Friday, November 5, 2010

MFA's 2010 Asian Film Festival

Minnesota Film Arts (or maybe The Film Society of Minneapolis St Paul) christens its first annual Asian Film Festival with many films to covet, explore and discover. Offering a diverse mix of East and Southeast Asian films, the inaugural year is a sign of good things to come. The Fest started Wednesday, but there are plenty of films left to see.

Here my thought on the ones I've seen, listed in order of preference:

I Wish I Knew (2010)
Jia Zhangke
Sunday, November 7, 1:00pm
Saturday, November 13, 2:00pm
The Mainland auteur's newest film gracefully mines the recent history of Shanghai by interviewing residents and former residents of the Paris of the East. A sponge for the country's ills and advances, Shanghai was built by its trade prowess, but defined by wars that raged in the 30s and 40s. Although Shanghai was under constant threat from the Japanese for nearly 15 years, it was the brutal battles between the Communists and the Nationalist that held the population in a powder keg that eventually sent residents scattershot physically and emotionally. Jia's tribute to Shanghai is as beautiful as it is thoughtful. (For a longer review that I did from VIFF look here.)

Poetry (2010)
Lee Chang-dong
South Korea
Saturday, November 6, 4:10pm
Friday, November 12, 7:00pm
Although Lee Chang-dong has five films to his name (four of which, including this one, I would consider near masterpieces) he remains relatively unknown in the US. Hopefully Poetry will change that. Poetry is the story of Mija, who looks to the art of writing poems as a road self-discover and transcendence. Although Mija is struggling with very worldly issues beyond her control, such as Alzheimer's and an insolent grandson she is trying to raise, her transformation is found through the realm of high art. Poetry won Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival and should see a larger release next year.

Gallants (2010)
Clement Cheng and Derek Kwok
Hong Kong
Saturday, November 13, 7:15pm
A movie best seen with a crowd, Gallants is a loving homage to kung fu films from the 60s and 70s. Leung is an office wimp who dreams of being so much more. One day when he is save by selfless hero who turns out to be the legendary Tiger. Tiger and his fellow martial arts brother Dragon have been quietly holding vigil over their master, Law, who has been in a coma for 30 years. Old rivalries ignite as well as the fighting passion within Leung as master Law miraculously awakes to his biggest challenge yet! The brilliance of Gallants is not only in the overt style that Kwok and Cheng chooses to parody with great wit, but also in its cast. The trio of old-timers—Bruce Leung, Chen Kuan-tai and Teddy Robin Kwan—deliver more charisma than seems fair for one movie.

City of Life and Death (2009)
Lu Chuan
Saturday, November 6, 1:30pm
Tuesday, November 9, 6:45pm
A gritty and brutal portrayal of the Japanese invasion of Nanjing, City of Life and Death has been embroiled in controversy that has stalled its release by almost a year. City of Life and Death was caught in a diplomatic push-pull almost a year ago with the Mainland pulling it from the Palm Springs Film Festival because they insisted on playing a Tibetan documentary The Sun Behind the Clouds (which screened at MSPIFF.) I'm glad to see it resurface because I was feeling bitter about not being able to see this very cinematic film on the big screen. Part war action film part historical melodrama, City of Life and Death is a harrowing account of war in 1937 Nanjing. (These events came to international light with Iris Chang's book "The Rape of Nanjing.") After the release of the film across the Pacific, the Japanese claimed that they were represented too harshly and the Chinese contended that the Japanese were depicted too fairly. For his money and yours, Lu Chuan maintains a pretty even hand in portraying each side as fallible rough cut pawns in a dismal war.

Crazy Racer (2010)
Ning Hao
Friday, November 5, 9:30pm
Thurday, November 11, 9:40
Crazy indeed. Ning Hao's followup to his other crazy film Crazy Stone (2006) is a hilarious keystone cop comedy. Huang Bo plays a disgraced cyclist who finally sees an opportunity for revenge and maybe even redemption. Crazy Racer comes from one of the freshest comedic voices in Mainland China and stars one of the most charismatic actors in the business. (Huang Bo also starred in Cow, which played at MSPIFF this past Spring.) Serious freaking fun.

