Asian Cinema Digest #4

In the last few months, it is worth noting that many of us (filmmakers, audiences, programmers, exhibitors etc) who engage with films have been feeling a profound shift in our relationship to cinema and the moving image. Regardless of the varying levels of post-lockdown realities around the world, how and where we experience cinema may never be the same. 

A settler-colonial reading of Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite; a portrait of radical underground filmmaking in late 1970s China; and a look at a feminist history of the Hindi film industry. These are among the many obscure corners and off-kilter paths we shall traverse together in our continuing journey through the lush and fecund garden of Asian cinema in this edition of the digest. See you on the other side! 


From the Asian Film Archive Collection: Sonata Kampung Bata (1993)

Sonata Kampung Bata (Sonata of the Brick Village) is one of the earliest short films by veteran Indonesian director Riri Riza (Eliana, Eliana, Atambua 39° Celsius). It is a tribute to the filmmaker’s own joyful childhood memories. This film can be seen for free until 31 August 2020. 

Still from Woman of Fire (1971), by Kim Ki Young

Classic Korean Films by the Korean Film Archive (KOFA)

One of the most impressive free-to-access archival collections, KOFA has made available close to 200 feature films from the 1930s-1990s. Highlights include Mandala (1981) by Im Kwon Taek, Woman of Fire (1971) by Kim Ki Young and A Petal (1996) by Jang Sun Woo. 

Ernest B. Schoedsack with camera on top of an elephant on location in Thailand for Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness (1927). Courtesy of Milestone Film & Video.

Milestone Films Presents: Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness (1927) & Legong: Dance of the Virgins (1935) 

Chang and Legong are Hollywood silent film productions that were filmed entirely on-location in Thailand and Bali featuring local non-actors. Considered epic and ambitious for their time, these films can now be viewed with a more critical lens for being exploitative in how they packaged Southeast Asian cultures to whet Western audience appetites for the ‘exotic’. 

Still from A Short Film About the Indio Nacional (2005), by Raya Martin

Asian Films at FilmDoo 

UK-based streaming platform FilmDoo boasts a catalogue of over 400 Asian shorts and features, available for free and for rent. A mix of indie, arthouse and commercial fare, some gems include Filipino filmmaker Raya Martin’s acclaimed A Short Film About the Indio Nacional and Past Present, a documentary about Malaysian-Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-Liang. 

Late Spring (2020), by Lei Yuan Bin // Late Spring (1949), by Yasujiro Ozu

ArtScience on Screen: Late Spring 

A meditative homage to Yazujiro Ozu,  Late Spring (2020) by Lei Yuan Bin (I Dream of Singapore) is a short film that marks the launch of Micro-Commissions, a series by the ArtScience Museum, featuring films by some of Singapore’s most prominent artists and filmmakers.

Whitechapel Gallery (UK) & Para/Site (Hong Kong) Present:

Sanzu Ding and Its Patterns: 1. A major archaeological discovery

Responding to the theme of language, Chinese artist-filmmaker Yao Qingmei’s newest work is a performative documentary about ‘Sanzu Ding’, a ritual tripod-shaped vessel from the Neolithic period, which bears a mysterious symbol similar to the hammer and sickle of modern Communism. 

FILMADRID & MUBI: The Video Essay

A joint project of MUBI and FILMADRID International Film Festival, The Video Essay offers a platform for new essayists who are finding innovative ways to study the history of cinema working with images. Two of the nine selected works engage with Asian cinema, namely Broken World: Harmony and Conflict with Nature in the Studio Ghibli’s Cinema by María Torrego and In Memoriam by Lucia Alonso Santos which looks at the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. 

Nihilism and Violence in Sonatine

Commissioned by the British Film Institute (BFI) to coincide with their newly-released Takeshi Kitano Blu Ray box set, this video essay on the 1993 film Sonatine explores how Kitano reinterpreted the gangster film via a unique take on nihilism and violence. 

Hong Kong International Film Festival (Seminars, Talks & Masterclasses) 

An archive of over 40 videos featuring industry giants, such as Hou-Hsiao Hsien, Abbas Kiarostami and Werner Herzog

Still from Sound of Ho Chi Minh City (2020), by Jade Mai and Nick Chan

Goethe-Institut Presents: Sound of X

Sound of X was initiated by the Goethe-Institut as an international, digital project inviting artists from around Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand to capture their hometown in a short video, without words, solely on the basis of sounds, and local acoustics that are condensed into a musical work. 


Podcast: Women in Post

A celebration of women who work in the film post-production industry, Women in Post features insightful interviews with various US-based professionals including Thai editor Aacharee Ungsriwong (Krabi 2562) and Indian editor and filmmaker, Tula Goenka (Salaam Bombay). 


