Sunday, June 30, 2019

New York Asian Film Festival Delivers Excitement, Depth and Variety with Jaw-Dropping Appeal

                                 The festival runs from June 28th to July 14th

Tzu-Hsuan Hung Directs The Scoundrels ***

What a complicated gangster-good-guy plot! Hard to follow. In fact the many fight scenes almost steal the climactic effect of the whole film. Rui is a ticket car giver; but it wasn’t always that way. He was a star basketball player, but got dismissed due to a big fight he started on the court. He ends up working for a gang to pay the bills for the guy he had beaten up. But things go really bad for Rui when he sees a bloody body when he is issuing a ticket and feel a gun at his back. Rui is forced to comply with the raincoat robber – as he is called when he steals money from the private delivery  bank cars.

The guy ends up manipulating Rui and though Rui wants to escape,  but he can’t. The tables turn though when Rui decides not to be a patsy or loser anymore. He ends up following him to the finish. Bad guys don’t win in the end. This is Tzu-Hsuan Hung’s first feature and though terrible complex and hard to follow, he proves the Taiwanese are a force to contend with when it comes to film making.


 MAGGIE (Directed by Yi ok-seop)

No oen shows up at the hospital after a compromising sex x-ray that hows no faces seems to embarrass the staff. Docotors fall sick and a lay boy friend fall thorugh one of the sink holes he himself is repariing. 

These holes are appearing everywhere. Nothing much ahppnes in this obtuse absurdist Korean film. Not one of their best, for sure.

THE FABLE (Directed by Kab Eguchi) **

He's a trained killer/assassin, and he's put to good use to rescue  a friend who helped him once when he was pretending that a gang really was getting the upper hand while beating him up. The Fable finds a way to rescue her but not without hurting a whole lot of people. he is not supposed to kill people though; his boss has told him to lay low for a year.

He's got a tender sweet side; he loves his new bird, and he not only draws his gun, but cartoons too.

This slam-bang action thriller with yakuza melodrama hits the mark when it comes to confusing us and even the characters in the film. But all the elements are there for high entertainment: a psychopath killer,  lots of great super-charged fight scenes, Osaka's underworld is as tense as a den of vipers.



A trio of loan sharks extract money from others, and things become bad for those owing. Against this, is a backdrop of laziness, fatigue and shop keepers who are not exactly as they seem. A quirky film for sure from Korea that sets quietude against the undercurrent of violence.


Jinpa (Directed by Pema Tseden) ***

In the most barren frozen lands of  the Tibetan plains, a lorry driver travels. his delivery is cut short when he hits a big sheep and kills him. he feels terrible and spends most of his time trying to relieve his guilt. He is searching for a man eh picked up hitch-hiking who may hold the answer to meeting the man who can save his soul. Dreamy and out of this world, the slowness of the film and authentic feel works their magic over you. It's in Chinese and Tibetan language.


MY FIRST FAREWELL (Directed  by Wang Lina) ****

They are Muslim children brimming with values of home, family, caring to their goats, cattle and chicken. But the pressure to learn mandarin (the village speaks Uighur)  is overbearing, and if a child  fails in this subject-- as the little girl did – she/he will be shamed along with the parents during teacher/parent meetings. Adives is sought from the elders.

 The time for picking cotton and trying to earn money is fast disappearing. City life is taking over their rural way of life. They must move to another city to improve their schooling. The film puts three children who ultimately have to leave their deaf. Mute mother behind in a home to make their own lives with their mom in a city. The lens gives us a touching day-to-day glimpse into one family whose conflicts and wise council come together in love and discord.  It is so authentic, one forgets this is a film. 

 The cinematography is stunning.The music by Xi Wen is mesmerizing. This is Ms. Lina’s first film. Bravo! The children are not actors, nor anyone else in this film. Amazing!

Saturday, June 29, 2019


Now in its 23rd year, this epic festival features the glorious, the gaudy, the gorgeous and the good where talent galore imprisons your senses in  gripping cinema created by directors from all over this hell-bent world. The maverick is now mainstream.
Expect a whirlwind of cinematic breakthroughs in all genres as international directors and local ones spellbound audiences with exceptional plots, effects and cultivated climaxes of the terrific and the terrible. Nothing is as it seems. The world is unpredictable and the films exploit this, turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. 

Kudos to Fantasia's directors, Mitch Davis and Marc Lamonte and the amazing programming team. Splendid choices!