Summer Wars (2009)
Mamoru Hosoda
Saturday, November 13, 4:30pm
Any animation fan would be crazy crazy crazy to miss Summer Wars on the big screen. Although I can't attest to what kind of format the film will be on, this is one spectacular looking animation on Blu-ray. The influence of Miyazaki in Hosoda's films is obvious, but Summer Wars propels Hosoda into a realm all by himself. This sci-fi family drama is incredibly refreshing, entertaining and beautiful. Do. Not. Miss.

The Red Chapel (2010)
Mads Br├╝gger
Denmark/North Korea
Friday, November 5, 5:00pm
Wednesday, November 10, 5:15pm
Any glimpse into the mysterious North Korea is completely fascinating, and The Red Chapel certainly fits that bill. The Red Chapel is a documentary about a Danish comedy duo who is allowed to perform in North Korea due to their Korean heritage. It goes with out saying that their Western styled humor is 99.9% lost on the isolated North Koreans. But they soldier on with their mission knowing that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and an experience that they can share with the world. Both funny and moving, The Red Chapel trumps any and all stunt documentaries in existence.

Ip Man 2 (2010)
Wilson Yip
Hong Kong
Friday, November 12, 9:45pm
The recent resurgence in filmic interest in the story of Ip Man, Bruce Lee's mentor, has grown to a three part series (part one and two directed by Wilson Yip, and a prequel directed titled The Legend is Born by Herman Yau) and is also the subject of Wong Kar Wai's newest film The Grand Master, due out...sometime. And I have to admit that three I have seen have resonated historically (even if it is revisionist) and entertained kinetically (even if it is more movie magic than 'master' magic.) The hand to hand fighting handled in these films, including Ip Man 2, is entrancing. Watching Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung, both masters in their own right, do their thing is more than enough for me. The movie falls off near the end with its showdown of showdowns, but I have forgiven that minor flaw.

Sawako Decides (2010)
Ishii Yuya
Saturday, November 6, 4:00pm
A charming, if somewhat slight, blend of comic melodrama works most of the time in Sawako Decides. There's a social commentary in this film somewhere, but it is mostly a character piece prompt up by the irreverent and lovable Sawako, played to punchy perfection by Mitsushima Hikari.

Pinoy Sunday (2010)
Wi Ding Ho
Friday, November 5, 5:15
Saturday, November 6, 9:45
Monday, November 8, 5:00pm
Pinoy Sunday is a Filipino buddy movie set in Taiwan. Dado and Manuel are contract workers for a bike factory. One is earning money for his family back home and the other is earning money to squander, mostly on women who are uninterested in him. One day when they are both down on their luck, they find a sofa that represents a sort of new found happiness. But first they have to figure out a way to get it across town and back to their dorm by curfew. By the end of this movie I was annoyed at the character almost as much as they were with each other. It's an interesting ride with limited payout.

There are a dozen other films that I hope to catch at the Fest as I'm racing between Sembene at the Walker and Chaplin at the Trylon. No complaints here.


YTSL said...

Hi Kathie --

Interesting that all bar one of the films mentioned have also played in Hong Kong. Re "Red Chapel" (the one exception): sounds interesting. Have you seen "The Game of Their Lives" (about the North Korean 1966 (soccer) World Cup Finals team)? Saw it for the first time in Philadelphia some years back and really was moved by it.

Kathie Smith said...

That's what I want! A little Hong Kong here in Minneapolis! I haven't seen The Game of Their Lives but I will seek it out. I saw a documentary a couple years ago called Welcome to North Korea that was shot in North Korea and it was fascinating. When I was living and studying in China, I passed on an opportunity to go to North Korea that was partially set up by North Korean classmates and an organization that arranged such things in Beijing. It was way too expensive, but I now kick myself for not going.