Saturday, June 30, 2018


Raw by the book cop is teamed with an older corrupt one just as a war between yakuza families is heating up. Mayhem results.

Odd mix of old school yakuza films and modern buddy films is a thoroughly enjoyable film that really will make you wish it was better and more hard edged (or perhaps less cliche). To be certain the film is highly entertaining and a grand popcorn film, but at the same time you're going to wish it had a tad more bite since it is so close to being great it disappoints that it misses the mark.

That said it is one of the most entertaining films at this years NYAFF and recommended.

For more information and tickets go here.

Paradox (2017) New York Asian Film Festival 2018

What makes a series a series? In the case of Wilson Yip’s thematic, in-name only martial arts thriller franchise, it is the consistently superior fight choreography. It is known as Sha Po Lang (a Chinese Zodiac reference) in the Asian market, but it goes by SPL or sometimes Kill Zone in the West, but apparently the latest film has dropped the series prefix altogether for the international festival circuit. There are no overlapping characters or story arcs, but Yip returns to the director’s chair after assuming a producing role on Kill Zone 2 (a.k.a. SPL 2: A Time for Consequences). No matter what you call it, the series maintains a well-earned rep for high-octane action with Yip’s Paradox , which screens the Fourth of July during the New York Asian Film Festival.

As a police negotiator, you maybe would not expect Lee Chung-chi to Liam Neeson’s very particular set of skills, but when his daughter Wing-chi disappears in Thailand, all bets are off. Fortunately, one of the few honest coppers in Bangkok is assigned to the case. Lee and Tsui will follow the trail to an organ harvesting ring, but eventually Lee goes rogue after receiving a tip implicating the blatantly corrupt Det. Ban. Tsui’s compromised police chief father-in-law pressures him to relent, because the intended beneficiary of Wing-chi’s abduction is the secretly ailing mayor, but obviously that is not going to happen.

Although there is no narrative continuity, Paradox continues the tradition of bringing back prior cast members in completely different roles. Serious martial arts fans will be happy to know this includes Tony Jaa, now appearing as Tak the devout Buddhist cop, but frustrated to learn it is a “special appearance.” He will not be around for the third act, but he definitely makes his limited screen time count.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is how hardcore Louis Koo (another holdover from 2) gets as Lee. He has made plenty of cop and gangster movies before, but often the more demanding work has been assigned to a partner, like Nick Cheung in Line Walker. He earns mucho credit for really upping his game for Paradox.

Likewise, Yue Wu hangs with both of them, going toe-to-toe with the flamboyantly villainous Chris Collins as the organ harvesting ring-leader. Gordon Lam effectively counterbalances him as the icily ruthless political fixer, Cheng Hon-sau. Unfortunately, Vithaya Pansringarm is under-employed as the problematic Commish (he is not really evil, just weak), but Ken Lo takes sleazy repulsiveness to a new level as Ban. This is definitely a testosterone kind of film, but Jacky Cai manages to make a strong impression as Siu-man, the prostitute who informs on Ban.

Even though Master Sammo Hung never appears in Paradox, he still counts as one of the stars, thanks to his bone-crushing action direction. This isn’t pretty Crouching Tiger aerial work. It is hard knees and elbows, in the Muay Thai tradition. Frankly, the combination of the tough but hugely cinematic fight scenes with the all-star cast firing on all cylinders is tough to beat. Highly recommended for action fans, Paradox screens July 4, as part of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival.

For tickets and more information go here

Friday, June 29, 2018

Dynamite Graffiti (2017) NYAFF 2018

Dynamite Graffiti was the head scratching choice for the Opening Night film of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival. Feeling more like a film that would run at a certain cross town festival in an off year, this bio of a smut mogul just sort of lays there like a dead fish. It was the most toothless of opening night films that NYAFF has had.

To be fair I’ve seen the Dynamite Graffiti one and a half times. I originally started the film and got about an hour in and then abandoned it since it’s episodic way of covering publisher Akiera Suei‘s life was not coming together for me. After stomping around my house for a bit I decided to give it another go because I always felt the Opening Night film should be covered. Sadly the second time through I still didn’t care much.

Made with a knowing aloof attitude, one need only watch the opening sequence of the cop trying to see if he sees pubic hair in a magazine to see that, the film will often shift gears and try to take a more serious tone, such as some of the sequences with Suei's mother and early life( which are the best sequences). The gears grind and it comes off as disingenuous. For me this was like watching a bunch of frat boys be smutty before getting misty about their moms after drinking too much.

Frankly I didn’t care either time going through the film.

I have no idea why this film was chosen to open the festival this year when there are so many other better films.

