Wednesday, July 17, 2024

ONPAKU (2022) NYAFF 2024


Real Estate investor from Hong Kong travel to Japan on business and ends up stuck between this world and the next.

Head scratching supernatural thriller has me uncertain as to why this film brought Josie Ho to the United States, couldn't they have picked a better film? This is a messy film where the narrative thread seems to be broken and so little is explained that there is nothing to really hold our interest. Worse it's a tale that begs borrows and steals from any number of other, better films.

The images are creepy and their marriage to the aggressive soundtrack makes for some scary moments, but they are few and fleetingly far between.

Honestly if this film didn't have Josie Ho attached to it this film would never have escaped to these shores.

A huge disappointment.


Moving (1993) Japan Cuts 2024


This is just brief word on the newly restored MOVING which was directed by Shinji Somai.

The film is the story of the break up of a marriage from the stand point of a young girl.  Old enough to understand to some degree but not old enough to handle the emotional earthquake, the young woman is forced to figure out the new normal as the uncertainty of it all makes her act out in unexpected ways.

The film looks and feels like a drama a decade or two earlier. In a weird way it reminded me of a less soapy and over wrought Douglas Sirk film. It is a film that very much cares about its characters, all of them.

This is a really good film that still stands up and feels fresh 30 years on.

Go see this and be moved.

A SUMMER'S END POEM (2024) NYAFF 2024


A kid from the country takes his savings and goes into the city for a big city haircut.

Head scratching film didn't seem to go anywhere. A music video that seems to reference something that meant nothing to me and a denouncement that left me mumbling at the screen. 

Either I missed something or this is a giant pretentious mistake.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

City of Wind (2023) NYAFF 2024


CITY OF WIND is really good. I say that because I saw it during a run of a number really poor films and I was beginning to think I would never see another good one.

The film concerns a high school student named Ze who is also a shaman. Channeling a grandfather spirit he seeks to help people. At the same time he is a normal high school student just trying to navigate life. Things become complicated when in his role as a shaman he tries to help a young woman due for heart surgery who wants no part of him (She calls him a charlatan). She survives the surgery and ze is smitten.  The relationship begins to change the young man for the better.

This is a brilliant coming of age tale that is far from typical. Not only showing us a young man coming of age, the film is a wonderful portrait of Mongolian society and most important a great examination of old and new worlds, as in shamanistic beliefs in the modern world.  What makes the film so damn great is the fact that while giving us all sorts of ideas to chew on it always remains focused on the characters and their lives. The film is about them first and last and as such the film is deeply moving.

Light years above the vast majority of films playing at this years New York Asian Film Fest CITY OF WIND is an absolute must see.

WHEN A ROCKET SITS ON THE LAUNCH PAD (2023) NYAFF 2024


Portrait of a girl named Fang who wants to play basketball and continue with her education however her parents have other ideas.

Despite looking like a documentary this is a short narrative. Containing enough material for a feature film it doesn't know what it wants to be as it raises thread after thread and then goes nowhere with it. This feels like a feature film with 90 minutes chopped out.

Shot in a style where every image is a close up of a face, usually Fang's, there is no sense of place or even what we are watching. What is this and why are we being told this? I don't know since as I said this goes nowhere.

To be fair there is a hint of something greater, but the smothering images, the lack of place and missing footage to make this a feature left me wondering how this got programmed.

This is a rocket that exploded on the launch pad

Shadow of Fire (2023) Japan Cuts 2024


God bless Shin'ya Tsukamoto. Since bursting on the scenes with TETSUO:THE IRON MAN he has been making films that confound the audience and bludgeon them into stunned silence (in a good way). I have attended several of his films when they screened at Festivals over the years and you always could feel the audience being worked over by the cinematic treats. SHADOW OF FIRE is no exception.

The plot of the film concerns a young woman running a  burned out bar in the days after the end of the Second World War.  She serves her customers food and drink and some times herself. She is nominally protected by a pimp who is never really around. She begins to form a loose family with an orphan and a broken young soldier who doesn’t try and sleep with her.  As events go on as the orphan gets mixed up with a young man of questionable morals.  

