Sunday, July 8, 2012
Impoverished Pigs, Spinning Spears, and New Wave Ninjas: New York Asian Film Festival day 6
New York Asian Film Festival, you push my sanity to the outer limits. And I do mean ‘limits’ plural. Starting the day, I had an interesting conversation with Yeun Sang-Ho, director of animated feature and heated conversation starter of this year’s fest, The King of Pigs, before watching the emotionally exhausting film’s NY theater premiere. The day ended with Grandmaster Y K Kim kicking apples into the audience before watching the insanely out of tune 80s hit The Miami Connection with a raucous audience. Somewhere in between I felt the radiant star power of Donnie Yen as he pleased a packed crowd of enthusiastic fans waiting for their first chance to see the action star in person as he presented new film The Lost Bladesman. Suffice it to say, my frame of mind is suffering serious whiplash.
The King of Pigs takes a very hard look at an incident prone span of time in a jr. high school, seen through the memories of two individuals in the midst very difficult times that meet up in their adult lives. Through this deliberately constructed account, we see layer upon layer of a system in which the poor and downtrodden are beaten down by the more well off and powerful. While much of it takes place within the school, the dire situations beheld here extend into the home, and have just as much to do with economic disparity as it does adolescent cruelty.
It may seem like a strange move to tell a realistic story like this through animation, but it works incredibly well. First, there is Yeun’s drawing style which renders the characters in far from ideal, tired and worn looking fashion, with features that transform into creature-like rage they face violence. There is also the myth-like structure of the story, that relates the strong and in control to dogs while the weak and powerless are related to pigs. The animation makes for a smooth transition from human to animal. Then there are the surreal situations in which monstrous visions of cats and deceased relatives taunt the suffering kids, and one very intense sequence where the troubled boy, Chul, under the influence of a drug subsitute, transforms into a shaking, growling pitch black semi-human form. These fantastical images heighten the intensity of an already challenging story filled with harsh realities like planned suicides, out of work parents, and other hardships that depict a hopelessness that surrounds the young protagonists. More details on the interview I did with Yeun, plus the q & a he did after the film screening will follow soon.
Donnie Yen appeared to delight a sold out audience in what would be his first visit to the Walter Reade Stage. He welcomed and joked with the audience before setting up the film being shown, The Lost Bladesman, also getting its New York premiere. Everyone got a folder with Donnie’s images emblazoned on the front and back. Everyone got an item autographed, making him another extremely gracious guest of this year’s festival. The movie was an elaborate historic tale, based around Jiang Weng’s shifty lord and Yen’s begrudging yet fierce warrior role. There are startling action sequences involving the wielding of a giant spear and a chase down a narrow alley with chipped tiles raining down on those in pursuit.
After the film Donnie was once again very engaging in his interaction with the crowd. He spoke of his preference for modern action roles and named his favorite onscreen sparring partner to be Jet Li. He spoke of the fateful way in which he landed the Ip Man role, after a strange alternate universe possibility had presented itself years earlier that would have him play the part opposite Stephen Chow portraying Bruce Lee. I’m very much looking forward to Db’s report on interviewing Donnie earlier in the day.
The night ended in B-movie glory with The Miami Connection. The insanely bad dialogue and strange flow, coupled with new wave band that sings about tae-kwon do and fighting ninjas, plus a lot of street fighting and a message of intense earnestness about using tae-kwon do to bring about peace and understanding. The movie is being released on high definition blu ray dvd by Alamo Drafthouse’s imprint. It is a spectacle that needs to be experienced if you like uncompromising visions that spit in the face of good sense or quality. Before the movie, star and co-writer Grandmaster Y K Kim himself came out, did a quick demonstration involving a cartoonish beatdown of some of his students, and some kicks that launched apples into the crowd. The author/director/motivational speaker hung around the theater afterwards to meet and greet fans.
With excitement mixed with a bit of sadness, I await my last day of watching movies live at the festival. On the docket: Korean genre workout Bloody Fight in Iron Rock Valley, Miike’s Ace Attorney, and Donnie Yen classic Killzone aka SPL.