A disappointment


with co-director Betsy West in-person
In-Attendance at TCFF 2018: Dick Cavett (Ali & Cavett: The Tale of the Tapes), Tribeca-winning director Kent Jones (Diane), two-time Oscar® winning director Barbara Kopple (A Murder in Mansfield), comedian Doug Benson presents his film pick of the festival as well as his live audience podcast, and dozens of filmmakers, cast members, and other notables! Plus festival founder, president, and programmer Michael Moore!

North American premiere of Mark Cousins’ Cannes film The Eyes of Orson Welles
World premiere of Slater Jewell-Kemker’s short subject documentary Youth Unstoppable, from Executive Producer Adrian Grenier 
World premiere of Dawn Porter’s short subject documentary You Have the Right to Vote
U.S. premiere of Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver, starring Shirley MaClaine
Michigan films include The Sentence and The Russian Five
A Tribute to Jonathan Demme
Previously announced: Jane Fonda to receive the Lifetime Acheivement Award from Michael Moore

Festival trailer:
The printable PDF version of the complete festival guide is here:
Visit: for all other information.

Directed by Julie Cohen, Betsy West

If you’re suffering from superhero fatigue, then we have the movie for you—2018’s actual best superhero flick, a revealing and exciting portrayal of the Notorious RBG herself, Ruth Bader Ginsburg! Since Justice Ginsburg joined the Supreme Court in 1993, she’s become famous for two things: her fierce dissenting opinions and the constant push-up workouts that sustain her vitality. And yes, you’ll see both of those here. But RBG also presents a compelling story of a woman who has fought a tireless, six-decade crusade for gender equality, and how her successes in that arena have made her a cult superstar to generations of people pining for progress. Plus, you just haven’t known real delight until you see Justice Ginsburg watch and giggle along to Kate McKinnon portraying her on Saturday Night Live. In Person: Director Betsy West and other guests TBA.
Directed by Brett Haley

Let’s be honest: starting a band with your dad sounds pretty lame. At least that’s what Sam (Kiersey Clemons) thinks when her hipster dad, Frank (Nick Offerman), suggests she join his weekly “jam seshes.” A one-time musician with lingering dreams of stardom and a failing record store, Frank just wants to stay connected with Sam before she flies from Brooklyn to study pre-med at UCLA. When he secretly uploads one of their songs to a streaming service, it becomes an unexpected hit and this unlikely father-daughter duo kick-start a musical journey of discovery, growing up, and letting go. Everyone's favorite woodworker, Nick Offerman, gives a truly heartfelt performance, and Kiersey Clemons shows she’s a damn rock star in this endearingly sweet comedy that is the perfect summer bop. Scheduled to Appear via Skype: Director Brett Haley.
Directed by Andrew Heckler

We couldn’t be more thrilled to bring you Sundance 2018’s US Dramatic Audience Award winner, joining such esteemed company as all-time TCFF faves The Sessions and Fruitvale Station. This unbelievably powerful true story stars Garrett Hedlund (Mudbound, TRON: Legacy) as Mike Burden, a man raised within the disgusting indoctrination of the South Carolina KKK, but moved to purge the hatred from his life when he falls in love with a single mom (Andrea Riseborough, also at TCFF 2018 with Nancy). The incredible supporting cast features Tom Wilkinson as the menacing father figure of the local Klan group, Forest Whitaker as the preacher that takes Mike in, and Usher—yes, that Usher—as one of Mike’s coworkers. Burden is not only one of the best acted films you’ll see this year, but it’s a film that looks straight into the heart of our darkness and offers a beacon of hope and inspiration at a time we sorely need it. In Person: Director Andrew Heckler.
Directed by Gabriela Pichler

Times are tough in the quaint Swedish hamlet of Lafors. The main industries of the once prosperous town are barely hanging on and in need of a serious economic boost. Enter the Wal-Mart-esque chain Superbilly and their plans to open a new location, maybe in Lafors. The cash-strapped town council’s big idea to set them apart? Inviting local high schoolers armed with selfie sticks to make a promotional video. When they realize the teens may not be quite up to the task, plans are scrapped. But two participants from very different immigrant families, Aida and Dana, take the mission to heart and continue to capture the reality of their changing multicultural community and its underrepresented voices to hilarious and poignant effect. With an effortless charm and infectious DIY spirit, this irresistible social comedy is a warm reminder of the wonderful things that happen when people tell their own stories.
Directed by Mark Hayes

Judge Craig Mitchell is the definition of inspirational. By day he presides over a criminal court for Los Angeles County, but by early morning (like 4 am early)—he trades his judicial garb for tennis shoes and running shorts as he jogs the darkened streets of L.A. among the people who call Skid Row home. He's not running alone, however, because each morning he is joined by a group of addicts, ex-cons, and criminals as they all train to run marathons. Skid Row Marathon follows the individual stories of four runners as they fight against poverty and addiction to run marathons around the world. This film is about more than just running marathons, though, it’s about the comradeship of a group of people who receive a second chance. Ultimately, it’s a tear-inducing, hopeful, and illuminating film that asks its audience to look at the world from a different angle.