I’m not going to go into more detail because the plot will sound broken, and like the people it depicts it kind of is, but at the same time it is emotionally true. Tsukamoto is telling us a story that isn’t really about the “narrative” but the emotional and mental journey of the characters. Its operating in a realm that is beyond words and so trying to use them to explain it will make it seem less than it is.

SHADOW OF FIRE is going to rock you. It’s an off kilter little mind bomb about the effect of war on those who lived it. It is not a shiny happy film about how when the war ended things went back to normal, instead it is a long pained scream  into the darkness about how the trauma lives on forever after the bombs stop falling and the bullets stop flying. It’s a look at the psychic and emotional damage that living under threat of war does to us. It's a crushing film that makes you feel and begin to understand the destruction the leaders ever consider.

This film will leave you broken.

If you can score manage to beg borrow or steal a ticket to the sold out Japan Cuts screening I highly recommend you go.

Crossing (2024) opens Friday


A woman leaves Georgia (the country) and goes to Turkey with the intention of finding her trans niece. With a young man who knew her niece in tow, she explores Istanbul.

CROSSING is a delightful bittersweet tale about the things we do for love and the times we find there. Its a film that doesn't move like a movie but more like real life.  Its a film where you can't see where it's going because things don't seem plotted but lived.

This was one of the films that I really wanted to see going into the festival. I have no idea why, but there was something about the write up that intrigued me. The film itself is did not disappoint. Its a look into places about which I know nothing. It introduced us to a group of people who won our hearts and we wanted to travel with.

If there is anything amiss in the film it's a late in the game turn, a flight of fantasy, that seems like a cheat in an otherwise very real film. It was out of place, not remotely fatal, just momentarily disappointing. (I can't tell you what it is for reasons you'll know when you see this film)

That minor moment aside CROSSING is a great film and highly recommended.

Monday, July 15, 2024

Love Lies (2024) NYAFF 2024


A older widowed doctor begins an on-line relationship with an engineer  through a dating app. She begins to help him out financially unaware that he is a scammer a fraction of her age. As the relationship deepens the scammer begins to have second thoughts.

One of a growing number of films about online scammers LOVE LIES is a good, if unremarkable film.  Buoyed by excellent performances the film still manages to flounder around thanks to an uneven tone. It wants to be serious and at times heartbreaking but the infusion of humor cuts against the emotion. Additionally  because there are so many similar films being made now the film doesn't seem to have enough to give us that isn't new.

I suspect that the film will play better outside of a festival where there are certain expectations of quality. Even if I don't like a festival film I always want to think I know why a film was programmed, and despite this being a good film, I'm not sure why this film is at NYAFF.

Kubi (2023) Japan Cuts 2024


Takashi Kitano has been trying to tell this story for so long that Akira Kurasowa is supposed to have said that if Kitano could make the film it would rival SEVEN SAMURAI.  It was only decades later, after writing the story as a novel, that Kitano could get the money and the cast to make his dream project. It may not rival SEVEN SAMURAI but it is a hell of a tale.

Set during the 1582 Honnoji Incident the film is the story of a coup attempt that goes sideways as  everyone is trying to use the hunt for the traitor to get a head... literally since this film is full of decapitations (the opening image ends with a crab crawling out of a neck missing a head).

Where SEVEN SAMURAI is about honor and light in the wake of troubles, this is a bleak black (comedic) tale about how awful everyone is. You are either plotting to get to the next level or you are dying. There is no honor only death and ugliness. People die horribly and no one gives a shit.

This is one of the bleakest films of the year. Its a film where the violence keeps getting greater and greater and it is always horrifying. Yes its funny at times but it's stomach churning. This film is a clear indication that the bad old days of the samurai was monstrous. I got to a certain point and I wanted to hang it up because it was all ugly and I didn't like anyone.