MAGGIE  (Directed by Yi Ok-seop) *

This existential absurdist film vaguely references believing in others. Maggie is a fish that narrates the obtuse events concerning a hospital where the x-ray room shows shots of sex and everyone thinks the bodies are themselves.

 The plot is really no plot at all. A lazy boyfriend ends up falling in one of the sink holes that are appearing everywhere on streets; his job is to fix them. This film is Korea's nod to avant-garde cinema, but this piece moves too slowly, and despite the artsy shots, it lacks character vitality. It might end up falling in its own sink hole.                                                               

THE GANGSTER, THE COP, THE DEVIL (Directed by Lee Won-tae) *****

Murder abounds in the city of Cheoman. Tae-suk, a no-nonsense policeman knows these brutal killings are the work of a serial killer. His force doesn’t buy it. The gangster, Dong-soo (marvellously played by Don Lee) is himself attacked, but he survives the stab wounds. He joins forces with Tae-suk, but both are extremely weary of the other. One wants revenge for the stabbing in any horrid way he can conjure; the other wants to find the killer and bring him to justice via the courts. 

This action-packed non-stop witty film is a plot pleaser that has all the twists and corrupt turns one expects in Korea these days. Dynamic in dialogue, character and crime, this film is a blockbuster classic. This was my Fantasia thriller favourite.  Interesting that Sylvester Stallone will be playing the part of Dong-soo; also interesting that Dong-soo did not make it in the United States, so he returned to South Korea where he made it big time. We're glad he did.


KINGDOM (Directed by Shinhuko Sato) *****

In 255 B.C. China was divided into seven kingdoms. One brother rules in Qin, a powerful kingdom, which he took illegally, having mutinied against his own brother, Pio who was a young boy and was left the kingdom. Pio goes in exile and ends up meeting Shin. Both are slaves to a mean farm owner, but both train to become the best generals on earth to fulfil their dreams. Pio is taken away by a soldier to join the army. This is not-stop adventure and fighting with revenge and rightful ownership of the throne. It is wildly entertaining with a great plot, fabulous character acting and wit. This massively epic film is an all-round thrill to watch. A must-see. 


THE DEEPER YOU DIG  (Directed by Toby Poser)***

Echo, a teenager does not come home;it turns out the next door neighbour has a lot to do with it; he accidently ran over her on a country road at night while she was sleeping. Ivy, Echo’s mother flirts with tarot cards to try to discover where her daughter is. She knows she is dead, but where is she? The supernatural and all kinds of bloody things come into play until death and character persons switch identity. Making the feature was ingenious creativity. It is a real family in it. They live in the Catskills, and on a budget of 11,000$ they conjured up brilliant ways to do the horror scenes and in the dead of winter too.


JUDY AND PUNCH (Directed by Mirrah Foulkes)***

Set in Medieval times, Seaside town is now enjoying the violent shows of Puch and Judy. The puppeteer who plays Punch is a drunken slob who is so keen on meeting talent scouts for his show. He thinks he is wonderful. He not only has his puppet beat up Judy, but he does it in real life to his wife, Judy. Revenge is a woman’s most effective tool, and used to right wrongs. This black comedy is entertaining and certainly timely for the Our Time woman’s movement. Patriarchy is punched off it pedestal, and replaced with powerful women, personified in Judy. A nice Australian film with tricks up everyone’s sleeve where puppets can be replaced with practical plans. The end shows clips from real Punch and Judy shows and the reaction of the kids watching. Enlightening indeed.


THE RELATIVE WORLDS (Directed by Yuhei Sakuragi) ****

People are dropping dead in Tokyo, and that is because there are two Japans-- one desolate and ripe with poverty; the other is normal thriving and urban. Shin witnessed and mother’s death, and his best friend, Kotori tries to help him through his sadness.

Everyone has their double in the not-so-nice Japan, and the job of these two protagonists is to deal with the evil.

 This anime feature is rich in action and excellent motion-capture work. It’s an odd story that sends a message of hope for a unified trouble-free Japan.


STEAMPUNK CONNECTION (Directed by Anne Deniel) ***

 All over the world a fascinating community is reviving Victorian costume, items and more, making it a part of their lives.  The documentary follows a trio of devotees in five different countries.  Wonderful eccentrics champion the cause of using technology to create all kinds of dress and accessories that conjure up past times. Imagination is key to what motivates them.

 These people have formed a great community, and what better way to connect than to relive the past with a Victorian reference. I have to say that the people are so creative and superb in what they create. They want to live time travel in a most unique way, and they do it colourfully.