The life and times of being a teen in Japan in 1994  is full of bullying and dead bodies.
Bleak, brooding and decidedly quirky thanks to an uneasy sense of humor that runs through much of the film, River’s Edge is a good little film that would have been better had it not tried too hard to be noticed. Still as a film that reveals just how film film noir like,complete with dead bodies, being a high schooler is, this film can’t be beat.
It plays July 3 at NYAFF and Fantasia July 29

Bleak little slice of hell as a new cop has to deal with the corruption around him.
Nam Ron's excellent follow up to BRUTAL(JAGAT) from two years ago is a stunning leap forward by the filmmaker. A film of raw power and great maturity this is a film that will kick you in the chest and break your heart.  One of the best crime dramas at this years NYAFF it is also a stunning social drama about the nature of society.  Highly recommended.
It plays July 11

Calling All Earthlings (2018)

I don't know whether I'm the right person to review CALLING ALL EARTHLINGS or the wrong one. I say that because I'm not sure if  my decades of reading on UFOs and related subjects helped or hurt my reaction to the film.

CALLING ALL EARTHLINGS is the story of George Van Tassel a man who was one of the first known "alien contactees".Supposedly Van Tassel met an alien in the desert who told him how to build the domed The Integratron, which was a weird electromagnetic ray/time machine. The film looks at Van Tassel and how what he did got under the skin of the government, who kept an eye on him and took equipment from the Integratron after he died, It also tries to exlain how his teachings spread out and influenced the world at large.

This is a good but unremarkable documentary. Entertaining but not quite as detailed as it could be it is similar to a good many other UFO documentaries. It's a film that will introduce you to an interesting character but be a little too loving in it's tale.

The problem for me was that Van Tassel was always a fringe character at best. It wasn't until I was into UFO's for a while that his name came up. He was mentioned as being one of the people connected to the start of the modern UFO era but there was a point where he kind of crossed a line and ended up in exile or as a footnote. Part of it was that he was New Agey before that was a term and he didn't really fit with the more science oriented people in the field who dominated it until the mid-1980's.

It's this last line that kind of illustrates my problem with the film. Repeatedly through the film we are told that important scientists were in contact with Van Tassel but we really don't have specifics. Who are all these people. My understanding was always that he was pure fringe, this film indicates he was not, but I don't see any evidence to the contrary.

On the other hand this is a documentary on a fringe subject and having seen hundreds of these things so details were never really anything that I expected to see.

Then again I don't really watch these sort of films to be truly informed, rather I watch them to be entertained and hear some great stories that might, possibly, you never know, could be true. As piece of entertainment CALLING ALL EARTHLINGS fits the bill. As anything more than that you'll have to make up you're own mind.

CALLING ALL EARTHINGS opens today (6/29) in Los Angeles where "Sound baths" will precede weekend screenings at the Fine Arts and Pasadena Playhouse! The film will then open August 1 in New York 

Thursday, June 28, 2018

NYAFF ’18: Kakekomi

1841 was not quite the end of the era, but many Edo Era institutions were drawing to a close. For instance. celebrated novelist Kyokutei Bakin was finishing the final installment of his epic multi-volume novel Tale of Eight Dogs, much to the relief and anticipation of his loyal readers. The Tōkei-ji nunnery also still offered sanctuary to abused women seeking divorces, but the Shogun-chartered institution was definitely in the crosshairs of the repressive Edo authorities. Nevertheless, three women will find asylum together, allowing them time to prepare for their very different fates in Masato Harada’s Kakekomi, which screens during the 2018 New York Asian Film Festival.

Jogo is a skilled ironsmith, whose unfaithful, wastrel husband literally dares her to seek refuge as a Kakekomi, assuming she will be too ashamed of the blisters on her face to venture outside her forge. Somehow, she manages to gin up the courage to call his bluff, finding the encouragement along the way from O-Gin, a well-heeled fellow Kakekomi, who has been injured fighting off bandits. With Jogo’s help, they both reach Tōkei-ji’s receiving inn, where the staff will evaluate their application and prepare them for monastic life.

Kakekomi who successfully serve two years as nuns will be granted a divorce regardless of their husbands’ feelings on the matter. Of course, there will be no contact with men, but somehow Shinjiro Nakamura manages to gain entrée now and then, because of skills as a student of medicine. He also happens to be an aspiring novelist, much in the tradition of Bakin, who is a favorite of many Tōkei-ji residents.

At least Jogo’s deadbeat husband passively accepts the situation. In contrast, O-Gin’s smuggler common law spouse worries she will betray him to over-zealous Edo authorities. The violent Samurai husband of bushido-bred Yuu Togasaki is even worse, but she intends to use her two years for training, so she can solve that problem permanently. Of course, everyone will have to worry about potential moles sent by the villainous Edo magistrate.