You'll forgive  the lack of details  but as good as much of this film is, Kitano's script is overly complicated.  There are so many characters that he has to put titles with names on them. I'm sure he knows who everyone is, but I got lost. I had big picture of what was happening, but I wasn't sure who is who. I know this is the result of Kitano knowing the story because he wrote the book which was based on history, but as an outsider I was lost. It's not fatal to the film, but it takes what should be a truly great film and makes it very good instead.

If you can take the violence and unpleasantness and are willing to have your view of the past rewritten in to bleakness KUBI is recommended when it plays Japan Cuts.

Join Or Die (2023) opens Friday


This is a very good look at the role of clubs and associations in American society. The film reveals how the various clubs, civic association. Sports leagues and other associations and groups of people steered the country. It was through the various groups that leaders were formed and association that leaders rose  up and ideas spread.  The film reveals how the changes in society recently put the clubs in peril as well as alter the way ideas spread.

I really liked this film a great deal. As a historian by training this film offered a look at history and society that I never considered. As the film makes clear we never were truly individuals but a network of interrelated groups. That’s going away now with everyone in their own little universes.

This film gives us much to think about and as such its Highly recommended.

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Be With Me (2023) NYAFF 2024


Hou Hsiao-hsien produces the first film of his art director Huang Wen-Ying to mixed results.

In BE WITH ME an art director leaves her film to go take care of her father who is stopping all treatment for his illness. As she cares for him she ponders her life, loves and mostly her relationship with her grandfather who set her on her life path.

Great looking, moody drama is a tough slog to get through. This a deep and meaningful art house film that plays like a lesser Hou Hsiao-hsien film. While not bad, it's so low key and deliberately paced that interest wanes.  There is a good story here, it just needs a telling that moves a bit quicker.

While I didn't care for it die hard fans of Hou Hsiao-hsien may want to try it.

Fantasia 2024 Curtain Raiser


The always awesome Fantasia starts this week in Montreal, and all is right in that little corner of the world.

Running from the 18th until August 4th it’s over two weeks of fantastic genre films (I'm starting to see them and they are fantastic) from around the world.

Fantasia is one of the must-see festivals for me every year. Its endless goodness is the place where I find the films that I’m going to be jonesing to see for the next few months. It’s a festival where all the really cool genre films go whether they have a big push or not. It’s also the place where you can feel confident trying any film, they are screening because the programmers are so on top of their game.

I love this festival to death and if it wasn’t counter programmed to both Japan Cuts and New York Asian I would make the trip to Canada and go.  Honestly the fest has become such a hot ticket that a good number of long-time attendees of NYAFF have abandoned it for the long run and are instead shuttling up to Fantasia. I can’t do that because I don’t want to miss out on two festivals of goodness.

There are a ton of films I’m looking forward to everything from the short GODZILLA VS DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS to Miguel Llansó​ INFINITE SUMMER and HELL HOLE the new film from the Adams Family. I haven’t had a chance to wade in very deeply yet but over the next few days I’ll be watching and reviewing so keep reading.

While I haven’t seen most of the films at the festival, I and the other writers here at Unseen have seen a few and have reviewed them when they played elsewhere:

THE A FRAME

THE TENANTS

SELF DRIVER

BLEACHER

DREAM CREEP

DARKEST MIRIAM

MAKE ME A PIZZA

NOT FRIENDS

ROUND UP PUNISHMENT

RUTHLESS BLADE 

A few remasters that I've seen and I'm not writing up:

COCKFIGHTER I've seen too many times. It's a great drama from Monte Hellman. It's a true cult film that people have discovered thanks to it appearing on bargain DVDs over the last few decades. If you've only seen it in those low quality DVDs then you have to see it in the new restoration.

DEVIL TIMES FIVE is a killer kids film that I've always enjoyed every time I've seen it. It's a great little thriller that is perfect if you're in the mood for throw back horror.

CUBE is a restored version of the cult classic horror scifi film about people trapped in a room by aliens. It spawned dozens of copycats and numerous sequels. This is the first and best version. 

