q&A session.

NYAFF15: Insanity

 

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“Insanity” directed by David Lee and produced by Derek Yee made its North American Premiere at the NY Asian Film Festival. “Insanity” is centered around a schizophrenic man, Fan Kwok-Sang (Lau Ching-Wan) who is convicted for involuntary manslaughter of his wife and is sent to three months therapy at a prestigious hospital. The psychologist who treats him, Dr. Chow Ming-Kit (Huang Xiaoming) is a prestigious doctor who later becomes the head of the institution. Despite having successfully cured the mentally ill man, he comes under scrutiny when Fan commits another crime. As the story progresses, the film begins to follow Dr. Chow Ming-Kit and fully immerses the viewer into his mindset. The viewer is left watching Dr. Chow Ming-Kit as he desperately tries to cure Fan to save his reputation. However, the tables are turned and unveils the doctor’s secret past and insecurities in contrast to his façade, making the doctor his own patient. While the doctor undergoes an identity crisis, there are also switches in scenes to show the reality of the world outside of his mind giving a complete perspective of what his happening in real time.

 

The film uses a mix of elements common in horror films to emphasize the fear and trauma the protagonists experience. For example, the disappearance and reappearance of the stalking old lady, the use of powerful sound effects, and the raw imagery of the dead wife. The film also incorporates the use of 3D effects when portraying the illusions of the rooms and mirrors, which gives an extra dimension to the mind of the protagonist. With the amazing high definition and stunning cinematography, the film gives one of the most realistic portrayals of understanding the mind of a mentally ill patient and the struggles they undergo that provoke the illness.

The finale is thought provocative, scrutinizing society to become more conscientious of the mentally ill to allow them to seek professional help without the negative stigmatization. The finale also encourages the audience to become proactive citizens and to aid one another to deal with life struggles. Through the cunning performance of both Lau Ching-Wan and Huang Xiaoming, they are able to reflect how mental illnesses can affect all walks of life and is up to society as a whole to break down the negative stereotypes to help people with mental and physical illnesses.

NYAFF15: Already Tomorrow In Hong Kong

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“Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong” is directed by Emily Ting. The film is based on a real life encounter between a Hong Kong expat, Josh (Bryan Green) and a Chinese American girl, Ruby (Jamie Chung) visiting Hong Kong.

Even though they share an intimate chemistry and have a good time together, they both begin to feel conflicted when it’s revealed that they both have fiancees. When they meet again a year later (coincidently)and still share that intimate connection as if they’ve known each other for a long time. Unfortunately, the film ends with a cliffhanger, leaving the viewer eager to learn if the two become a couple or if they continue to be in their current relationships.

The cinematography captures the beauty of the city with it’s panoramic shots and the essence of the bustling city. The acting is very natural, capturing the awkwardness and fun the two share as they realize how much they have in common in their deep conversations while exploring the maze like city.

The film is highly recommended for those who like a bittersweet romance with a tinge of comedy and is a great guide to the popular spots of beautiful Hong Kong.

The film was featured in NYAFF15  with the director for an Q&A.

NYAFF16: Inside Men Premiere

NYAFF2016 paired up with the Korean Cultural Center of NY to bring Korea’s newest cinema from their ingenious directors featuring the best actors Lee Byung-hun, Yoo Ah-in, Park Jung-Min, and others.

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At NYAFF2016, Actor Lee Byung-hun made an appearance at the premiere of the newest crime-thriller film “Inside Men”. Known as South Korea’s “Tom Cruise”, he has accomplished many first in his career including being the first Asian to present an award at the 2015 Academy Oscars.

At NYAFF, Lee Byung-hun was presented the Star Asia Award for his continuous contributions to cinema. Actor Lee Byung-hun gave his thanks to NYAFF, to his supporters and to his wife, who made a short appearance on stage.

