• [The Daily] NYAFF 2017

    By David Hudson

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    Starting today, the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Subway Cinema present the sixteenth edition of New York Asian Film Festival, running through July 13 at the Walter Reade Theater and then from July 14 through 16 at the SVA Theater. Tonight’s opener is Thai director Nattawut Poonpiriya’s Bad Genius, which Diana Cheng of the Asian America Press calls “a wild concoction of realistic drama, suspense thriller and fantasy.”

    Of the fifty-seven features in the lineup, Christopher Bourne and Dustin Chang have selected ten to spotlight at ScreenAnarchy, including:

    • Daigo Matsui’s Japanese Girls Never Die, “a strong indictment of the society where girls are subjugated and sexualized at an early age.”
    • Cho Hyun-hoon’s Jane, “a sensitive and perceptive portrayal of some of society’s most marginalized, vulnerable, and exploited—in this case, transgender people and teenage runaways.”
    • Zhang Lu's A Quiet Dream (image above) “falls somewhere between Jarmusch and Hong Sangsoo.”
    • “Truly not for the faint of heart or stomach,” Le Binh Giang’s Kfc’s “biggest act of mercy toward its audience is that it only lasts barely more than an hour.”
    • Jung Yoon-suk’s Bamseom Pirates Seoul Inferno is about a South Korean grindcore duo that uses “dated North Korean propaganda” to “criticize highly capitalistic, anti-commie regime” and “their energy” is “infectious.”
    • Norihiro Niwatsukino’s Suffering of Ninko, “a very odd bird, to say the least, with many visual modes and genres mashed together.”
    • Jet Leyco’s Town in a Lake: “Combining science fiction, magic realism, and pointed political and media critique, this one is a true original.”

    In the New York Times, Mike Hale explains that, in the 1970s, the Japanese corporation Nikkatsu “bet the studio on soft-core pornography,” churning out “more than 1,000 studio-backed sex films that adhered to a firm set of guidelines: low budgets, short running times, one-week shooting schedules and female nudity at least four times an hour. The Nikkatsu films became their own genre, known as roman porno.” For last year’s Roman Porno Reboot Project, five directors were invited “to put their own modern spin on roman porno,” and three of those projects have landed in the NYAFF 2017 lineup: Akihiko Shiota’s Wet Woman in the Wind, Kazuya Shiraishi’s Dawn of the Felines, and Isao Yukisada’s Aroused by Gymnopédies. Hale writes about all three, but the bottom line is this: “With a little imagination, a sex film can be about anything.”

    “Park Kwang-hyun’s Fabricated City is a mishmash of genres and narrative clichés,” writes Rex Baylon at Meniscus Magazine, “a crime drama, a prison thriller, and most obviously a wrong man scenario all wrapped into one convoluted conspiracy narrative. Borrowing liberally from the Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat show Sherlock, the Wachowskis’ The Matrix films, and a stack of techno-thrillers, Park instead achieves in making the viewer want to watch the works that he is cribbing from.”

    Also, “Kim Bong-han’s sophomore effort Ordinary Person starts out as your standard potboiler. . . . It unabashedly shows, by the end of the movie, that though the thumb of oppression can crush one ‘Ordinary Person,’ a mass of ordinary people can rewrite an entire nation’s narrative, from tyranny to democracy.”

    At RogerEbert.com, Simon Abrams previews, among other films, Andrew Wong Kwok-kuen’s With Prisoners (“I came to the film expecting a bonkers sleazefest, and got a bleak, winningly subdued melodrama”), Lee Kyoung-mi’s The Truth Beneath, co-written by Park Chan-wook, and Zhang Yang’s Soul on a String, “a kind of Buddhist acid western.”

