Thursday, June 28, 2018


Dubbed as the Savage Seventeenth edition, this year's festival hosts four world premieres, three international premieres, 21 North American premieres, three U.S. premieres, and twelve New York premieres, showcasing the most exciting comedies, dramas, thrillers, romances, horrors and arthouse films from East Asia.

NYAFF 2018 runs from 6/29 to 7/13. Please visit FSLC Website for more tickets and more info.

Screen Shot 2018-06-20 at 1.31.40 PM
With Romero's Night of the Living Dead, the zombie genre has a humble, low-budget indie beginning. Taking the cue from this idea, Ueda Shinichiro's One Cut of the Dead serves a love letter to the indie filmmaking process as much as it works as being an entertaining zom-com.

It starts out with as an impressive 37 minute uncut zombie movie where a frazzled director screams at a young actress, who has just gone through her 42nd take. She needs to look more frightened. That she really needs to fear for life! His wish comes true soon enough, as real zombies run amok in the filming location, a large water treatment plant where the Japanese army conducted human experiment in the days of WW2.

The film rewinds and becomes a making-of documentary where it shows how the uncut movie was made in clever, comical ways. As anyone ever involved in low budget filmmaking would attest, no matter how terrible the end product turn out, there is tons of hard work and on-the-spot problem solving that goes in to each film. An interesting aside to considering: The movie gives the 'crane shot' a new meaning...

One Cut of the Dead is part zombie movie, part making-of documentary and part touching family drama. And it's hugely entertaining.


Screen Shot 2018-06-20 at 8.18.04 PM
Comprised only with short static shots that cut to black, Ogata Takaomi's Hungry Lion takes a non-sensational, clinical approach to reflect on the peril of our society completely under siege by social networking. It's very Haneke yet very Japanese.

The film begins in a high school classroom where a teacher is getting led away by the police. The video of him having sex with a student went viral. Hitomi, a normal high school student who has a considerable SNS following or someone who looks very much like her was in that video. She denies that it is her. Some of her immediate circle believe that she is innocent at first. But once the rumor starts doing rounds, it spreads fast. People turn on her and the adults who are supposed to protect her innocence openly exploit her. The gossip at the school and home become too much for Hitomi and she throws herself in front of a train.

Hungry Lion digs deeper into our relationship with the world in the internet age and how we see things in a distorted way and prey on the most vulnerable. It's a compelling movie watching experience.


Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 11.48.20 AM
Violent Japanese schoolgirls! This is what I love about NYAFF!!

Based on a manga of the same name, Naito Eisuke's Liverleaf is a school bulling revenge movie. Haruka Nozaki (Anna Yamada) is a transfer student from Tokyo in a rural town Middle School. She is relentlessly bullied by a gang of close-knit friends, headed by cool redhead Taeko (Rinka Otani). It is said Haruka stole Aiba (Hiroya Shimizu) from Taeko. How dare she!

Things take a violent turn when Rumi (Rena Otsuka), a loner who would do anything to impress Taeko, actually carries out burning down Haruka's house with her family in it. With her parents killed and her little sister in an intensive care from burns, Haruka exacts revenge on the gang, one by one, using a rusty nail, a pair of wire cutters, a crossbow and a pocket knife. As usual, nothing is more beautiful than blood on the pure white snow in the Japanese countryside.


Screen Shot 2018-06-22 at 11.30.36 AM
Detective Ogami (Yakusho Koji), known affectionately as 'Gami by his colleagues and yakuza friends alike, leads a colorful existence, walking a tightrope without falling to either side. He has been the key figure in keeping the peace between too warring yakuza clans. But it's Gami's method - taking bribes, getting favors, extortion, violence, etc that irks a young idealist rookie partner Hioka (Matsuzaka Tori). While investigating the murder of a civilian accountant, Hioka realizes Gami might be in too deep with Irako (Ishbashi Renji), one of the crime bosses. Would Gami find out that Hioka is an agent from internal affairs? Would they still bring down the gangs together?

