With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Friday, February 21, 2020

THIS TRANSIENT LIFE at Japan Society NY this coming Saturday

Japan Society NY
(c) Courtesy of Arrow Films
This Transient Life / Mujo
Directed by Akio Jissoji
Starring: Ryo Tamura, Eiji Okada, Michiko Tsukasa,
Mitsuko Tanaka, and Minori Terada
Japan, 1970, 145 minutes
DCP, b&w, in Japanese with English subtitles

When: Saturday, February 22, 7 PM 
Where: Japan Society NY
333 East 47th Street, NYC
Tickets: $14/$11 seniors, students & persons
with disabilities/$10 Japan Society members

Winner of the 1970 Locarno Film Festival’s Golden Leopard and an instant theatrical hit for the Art Theater Guild (ATG), Jissoji’s controversial debut concerns a brother and sister who retreat into an incestuous relationship in defiance of every social and moral obligation put upon them—a taboo act of self-willed liberation that leads to more than one tragedy. A challenging work featuring breathtaking black-and-white compositions and extravagant camera movements, This Transient Life is often regarded as Jissoji’s masterpiece and an unheralded highlight of ATG’s game-changing productions.

Part of the Akio Jissoji: The Buddhist Trilogy film series

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Akio Jissoji POEM at Japan Society NY this coming Saturday

Japan Society NY
Poem / Uta
Directed by Akio Jissoji
Starring: Saburo Shinoda, Eiko Yanami, Hiroko Sakurai,
Ryo Tamura, and Shin Kishida
Japan, 1972, 136 minutes
DCP, b&w, in Japanese with English subtitles

When: Saturday, February 22nd at 4:00 pm
Where: Japan Society NY
333 East 47th Street, NYC
Tickets: $14/$11 seniors & students/$10 Japan Society members

The final entry in Jissoji’s trilogy is also the most austere, marking a stark departure in style and substance from his previous two films. A severely ascetic young man employed by a wealthy family takes it upon himself to protect their large estate and the spiritual lineage of Japanese tradition it symbolizes despite the family’s amoral sons’ apathy and embrace of Western values. Recalling postwar masterworks such as Kon Ichikawa’s Conflagration (1958) and Yuzo Kawashima’s The Temple of Wild Geese (1962), Poem similarly questions the place of purity within the cruel reality of modern life.

Part of the Akio Jissoji: The Buddhist Trilogy film series

Hirokazu Kore-eda's THE TRUTH to open Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2020 at Lincoln Center

Film at Lincoln Center
The Truth / La vérité
Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
France/Japan, 2019, 106 minutes

When: March 5, 2020 at 6:30 pm and 9:15 pm
Where: Film at Lincoln Center 
Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th Street, NYC

The Truth, the first-ever French-language film from Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda, will have its New York premiere as the Opening Night selection of the upcoming Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2020 festival that will run March 5 - 15, 2020.

Featuring screen legends Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche as a strained mother-daughter duo, The Truth is a dynamic family drama co-starring Ethan Hawke. Binoche and Hawke will appear in person at the festival for opening night, and for a special conversation about their collaboration with Kore-eda.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Akio Jissoji's MANDALA at Japan Society NY this coming Saturday

Japan Society NY
(c) Courtesy Arrow Films
Mandala / Mandara
Directed by Akio Jissoji
Starring: Shin Kishida, Ryo Tamura, Koji Shimizu,
Akiko Mori, and Hiroko Sakurai.
Japan, 1971, 135 minutes 
DCP, color and b&w, in Japanese with English subtitles

When: Saturday, February 22nd at 1:00 pm
Where: Japan Society NY
333 East 47th Street, NYC
Tickets: $14/$11 seniors, students & persons
with disabilities/$10 Japan Society members

Jissoji’s second feature addresses the despondency and confusion of Japan’s post-’68 youth through the divergent responses of two former anti-state student activists confronted by a menacing primitivist utopian cult invested in rape and agriculture. Referencing a range of contemporary political discourses and filmmaking practices—including the experimental arthouse of the New Wave and the radical pink “eroductions” of peers like Koji Wakamatsu—Mandala finds Jissoji continuing his investment in highly stylized and contentious material while also offering pointed criticism of the era’s excesses.

Part of Akio Jissoji: The Buddhist Trilogy film series

Zhang Yimou's SHADOW reviewed

Well Go USA
Shadow / Ying
Directed by Zhang Yimou
Starring: Deng Chao, Sun Li, Zheng Kai, Wang Qianyuan,
Wang Jingchun, Hu Jun, Guan Xiaotong, and Leo Wu
China/Hong Kong, 2018, 115 minutes

Director Zhang Yimou's most recent martial arts (wuxia) film Shadow was released on digital on-demand, Blu-ray + DVD combo pack and DVD back on May 03, 2019. It was not until recently, however, that I managed to watch it (on Blu-ray).

