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.

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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.

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.”

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.