It’s that time of year again: the New York Asian Film Festival (June 29 – July 15) is here! Roosting at Lincoln Center and the Japan Society, it’s a massive festival of 50 movies that people actually watch. Screw your art films – these are retro titles, brand new premieres, animation, musicals, action movies, and just flat out freak shows that will melt your face off! And the guests…holy cow, the guests! Donnie Yen, the biggest action star in the world; Choi Min-Sik, the star of OLDBOY; Chung Chang-Wha, the director of FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH, the most influential martial arts movie ever made; Pang Ho-cheung, who directed a movie about mule-fucking that’s opening the festival…and those are just the names I remember when I’m drunk.
I’m a little less involved this year since I’ve got a couple of books coming out this summer and I’m spending my time promoting them, but that just means I get to be more in the audience than ever before and I’m planning on watching the fuck out of some movies. Here’s my guide to what rocks!
INFERNAL AFFAIRS 1 & 2 Tenth Anniversary Screening!
Friday, July 6 starting at 6pm
You’ve probably seen the INFERNAL AFFAIRS movies before, but taken together they are one of the greatest one-two punches in crime cinema, second only to THE GODFATHER and ELECTION 1 & 2. The first film is a sleek thriller (you might remember it as the movie Martin Scorsese remade as THE DEPARTED, which won him a bunch of Oscars despite being inferior in every way to INFERNAL AFFAIRS), but the prequel, INFERNAL AFFAIRS 2, is where things get juicy as the filmmakers gleefully upturn everything you thought you knew. If IA 1 is a chronicle of Buddhist Hell, IA 2 is where you see the sins committed that got the characters condemned to it in the first place. Anchored by a gallery of amazing performances by some of Hong Kong’s best character actors (Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang, Francis Ng), by the time IA 2 ends you’re in a far darker, far different place than you were at the end of the first film. Plus, Edison Chen, the scandal-plagued star of INFERNAL AFFAIRS 2 is going to be in the house introducing the second movie. It’s been 10 years since INFERNAL AFFAIRS appeared, now it’s time to celebrate by taking both barrels full in the face! (full info)
Friday, June 29 @ MIDNIGHT!
To me, this is the true opening night film of the festival and nothing has me more excited than a chance to see this monster-piece on the big screen. If I say this 70′s-set story of Thai wizards busting out black magic duels is like nothing you’ve ever seen before, that barely prepares you for just how insane this movie is. How insane is it? Check it out, cats:
If you think you have a strong stomach, if you think you have a strong mind, BOXER’S OMEN will prove that you are so, so, so very wrong. (full info)
EAST MEETS WEST 2011 w/Jeff Lau
Wednesday, The Fourth of July @ 3:30pm
If there’s one outsider artist director working in the world right now, it’s Jeff Lau. One party genius, two parts madman, his movies exist in a genre that can only belong to one man: Jeff Lau! He’s the king of Hong Kong comedy, having shaped Stephen Chow’s early hit movies and co-inventing the mo lei tau (nonsense comedy) brand of comic insanity that Chow wallows in. He also collaborated with Wong Kar-wai on his poppiest, most spectacular, fizziest movies – ASHES OF TIME, CHUNGKING EXPRESS, FALLEN ANGELS – and he’s written and produced some of Hong Kong’s most buoyant classic films (FONG SAI YUK, 92 LEGENDARY LA ROSE NOIRE, CHINESE ODYSSEY 1 & 2). His movies involve time travel, reincarnation, animation, musical numbers, slapstick, heartbreak, giant robots, aliens, and pretty much anything he can throw at the screen. And somehow, it all works. His slickest movie in a long time is EAST MEETS WEST 2011, and the fact that the man himself just happens to be in town and is going to stop by the theater is pretty awesome. (full info)
Sunday, July 15 @ 8pm
There is no director I love the way I love Yoshihiro Nakamura. We’ve shown one of his movies every year for the past three years, and they’ve been some of my favorites at the festival. FISH STORY is one of the best movies of all time, a punk rock sci-fi classic; GOLDEN SLUMBERS is the conspiracy thriller that defeats cynicism by positing, “If there’s a secret conspiracy to rule the world, isn’t there also a secret conspiracy to save it?”; and A BOY AND HIS SAMURAI which handily took the Audience Award at last year’s fest. This year, he deploys his particular brand of comedy, compassion, and coincidence to talk about the 2011 Japanese earthquake that killed thousands and caused the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster. A brisk 70 minutes, it does more in that short running time than some directors have done with their entire careers. You’d be a fool to miss it. (read this heart-on-its-sleeve review from the Japan Times if you need further convincing) (full info)