HIS BAD BLOOD (Directed by Koichiro Oyama) ***

An epic family gang related saga and the biggest victim of the bad guys is Shinichi, son of a psychopathic liar, killer who betrays everyone. He is a hypocrite, pretends to be good when he join a church, and then rejects his son when he finds out his son is working at the same church cleaning like him. Dramatic and compelling, still this first feature for the director needs to run towards a new editor. He hooks back and forth into the past and present and overlaps sub-stories together than cause a level of frustration. It has great potential, especially because the acting was super.  Ikkei Watanabe was super as the villain. Yu Toyamo carried the film with his acting, most notably his transformation to a lazy detached boy to a man with integrity and deep emotions.


SHOOTING THE MAFIA (Directed by Kim Longinotto) *****

SHOOTING THE MAFIA (Directed by Kim Longinotto) *****
This  compelling documentary shines a great lens on  Sicilian photojournalist, Letizia Battaglia. Once an actress,  she marches to her own drum. She is fierce, brave, honest and warm like the heat of Palermo where she lives. A gifted photographer, Italy’s first female to hold the lens up up, she tackles mafia crime, bringing murderous Mafia members to justice. She left an oppressive marriage to begin her career in 1971 while raising three daughters, she found herself in a swarm of machismo powerful men, but never cowered, preferring to preserve her vibrant values to seek justice. It was very moving to have archival testimony from two of Palermo’s greatest brave judges, but one was gunned down: Giovanni Falcone; the other blown up: Paolo Borsellino

She is really the first female to fight against brutality in he country, using her lens. Viva the individualists who put everything on the line for freedom and justice! Is it any wonder, her lovers were young men!


THE PREY (Directed by Jimmy Henderson) ****

Chinese cop, Xin is undercover working as one of the criminals carrying out phone scams. They get busted, but he’s pulled in with the others and finds himself in a Cambodia prison --soon about to be released in the jungle, but not before he gets into a fight (not his fault), whereupon the brutal warden strings him upside down.

But this prison is carrying out a deadly game where prisoners are hunted down by those willing to pay for the sport of it all. Xin is with a few others as they make their escape into the jungle as the killing game begins. It’s a tense journey of bloodshed and treachery. The tables turn in twisted ways and like Richard Connell’s story, The Most Dangerous Game, upon which the film is based, no one knows for sure how it will all end. A great suspense tightly crafted film with great acting. Psychopaths and heroes make this film work. Awesome action!


DAY AND NIGHT (Directed by MichihitoFujii) ****

Koji returns to his Japanese village to attend his father’s funeral. His father owned a modest garage, paved with good intentions, but when his good father found out that the bigger car manufacturing company in his village was selling him cars with faulty wheel bearings, he blows the whistle on them. 

Shamed by villagers who are at the employ of the big car manufacturer, Koji is an outcast. In fact, his father committed suicide after becoming bankrupt for his honesty.
Koji is welcoming by Kitamura who has a clandestine auto theft ring going on and soon Koji joins it. Kitamura is a kind of Robin Hood though. He runs an orphanage and the money me makes from his criminal acts he puts into the orphanage. He also beats up on drug dealers and the likes. Koji ends up being the cook for the orphanage and befriends a special girl there whose true parentage has its own ironic and cruel twist of fate. The film gets a tad confusing in plot and it seems to merge three into three interconnected paths that somehow intertwine but with one of them having the weakest link. Guilt, goodness and bad intentions coalesce in this mesmerizing film that puts whistle blowing right into your ear. This is a deep film where the lines of truth and fiction, good and evil are difficult to draw. Shinnosuke Abe as Koji is superb.


DOOR LOCK (Directed by Lee Kwon) ****

Wow, this is a horror film that might make any woman living alone put tons of chairs against her door. Someone is stalking Kyung-min, and despite her outside code lock on her apartment door, she finds things are not right. Indeed someone is getting into her apartment and spending the night with her as he drugs her before lying with her. 

She is not aware of this at all. One day a really mean guy shows up at the bank where she works and insinuates aggressively on her. The cops think this might be the guy they’re after. Females become toys for the psychopath to play with, and males are to be discarded. The set up is ironic and confusing for the cops and Kyung-min who is living in terror. The intense climax is like none other. The acting is great.