As flamboyant Ogami, always dependable Yakusho is fabulous here playing against type. Without honor, loyalty or fear, his character is only interested in protecting civilians. With large, great supporting roles played by many familiar faces in Japanese cinema (including Maki Yoko of After the Storm, Like Father Like Son and Abe Junko of Still the Water), Blood of Wolves is an excellent, gritty crime film that is hugely enjoyable.


Screen Shot 2018-06-23 at 8.40.41 AM
Hardened HK detective Lee (Louis Koo) sees his young daughter grow up to be a teenager. As soon as she takes up a no-good boyfriend and gets pregnant. After an abortion, she runs away to Thailand only to be kidnapped by local thugs who in deal organ transplants. Yes, just like previous SPL series, you don't watch Paradox for the plot. You watch it for a handful of heavenly action sequences!

Choreographed by Sammo Hung, with picturesque backdrops of the bay city of Pattaya, we get some glorious fight scenes involving Koo, Lue Wu and Tony Jaa (as local cops) and Chris Collins (as a sadistic organ trafficker). One set piece in the narrow hallways and rooftops with Collins and Jaa is breathtaking. So are the extended meat packing facility fight sequences, fully equipped (for your pleasure) with plenty of sharp, clanking cutlery. It's not great as the previous SPL series and the typical cheesy HK plotline drags down its greatness a notch. And you only wish you want to see more Jaa, but oh well. Vithaya Pansringarm (Only God Forgives) also shows up as a police chief.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A Duel of the Sun and the Moon

Duelle (1976) - Rivette
Screen Shot 2018-06-18 at 6.35.10 AM
Screen Shot 2018-06-18 at 6.36.48 AM
Screen Shot 2018-06-18 at 6.20.33 AM
Screen Shot 2018-06-18 at 6.16.09 AM
Screen Shot 2018-06-18 at 6.13.43 AM
Screen Shot 2018-06-18 at 6.38.01 AM
Duelle tells the fate of earthlings trapped in the battle between Leni (Juliette Berto), the Moon Goddess and Viva (Bulle Ogier), the Sun Goddess. It just gives an excuse for Berto and Ogier, the mother-daughter team, strut around in various pretty costumes and seducing anyone whom they lay their eyes on. Their objective is finding a diamond the size of a peach pit so they can stay on earth or something. Embroiled in this cat and mouse chase are a cat-like hunk Pierrot (Jean Babilée), his snooping, late night hotel clerk sister Lucie (Hermine Karagheuz), love-lorn Jeanne/Elsa (Nicole Garcia) and others.

Just like Celine and Julie, guided and framed by the great William Lubtchansky, Duelle has a fluidity of an improvisational music (not jam but more like jazz). With never obtrusive handheld camera work and black and white sequence thrown in, the film is not short on cinematic playfulness. The ensemble cast seems to be having a blast too. Good times.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Heads Will Roll

Hereditary (2018) - Aster
Screen Shot 2018-06-12 at 9.34.25 AM
Grief has been a common theme in horror movies for a long time. Lately, it's been the loss of a child as 'the worst thing that could happen to a family'. It's become so goddamn pervasive, I've grown to avoid films that deal with it whenever I read synopses while browsing. Hereditary, like many of recent horrors, stabs at this theme and twists until it bleeds for the sake of a scare or two, leaving very bad taste in my mouth. One should ask actors involved in the project - why did you sign up for this when there is no empathy written for your characters whatsoever, that they are tools to be dispensed to support the flimsy ending? Cold and sadistic, Hereditary recalls the brutality of Ben Wheatley's Kill List. Well let me correct that: Kill List's characters are driven, have a confidence in themselves but get thwarted unexpectedly. The characters here are blubbering mess the whole time, like crying babes in the woods ready to be preyed on.