THE MIAMI CONNECTION w/Grandmaster Y.K. Kim
Saturday, July 7 @ 11:15pm
I think it’s safe to say that if there is one movie everyone in Subway Cinema is excited about, this is it. From the same crackpots who made festival fave, LA STREETFIGHTERS, comes this lunatic craptastic ninja movie about New Wave bands, Tae Kwon Do, dense beards, bad fighting, ridiculous gore, and misguided dialogue. The fact that the star, co-director, and producer of the film, Grandmaster Y.K. Kim, is going to be at the screening doing a Tae Kwon Do demonstration makes this unmissable. Plus: Grandmaster Y.K. Kim is also a motivational speaker! So we’re all gonna get motivated! Like BOXER’S OMEN, this is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Soak your head in beer, and come on down! (full info)
And don’t miss this truly great MIAMI CONNECTION trailer:
But wait, there’s more! My next five must-sees in the festival are:
KILL ZONE (SPL: SHA PO LANG)
Sunday, July 8 @ 5:15pm
Donnie Yen was slogging it out in the Hong Kong trenches, and there were years in his career when he couldn’t even get arrested. But he kept going and finally, in 2005 when he was 42 years old, he appeared in this movie and crushed it. Stardom was his. And he deserved it. The action choreography is so innovative, the mood of bleak nihilism is so overwhelming, the actors are so all so totally off-the-charts intense, that this flick has become a modern-day classic. The chance to see it on the big screen and to have Donnie here to talk about it is truly unique.
Monday, July 2 @ 9pm
Director Ryoo Seung-Wan’s breakthrough movie, this is a boxing movie where the two leads, Choi Min-Sik and Ryoo Seung-Beom (the director’s brother), never meet. I’m not sure why nobody ever thought to do this before, but the idea of a boxing match where the audience is totally invested in both fighters, each of whom desperately needs to win, is pretty much the perfect metaphor for life. Because, as ALIEN VS PREDATOR says, no matter who wins, we lose.
Saturday, June 30 @ 9pm
Tuesday, July 1 @ 1pm
Imagine GOODFELLAS if it had also involved the Watergate break-in and you’ve got NAMELESS GANGSTER. A totally off-the-hook, savage take-down of Korea in the 80′s, it basically posits a country where the only difference between the president and a gang leader is the name on their business card. And Ha Jung-Woo redefines cool as a gangster with freon flowing in his veins.
YOU ARE APPLE OF MY EYE
Sunday, July 1 @ 6pm
Monday, July 2 @ 6:30pm
Monday, July 9 @ 12:30pm
I avoided watching this movie for a long time. The English title is a bit lame, it’s yet another high school romance, I just wasn’t feeling it. I was so wrong. When I finally got around to watching this movie I discovered it was a high school romance if John Waters had gotten ahold of it. The meet-cute between the two leads happens over a jerk off contest in the back of a classroom, the degree to which the characters humiliate themselves is simultaneously appalling and refreshing, and the romance feels totally and completely earned. It’s a much tougher, much fresher, much more swoon-worthy movie than I thought it was going to be, and it took me by surprise and, like ONCE, reminded me of just how good a romantic comedy could be if only it was willing to break the rules and then jump up and down on the pieces. (read a review)
Thursday, July 12 @ 6:30pm
I had zero expectations when I watched this, but then this little flick blew them away, smashed them with an ax, and then stuffed them down its maw anyways. Relentlessly savage, it’s an animated film all about a cute little boy in Medieval Japan who EATS PEOPLE. And he’s the hero. Never shying away from distributing gallons of goopy red blood across the screen most promiscuously, this movie has a lead who spends most of the film with his teeth embedded in someone’s face, ripping off strips of their soft, edible flesh. It’s also all about Buddhism’s ability (or not) to save even the most hellbound souls. Fast and furious, it’s the best baby cannibal film of the year!