Zhang, of course, has had a varied career, both in terms of the type of films he's directed and their reception. (He also has been involved in stage productions and in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.) He is known for the films he directed featuring Gong Li and later Zhang Ziyi (no relation) early in their careers. His previous martial arts films include Hero (2002) and House of Flying Daggers (2004).

Whereas Hero had sections themed with different vibrant colors, Shadow features "a canvas of inky blacks and greys punctuated with bursts of color from the blood of the defeated" (Well Go USA's spot-on description). Set in an ancient period in which three rival kingdoms competed for power, including control of a great walled city, the film's title comes from the look-alike (i.e., a "shadow") that an injured military commander employs to convince others that he is still alive and healthy.

Shadow has a good story line and terrific action sequences. It also has a fanciful use of umbrellas as deadly weapons! Definitely a "must-see."

Disc Specs:
-- Audio
    -- Mandarin Dolby Atmos in Dolby True HD
    --  English Dolby Digital 5.1
-- Subtitles
    -- English
    -- Traditional Chinese
    -- Simplified Chinese
-- Bonus
    -- Making Of
      -- About the Double
      -- The Director
      -- The Unknown Side of Zhang Yimou
      -- Behind the Scenes
      -- Heroes
      -- Deng Chao
      -- Zheng Kai
  -- International Trailer
  -- U.S. Trailer
-- Previews
    -- Ip Man 4
    -- Legend of the Demon Cat
    -- Better Days
    -- Freaks

AsianCIneFest Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars; highly recommended

Shadow is available from Amazon Prime (click here), on 4K UHD + Blu-ray, Blu-ray + DVD combo pack, and DVD  

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

WARRIORS OF THE NATION reviewed; available today on Digital and Blu-ray

Well Go USA
Warriors of the Nation / Huang Fei Hong: Nu hai xiong feng
Directed by Marco Mak
Starring Zhao Wenzhuo, Li Lubing,
Miya Muqi, and Kenya Sawada
China, 2018, 92 minutes

Warriors of the Nation, a period kung-fu action film, debuts on Digital and Blu-ray™ today, February 18th, from Well Go USA Entertainment. The film is a squeal to Lin Zhenzhao's The Unity of Heroes (2018), which also starred Zhao Wenzhuo as the Chinese martial artist, physician and folk hero Wong Fei-Hung. My review is based on watching the Blu-ray.

The film is set just after the end of the first Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). The Japanese army hires a secret organization, The White Lotus Society, to kidnap Zhang Zhidong, a top Chinese military minister. Wong Fei-Hung (sometimes spelled Huang Fei-hung) and his disciples must rescue Zhang and prevent another war from starting.

With Warriors of the Nation and its predecessor The Unity of Heroes, Zhao Wenzhuo has joined an illustrious list of martial artists/actors who have portrayed Wong. These have included: the Hong Kong actor Kwan Tak-hing who starred as Wong in over 70 films between the 1940s and 1980s and earned himself the nickname "Master Huang"; Jet Li in the Once Upon a Time in China film series; and Jackie Chan in Drunken Master and Drunken Master II. Zhao not only does a fine job handling the martial arts sequences, but also imbues his character with dignity and depth.

One of the aspects of the film that greatly appealed to me was the significant extent to which Huang is assisted by his disciples, friends and other Chinese patriots in fighting both The White Lotus Society and the Japanese military agents. Thus Zhao, capable as he is, doesn't have to handle all the "heavy lifting" in the action sequences, but has considerable help from others. This results in a greater variety of martial arts on display than there would be with only the main protagonist confronting the bad guys, and gals.

Disc Specs:
-- Audio
    -- Mandarin DTS-HDMA 5.1
    -- Mandarin Stereo
-- Subtitles
    -- English
    -- Off
-- Warriors of the Nation Trailer
-- Previews
    -- Ip Man 4: The Finale
    -- Ne Zha
    -- Kung Fu League

Warriors of the Nation is a solid, kung fu, action flick and a worthy addition to the pantheon of Wong Fei-Hung films.

Asian CineFest Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars; highly recommended 

Saturday, February 15, 2020

THE CLOSET reviewed; currently playing at two Californa venues

capelight pictures
The Closet
Written and directed by KIM Kwang-bin
Starring HA Jung-woo, KIM Nam-gil and HEO Yul
South Korea, 2020, 97 minutes

The South Korean supernatural thriller The Closet, director KIM Kwang-bin's feature film debut, opened yesterday, February 14th, at CGV Los Angeles and CGV Buena Park. My review is based on watching an online screener.

