The 2008 New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF), one of North America’s top annual Asian film events, is set to begin June 20th and run through July 6th. Their line-up is always a fun and eclectic mix of Asian genre films and this year sees an especially strong martial arts and mondo action presence from Japan and elsewhere.
Now in its seventh year, the fest draws a large and enthusiastic crowd of Asian film fans. I’ve hand-picked the choicest selections below. A full line-up, along with a schedule and purchase info is available at Subway Cinema.
ACTION BOYS (2008) – Overwhelming winner of the Audience Award at the Jeonju International Film Festival, this documentary proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Korean film industry is the cruelest place on earth. Following five young stuntmen from their audition tapes (in which we see them mocked by their teachers) all the way through stunt school (where they take quick breaks to spit up their own teeth in the sink during classroom work) we then follow them out into the world and onto the sets of some of Korea’s most famous movies. And that’s when things get really bad.
THE BODYGUARD 1 & 2 (2004 – trailer / 2007 – trailer) – There’s an old Hollywood saying: if two cars smash into each other in mid-air and explode then you’re watching an action movie. If FOUR cars smash into each other in mid-air and explode, then you’re watching a masterpiece. By those standards THE BODYGUARD 1 and 2 are the greatest movies ever made. The bastard brainchildren of Thailand’s famed comedian Mum Jokmok (who co-starred with Tony Jaa in both ONG BAK and THE PROTECTOR) these flicks are searing satires of the action genre that manage to pack a ton of hard-kicking, bullet-pumping action into their ramshackle bodies courtesy of ace action choreographer (and Tony Jaa’s mentor) Panna Rittikrai.
CHANBARA BEAUTY (2008 – trailer) – When the dead rise from their graves to feast on the flesh of the living, it’s up to bikini girls with samurai swords and motorcycle mamas with machine guns to send them back to Hell! Based on a series of videogames from Japanese publisher Tamsoft and D3, this itchy, twitchy, finger-popping, head-lopping hoedown is the cinematic equivalent of a light, summertime beach read, if the paperback shot laserbeams out of its eyes and had a thirst for vengeance.
DORORO (2007 – trailer) – Acclaimed indie filmmaker Akihito Shiota’s first venture into the period-fantasy genre, is not another solemn-faced epic although it’s deep enough in some of its themes. But mostly it deserves adjectives that used to be rolled out for old Errol Flynn movies: dashing, swashbuckling, rollicking. And it’s cool, too, though not in the post-post modern sense. Instead, it’s cool in the 10-year-old fan sense, which may not seem strange since it’s based on a classic comic by Osamu Tezuka (creator of Astro Boy). Given all the comic book adaptations that strain to be for adults—and fall into wretched excess—it’s a refreshing change of genre pace.
LIKE A DRAGON (2007 – trailer) – The wildman of Japan, Takashi Miike, proves that there’s no kind of movie he can’t turn inside out. Based on a videogame, in Miike’s hands LIKE A DRAGON turns into a long hot Shinjuku summer night with an indestructible yakuza hero, a pair of incompetent bank robbers, two young lovers on a crime spree, a Korean hitman, a masochistic gun dealer and an ultraviolence-loving baseball fan all crossing paths, slamming into each other and shooting off in crazy directions like a game of human pinball jacked up on speed.
KING NARESUAN 1 & 2 (2007 – trailer / 2007 – trailer) – Alright folks, this is the big one. An avalanche of thundering elephants coming off the screen like a tidal wave. The Old and New Testament of Thailand. It’s KING NARESUAN 1 & 2, the biggest two all-time blockbusters ever released in Thailand, telling the story of King Naresuan the Great (also known as the Black Prince), Thailand’s warrior king who protected Thailand from the Burmese and who conquered more territory than any other Thai king before or since. Directed by Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol, 19th in line for the Thai throne, the first KING NARESUAN movie is the Genesis and Exodus of Thailand, while KING NARESUAN 2 is like the first four Gospels, telling the tale of how King Naresuan founded modern day Thailand and liberated it from Burma in the sixteenth century. While there are no good guys or bad guys in these two movies, since everyone is depicted as a statesman and politician pursuing an imperial destiny rather than a superhero or an archfiend, there are also no subversive surprises. The NARESUAN movies are populist entertainment at its best. Will you learn something new about the human heart? Not so much. Will your blood get pumping, your heart get pounding and your grin split you face in half? Hell, yes.
THE REBEL (2007 – trailer) – THE REBEL is an old time, horses-galloping Republic serial cross-bred with political agitprop and given a dusting of the flying elbows, knees and fists of ONG BAK. Hong Kong’s old school Shaw Brothers skull crackers were often full of politics, depicting the war between the Han and Manchus in ancient China, and Bruce Lee set his most popular movie, FIST OF FURY, in Japanese-occupied, 1930’s Shanghai. THE REBEL follows that tradition of freedom-fighting-fu, set in 1920’s Vietnam when the country was a French colony. Vietnamese American stuntman and actor Johnny Tri Nguyen (he played the Green Goblin in the first two SPIDER-MAN films) is a member of Vietnam’s secret police, tasked with seeking out anti-colonial rebels and snapping their necks for his French masters. His boss is Sy, played by Dustin Nguyen (21 Jump Street), a sadistic, torture-loving martial artist whose skills have become almost supernatural. But as much as Sy does the white man’s bidding, at the end of the day he’s just another Vietnamese dog to his masters. When Johnny participates in the arrest and torture of a female freedom fighter (Vietnamese pop star Ngo Thanh Van) he finally cracks, unable to continue oppressing his fellow Vietnamese for the French government and he and the freedom fighter, Thuy, go on the run.
SASORI – Get set for a scorching, two-fisted blast of Eastern estrogen fury as Hong Kong reinvents Japanese 70’s action icon SASORI, aka FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION, in the confrontational image of 80’s and 90’s notorious HK Category III films! Even if you’ve seen the landmark originals starring (mostly) the iconic Meiko Kaji, and heard that their titular hero served as a key influence on KILL BILL, forget everything you know because this eccentric redux is absolutely insane!
SHAMO (2008 – trailer) – This pop holocaust of unseemly proportions continues director Soi Cheang’s mad attack on humanity, screaming that the world we live in has gone insane. SHAMO leaks out of the same dark, inner place that the director reached for in his previous film, the nihilistic DOG BITE DOG, only here he creates a savage manga adaptation where everyone is out for their pound of flesh. It’s stylish to a fault, with eye-popping sets, lurid deep colors, fashion magazine layouts, scornful women camping it up like drag queens and luminous cinematography. Pain and violence have rarely looked so chic.
TOKYO GORE POLICE (2008 – trailer) – This gleeful sci-fi destructo party mixes STARSHIP TROOPERS with ROBOCOP, then grafts the love child of Shinya Tsukamoto and David Cronenberg to its back, screaming with body horror, and douses itself in a waterfall of thick, bubbling gore. At the center of the maelstorm stands Eihi Shiina, who hasn’t been seen in a film since Takashi Miike’s 1999 masterpiece, AUDITION, torturing a poor salaryman for the crime of daring to love her. TOKYO GORE POLICE is a masterpiece (yes, we mean it!) full of filmic innovation, genre-busting weirdness and a desire to freak you out. Plus it’s got a penis gun – our second one in two years.