Tsai Ming-liang’s Shadow City 

Whilst under lockdown, Malaysian writer Tash Aw finds resonances between our current times and Tsai Ming-Liang’s 2006 film I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, which explores anxiety and loneliness in Kuala Lumpur. 

Parasite” and the plurality of Empire

Korean-American writers Criss Moon and Julie Moon revisit Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite via a historical prism of settler-colonialism in Korea. 

Our Mothers in Cinema, Blessed Be Thine Names 

Critic Bedatri D.Choudhury contextualises Shyam Benegal’s Bhumika: The Role (1997) by placing it within a feminist history of the Hindi film industry.


A Dark Horse Called Hope: Close-Up on Gurvinder Singh’s Alms for a Blind Horse 

A close reading of an unconventional and enigmatic debut film that deals with caste-based prejudice and alienation in Punjab, India. 

The Ghosts of Mani Kaul: Close-Up on Duvidha

An in-depth look at a classic of Indian parallel cinema that centres a woman at the intersection of tensions between feudal and modern societies.

From Elvis in Taipei 

Former music critic for the New York Times, Ben Ratliff details the intimate connections between Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day (1991) and Elvis Presley’s 1963 ballad Are You Lonesome Tonight?

Tokyo Olympiad: The Wind Passing Through the Flagpoles

Kon Ichikawa’s ambitious documentary of the 1964 Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo is the subject of this essay by veteran cineaste James Quandt. 

Still from We Have Boots (2020), by Evans Chen, a documentary about the 2014 Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong.

“If we burn, you burn with us”: a taste of Hong Kong’s protests in four films 

In the midst of increasing political pressure from China, this article by Sight & Sound magazine spotlights documentaries that capture the Hong Kong peoples’ unrelenting solidarity and activism. 

Still from Autumn Moon (1992), by Clara Law

Ten Hong Kong Films You Might Have Missed

Li Cheuk-to, Curator of Hong Kong Film and Media at M+ museum writes about some lesser-known and under-appreciated films from the past five decades of Hong Kong Cinema. 

Still from Shoplifters (2018), by Hirokazu Koreeda

The Best Japanese Film of Every Year – From 1925 to Now

From the earliest surviving silent films to the most recent festival favourites, the BFI assembles a list of some of Japan’s greatest contributions to cinema over the past century. 

Still from The Move (2014), by Marat Sarulu

Center for Contemporary Arts (CCA) in Tashkent Presents: Tashkent Encounters

Dedicated to the contemporary classics of Central Asian cinema, Tashkent Encounters is the first programme by the newly-launched CCA Tashkent. Nine films were published between April-June 2020 along with newly-commissioned write-ups and interviews focused on each filmmaker. 

The Story of Chi Xiaoning and His Smuggled Camera

Independent filmmaker and journalist Andy Cohen (Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Human Flow) details the radical and underground Film of Star Group Activities of 1979, made during a time of severe censorship and repression in China. 

“The Truth About Hara Setsuko”: Behind the Legend of the Golden Age Film Star 

Commemorating the centenary of iconic actress Hara Setsuko’s birth, writer Ishii Taeko talks about her search for the real person beyond the limelight that led to her book, The Truth About Hara Setsuko. 

What It Means to Understand Bruce Lee

Writing for The Atlantic, Danny Chau reflects on the legacy of Bruce Lee in the context of a recent depictions of his life on film and television. 

Before and after the restoration of Pyo Chit Lin (1950), by U Tin Myint.

Preserving and Restoring Asian Cinema – The Transnational Dimension

Committed to expanding the boundaries of film studies since 2012, Frame Cinema Journal’s most recent edition dedicates a dossier to the restoration and preservation of Asian cinema. Featuring contributions by AFA’s very own Karen Chan, Thai Film Archive’s Sanchai Chotirosseranee and Philippine film historian Professor Nick Deocampo, among others. 

Duane Kubo (seated), Betty Chen (behind camera), and Eddie Wong (standing), with unidentified man, filming at a Filipino senior center. Courtesy of Visual Communications Photographic Archive.

Dossier: Asian American Film at Fifty 

Longstanding journal Film Quarterly published a dossier in February 2020 looking back at fifty years of Asian-American cinema. Featuring essays and interviews, a two-part webinar recording (part one & part two) is also available for viewing, with dossier contributors and filmmakers such as Roddy Bogawa and Shu Lea Cheang. 

Open Calls 

Talents Tokyo 2020 

Organised by the Arts Council Tokyo, TOKYO FILMeX in cooperation with Berlinale Talents and in collaboration with GOETHE-INSTITUT Tokyo, Talents Tokyo is a development and networking program for young filmmakers and producers from East Asia and Southeast Asia. It will be taking place online from 2-7 November 2020. The deadline for applications is on 15 July 2020. 

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