I should also mention that some films are crossing over with NYAFF. BRUSH OF THE GOD, BABY ASSASSINS NICE DAYS and TWILIGHT OF THE WARRIORS WALLED CITY are films for which I have tickets for screenings here in New York. I'm waiting to see how I will see FAQ, KILLERS and YIN YANG since the screenings here in NYC present possible problems for me.

If you can get to Montreal buy tickets and go. If not keep reading so you know what films, you should be putting on to your must-see lists.

For more information and tickets go here.

Supposed (2023) NYAFF 2024


A man who only finds happiness in the women he chases via various dating apps, has has his world turned upside down when he meets a free spirit who is outside his comfort zone.

This is a good romantic drama is that is perfect for anyone who wants heavy drama with their romance. The heavy drama comes when the revelations start to come out. 

How you react to the film is going to be determined by your feelings about the twist and turns. I was interested but never fully engaged. I could see the gears being turned behind the scenes. It felt contrived.

At the same time what really worked for me was the use of music. The mix of songs and image drive the film forwards and kept me watching. 

Worth a look if you're curious.

PATTAYA HEAT(2024) NYAFF 2024


Possibly the best film at this year's New York Asian Film Fest is a grand crime caper with a smart ass attitude. The NYAFF write up called it Tarantino-esque, but quite frankly this film is operating at a so  much higher level that is totally free of the cinematic referential nonsense that Tarantino traffics in.

Told from the POV of a corrupt cop caught in a web of nonsense and surrounded by various people who are less than savory. How they all connect up is the film-and it's such a thrilling ride I'm not going to say any more.

Sitting down to watch this film I wasn't sure what I was going to get. My trip through the festival slate this year has been a very hit or miss affair.  Sure there have been some good films, but at the same time there have been some rather bland films that made me wonder if the programmers had lost their touch.  That thought disappeared moments into PATTAYA HEAT pulled me, handed me a drink and whispered in my ear "you wanna hear a great story?"

This film works because the film has a great cast operating at the top of their game, a director who tweaks things so that we are charmed by these not very nice people, and script which is perfectly modulated to keep us staring at the screen until the final fade out.

One of the best films of 2024? Oh hell yea. This is pure movie magic. This is the sort of film that will make you fall in love with the movies all over again.

Track this movie down any way you can.

Highly recommended.

Rei (2024) Japan Cuts 2024


Toshihiko Tanaka​'s REI is the work of a first time director and a troop of actors and creators who channeled their lack of work during Covid into   a film they could take to festivals (it says so int the press notes and not a smart ass remark). It is a film full of ideas and a desire to put it all out there. The result is a deliberate film that is more like a novel than a film.

The film is the story of a young woman who meets a deaf photographer with whom she ends up having a relationship. It's a story that unfolds in it's own time and its own way. It is a film where the images and the landscapes that the characters inhabit is just as important as the dialog.

Running a dense 190 minutes there is a lot going on here. It plays out in long deliberate  sequences that can be very intense. There are silences, owing in part to one of the characters but also because of other choices Tanaka makes in how he lets the story unfold. It's a film that you have to be ready to engage with and give yourself over to for its whole running time.

I'm going to be honest here and say I was not ready for this film. As I normally do with festival films I went in blind and unaware of what it was about and what its run time was. Normally I don't care how long a film is but there was a point where I suddenly realized that we were no where near done and that there was still another 90 minutes to go. That is my mistake, but at the same time the fact that I was questioning the run time makes me wonder if this couldn't have been shorter.

Okay, yes, call me heathen but normally long films don't bother me and I thought the even longer recent film ABOUT DRY GRASSES flew by.  And it's not that I think the film is too long, but rather it's more in need of a break- there is a lot to take in and process and some times you need to step out, much like when you read a novel sometimes you need to put the book down.

While I like the film, and recommend it, your feelings may vary depending upon your feelings toward dense narratives and deliberate pacing.

The Time of Huannan (2023) NYAFF 2024


Set in 1991 in a legendary food market, the film charts the relation ship between a gang of four friends, three boys and a girl. 