JADE’S ASYLUM (Directed by Alexandre Carrière ) bomb

This film simply rerolls over and over and over again scenes and dialogue ad nauseum. The creatures that kill the gang of obnoxious people staying in a mansion in Costa Rica did a good thing getting rid of them. What an insufferable childish boring attempt at a film. I laughed too at the straw-like creature monsters. Scary thing was I was the only one in the audience who laughed at the monsters.
I actually think this film this would make a great Halloween short restricted to about one minute of play time

ASTRONAUT (Directed by Shelagh Mcleod) *****

The best film ever to grace Fantasia since its inception 23 years ago in its genre. It is so intelligent and sensitive.When an old retired geological engineer discovers there’s a contest on inviting people ages 20 to 60, to go to space in the first ever commercial launch, Angus is visually on board. His dream has been to go to space. He is obsessed with it in fact. 

This film is certainly about dreams, but it is also about transcending family problems and never giving up on anything. Richard Dryfuss was brilliant s Angus. I cried at the end. Touching, funny and oh so real, this is the film that pretty makes all other films in this festival look like films. Astronaut overcame any contrived look, pretensions and obstacles. and took us to the stars.


                            AWAY (Directed by Gintis Zibilodis)****

An animation unusual feature without dialogue. A young boy on a motorcycle enters a land of so many different terrains in search of the ocean and the village beyond. Excellent graphics, superb lighting and music - all created by the director himself.  A black silhouette monster always follows him keeping his distance.He is one talented dude! Too long though and the film was rather flat. The little yellow bird though brought a human  connection to the film that technologically excelled but did not exude personal warmth.

WHITE SNAKE (Directed by AmpWong and Ji Zhao)****

There are snake catchers who must abide by the evil General's lust to have them, and they bring him inner power. Demons are a foot and they like to destroy humans. Only thing is the two protagonists are like star-crossed loves: one is a demon and a snake; the other is human. Love beyond any obstacle, good versus evil and scary unknown lands, make this extraordinary Chinese animation film mesmerizing.  Not a dull moment in this epic masterpiece. The effects are enchanting, often  ferocious and always dazzling.


SON OF A WHITE MARE (Directed by Marcell Jankovics) ****

Rescuing three princesses from the gates of the underworlds is no easy feat, but as Tree Shaker grows stronger by the day by nursing over and over again on his mother's milk, he exceeds expectations, but his mare mother grows weaker and weaker. Touching to see this in this now film.  he meets two other strong men - each in their own way.  They become his brothers. 

Now technically improved by novel cinematic magic, this 1981 enchanting  pseudo- psychedelic film is based on  Hungarian folklore, this award-winning unique animation puts Hungarian mythology into sight with imagination and plot trials. I found it the motifs very repetitive, but scary.


MONEY (Directed by Park Noo-ri) ***

It's not everyone who can do buys and sells correctly in the Seoul stock market, especially for ll-Hyun. He is a total failure until he is introduced to a hot shot expert named The Ticket whose acumen involved passing tips to the young stock broker about inside trading. Soon he is being seriously investigated and stock brokers are falling as fast as the market itself. An unusual fast-paced film that shows the money end of things.


IDOL (Directed by Lee Su-jin) *

Totally too long and complicated, the plot centres around a hit-and-run accident covered up by his  father and mother and the victim’s father trying to find the fiancée of his now dead son. No matter the emotions the villain and the good guy show, we remain back in shot 25 trying to figure out what is going on. Nothing can save this convoluted plot, not even the dead bodies and gory left- vers. Gratuitous horror in need of an editor.


THE FABLE (Directed by Kab Eguchi) **

The Fable, as he's called is a trained killer/assassin, and he's put to good use to rescue a friend who helped him once when he was pretending that a gang really was getting the upper hand while beating him up. The Fable finds a way to rescue her but not without hurting a whole lot of people. he is not supposed to kill people though; his boss has told him to lay low for a year.

He's got a tender sweet side; he loves his new bird, and he not only draws his gun, but cartoons too.

This slam-bang action thriller with yakuza melodrama hits the mark when it comes to confusing us, along with the characters in the film. But all the elements are there for high entertainment: a psychopath killer,  lots of great super-charged fight scenes and character drama. Osaka's underworld is as tense as a den of vipers.

RIDE YOUR WAVE (Directed by Masaaki Yuasa) ****

An expressive  Japanese animation about finding oneself and learning to be independent. Two lovely heroes in their own right find love; one is born to save; he's a fireman (Minato); the other born to surf (Hinako). Each comes together to share everything. Minato knows more than her, but she is a great surfer. Sadly, in trying to rescue a drowning surfer the young hero who has learned to surf -- thanks to Hinako -- drowns. Hinako is beside herself with grief, but she soon discovers if she sings a certain song they both snag together in the past, he appears. She learns to ride her own wave without him. It’s a film about love, loss and moving forward while keeping the memory of your beloved with you at all times. 