    Updates, 7/1: “Arguably the world’s best-curated program of new and classic Asian cinema, the annual showcase has made itself an increasingly essential institution by introducing American audiences to little-seen masterpieces,” writes David Ehrlich at IndieWire. “But it’s not the quality control or the comprehensiveness that makes NYAFF such an indispensable event, it’s that they deliver both of those things with style; no one who attended the 2009 screening of Guan Hu’s Cow will ever forget programmer Grady Hendrix introducing the film from inside a cow costume and delivering his (lengthy) remarks entirely in ‘moo’s.”

    “Based on recent revelations about real-life scandals in the international college-admission Scholastic Assessment Tests (SAT), Bad Genius scores high marks as a ceaselessly entertaining thriller which cedes little ground to the cheap comedy and sentimentality of recent Thai hits,” writes Clarence Tsui for the Hollywood Reporter. “Nattawut admitted he watched The Conversation and All the President’s Men for inspiration, and it shows as the film flourishes through its simple narrative and taut editing.”

    Update, 7/4: In Review Online has posted its first dispatch with:

    • Christopher Bourne on Midi Z’s “starkly rendered yet poetic” The Road to Mandalay and The Long Excuse, “perhaps the strongest to date from one of Japan’s finest directors, Miwa Nishikawa.”
    • Also, Chen Yu-Hsun’s The Village of No Return is “a crowd-pleasing Chinese New Year movie, with humor as broad as a ten-lane highway.”
    • Luke Gorham on Bad Genius, noting that “the stock plot, its contrivances, and the various implausibilities are fairly obvious. What’s surprising is how confident Poonpiriya’s direction and strength of voice are.”
    • Lawrence Garcia calls Wet Woman in the Wind “unabashedly nonsensical, a veritable barrage of animalistic pleasures that attempts no less than to strip down the intellectual pretensions of both its protagonist and its audience.”
    • Matt Lynch on Dawn of the Felines, “a crushingly banal series of hoary melodramas.”
    • Sean Gilman on Alan Mak and Felix Chong’s Extraordinary Mission, “a routine actioner about an undercover cop working against powerful heroin traffickers.”
    • Also, Yang Shupeng’s Blood of Youth: “Various narrative threads coalesce on a rickety, over-cluttered boat that serves as a fitting metaphor for the film itself.”
    • And Chen Mei-juin’s The Gangster’s Daughter, “a film that’s at its best in the margins, exploring particularities of Taiwanese culture, its deities, rituals and the ordinance-infested landscapes of its small-island setting of Kinmen.”
    • Sam C. Mac on Leste Chen’s Battle of Memories, which “feels like a move with too many competing influences, and a self-defeating one because of it.”
    • Paul Attard on The Truth Beneath, which “feels scattershot as it tries to be a political thriller and a family mystery before settling on revenge drama.”
    • And Japanese Girls Never Die “presents a glossy and hyperactive aesthetic, but little in the way of substance.”
    • Eric Barroso on Jero Yun’s Mrs. B., A North Korean Woman: “The lengths gone to keep the specifics of the main subject hidden silently emphasize the restrictions placed upon immigrants in China and South Korea.”

    Bad Genius “demonstrates the resourcefulness of its desperate characters in an entertaining blend of high-stakes heist and savvy societal commentary,” writes Sarah Ward for Screen. “With class inequalities, academic pressures and institutionalized corruption among its multiple-choice roster of deeper insights, this slick, shrewd film more than earns a passing grade.”

    Update, 7/12: In Review Online’s posted a second dispatch:

    • Sam C. Mac on Han Han’s Duckweed, “a Chinese Back to the Future with quite a bit of Capra in it.”
    • Justin Stewart on Wong Chun’s Mad World, a “reasonably diverting melodrama.” Also, “A Quiet Dream is a small marvel of episodic, humanistic filmmaking.”
    • Christopher Bourne on Kei Ishikawa‘s “artfully moody debut feature,” Traces of Sin.
    • Alex Engquist on Derek Tsang’s “emotionally astute and irresistibly moving” Soul Mate.
    • Sean Gilman: “This Is Not What I Expected is Derek Hui’s directorial debut, but it’s full of crisp, bright images that put televised food porn to shame with their sense for color, texture, and the sounds of cooking.”
    • Also, Chung Mong-hong’s Godspeed is “too shifty to grasp, moody and ephemeral, grippingly bleak and cruel, yet sad and somehow weirdly hopeful.”
    • And Liu Yulin’s Someone to Talk To is “a strictly bland melodrama; at its best it recalls Edward Yang’s Yi Yi, except with all the poetry and mystery drained out of it.”
    • Luke Gorham on Jet Leyco’s Town in a Lake, which “bears all the hallmarks of a well-crafted, disconcerting horror—until its payoff.”
    • Chris Mello argues that “by the time the film gets to its cannibalism, Kfc has already run the gamut through beheadings, teeth pulling and necrophilia, further dulling the impact of the cheap shocks of its final scenes.”
    • Also, Tetsuya Mariko’s Destruction Babies is “a film characterized by brutality filmed in unfussy long takes and a general disinterest in narrative momentum.”
    • Paul Attard on Eiji Uchida’s Love and Other Cults, which “tries to make sense of why people fall in with who they fall in with, and it creates an appropriately volatile space to explore that concern.”
    • Also, Norihiro Niwatsukino’s Suffering of Ninko is “a briskly told story of old-world religious discipline butting heads with a more modern sexuality.”

    Update, 7/16: For ScreenAnarchy, Diva Vélez talks with Bad Genius director Nattawut Poonpiriya and two of the film’s stars, “Chanon Santinatornkul and the New York Asian Film Festival’s Rising Star Award winner, Chutimon ‘Aokbab’ Chuengcharoensuking . . . about the social clashes and moral dilemmas that went into the story of a pair of students outsmarting the SATs.”

    Update, 7/18: Bad Genius has been named best feature at this year’s NYAFF, reports Jeremy Kay for Screen. “The competition’s special mention award went to Yoshiyuki Kishi’s A Double Life from Japan, and an honourable mention for most promising director went to Le Binh Giang for Vietnam’s Kfc.

    Updates, 7/21: A third and final dispatch at In Review Online:

    • Christopher Bourne on The Villainess, “Jung Byung-Gil’s demented take on La Femme Nikita.
    • Also, Ho Yuhang’s Mrs. K is “an enjoyable watch, with a droll wit that enlivens its approach to its action movie beats.”
    • And in Cho Hyun-hoon’s Jane, there’s “considerable value and interest in the context of a Korean cinema and society that’s still taking relative baby steps toward fully incorporating LGBT people and issues.”
    • Lawrence Garcia on Takashi Miike’s “enjoyable and at the same time downright exhausting” The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio.
    • Alex Engquist finds that Sabu’s Happiness “takes a flying leap into grim revenge-thriller territory, leaving the gently eccentric tone of the opening scenes a distant memory.”
    • Matt Lynch on Mikhail Red’s “formally placid Filipino thriller” Birdshot.
    • Paul Attard on With Prisoners, “a standard reform drama wherein evil authority figures make the lives of mislead teens at a prison a living hell.”
    • Also, Fabricated City “becomes unrelentingly grim.”
    • Justin Stewart: “Lawrence Lau’s Dealer/Healer belongs to that most enervating of sub-genres: the wannabe epic.”
    • And in Aroused by Gymnopedies, “there’s lots of sex, but it’s all of the messy, inappropriate, and anguished variety.”
    • Chris Mello on Yan Pak-wing and Chiu Sin-hang’s “action-comedy in the jiangshi (hopping vampire) tradition, Vampire Cleanup Department.

    More interviews from Diva Vélez at ScreenAnarchy: Director Zhang Lu and star Han Ye-ri (A Quiet Dream) and director Wong Chun and star Eric Tsang (Mad World).

    For news and items of interest throughout the day, every day, follow @CriterionDaily.

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