Kakekomi is described many places online as a “drama-comedy,” but we’re hard-pressed to find the funny parts. However, as a straight historical drama, it is totally absorbing and often quite moving. The stakes are very high, but the Kakekomi are necessarily strong characters, who have taken responsibility for their own lives, refusing to live as victims.

This character develop arc is especially pronounced and downright inspiring in the case of Jogo. She evolves from a physically scarred shell of a person into a beautiful and commanding woman. Yet, every step of the process is completely believable thanks to the wonderfully subtle and engaging performance of Erika Toda. Hikari Mitsushima, Rina Uchiyama, Misuzu Kanno, and Yuko Miyamoto compliment her nicely as O-Gin, Togasaki, the deeply troubled O-Yuki, and the mole.

Women dominate this film for obvious reasons, but Yo Oizumi memorably plays Nakamura with a light touch, without resorting to shtick or buffoonery (we suppose he accounts for the comedy, as when he warbles a subversive ditty, openly defying to Edo’s ban on public singing). More to the point, there is an effortless naturalness in the way the chemistry builds between him and Toda’s Jogo. Tsutomu Yamazaki also plays Bakin with a wry presence and imposing stature worthy of vintage Orson Welles.

There are a lot of strands in Kakekomi, but Harada satisfyingly brings them all together in a way that is so logical, it feels like it was fated from the start. The combination of new beginnings and final exits is quite bittersweet, totally in keeping with a film set in a Buddhist nunnery. It really is an unusually graceful and humanistic film. Very highly recommended, Kakekomi screens Sunday afternoon (7/1) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.

NYAFF ’18: Unbeatable

What film do you immediately associate with the song “The Sound of Silence?” It probably used to be The Graduate, but henceforth it shall always be Dante Lam’s Rocky-style Mixed Martial Arts underdog movie. Why use the moody folker as a motif for training montages? You might as well ask why climb Mt. Fuji or why hike the Camino de Santiago? Dante Lam has done it and he did it with Nick Cheung and Eddie Peng in Unbeatable, which screens during the 2018 New York Asian Film Festival.

As we learn from the tightly cut prologue, former boxer “Scumbag” Fai, grieving mother Gwen Wong, and Lin Si-qi, the brooding son of a disgraced real estate tycoon, all need redemption. Fai has come to Macao to avoid his loan shark’s knee-cappers. His buddy arranged a gig coaching and spotting at an MMA gym as well as a room in the flat occupied by Wong and her assertive ten-year-old girl Dani. There used to be a little brother too, whose death Wong has yet to recover from. She is an emotional basket case, but Fai will slowly help Dani bring her out of her shell.

Fai also reluctantly agrees to train Lin for the big no-fighters-turned-away MMA tournament, with the $270 million purse. Frankly, the former rich kid was never really into money, but he hopes he can revive his father’s broken spirit by winning it all.

So, Unbeatable sort of starts out like Creed and then reverts back to Rocky IV. Either way, it is definitely adhering to a tried a true formula, but there is good reason why the formula was codified in the first place. Regardless, as long as we get to see the chiseled Cheung throw some arm bars, we’re okay with however we get there.

Lam is the recipient of the Excellence in Action Cinema Award at this year’s NYAFF, so you know he will do the MMA scenes justice. Indeed, he makes all the holds and grappling clear and easy to follow, while capturing the sport’s brute force. As a sizable bonus, Sai’s scenes with the Wongs are really quite endearing and downright poignant. Mei Ting never waters down Gwen Wong’s profound emotional issues and Crystal Lee shows loads of charisma and future potential as the protective Dani. Unfortunately, Lin’s subplots are not as sharply written, but you can’t blame Peng, because he brings plenty of intensity and a super-cut physique.

Unbeatable pairs up nicely with Lam’s cycling film, To the Fore, also starring Peng. In both films, he shows a knack for clearly delineating each race or match. However, action fans will most likely prefer Unbeatable, because it features Cheung beating the snot out of people. Plus, cinematographer Kenny Tse and the picturesque Macao locales deserve credit for making those montages pretty dashed cool. Recommended as meat and potatoes for fans of MMA, Cheung, and Peng, Unbeatable screens Sunday (7/1) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.

Operation Red Sea (2018) NYAFF 2018

Like the Wolf Warrior franchise, Hong Kong action auteur Dante Lam’s latest Mainland production was largely funded by the PLA and supported with extensive in-kind donations of military hardware. At least in this case, we get their money’s worth. Apparently, the military granted Lam’s every over-the-top request and the results are all up there on the screen when Operation Red Sea plays at the New York Asian Film Festival tomorrow.