The animation is charming, despite the quirky focus on water and its romantic role to unite the lovers. This film has its own ironic plot twist.


L’INTERVENTION (Directed by Fred Grivois) **

Based on true events that took place in 1976, the film is about the taking of a school bus with 21 children held captive inside Three terrorists from the Front of the Liberation from Somali overtake this bus wanting it to go to Somali, waiting for their support arrives. This takes place in Djibouti, the last French colony in Africa to be under France’s yoke.
Snipers are hired to take the villains down but are only allowed to shoot if only one terrorist is on the bus as the time of taking the shot. It’s a waiting game for everyone. The real hero of this calamity is the teacher who arrives to go on the bus to care for the children. She goes of her own free will. This film was flat. The male cast part of this was lacklustre, and except for Olga Kurylenko, who took her role most seriously, the cast was not believable.


PROMARE (Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi) *****

Wow!  A knock-out fast action crazy hero film. Fire fighters led by Galo Thymos with Lucia, Varys, Remi and Ignis are trying to stop the Burnish mad terrorists from destroying the entire city. Villains and ways to fight them never end, producing armour that makes Iron Man look like he’s in a fluffy costume. Good versus bad is the premise, but who we think is bad ends up being good, and vice versa. Unification is the answer here in more ways than one. This animation extravaganza colourful piece of work is a Fantasia favourite.


 THE PURITY OF VENGEANCE (Directed by Christoffer Boe) *****

     A great plot based on one of the worst moments in Danish history the sterilization of women considered to be troubled, defective and then some. It happened in the early 20thcentury and ended by government decree in 1967. The plot puts two unlikely partners together, one Muslim – the other born in Denmark. The tall Muslim partner is about to be promoted and it would seem his partner does not care. Their names are Carl and Assad. When they encounter a gruesome scene of four skeletons, trapped behind a wall -- all seated at a table with jars holding some of their innards a huge can of worms are opened and the story opens on past events that slowly reveal the true story about how these skeletons got there. Based on the best-selling novel this film, the highest-grossing in Denmark’s history shows an ugly side to the Scandinavian state hailed as a modern-day utopia by most. It’s a skeleton that has come out of this country’s closet –so to speak.

8 (Directed by Harold Holscher) ***

Despite the dark mood and lighting that certainly enhances the plot of this horror film, the South African folklore rich story turns from gritty reality to child-like comic-book fiction. Sarah and her husband William are now moving to William’s father’s old farm. Sarah is unable to bear children, but the couple have their neice, Mary whose parents were killed. 

Lazarus, an old man who carries around a big with a demonic being in it, begins to befriend Mary, but his motive is self-serving. His wife died at childbirth, and his daughter perished in a fire. Mary is a victim of demonism, but the story ends on a throw-in happy event. Soweto-born actor Tshamano Sebe is superb in his role as Lazarus. He carries the film. The sound is most effective in this atmospheric film; the lighting is also a dreamy enhancement to this strange film.


ODE TO NOTHING (Directed by Dwein Ruedas) ****

        Sonya is a former maid who runs her family-owned funeral home. It is shabby and not enough corpses are coming in to keep it afloat. The bailiff is after her. One day an unidentified corpse is left in her hands, and she dresses it up and keeps her at the eating table where she and her father can pretend it is his wife and Sonya’s mother. Morbid, yet riveting, this film shows how desperate people can get when loneliness, alienation from the outside world can drive one to madness.  Can companionship only be had in a cadaver? This film would say so.Marietta Subongi was fantastic in the lead. Her emotional range is remarkable. Winner of many festivals, this film carried the signature intensity of many Philipino films.

THE MIRACLE OF THE SARGASSO SEA (Directed by Syllas Tzoumerkas *

The new Weird Greek wave of cinema should drown itself , if any more films like this are made. 
A mishmash of aberrant perverts with Rita as the victim. Her brother is hung by her out of 
revenge, and the head police woman solves the crime. Remind me to never visit Messalongi in Greece,
which happens to be my favourite country where I have worked as an actor, writer and journalist. No one 
cares about the eels, the murder and the sexual depravity in this really bad film.

21st CENTURY GIRL (Directed by Yuka Eda) bom

A hodgepodge of sexual talk and lots of lesbian scenes.
Any emotional outbursts go no further than the flat screen we are yawning at.
The last scene of swirling girl resembles a Greek chorus paying tribute to mothers.