YEON Sang-won (HA Jung-woo) is an architect and a widower with an eleven-year-old daughter, Ina (HEO Yul). His wife died in a tragic accident and since then YEON has been prone to panic attacks. While working on a museum, he and Ina move into a new house at some distance from the work site. The situation is complicated by their strained relationship and Sang-won's inability to secure a nanny for his daughter. Not to mention the strange noises that begin to trickle out of a closet and Ina beginning to exhibit increasingly weird behaviors.

Worst of all is Ina's sudden disappearance without a trace. Fortunately for YEON, a self proclaimed "exorcist hero" named HEO Kyung-hoon (KIM Nam-gil) appears on the scene.Turns out that thirty-two children have similarly disappeared over the previous twenty-or-so years. The parents of one of them, a girl named Hyun-soo, had set up a ritual performed to determine if the child was dead. HEO's mother performed the ritual and died during it, and he has been trying to solve the mysteries of the disappearances for the last ten years.

Initially skeptical, YEON decides to enlist HEO's assistance in trying to locate his missing daughter, before it's too late.

The film is well paced and has some nice "scare moments." I'm not a big fan of this particular genre, but I definitely enjoyed watching The Closet.

I must mention that there is a cute tongue-in-cheek reference made to the Along with the Gods films (Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds and Along With the Gods: The Last 49 Days); HA Jung-woo starred in both films.

AsianCineFest Rating: 3 out of 4 stars; a good, solid supernatural thriller.

The Closet is produced by CJ Entertainment (Parasite) and distributed by capelight pictures.

Watch the official movie trailer here.

Friday, February 14, 2020

ENTER THE FAT DRAGON opens in North American theaters today

Well Go USA
Enter the Fat Dragon / Fei lung gwoh gong
Directed by Kenji Tanigaki
Hong Kong, 2020, 97 minutes

In this action-comedy movie starring martial arts superstar Donnie Yen, a police officer's suspect suffers a mysterious death, and he must team up with an undercover inspector to solve the murder mystery.

Sent to Japan on a routine police escort, Officer Zhu (Yen) is excited to have the chance to re-qualify for full time duty as a police officer. However, after a series of mishaps, the mission goes terribly wrong and the suspect Officer Zhu is escorting suffers a mysterious death. Zhu enlists the help of wok-wielding restaurant owner and a former undercover inspector to solve this murder mystery in the new best action comedy movie from martial arts superstar Donnie Yen.

To watch the trailer and get tickets, click here.

[Note that this film seems to bear no relationship with Sammo Hung's 1978 film of the same title.]

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Film series AIM FOR THE BEST: SPORTS IN JAPANESE CINEMA coming to Japan Society NY in April

Japan Society NY
Aim for the Best: Sports in Japanese Cinema
When: April 10-25, 2020
Where: Japan Society NYC
333 East 47th Street

Like cinema, sports have been integral to the development of modern Japan since the late 19th century when the country opened its borders to the West. Intersecting these two major cultural forces is the multifaceted and ubiquitous sports film, a fluid genre that offers fascinating insight into issues related to Japanese national identity, gender roles and the clash between tradition and modernity. Organized in anticipation of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games, Aim for the Best: Sports in Japanese Cinema celebrates the Japanese sports film in its myriad iterations—covering a wide range of athletic disciplines and filmmaking styles, from wartime Japan to the present—including classics, documentaries, anime and commercial crowd-pleasers.

The series opens April 10th with a 35mm screening of Masayuki Suo’s award-winning sports comedy Sumo Do, Sumo Don’t, about a mismatched group of outcasts brought together to participate in a dysfunctional college sumo club, followed by a post-screening Sumo Party with chankonabe (a hearty stew commonly eaten by sumo wrestlers), drinks, and a sumo demonstration. One of the uniquely Japanese sports disciplines with premodern origins highlighted in the series, sumo wrestling is also central to The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine, a contemporary period epic by the prolific auteur Takahisa Zeze that focuses on the little-known history of women’s participation in the sport. Other titles involving Japan’s domestic sports include Akira Kurosawa’s debut feature Sanshiro Sugata, a judo film made while the country was still at war, and Kenji Misumi’s The Sword, a postwar classic about kendo starring Raizo Ichikawa adapted from a story by the infamous author Yukio Mishima, both screening on imported 35mm prints.