Basically, Red Sea is a loose thematic sequel to Lam’s blockbuster, Operation Mekong. This time around, the military takes center stage and the ripped-from-the-headlines story is based on 2015 evacuation of Chinese nationals from Yemen. Refreshingly, there are no western bad guys. Instead, they are Middle Eastern terrorists and Somali pirates (in the prologue). Sure, there is flag-waving, but it is not nearly as distracting as in the Wolf Warrior films.

Given the evacuation plot, Red Sea bears some resemblance to Wolf Warrior 2, but the action scenes, also choreographed by Lam, far exceed anything in Wu Jing’s hit duology. To a large extent, the film is one long action sequence, as one rescue mission begets another and eventually morphs into an operation to recover stolen yellowcake from a mad mullah. If you think that sounds like a criticism, you are sorely mistaken. Lam pulls out all the stops, giving us infiltrations, drone warfare, house-to-house combat, sniper duels, tank battles, helicopter attacks, and hand-to-hand combat during the mother of all dust storms.

Arguably, it is halfway realistic too, since a number of Jiaolong commandos are killed in the line of duty. Frankly, Lam does not spend a lot of time on boring old character development. Jiang Luxia’s Tong Li probably stands out the most, simply because she is a woman (who has no trouble hanging with her male colleagues). Ironically, the most memorable performance comes from Hai Qing, as French-Chinese reporter Xia Nan. Eventually, we learn became so driven to expose terrorists because her husband and young son were murdered in the 7/7 London bombings, which is a nice character development touch.

Red Sea is just a pedal-to-the-medal action movie that constantly doubles, triples, and quadruples down on explosions, mayhem, and blood & guts. In terms of sheer spectacle, it is tough to beat. Alas, Lam pays the piper with a closing shot across the bow basically warning the world better stay out of the South China Sea, if we know what’s good for us, but up until then, it goes down pretty smooth. Highly recommended for action fans, Operation Red Sea play Saturday at the New York Asian Film Festival

For more information go here

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Unseen Films recommended films for this Years New York Asian Film Festival.

Every year we at Unseen Films try to put together a list of films you should see at the New York Asian Film Festival. This year Peter, JB and myself have assembled a list of films that may or may not be at the top of your list but which you should absolutely make an effort to see.

NEOMANILA  (July 5) is a withering look at the erosion of humanity in Duterte’s Philippines as occasioned by his war on drugs. Director Mikhail Red, who also co-wrote the script, pulls no punches. But that doesn’t mean NEOMANILA is coldly hardboiled. Instead, Red manages to find a bleak lyricism both in the setting and the characters… which makes the story only more heartbreaking for we can easily imagine “what might have been.” (Peter)

THE SCYTHIAN LAMB (July 5) is so good it makes me want to read the manga upon which it is based—it has that particular feel of a very satisfying novel. We get a large cast of characters, but all are given their due and the film never seems splintered among them. Both straightforward and full of surprises, THE SCYTHIAN LAMB is the kind of movie that makes me grateful for NYAFF as I’m not sure I would have discovered it otherwise. (Peter)

THE LOOMING STORM (July 9) is simply a superb film noir, with everything that entails. Prepare to be thrilled, to have your aesthetic sense stimulated, and your heart possibly broken. At times Dong Yue’s film recalls BLACK COAL, THIN ICE, which I consider something of a contemporary masterpiece, but this is not to say that the NYAFF film is not original. Yes, you will see archetypal elements from countless noirs, but THE LOOMING STORM helps remind you why they’re so archetypal in the first place. (Peter)
In most movies the set-up occurs in Act 1 and the core of the story takes place in Act 2. Not so in Shinichiro Ueda’s ingenious ONE CUT OF THE DEAD (July 13), in which Act 2 sets up the zombie movie you just saw in Act 1. Then Act 3 presents the same zombie movie, kind of, now with the benefit of having seen Act 2 and from a different perspective. Confused yet? You won’t be. Ueda, who wrote, directed, and edited—and all three “hats” are key to the film’s dazzling success—keeps everything both lucid and loose. My favorite film of NYAFF 2018 so far. (Peter)

BEAST STALKER (July 1) is the film that put Dante Lam on the map and it’s easy to see why-it's a killer action film. When a bust ends up going horribly wrong, a good cop descends into hell on a nihilistic mission to get the drug dealer he holds responsible for the carnage- creating even more carnage in the process. If you’ve never seen this classic of cinema then you have not excuse to. If you have only seen it on TV then you must go too because this film is even better bigger. (Steve)

If you didn’t get a chance to see OPERATION RED SEA (June 30) on the big screen earlier this year here is your chance. If you never saw it on a big screen go see it big. Hell, I saw it during it’s many weeks long run in Times Square and was so blown away I’m going again. Sure it’s a recruiting film for the Chinese army, but it may be one of the greatest action films of the last 20 years. It’s a nerve jangling, balls to the wall action delight as the Chinese army beat up terrorists. Yea, it makes little sense in retrospect but it moves like the wind so you won’t notice. (Steve)