Romance mixes with fantasy and drama as this tale juggles a lot of threads that go all over the place in an insistent  way. I never warmed to the film which seemed to want to let us know all through it that it has something important to say. I'm not so certain it does.

A miss.

Sayonara,Girls (2024) Japan Cuts


On the last two days of a rural high school four girls ponder the past and their future.

Low key slice of life is a film you are either going to connect to or  it's going to make you antsy.  While the film is beautifully shot and performed perfectly by a stellar cast, this is a film with little drama and no stakes.   While this makes the film closer to life, there is something about the presentation, very low key, that doesn't make it as compelling as it should be.

Perhaps the fact that I have zero nostalgia for high school may have something to do with it.

On the other hand if you have an affinity for high school give the film a try, it may click for you.

Twilight Kiss (2020) NYAFF 2024


TWILIGHT'S KISS (aka SUK SUK) is about two older closeted gay men who meet and begin an affair in Hong Kong. 

It is a lovely little film about the perils of growing old and the realization that no matter how old we get we often are always struggling to be who we are inside. 

If you want to see a small gem it is recommended.

Saturday, July 13, 2024

FOR ALICE (2024) NYAFF 2024


Tai Bo and Kuku So give performances for the ages in the tale of two lost souls who meet and become friends. It's one of the best films at this year's New York Asian Film Festival despite going a little banana shaped in the plotting.

The film has Bo's character going to stay for a brief time with his brother. He ends up running into a young woman who is trying to get the hell out of dodge because her mother's boyfriend is a creep. 

 A moody compelling film, this is a film where the the two leads give us everything by putting it on their faces and in their movements. It's an amazing film where you could watch it with the sound off and know what was going on because the leads are just so damn good.

I love this film a great deal. 

I love how it looks, which is stunning. It's a film where the images makes us feel we are in the rooms and on the streets with the characters.

I love how, for the most part, the film is all about the characters. I love how the film makes us belt in and go where ever the film is headed because we care about the characters on the screen.  I say this because as good as so much of this film is, there are moments in the last third where it takes a few less than organic turns. It's not fatal, but you'll wish the characters were give something better by the screenwriter. 

My quibbles aside, you need to see this. Tai Bo one again proves he's one of the best actors working today and Kuku So matches him stride for stride.

Highly recommended.

Sing Sing (2024)


Domingo Coleman plays Divine G one the founders of a prison theatrical group in Sing Sing Prison. As they finish up their production of A Midsummer's Night Dream they begin to plot their next production and welcome some new members.

This is more a slice of life then a big dramatic story. Yes, somethings happen, and there is drama but mostly this is a look at the men finding solace and hope in performing in a play. It is a film filled with staggering levels of humanity and a real sense of being lived.

Going in I knew the film was based on a true story, but I didn't know more than that. I say that because there was a moment when the various inmates- who we had seen earlier in scenes- introduce themselves as the audition for the roles in the play and it suddenly occurred to me that these are the real guys playing themselves.  It was a deeply emotional moment that changed the film for me which stopped being a "Hollywood" drama and instead became a docudrama of the realist sort.

What is amazing is that all the guys are fantastic. I know Diego Coleman is being mentioned for an Oscar, but what Oscar needs to do is recognize all these guys and the program because they freaking hit it out the park and then some.

I'm not going to say the film is perfect, it isn't. It wanders dramatically, things are left unsaid, as if we are just seeing moments, but at the same time the film has an emotional power that is unmatched. If the film wants us to feel for the men in prison and make the case that giving them something like RTA (Rehabilitation Through Art) will change them for the better, it does so in spades. It doesn't do it big and loud, but in quiet emotional moments that result in muffled sobbing at the end of the public screening this afternoon when two men who became friends hugged.

This film is an emotional power house with much to say. It is a film that is vitally needed and needs to be seen so that hearts and minds can be changed, and most importantly so that audience can meet som great men who will forever become friends and live in their hearts.