Other highlights include Koshien: Japan’s Field of Dreams, Ema Ryan Yamazaki’s perceptive and richly dramatic documentary about Japan’s wildly popular high school baseball tournament Koshien, which serves as a microcosm for Japanese society as a whole—followed by a Q&A with Yamazaki. Koshien is also the subject of the rarest film in the series, which is the 1968 documentary Youth: The 50th National High School Baseball Tournament by legendary director Kon Ichikawa. Long unavailable and relegated to mythical status among Ichikawa completists, the film screens for the first time outside of Japan on April 25th as the final event of the series. Another recently unearthed discovery is Tokyo Paralympics: Festival of Love and Glory, a fascinating document of the 1964 Paralympic Games that was newly restored this past year, making its International Premiere.

The series is rounded out by the recently remastered tennis anime feature Aim for the Best!, adapted from a popular manga and anime series inspired by women’s athletics; biting satires about baseball scouting and capitalism in sports—Masaki Kobayashi’s I Will Buy You—and the manufacturing of sports stars through advertising—Seijun Suzuki’s characteristically eccentric golf film A Tale of Sorrow and Sadness; the synchronized swimming audience favorite Waterboys from hitmaker Shinobu Yaguchi; and two free events: a talk by Dr. Robin Kietlinski contextualizing the history of modern sports in Japan through the lens of gender and social issues, and a free screening and talk presentation of the pilot episode of the NHK “taiga drama” Idaten, about the history of Japan’s involvement in international sports and the Olympics.

“With the Summer Games in Tokyo on the horizon, this is a perfect opportunity to consider the longstanding tradition of putting Japanese sports on the big screen,” says K. F. Watanabe, series curator and Deputy Director of Film at Japan Society. “From sumo to baseball, the intersection of sports with Japanese cinema offers rich insight into some of the most salient issues in Japan’s modern history, including how sports have served to define its social and political values as a compromise between tradition and globalizing change.”

Tickets: $14/$11 seniors, students and persons with disabilities/$10 Japan Society members. Screening of Sumo Do, Sumo Don’t + Sumo Party: $18/$15/$14. 3-Film Pass: $2 off each ticket when you purchase three films in the same transaction. All-Access Pass: $77 ($7 per ticket for all 11 films in the series.) Purchase tickets online at japansociety.org, in person at Japan Society, or by calling the box office at 212-715-1258.

Complete schedule informatics can be found here.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

THE WILD GOOSE LAKE opens at New York's Film Forum on March 6th; national rollout to follow

Film Movement
The Wild Goose Lake / Nan Fang Che Zhan De Ju Hui
Written and directed by DIAO Yinan
Starring HU Ge, LIAO Fan, and GWEI Lun-Mei
China, 2019, 113 minutes

The Wild Goose Lake is Chinese director Diao Yinan’s much anticipated follow-up to his breakthrough film Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014). His new film is a noir crime thriller about a gangster on the run; it will open on March 6th, 2020 at New York’s Film Forum followed by a national roll out.

Set in the nooks and crannies of densely populated Wuhan in central China, the elegantly down-and-dirty The Wild Goose Lake follows the desperate attempts of small-time mob boss Zhou Zenong (the charismatic Hu Ge) to stay alive after he mistakenly kills a cop and a dead-or-alive reward is put on his head. Director Diao Yinan proves his action bona fides in a series of stylized set pieces and violent shocks, simultaneously devising a romance between Zhou and a mysterious young woman (Gwei Lun-mei) who’s out to either help or betray him. Diao deftly keeps multiple characters and chronologies spinning, while examining social changes of contemporary China. Chaotic and nocturnal, The Wild Goose Lake is punctuated by long pursuits and stunningly choreographed gang fights, in a filmic geometry of arresting beauty and originality.

DIAO Yinan was born in Xi'an, China, and studied dramatic literature at the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing. He has directed the features Uniform, Night Train, and Black Coal, Thin Ice. The Wild Goose Lake is a box office sensation in China, having grossed $23 million in its first week of release.

View the trailer at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7E5De82Yo9c.

Friday, February 07, 2020

South Korean horror mystery THE CLOSET opening at two venues in California on February 14th

capelight pictures
The Closet
Written and directed by KIM Kwang-bin
Starring HA Jung-woo, KIM Nam-gil and HEO Yul
South Korea, 2020, 97 minutes

Mystery and the supernatural lie at the center of The Closet - a hotly-anticipated new thriller from South Korea. The film, which marks the feature film debut of KIM Kwang-bin, will open at CGV Los Angeles and CGV Buena Park on February 14th. His feature film debut.

When a tragic accident leaves Sang-won (HA Jung-woo) and his daughter Ina (HEO Yul) without their wife and mother, he moves to a new home to restore his relationship with his daughter. Despite all his efforts, nothing he does seems to work but she makes a new friend who makes her laugh. This moment of peace doesn’t last long, as strange noises trickle out of their closet and Ina begins displaying strange behaviors.