You'll want to see OLD BEAST (July 3) for Tu Men's award winning role as an aging tough guy who finds that life has caught up to him. In a performance of quiet intensity and dignity we watch as the tough guy ignores his sick wife, scams everyone including his kids and roars at life only to find that he is increasing on the short end. While you’ve may have seem similar films you haven’t seen anything quite like Men‘s performance. It’s the reason we remain glued to the screen.(Steve)

COUNTERS (July 6), the most vital and certainly the most important film of this year’s NYAFF, is getting dumped at 1020pm which is a god awful sin. While certainly a bit bumpy, this look at the state of free speech in Japan has endless echoes to current America where a racist President is inciting violence and fear. There is no way you can’t not see Trump’s anti-immigrant hate speechs in the ultra-nationalist pleas for the death of all Koreans in Japan. It’s the wrong sort of funny to watch mini skirt wearing girls asking who hates Koreans. A stark reminder that hate is everywhere and that just as the racists in the White House hate the ones “not from here” there are people elsewhere who hate us for the same dumb reason. If your stomach can take it, this is highly recommended.(Steve)
1987: WHEN THE DAY COMES (July 8) is a stunning real life political thriller about what happened when the anti-communist branch of the South Korean Government tortured a student to death and tried to cover it up. It manages to remain small scale even while covering the larger story. A warning to dictators everywhere. Tense and heartbreaking an absolute must. One of the best films at NYAFF and 2018 as well. (Steve)

WRATH OF SILENCE (July 9) A mute miner returns home to try and find his missing son in film that is a combination of amusement park violence and unvarnished social realism, resulting in what could very well be the most violent socially-aware class-conscious film ever produced in the history of cinema. (It has riffs on the hall way fight in OLD BOY) Once you see it will not hard to fathom why a Party apparatchik decided the film was bad for business and had it spiked from domestic distribution. (JB)

THE BOLD. THE CORRUPT, AND THE BEAUTIFUL (July 5) is just your basic sarcastic political melodrama, with a body-count. It is the story the Tang Family, whose matriarch acts a power broker between the rich and powerful. However things begin to go astray when friends are killed and they realize their days maybe numbered. It is a deliciously cynical film that is also kind of trashy, but in the best way possible. (JB)

For tickets to these or any other film playing at NYAFF this year go here

NYAFF ’18: Sekigahara

It was the big battle the events in James Clavell’s Shogun were leading up to, but this time we do not see them through the eyes of Richard Chamberlain. In 1600 (a nice round year), the Eastern Army commanded by Ieyasu Tokugawa (Toshiro Mifune in Shogun) clashed with the Western Army led by Ishida Mitsunari. The Eastern Army had greater numbers, but the battle still could have gone either way, at least according to the semi-fictionalized chronicle in Masato Harada’s Sekigahara, which screens during the 2018 New York Asian Film Festival.

Mitsunari is loyal to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the great unifying daimyo, even though he chafes under some of the lord’s harsher decisions. When Hideyoshi dies, Mitsunari is determined to preserve his heir’s succession and to institute a more just and humane administration. Tokugawa is less idealistic and more Machiavellian. There is also bad blood between the two samurais.

Initially, Tokugawa holds all the institutional advantages, but Mitsunari scores several coups when it comes to recruiting allies. He sways the legendary leprosy-afflicted samurai Yoshitsugu Ōtani to his side, appoints the physically scarred and battle-tested Sakon Shima as his commander, and accepts the services of stealthy Iga Ninja Hatsume. During the course of her service, Hatsume and her lord will fall in love, but they can never consummate their feelings, due to political considerations.

As you would hope and expect, Sekigahara is jam-packed with tragically epic battle sequences. This is a satisfyingly big film, which might be why the small, quiet subplot involving Mitsunari and Hatsume is so potently poignant. As the two non-lovers, Junichi Okada and Kasumi Arimura do not have a lot of screen time together, but they still develop some lovely chemistry.

In fact, Okada brings Shakespearean dimensions to Mitsunari. When he is arrogant, it will make you wince—and when he is humble, it is downright heroic. The always reliable Koji Yakusho shows he still has a few tricks up his sleeve as the scheming Tokugawa, while Takehiro Hira is spectacularly grizzled and hard-nosed as the serious-as-a-heart-attack Shima.

Sekigahara is exactly the sort of film that made many cineastes fall in love with Japanese cinema in the first place. Harada commandingly manages the numerous battlefield reversals and nicely balances all the complex elements (arguably, two-and-a-half-hours is pretty tight for this genre). It is an elegant work of big screen craftsmanship, but it absolutely takes no prisoners. It is all quite sad, yet still a great deal of fun. Very highly recommended, Sekigahara screens this Friday (6/30) at the Walter Reade, where Harada will receive NYAFF’s Star Asia Lifetime Achievement Award (his past festival selections include Chronicle of My Mother, Climber’s High, and Shadow Spirit).