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Actor Lee Byung-hun and Festival Director Samuel Jamier at the Inside Men Premiere NYAFF16

“Inside Men” is based on the popular manhwa in Korea with the same title. The author of the webtoon, Yoon Tae-ho, is also famous for his story “Moss” which became a blockbuster hit in 2010 and “Misaeng”, which became a drama series in 2014. “Inside Men” is an intense story about the corruption scheme between corporate leaders, journalists, gangsters and a prosecutor that wants to take them all to the justice room. The main protagonist, An Sang-gu, is a gangster who has received many benefits as a middleman for congressman Jang Pil-woo and journalist Lee Gang-hee, both powerful influences in their businesses. Jang Pil-woo in the film is a forerunner in South Korea’s elections. During this campaign, An Sang-gu is caught stealing the secret documents of the slush fund that Jang Pil-woo and Lee Gang-hee share. The prosecutor, Woo Jang-hoon, has caught rumors about the secret documents and allies himself with An Sang-gu to find the evidence. An Sang-gu is determined to get the ultimate revenge and plots out a scheme of his own while helping the prosecutor. Meanwhile, the politician and journalist are always one step ahead of them, throwing the prosecutor and gangster off course and back to square one. It takes wits, undercover spying, and risks from all sides to expose the larger than life corruption scheme. The film is intense emotionally and in content. There are many characters and details to keep in mind such as the henchmen and their roles in the scheme. The film does its best to incorporate a balance of humor and crime thriller moments before transitioning to intense action.

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Q&A with Actor Lee Byung-hun and Festival director Samuel Jamier

Before the film, there was a Q&A with Actor Lee Byung-hun about his character in “Inside Men”, and his role in the upcoming film “Magnificent Seven”. He noted that the gangster he plays changed from the original character to add more realism and a bit of comic relief, such as when he drops his cell phone when trying to run away from a henchman and eating the ramen noodles. He also spoke briefly about the Magnificent Seven, “I loved watching Western movies as a kid so being in a real Western movie is a dream come true.”

Korean Movie Night NY: “Veteran”

 

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“Veteran” is an action comedy film directed by Ryoo Seung-wan and produced by Kang Hye-jung and Kim Jung-min. Known for his socio-political action films such as “Sympathy for Mr.Vengeance” and “The Berlin Files”,  Ryoo Seung-wan’s “Veteran” is his first film in the cop thriller genre. Humorous and intricate, there is still the socio-political theme incorporated in the plot with a good balance of drama and comedy. The film begins with a undercover cop operation of a international auto theft, then escalating into a battle against the Sun Jin Group corporation already under public scrutiny.

The conflict begins when Detective Seo Do-cheol (Hwang Jung-min) meets Tae-oh (Yoo Ah-in), the son of the executive of the Sun Jin Group, during a friend’s party. After the awkward confrontation, Detective Seo Do-cheol begins to suspect Tae-oh when he receives a call from Mr. Bae’s son, a truck driver who assisted during the auto theft investigation. Mr. Bae had suffered life threatening injuries and is in a coma due to mysterious circumstances. Detective Seo Do-cheol takes it upon himself to find the truth and justice for his friend. Mr. Bae’s son account gives Seo Do-cheol the first tip to investigating the corporation. However, Tae-oh’s middleman, Managing Director Choi (Yoo Hae-jin) keeps hindering his investigation.

With a balanced amount of humourous cliches, intense action and an intricate web of characters, the director is able to show the perspectives of both sides of the case with enough information to understand the backstory of the main characters. The director is also able to portray everyone’s state of mind, gambling their reputations and lives. It is a thought provoking film just like his previous works. This time, he portrays the facilitation of corruption in society where powerful influences overwhelm the importance of morality and justice. It’s thought provoking because he is able to show how these influences can impact anyone in society directly or indirectly regardless of socioeconomic class. The difference from his previous work is that he adds humour rather than making it a psychological horror or tragedy. He still maintains the psychological aspect for certain characters to add persona and to demonstrate how these situations can occur in reality. The action itself is full car chases and high flying kicks with fantastic acting, making the film emotionally intense, invigorating and intriguing.

“Veteran” debuted in NYC’s AMC Theater on September 21st and premiered at the Asia Society’s “Free Korean Movie Night” November 03rd. “Veteran” will also be screened at the 13th Annual Korean Film Festival featuring the director himself!