A few days after Sang-won starts having eerie nightmares, Ina disappears without a trace. While searching for her, Sang-won comes across enigmatic Kyung-hoon (KIM Nam-gil), who seems to know where Ina has disappeared to: the closet. Kyung-hoon tells Sang-won that he’s been looking for whereabouts of missing children for the past 10 years and believes that the key to finding Sang-won’s daughter is inside the closet. Desperate to find his daughter, Sang-won reaches out to open the forbidden closet…

The Closet is produced by CJ Entertainment (Parasite) and distributed by capelight pictures.

Watch the official movie trailer here.

THE MAN STANDING NEXT reviewed; expands to nationwide release today

capelight pictures
The Man Standing Next
Directed by WOO Min-ho
Written by Lee Ji-min
Starring LEE Byung-hun, LEE Sung-min, KWAK Do-won,
LEE Hee-jun, and KIM So-jin
South Korea, 2020, 114 minutes

The South Korean political thriller The Man Standing Next opened at CGV Buena Park on January 24th and CGV Los Angeles on January 31st. Today, Friday, February 7th, the film goes into nationwide release, including such venues as the AMC Empire 25 on West 42nd Street. My review is based on watching an onine screener.

The film tells the story of scandals in the KCIA, the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, and is based on the non-fiction hit book KCIA Chiefs, although "creative liberties were taken for certain settings." Specifically, the film concerns the forty days leading up to the assassination of President PARK Chung-hee on October 26, 1979.

Back on May 16, 1961, the army began a military coup d'etat. The Third Republic was established and Korea's first intelligence agency was founded. The KCIA, based in Namsan, Seoul, used its absolute power to insure PARK's autocratic rule for eighteen years. The so-called "Directors of NAMSAN" were PARK's right-hand men.

KIM Gyu-pyeong (LEE Byung-hun) plays the current KCIA director thoughout the film's "present time" in the fall of 1979. PARK Yong-gak (KWAK Do-won). a friend of KIM as well as a predecessor in the post, has fled the country and is testifying against President PARK (LEE Sung-min) in the U.S. Congress. In his efforts, he's assisted by Deborah SHIM, a lobbyist. The other major character is GWAK Sang-cheon (LEE Hee-joon), chief of presidential security and a total toady to the president.

Tension escalates over PARK Yong-gak's revealing many of the leadership's sordid secrets. Political maneuvering by those wanting to maintain what power they have and by those aspiring to increased power, as well as by those who have at least somewhat decent intentions, leads to rising levels of conflict.

The film is a tense and dense thriller. Director WOO does an admirable job of keeping the developments clear and understandable. The cast is uniformly fine.

AsianCineFest Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars, highly recommended.

For the official movie teaser visit: https://youtu.be/rODF85LAUcg

SECRET ZOO reviewed; film set to expand from two California theaters to nationwide release today

capelight pictures
Secret Zoo
Directed by SON Jae-Gon
Starring AHN Jae-hong, KANG So-ra,
PARK Yeong-gyu, and KIM Sung-oh
South Korea, 2020

Based on the webcomic series Haechijiana by Hun that ran from 9/20/2011 - 4/27/2012, Secret Zoo is a charming and delightful comedy about a zoo struggling to stay afloat. The film opened on January 24th at CGV Cinemas in Los Angeles and Buena Park. My review is based on watching an online screener.

KANG Tae-soo (AHN Jae-Hong) is a young lawyer who has worked as a temp at JH Law for eight months and fervently wants to secure a permanent position in the firm's Mergers and Acquisition (M & A) department. It looks like his opportunity has arrived when he is tasked with normalizing and maintaining the failing Dongsan Park Zoo within three months for one of his employer's clients. The trouble is, all the viable animals have been sold off by loan sharks to pay the zoo's debts!

Undeterred, Tae-soo comes up with a plan to used somewhat realistic-looking animal costumes for the four remaining members of the staff to wear and fool the public. Not surprisingly, things don't go well; until, that is, a chance event goes viral on the internet and transforms the zoo into a major attraction.

Given the nature of the genre, one knows that things are basically going to turn out alright at film's end. It's really a matter of how convincing the rather outlandish premise is depicted and how interesting the twists and turns are. On all these accounts, the film succeeds admirably.

AsianCineFest Rating: 3 out of 4 stars, a fine comedy that's well-worth watching.

The official movie trailer is available at https://youtu.be/WPdCjA2Gfys.

Also, a February 4, 2020, interview with director SON Jae-Gon at KoBiz can be found here.