NYAFF ’18: We Will Not Die Tonight

Action cinema doesn’t get much grittier or zeitgeisty than this. At one point, the leader of an organ trafficking ring suggests the current government in Manila would be fine with them preying on poor slum-dwellers—and it is hard to argue with him. However, Kray is pretty darned appalled. The under-appreciated stunt performer and her punky friends will fight for their lives and the life of an innocent in Richard Somes’ street-to-the-max We Will Not Die Tonight, which screens during the 2018 New York Asian Film Festival.

Even though she is usually taken advantage of on-set, Kray still makes more money performing stunt work than catering. She needs it for her ailing father, who was also a stuntman during the run-and-gun Roger Corman glory years (but it took a toll on his body). That is why she and the rest of her former juvenile delinquent gang are willing to come together for a reunion gig arranged by their flaky leader Ramil.

Of course, everyone is slack-jawed shocked to learn Ramil’s old neighborhood pal Bangkil wants them to kidnap kids off the street, so their organs can be harvested. Even slimy Ramil wants no part of that, but Bangkil doesn’t take no for an answer. So, Kray and her mates grab little Isabel, a missing girl currently in the news and hide in an abandoned industrial building, where a spectacularly bloody game of cat-and-mouse will play out.

Holy cats, Somes really isn’t dorking around here. You will probably feel like getting a tetanus shot after watching it. Frankly, Atomic Blonde looks downright genteel in comparison, like afternoon tea and crumpets.

If you want yourself a feminist action figure than Kray will knock your socks off. Previously known for squeaky clean rom-coms, Erich Gonzales completely explodes her old image with her remarkably intense and unrelentingly physical performance as Kray. Yet, she is not a super-woman. In fact, she shows tremendous sensitivity and vulnerability. Max Eigenmann drastically plays against type in a similar fashion as the every-punk-for-themselves Cheche.

Alex Medina aptly portrays Ramil as too slick for his own good, but he is also totally convincing as the walking wounded getting the heck sliced out of himself. Thou Reyes and Nico Dans nicely round out the gang as the strongly delineated Jonesky and Rene Boy. In contrast, most of the organ trafficking villains could have had their sinister idiosyncrasies emphasized and exaggerated more.

Regardless, the pedal-to-the-metal action and overpowering vision of urban anarchy will completely hypnotize most viewers. Think of We Will Not Die as the Filipino analog to Judgement Night, if the early 1990s thriller had more martial arts and less copping out. Even though it was only shot in eight days, We Will Not Die represents some truly virtuoso indie filmmaking on Somes’ part. Twenty years ago, it would have sparked a bidding war among indie distributors, but it is doubtful the surviving players can handle a film with this kind of naturalistic honesty and pure genre menace. Highly recommended for grown-up action fans, We Will Not Die Tonight screens Friday night (6/29) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.

Love Cecil opens Friday

Absolutely wonderful film about photographer, designer, diarist, Oscar winner and force of nature Cecil Beaton.

Filled with Beaton's words and images this is a film you fall into and get lost in. I've seen the film several times now hoping to find the words to describe it but all I can really say is this is f-ing awesome and must be seen. My only complaint is Beaton did so much that 100 minutes is simply not enough time.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

41st Asian American International Film Festival Announces Full Lineup

NEW YORK, JUNE 26, 2018 – The 41st Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF41), presented by Asian CineVision and taking place July 25 – August 5 in New York City, announced its full film lineup today. The first and longest running Asian interest film festival in the country, AAIFF41 is proud to present the following program, which includes 13 narrative features, 10 documentary features, and 57 short films, representing over 14 countries.

Directed by Aneesh Chaganty – USA
After David Kim (John Cho)’s 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a local investigation is opened and a detective (Debra Messing) is assigned to the case. But 37 hours later and without a single lead, David decides to search the one place no one has looked yet, where all secrets are kept today: his daughter’s laptop. In a hyper-modern thriller told via the technology devices we use every day to communicate, David must trace his daughter’s digital footprints before she disappears forever.

SEARCHING will screen on Wednesday, July 25 at 7:00pm at Village East Cinema with Director Aneesh Chaganty and Actor John Cho in attendance.

Directed by Mina Shum – Canada
Devoted wife and mother, 60-year-old Maria Wang’s life is altered when she discovers an orange thong in her husband’s pants pocket, forcing her to confront how powerless she has let herself become. Her efforts to find out the truth send her on an unexpected journey of liberation. Starring Cheng Pei-pei and Sandra Oh.

