Asian Cinema Digest #32

The Digest in February 2023 draws two threads, with a slate of classic romances that sets the tone for Valentine’s day, and a focus on how fiction and documentary mingle in shaping social realities. From Central to South and Southeast Asia, filmmaking emerges as a tool for amplifying women’s voices. In two new interviews, Jia Zhangke and Lav Diaz reflect on the representation of history even as it casts its long shadow over the present.  


The Scent of Green Papaya (1993) by Tran Anh Hung

With a child’s wide-eyed wonder, Vietnamese-French auteur Tran Anh Hung’s film lusciously savours the hidden beauty of everyday life in colonial Saigon. The first in his acclaimed Vietnam Trilogy, The Scent of Green Papaya clinched the Caméra d’Or and the César Award for Best Debut. Available to stream with a subscription on Metrograph at Home.

The Film Foundation Restoration Screening Room: The River (1951) by Jean Renoir

Shot on location in India, Jean Renoir’s first colour film dives into the turbulent emotions of three young women as they navigate the currents of love and death. The Film Foundation presents the 2004 Academy Film Archive restoration of The River, which was completed using the original three-strip Technicolor camera negative. Catch the film on-demand for 72 hours on 11 February, or on 13 February 2023, 7pm EST here (only available in the Western hemisphere).  

Image still from Mississippi Masala (1991, dir. Mira Nair)

The Criterion Channel: Mississippi Masala, Chungking Express, Happy Together

Love is in the air with the Criterion Channel’s selection of Valentine’s Day specials: Mira Nair’s tangy tale of a cross-cultural romance Mississippi Masala (1991); Wong Kar-wai’s exuberant, manic-pixie cult classic Chungking Express (1994); and his lush, searing vignette of queer desire Happy Together (1997). Available to stream with a subscription on The Criterion Channel

MUBI Releases: Actual People (2021) by Kit Zauhar

Asian-American director Kit Zauhar stars in her debut feature, a semi-autobiographical portrait of an intelligent but unambitious 22-year-old facing up to the looming uncertainties of post-college life. Streaming exclusively on MUBI.

Burqa Boxers (2016) by Alka Raghuram 

“Helping people who learn boxing from me find a path, live in society and fulfil their own ambitions is also a form of prayer.” Under the wing of one of India’s first female boxing coaches, three young Muslim girls in Kolkata challenge the stigma surrounding a woman’s pursuit of anything other than marriage. Alka Raghuram’s documentary is available to watch on MUBI

I am Tuvsho (2022) by George Thomson and Lukas Schrank 

Through the eyes of Tuvshinjargal Bum-Erdene, a young woman from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, I am Tuvsho charts the highs and lows of the protagonist’s journey towards the sumo world championships. This short documentary, which is currently making its way round festival circuits, features on Vimeo’s staff picks

Black Slide (2021) by Uri Lotan

A young boy comes to terms with loss through a transformative journey down a colossal black slide. Tel Aviv-based director Uri Lotan drew on a formative moment from his childhood for this vividly animated short, which is screening via The New Yorker


Image still from Lost Train Lost Days (2022, dir. Shen Ruilan)

The Moment that the Train Disappears: Shen Ruilan Short Films

CathayPlay presents a series of documentaries, experimental shorts, video art, and animations by Hangzhou-based filmmaker Shen Ruilian, who counts among her mentors, artists Yang Fudong and Zhang Peili. The programme features the latest cut of Lost Train Lost Days (2022), which was shot in Singapore and screened at the Hainan International Film Festival in 2022. Streaming for a fee on CathayPlay until 20 February.

Eye Film Player: Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains (2019) by Gu Xiaogang

Gu Xiaogang’s debut feature is on the Eye Filmmuseum’s online Film Player. Borrowing the title of a legendary 15-century landscape painting, Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains sensitively peers into the lives of a family in Fuyang, a provincial town in China. Gu’s film premiered at La Semaine de la Critique and is available to rent in the Netherlands. 


Children of the Mist (2021) by Diễm Hà Lệ

In the misty mountains of north Vietnam, a spirited twelve-year-old Hmong girl contends with the longstanding village custom of bride-kidnapping. Diễm Hà Lệ’s documentary reflects on the patriarchy’s cyclical violence while confronting the complicity of the filmmaker behind the camera. Shortlisted for the Academy Awards, Children of the Mist is available for a fee on Vimeo



Image still from Last Days at Sea (2021, dir. Venice Atienza)

Docs in Orbit Podcast: Children of the Mist with Diễm Hà Lệ 

A conversation with Diễm Hà Lệ on Children of the Mist, moderated by Filipino documentarist Venice Atienza, whose film Last Days at Sea similarly grapples with the end of childhood innocence. Listen on SoundCloud.

Image still from Something Like a War (1991, dir. Deepa Dhanraj)

No Master Territories: Documentary Film and Feminist Activism in India

Picking up on Burqa Boxers’ (2016) feminist angle, this podcast series accompanies the exhibition No Master Territories: Feminist Worldmaking and the Moving Image (2022) at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. In this episode, filmmaker Deepa Dhanraj, who co-founded the feminist Yugantar Film Collective, shares about her 1991 film Something Like a War, which focuses on reproductive justice. Listen on SoundCloud.