There are elements of Hereditary that would make a dozen features. Ari Aster, however technically apt he is at filmmaking, sacrifices these narrative and emotional potentials for the end that doesn't deserve them. There are so many questions one could ask - why the miniature artist? Why does she look funny? Why is he so timid? Why the sudden point of view change and what does that signify? In fact, is this a family? Where is a shred of indication of that? Its scares are built upon sadism and hollow, grotesque images. Then again, it's a horror movie. So who needs an emotional depth? Very disappointing.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Builders and Destroyers

Taste of Cement (2017) - Kalthoum
Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 7.36.53 PM
Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 7.39.59 PM
Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 8.01.46 PM
Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 7.39.59 PM
Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 7.47.34 PM
Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 7.49.45 PM
Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 7.43.15 PM
Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 7.43.57 PM
It starts with a voice over. In it, a man remembers his construction worker father coming home from Lebanon. Holding his rough worker's hands, he as a boy could smell the concrete off of it. Dad also brought a poster of a white sandy beach and framed by a couple of swaying palm trees against the blue sky. the boy had never seen the ocean before.

Beirut has seen many wars. Because of that, the city is in perpetual construction boom. As the Syrian war turns its 7th year and the end nowhere in sight, Ziad Kalthoum's Taste of Cement rightfully juxtaposes the urban destruction of Aleppo with the neighboring country's relatively well to do city-by-the-sea. These are Syrian workers. As their fathers as migrant workers, worked to rebuild Beirut in the 80s, they are repeating their father's footsteps, but mostly as refugees. If the recent film The Insult was any indication - as unsubtle as that film was in portraying deep seeded prejudices and rift between the two countries, these workers are living under constant fear of prejudices and retaliation.

Kalthoum's lens serenely captures these workers in their work place - as they wake up from the concrete floor and emerge from the hole, taking a lift to a dizzying height, working in a highly dangerous environment. At night, everyone's glued to their phones, flipping through the photos of destruction of their homeland - of the mangled concrete and metal. TV blares terrible news from home, reflecting in their eyes. The unending lift ride, measured panning and camera placement all the way up in the crane that features the bird's eye view of the affluent city with many high skyscrapers on the lush slopes, hugging the beautiful coastline. The camera even dives in to the emerald water, reminding us the war past.

With close ups and silent moments, Kalthoum's visuals have lyricism and sensuality of Claire Denis' work. But once it gets to the matching POV footage of construction cranes slowly panning over the Beirut skyline and tank gunner pointing at its next target, and the real footage of rescue effort to dig out the civilians trapped in collapsed concrete buildings, you realize that Taste of Cement is much more than, say, Terry Malrick's pretty, contemplative picture show.

Concrete smell is the smell of travel and also the smell of death. It's also the smell of rebuilding and smell of destruction. Kalthoum achieves something miraculous here. Something tangible and important. Something that is arty enough for the public already jaded and numbed by the sheer stupidity of the world and don't care anymore, to care.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

British Cousin of Suspiria

Legacy (1978) - Marquand
Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 6.54.44 AM
Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 7.01.35 AM
Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 6.55.49 AM
Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 6.58.47 AM
Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 7.04.11 AM
Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 7.05.11 AM
Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 7.08.20 AM
British director Richard Marquand's Legacy resembles Argento's Suspiria in more ways than one. But it's terribly British, meaning, instead of popping colors and macabre violence, it's overstuffed and subdued. But it's still a fun ride. Legacy concerns an American couple Maggie and Pete (Katharine Ross and Sam Elliot) on business in London. They are architects (please pronounce it in Sam Elliot's drawl- ai-chi-te-ackts) from LA.

A near accident while on the country road trip on their Triumph motorcycle send the couple into a country mansion as (un)invited guests by a rapidly dying millionaire, Mountlive (John Standing). The other 5 guests and non emotive servants exchange knowing glances but not too fast on divulging any helpful information.

Weird things are happening in the mansion and some unseen force wouldn't let the couple leave. The guests die off one by one in mysterious circumstances. Then Maggie finds news clippings of deaths that the other guests are involved in, that their deaths in the mansion are some kind of karmic reprisals. It is clear that Maggie is meant to be there and wear that skull ring that all the other guests are wearing. Is this some kind of Satanic cult? Is rapidly disintegrating Mountlive (resembling David Lynch's monstrous grandma and the witch in Suspiria), trying to pass the satanic power on to the unsuspecting American?

The deaths are pretty spectacular - many very similar to ones in Suspiria although not as over the top. I wonder if it was at all influenced by the Italian maestro's, which came out a year before. Marquand went on to direct memorable Donald Sutherland classic thriller Eye of the Needle, then Return of the Jedi. Not bad.