MEDITATION PARK will screen on Friday, July 27 at 8:00pm at Village East Cinema with Director and Writer Mina Shum in attendance.

Directed by Cathy Yan – China
A bumbling pig farmer, a feisty salon owner, a sensitive busboy, an ambitious expat architect, and a disenchanted rich girl converge and collide as thousands of dead pigs float down the river toward a rapidly modernizing Shanghai, China. Based on true events.

DEAD PIGS will screen on Saturday, July 28 at 7:00pm at Village East Cinema with Director and Writer Cathy Yan in attendance.

Directed by Frank W. Chen – USA
LATE LIFE: THE CHIEN-MING WANG STORY is a feature-length documentary following the latter years of Wang’s professional baseball career. A poignant account of his life as told by those closest to him, it examines his roles as starting pitcher for the New York Yankees, father, son, and international icon. This is the story of a man who is unwilling to give up and unable to let go.

LATE LIFE: THE CHIEN-MING WANG STORY will screen on Sunday, July 29 at 6:00pm at Village East Cinema with Chien-Ming Wang, Director Frank W. Chen, and Producer Brian Yang in attendance.

Directed by Alexandra Cuerdo – USA
In this tasty documentary, Director Alexandra Cuerdo tracks the rise of Filipino food from being “the underdog of Asian cuisines” to its new abode in the center of the American table.

ULAM: MAIN DISH will screen on Saturday, August 4 at 7:00pm at Asia Society with Director Alexandra Cuerdo and Producer Ray Cuerdo in attendance.


Directed by Carlo Obispo – Philippines
Luis is just an average teenage boy living in the idyllic fishing island of Silag. He is coming of age alongside his younger sister Lulu, who busies herself with amateur singing contests in hopes of becoming a star. When a talent manager offers Lulu an opportunity to undergo vocal coaching in Manila, Lulu eagerly takes the opportunity. After Lulu’s family suddenly loses contact with her, Luis sets out for Manila to find his sister, but what he finds there changes his life forever.

1-2-3 (GASPING FOR AIR) will screen on Thursday, July 26 at 8:00pm at Village East Cinema.

Directed by Ben Hoskyn – Canada, Hong Kong
When their dying father makes a sudden change to his will, two half-brothers from different worlds—one a Hong Kong labourer, the other a Vancouver businessman—must decide what they value most: money or family.

8 MINUTES AHEAD will screen on Wednesday, August 1 at 6:00pm at Village East Cinema.

Directed by H.P. Mendoza – USA, Philippines
In this toothy “home for the holidays” remix, a Filipino American family reunites over a long Christmas weekend only to discover that something unusual is festering in their household. What starts out as a fun holiday reunion quickly warps into a darkly humorous crime scene as the family plots to kill one of their own.

This is Congo opens Friday

Daniel McCabe's THIS IS CONGO is a shattering look at Congo and how it ended up in the middle of a seeming perpetual war. It is a documentary filled with the sadness that only a deep understanding of a situation can bring.

McCabe's masterful film seems to be very much what the title implies, a portrait of a country. With interviews with people from across the country and in various walks of life the film gives us a real sense of who the people of the country are. Additionally McCabe fills every frame with absolute breathtaking images that place us firmly with in the countries borders. From lovely picturesque vistas to over flowing toilets we see everything there is to see about Congo and as a result we come to understand more fully than simply hearing words.

Daniel McCabe need's be applauded. He has made a brilliant thoughtful film that gives us what we need to know from all sides. He does not give us histrionic people yelling their point of view but people who are in the country and are able to explain simply and succinctly what exactly is going on with the country. Rarely has any film I've ever run across had such a carefully selected group of talking heads. Best of all while McCabe decidedly has a point of view concerning the country he is smart enough not to wear his heart on his sleeve and lets us come around to his way of thinking.

The film is a masterpiece.

THIS IS CONGO has snuck up and bit me on the ass. Its one of those rare films where I didn't realize how good the film was until a day or so after seeing the film. As per my festival routine I watched the film, made some notes and when the film was done I wrote a review. I left a few things out and I knew I'd have to go back and tweak it. The funny thing is that a few hours later I found I couldn't stop thinking about the film. In replaying the film I couldn't shake the craft of the film that quietly snuck up on me. I eventually went back to the review I had prepared and tossed it out because it didn't quite tell you how gripping and important this film is.

One of the things that I didn't immediately catch was how the film is about more than just Congo. Yes, the film talks about all of the countries that crisscrossed through it over the centuries, but what is playing out in the country is a warning for not only other countries where big business and outside political interests have their hands rooting around, but also countries like America where divisions are fragmenting society.

I am in awe of this film and I know that I need another viewing to fully grasp everything that McCabe presents to us on every level.

If you can you must see this film when it plays this weekend in theaters across America because it will alter how you see the world.