The 2012 New York Asian Film Festival ended more than a week ago and I’m finally taking a step back to list my top 5 favorite films of the fest. The highlight of the festival for me had to be the special guests including Choi Min Sik, Donnie Yen, & Chung Chang-Hwa!
First of all, I’m so impressed with Choi Min-Sik’s off/on screen persona. He seemed to be such a genuinely nice guy offering his time to shake everyone’s hand, take photos, & sign autographs. While in interview mode after the screenings, he offered candid, witty, & well thought out - inspirational answers about himself & the film industry. And as far Choi Min-Sik’s movie programming for the festival- wow to FAILAN, CRYING FIST, OLD BOY, & NAMELESS GANGSTER! The range of roles that Choi played in those films truly was awe-inspiring!
Donnie Yen was well - DYNAMIC to say the least! Great job to NYAFF and Subway Cinema for tapping into the resources to get someone like Donnie in the mix! I honestly thought that he was an untouchable!
It was also an honor to hear and see a legendary director that has direct links to the Shaw Brother Studios & Golden Harvest! Chung Chang-Hwa is a dying breed of no-nonsense, old school film pioneers that paved the path for martial art movies as we know it today. Thank you sir!
Well, I can’t wait for the next installment of NYAFF 2013 but in the meantime, the following movies were some of my favorites from NYAFF 2012. These are just the top 5 films that I had the most fun watching! Honorable mentions also go out to MONSTERS CLUB and POTECHI! FAILAN (2001) is not a new movie but was new to me and I think it deserves an honorable shout-out as well!
See you next year -- NYAFF!
TOKYO PLAYBOY CLUB (Japan) - From the dirty depths and alleyways of shinjuku came this gritty shot in the dark movie that blindsided me into sneaking it to my favorites list from the festival. Without looking or thinking very deeply into the synopsis of the film, I chose to watch this movie just like I might have chosen that horse to win, place, or draw at the Belmont Stakes -- purely based on the name! What I got from TPC was not a pink or softcore porn film as the name might have suggested but instead we were fed with a grimey underworld filled with non glorified yakuza characters mixing in with a bunch of outsider raggamuffin all stars uniting to run a brothel in the Shinjuka district of Tokyo. The outsiders and the Yakuza would blend together like oil and water as tales of darkness with some comedic undertones and implied carnage will keep you itching for the next scene. I’m glad I placed Tokyo Playboy Club to win at this horse race!
VULGARIA (Hong Kong) - definitely lived up to the vulgar title as outlaw Hong Kong director Pan Ho Cheung introduced us to a vile, foul mouthed, & off the wall film about the trials and tribulations of a HK producer of 3rd rate films. The director threw the whole HK film industry under the bus in fun fashion and saluted china with the middle finger of death to censorship! Vulgaria is a category III rated film with plenty of F-Bombs, talks & insinuations of beastiality, and plenty of fun & witty sex talk with a character nicknamed ‘Popping Candy’. The story is paper thin but the creativity, outlaw techniques, and odd-ball execution of the film wins my votes! I think having a fluent ear with cantonese would of been optimal to capture subtle nuances of the slang, play on words, & accentuated accents from some of the characters but through the audience laughter in the theater, most of the film seemed to translate pretty well to the gweilo crowd! Oh and remember to stay till the ending credits. You might or might not see Shaw Brother veteran actress - Susan Shaw being handled for lack of better words!
SCABBARD SAMURAI (Japan) - was a story about a broken down, toothless, soulless, swordless samurai - a wanted fugitive who literally lost his fight to live with an embarrassed young daughter in tow. The Scabbard Samurai is finally captured by the Lord but is sentenced to commit suicide unless he can make the young Prince laugh in 30 days. The Prince is stricken with depression because of the Queen’s death. It took a while for the story to build but once the viewers saw the desperation and spirit emit out of the swordless samurai through his performances, we all knew he had plenty of heart & honor left in his broken soul. The old man brought a lot of laughs to me as the viewer, but would he make the grief stricken Prince laugh? One thing is for certain, the Scabbard Samurai’s daughter would learn a thing or two from her father. I loved the message that this movie was trying to convey - a message of honor, loyalty, compassion, & sympathy.
NASI LEMAK 2.0 (Malaysia) - is one of those silly films a la Stephen Chow style that I enjoyed a little too much at the festival which left me fiending for Malaysian eats! The premise of the movie is about food and the battle between the various cooking styles that makes Malaysia -- Malaysia. As a matter of fact, I took the ‘food’ battle as a metaphor for ‘ethnic’ battle which eventually turned the fight into the melding and appreciation of all races that co-exist in Kuala Lumpur. The Iron Chef like cooking duel would pit the chinese vs the chinese with a rice dish as the final product. The dark horse would be the chef that would have the foresight to break out of the traditional chinese mold to use local products and heritage from malaysia including influences from India, the Indigenous Malaysians, & the chinese. The national dish of Malaysia, Nasi Lemak, often served in street hawker stalls is basically a melting pot of ingredients with flavors of curry, coconut milk, & sambal as the base to add fragrance to this rice dish all wrapped up in a bundle of goodness!
This feel good movie addresses a lot of racial stereotypes in Kuala Lumpur with comedy as the vehicle of transport. A great quote from the movie compares curries to relationships: Finding a great curry mix is like finding that perfect blend of personalities to form a great relationship! Besides the fun musical/karaoke numbers in the hip hop, bollywood, & traditional chinese realms - I loved that the film is basically a film ode to Malaysia and all its multicultural influences while throwing in steady hints of social issues as well. To celebrate the different cultures of Malaysia, the movie was filmed in a hodge podge of languages including cantonese (chinese), localized malaysian, Indian, mandarin, & even a little Japanese in the end! The flow and the pure wackiness of the film reminded me of last years entry in the NYAFF - SELLOUT! Look out for subtle references to Eason Chan and Edison Chen in Nasi Lemak 2.0!
NAMELESS GANGSTER (Korea) is another film that caught me by surprise especially with Choi Min-Sik’s role as the nameless gangster. We have been accustomed with Choi playing the Alpha male in all or most of the characters that he portrays but in this movie, he gives a dramatic - Al Pacino like performance! Set during a time when Korea declared war on gangs in the 1990s, we first see Choi Ik-hyun (Choi Min-Sik) enter in a Police Station in handcuffs. Next the story would flashback to a time when Choi Ik would try to explain his role in the underworld to avoid persecution. Through contacts, brains, plenty of balls, and the endurance of pain along with the gift of gab, Ik-Hyun remains relevant in intense situations! Politicians, gangsters, & persecutors would be in the mix and our nameless gangster would know how to deal with them by any means necessary! The black comedy, violence, and pure chameleon like personality of Choi Min-Sik’s character has me intrigued to see him in more multi-dimensional projects like this in the future!