Today, the New York Asian Film Festival springs back into action for two weeks of the most diverse and exciting film programming you’re likely to see in New York this summer. This year’s lineup boasts a plethora of fun films from across Asia; The L Magazine sat down with Daniel Craft and Grady Hendrix, two of the festival’s programmers, to run down a list of their top picks.
The Forbidden Door (Indonesia)
Grady Hendrix: No other festival is showing this movie. It’s going straight from Indonesia and back again.
Daniel Craft: I can’t wait to watch it with a crowd.
GH: It’s not a perfect movie, it’s got lots of problems, but I would rather see a movie that aims high and is a glorious misfire than a perfectly hair-combed, buttoned-down film that has no rough edges that you can dig your fingers into.
The thing that amazes me about The Forbidden Door so much is how gorgeous it is. The sound design is beautifully executed, the score is this beautiful Bernard Hermann-esque score, there’s a Saul Bass-type title sequence, the cinematography is really subtle but really good. You look at other movies that are shot for not much money and most are shot for not much money and not a lot of love and some look good and some don’t but you look at this, you’ll see that it’s completely accomplished.
When the Full Moon Rises (Malaysia)
GH: I’m a big Guy Maddin fan…
DC: It’s very Guy Maddin.
GH: It’s like Muslim Guy Maddin. The director, Mamat Kalid, makes old movies. His first movie was something called Bananaville. Apparently in Malaysia in the 80s, there were a lot of cheap rural horror movies. They were also comedies with a lot of rural slapstick and in Bananaville, he made a version of that which is basically a zombie movie.
DC: When the Full Moon Rises though is like a history of Malaysian horror films but told as a dated horror film.
GH: It’s set in ’56, the year before Malaysia got their independence…
DC: Not only set in ’56, but (also) shot as if it were made in ’56.
GH: The film history there has been shot to shit so Mamat Kalid’s solution is to make the old movies again but with a really weird sense of humor.
Antique (South Korea)
GH: Do you know the manga Antique Bakery? The movie is about gay Korean pastry chef boys and child murders. The two are not intrinsically connected (all laugh). The gay Korean pastry chefs are not causing the child murders but they’re solving them — while making tarts. And it’s somewhat of a musical: there are these montage sequences with dancing girls in them that are — it’s pretty — I love Antique a lot.
DC: It’s really well-made and all the guys in it are good.
GH: The other thing I really like about it is that there’s all this gay romance stuff and they don’t make a big deal out of it. One of the characters is gay and is unlucky in love and all the characters fall in love with him. Two of the characters are ambiguously sexual…
DC: I think in the manga they’re all gay.
GH: In the movie, there is one character that is overly heterosexual to hide his gay panic but they don’t make a big deal out of the fact that this is gay romance and that these boys are pretty and they know they’re beautiful boys. I think it’s really sophisticated, to be honest.
Old Fish (China)
GH: The whole thing’s about this under-trained bomb — he’s not even a bomb squad expert, he’s a regular cop that’s just done it once in his life before in rural Harbin, which is the ugliest city I’ve ever seen in my life.
DC: It’s brown mud…
GH: …and concrete… and a series of bombs are found and they’re really amazingly well-done, tense scenes. I was watching it again and was asking myself, “Jeez, is he going to defuse the bomb or not?!” And the other great thing about it is that it’s mostly written by and stars ex-cops. The lead actor is this ex-cop they got to be in the movie.
DC: It looks real and it’s very authentic. It’s shot in Harbin, not on a sound-stage or anything but it looks great.
GH: I like If You are the One a lot because I think it’s a really good romantic comedy but I think of the three films from mainland China we have, I’m most excited to show this one.
Magazine Gap Road (Hong Kong)
GH: It’s an independent film from Hong Kong that was made in 2007, came out in 2008…
DC: Richard Ng!
GH: Yeah, it’s got all these great Hong Kong character actors like Richard Ng, who was in all the (Five) Lucky Stars movies and Elvis Choi…
DC: He’s in movies like Erotic Ghost Story…
GH: Have you ever seen Eternal Evil of Asia? He’s the guy whose head turns into a penis and he wets himself.
DC: You’d recognize him if you saw him.
GH: In this one, he plays this physically abusive, burnt-out alcoholic cop. He’s a loser. And the movie is beautiful, gorgeously shot, especially for such a micro-budget movie. It’s a noir, it’s an intelligent noir. Remember in the 90s after Red Rock West there were all those kinda smart, not jaw-dropping noir movies that were coming out in the US, like The Last Seduction? This is like one of those.
DC: It’s a genre unto itself: a high-class hooker thinks she’s gone straight. It’s been made several times before but it’s a well-made one.
Children of the Dark (Japan)
GH: It’s really going to make some people upset. By the time you’ve seen the first five year-old’s bloody asshole…
DC: Ugh, we’re going to get yelled at. It’s going to be fun.
GH: Look, the thing is, whether it’s based on reality, not based on reality, the movie’s got something on its mind. I think it has this weird uncomfortable thing of serving up the thriller genre goods but that ending — they don’t let anyone get away. They’re like, “Hey, look! The guy you thought was the hero the whole movie? He’s a child rapist, too!”
DC: It is an exploitative film but I think its primary purpose is to make you aware of this shit and feel bad about it, not titillated, not an excuse to get a cathartic feeling when you go away. It’s earnest in that manner.
GH: It’s a movie where the director has no sense of aesthetic moderation but I really like movies where it feels like the filmmaker’s taken on something they don’t quite grasp. [Director Junji] Sakamoto doesn’t have the filmmaking chops to make the movie he wants to make. What he makes instead is this incredible, mondo, almost like Goodbye, Uncle Tom for the child sex industry. I gotta say, I step back and I admire that.