Korean Movie Night NY: “The Neighbors”

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Korean digital comics also known as “webtoons” or “manhwa”, have become popular over the recent years. Seen as creative in their mixture of traditional and digital art, webtoons offer a variety of story lines in a non traditional form of graphic story telling.  As part of the Webtoon Exhibition hosted by the Korean Cultural Center of NY, there are free screenings of manhwa based films at the Asia Society.

“The Neighbors” or “이웃사람 i-oot-sa-ram” is directed by KIM Khan (aka Kim Hwi). The film is a suspenseful thriller based on the 2008 manhwa “The Neighbors” by Kang Full. The film begins with the horrific death of schoolgirl Yeo-sun (Kim Sae-ron) when a neighbor offers her a ride home late at night. When she doesn’t return home from her late night schooling, Block 101 comes under scrutiny after the murder.

All the neighbors are all overcome by fear as they notice more strange occurrences happening at the condominium complex. Things aren’t made any easier for the guilt stricken mother who was unable to pick up her daughter, by the presence of one of the neighbour’s daughter Soo-yeon (Kim Sae-ron), who bears a striking resemblance to her.

Filled with suspense, the film is very edgy and conveys the stained relationships that each of the neighbors have. What is also thrilling is the use of graphic effects used for depicting the psychological mind of the grief stricken mother, the security guard with a haunting past and even the murder’s state of mind, portraying the audience their own perception of reality. With some dark humor and unexpected heroes, the film also offers the audience a moment to reflect our moral obligations to society during times of danger and great need.  

For more free Korean film events visit the Korean Culture Service NY website: http://www.koreanculture.org

NYAFF15: Empire of Lust

 

“Empire of Lust” is a Korean historical fiction action film directed by Ahn Sang-Hoon.  Based in the Joseon Dynasty, the viewer is introduced to three prominent men who hold the stability in the kingdom. One is the noble but vicious fighter, Kim Min-jae (Shin Ha-kyun) who has a dark past and seeks vengeance against the kingdom’s invaders. For his great skill at combat and strategy, he’s promoted as general of the East Army and royal protector of the emperor himself. Meanwhile, his friend, Yi Bang-won (Jang Hyuk) is a carefree prince who is against the Emperor’s idea of a national army and is well connected with all the nobles of the land. The third is the adoptive son Jin (Ha-neul Kang ) of  Kim Min-jae, who is chosen to marry the Emperor’s daughter. However he’s secretively a rapist who rapes young peasant girls and uses his status to cover up his crimes.

The story unfolds at the present situation with Korea in constatnt threat of attacking foreign invaders. To improve defenses the Emperor’s military head decides to create a national army to concentrate manpower and resources. However there is much political conflict in such decisions through the present that Kim Min-jae and Yi Bang-won, are watching a courtesan dance when one of their friends starts to harass her. Kim Min-jae protects her knowing that his friend is violating her space and with a turn of fateful encounters after the incident, the two fall in love. Through a series of flashbacks, the audience discovers that the courtesan Ka-hee (Kang Han-na), is actually working with Prince Yi Bang-won in his goal to become the next emperor while she gains her revenge on Jin, who has raped her in the past. As the story progresses, she begins to question her motives as Kim Min-jae grants her the respect and kindness she never has received because of her lower class status. As the pieces fall into place, the film serves as a larger commentary on the larger consequences of how rape can define a person and society’s construct to quiet the victim in preference to status and reputation despite the moral wrong.

The film’s artistic cinematography such as the landscapes and romantic scenes which reflect the characters desire for peace and tranquility in the midst of a system that values chivalry in battle. The film isn’t for the faint of heart and considering how there was various characters involved with their own back-story that could have been expanded on, the film did nicely in condescending it to focus on two back stories. The ending was a bit rushed and did rely heavily on flashbacks to convey more of the character’s back story. Other than that the actors and actresses did a fascinating job impersonating their characters, making the film a moving experience.