Image still from the series Sang Kancil (1983, dir. Hassan Muthalib)

Thoughts on Films: On the Malayan Film Unit 

In this two-part series, pioneering Malaysian animator Hassan Muthalib delves into the history of the Malayan Film Unit, a British-affiliated anti-Communist propaganda unit. Film history buffs can catch this episode of Thoughts on Films on Spotify

Reel Asian Podcast: A24’s Enduring Success & ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ 

Podcast hosts Raymond Luu and Renee Ya discuss A24’s unique style and approach, how the independent arthouse distributor can ensure sustainability, and what EEAAO’s incisive portrayal of the Asian American experience speaks to the different ways of “showing up” for one’s family. Listen here or on Spotify.


Image still from Swimming Out Till the Swim Turns Blue (2020, dir. Jia Zhangke)

Jia Zhangke in Conversation with Dennis Zhou 

“Sixth Generation” Chinese director Jia Zhangke delves into the cinematic genres that have informed his work (Italian neorealism, wuxia films), working with non-professional actors, the activation of memory in an imaginative state, and his love for pop music.

Image still from When the Waves are Gone (2022, dir. Lav Diaz)

When the Loops Are Gone: A Conversation with Lav Diaz

Slow cinema auteur Lav Diaz discusses his new film When the Waves are Gone (2022), a loose adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo; the Philippines’ cyclical history of political violence, and cinema as a beacon in the fight for truth.

Animistic Apparatus: A Gathering

May Adadol Ingawanij and Julian Ross share about their curatorial project Animistic Apparatus, which considers the affinities between contemporary artists’ moving image practices and the previous century’s itinerant ritual practices of projecting films for spirits. The article gathers reflections by artists involved in the project, on how experimental filmmaking might be a mode of relating to nonhuman kin. 


Affective Assemblages of Material Culture: Qi Pao, Mahjong and Performance in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution

Open-access journal Film-Philosophy’s latest issue focuses on the narrative, symbolic or affective weight of objects on screen. In analysing Ang Lee’s acclaimed erotic spy thriller Lust, Caution, film scholar Jiaying Sim looks at how women become active subjects through their participation in everyday material culture. 

Image still from Lingua Franca (2019, dir. Isabel Sandoval)

Isabel Sandoval: Seeing as the Other 

In this luminous essay for e-flux, Isabel Sandoval reflects on how Jane Fonda’s character in the neo-noir thriller Klute (1971) became her muse for creating complex female characters. Refusing to be boxed in by restrictive labels, Sandoval embraces a transfemme aesthetic which finds “potential for subterfuge” within the gaze of the Other.

As part of AFA’s screening programme Constellating Histories, Sandoval’s film Lingua Franca (2019) is showing at Oldham Theatre on 25 February and 6 March 2023. Get your tickets


Tekno-visions: Everything, Everywhere, All At Once and Neptune Frost  

Film scholar Lakshmi Padmanabhan dissects how EEAAO’s “utopian dreams of other worlds quickly turn into apologia for the dystopian racial capitalist order in which we already live”. Instead, she argues, the Afrofuturist musical film Neptune Frost (2021) offers an alternative vision of cinematic multiverses. 

Image still from Introduction (2021, dir. Hong Sang-Soo)

Has It Started? / Is It Already Over? Introduction (2021) and In Front of Your Face (2021) by Hong Sang-soo

Hong Sang-soo’s Introduction (2021) and In Front of Your Face (2021) are “like two mirrors placed opposite one another”, writes Cahiers du Cinéma critic Joachim Lepastier, reflecting on the resonances between both narratives – of young man’s coming-of-age, and of a former actress’s homecoming.

The Forgotten Films That Helped Reset Sino-Japanese Relations 

In tandem with the AFA’s screening of 3 Films on the Pacific War, check out an article on how China and Japan’s collaboration on The Go Masters (1982), a film set against the backdrop of Second Sino-Japanese War, spurred renewed friendship in the wake of historical animosity.


BFI Future Film Festival Online

Asian/Asian diasporic filmmakers make a strong showing at this year’s BFI Future Film Festival, which will be held in-person and online, with short films streaming for free on the BFI Youtube channel from 16 February to 2 March.


Call for Applications: Singapore International Film Festival Film Fund 

SGIFF offers two grants – one for short films and another for documentaries – for Southeast Asian Film Projects. Submissions are due 13 February 2023. Apply here.

Call for Submissions: Objectifs’ 7th Women in Film and Photography Showcase

Objectifs invites female and non-binary photographers, filmmakers, and visual artists to submit work on the theme of BODIES. Photo essays, photo-based works, and short films or video art (below 30 minutes) of any genre are welcome. The deadline is 17 February 2023. More information here

Call for Submissions: Bengaluru International Short Film Festival 

The Academy Award-qualifying Bengaluru International Short Film Festival is now accepting entries for its 13th edition. The regular deadline is 28 February 2023. Submit your work here

Call for Applications: Berlinale World Cinema Fund 

Aiming to give visibility to largely unseen cinema, the World Cinema Fund has developed partnerships between German production companies and filmmakers from the WCF’s focus regions and countries. Central and Southeast Asian films are welcome. More details here. The application deadline is 1 March 2023. 

Call for Submissions: 19th Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival

Open to Filipino filmmakers, the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival provides financial grants for the production of selected feature films. Shorts are accepted too. Refer to the mechanics of the contest before submitting your film here by 3 March 2023. 


This edition of the digest was compiled by Sheryl Gwee

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