Asian Cinema Digest #42

With the year drawing to a close, December’s digest rounds up streaming options for the season—whether it’s one of reflection or of reunion with loved ones. There are films and readings from and about  Korean, Iranian, and experimental cinema. Plus, take a look at the “top” Asian films in the best-of-2023 lists gathered here and see if your favourites made the cut.

WATCH 

Directed by Yasujiro Ozu 

An extensive catalogue of 39 films by and about Yasujiro Ozu has arrived on the Criterion Channel. The programme spans Ozu’s early black-and-white silent films such as the comedy I Was Born, But… (1932), to masterpieces such as Late Spring (1949) and Tokyo Story (1953). Check out the documentary Tokyo-ga (1985), where director Wim Wenders follows in the footsteps of one of his “masters” in cinema, meeting Ozu’s collaborators and gathering fragments of his world. 

 

Image still from The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978, Lau Kar-leung)

Shaw Brothers: Wuxia Warriors and Kung Fu Masters 

From December 22, MUBI will be streaming fourteen wuxia and kung fu classics by the legendary studio Shaw Brothers, which revolutionised the landscape of Chinese cinema in the decades following its founding in 1958. Featuring icons of the two genres—such as King Hu’s Come Drink with Me (1966), Chang Cheh’s The One-Armed Swordsman (1967), and Lau Kar-leung’s The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)—the programme promises gravity-defying stunts, all-out action, and tales of honour and vengeance. Check out the trailer here

 

The Archies (2023) by Zoya Aktar 

Zoya Akhtar’s The Archies (2023)—a spinoff of the classic American comics—is now streaming on Netflix. Akhtar, who grew up in a film family, explains that for many of her generation, the Archie comics provided a portal to the West at a time when access to television was limited. Set in a fictional North Indian hill station, Akhtar’s film centres on an Anglo-Indian community in the 1960s while exploring “Gen-Z” issues. Whether the film epitomises nepotism (three members of the cast are “star kids”) or embeds a “politically-charged call-to-arms” remains up for debate.

 

Mehrjui: The Forty-Year Report

From his landmark pre-Revolutionary feature The Cow (1969), which launched the Iranian New Wave, to his films centering on female protagonists such as Leila (1997), Dariush Mehrjui inspired a generation of filmmakers. In October 2023, Mehrjui was murdered with his wife and screenwriting partner, Vahideh Mohammadifar. Mani Haghighi’s documentary Mehrjui: The Forty-Year Report (2016), is now streaming for free on Docunight. The film is only available in Persian and does not have subtitles.

Read more about Mehrjui’s shifting legacy in Tiara Sahar Ataii’s article for the ArtReview, and David Hudson’s piece for Criterion’s The Daily.

 

The Mountains Are a Dream That Call to Me

A young Nepali traveller encounters an older Australian woman en-route to his new life as a labourer in Dubai. Filmed largely in the Himalayas, Cedric Cheung-Lau’s documentary The Mountains Are a Dream That Call to Me (2020) is now streaming on the Criterion Channel. 

 

Sushi Noh (2021) by Jayden Rathsam Hua 

“Consigned to the care of her lonely uncle, nine-year-old Ellie encounters a bizarre sushi-vomiting kitchen appliance, triggering an avalanche of vibrant nightmares that seep into reality.” Check out Jayden Rathsam Hua’s horror short film Sushi Noh (2021) for free on Vimeo.  

 

Spacked Out (2000) by Lawrence Ah Mon

As part of Metrograph’s programme Hong Kong 1997, which looks at the former colonial city-state’s handover to Mainland China, Metrograph At Home will be streaming the newly-restored Spacked Out (2000) by director Lawrence Ah Mon (aka Lawrence Lau). Following the lives of four teenage misfits—one of whom suspects she is pregnant—Lau’s film portrayed the anxieties of marginalised adolescents. Spacked Out also screened as part of Y2K DreamZ at the Asian Film Archive in September 2023. 

 

Equinox Films: Selected Works by Team 8mm Tengoku 

For fans of experimental cinema—a series of short films by Team 8mm Tengoku, a collective formed in 2006 comprising filmmaker Akira Hoshino and composer Chinatsu Yokomizo, are now available on Equinox. Hoshino and Yokomizo worked separately and only combined the sound and images in the final playback, resulting in an unexpected “vibration of harmony and disharmony”. 

 

READ 

 

Combining the Past and the Future: A Conversation with Park Chan-wook

Director Park Chan-wook spoke with curator Hans Ulrich Obrist for his ongoing interview project, which has involved 4000 conversations with creative practitioners. Park touches on the “moments of epiphany” that sparked his filmmaking journey and his literary influences, delving into his artistic choices in Decision to Leave (2022)—the use of the song “Mist”, the incorporation of technology, and the symbolism of mountains and oceans.

 

Image still from Lust, Caution (2007, Ang Lee)

A Spy in the House of Love 

“How much of seduction is an act of espionage in general?” Writing for Metrograph, author Philippa Snow reflects on three adaptations of the writing of Eileen Chang: Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution (2007), Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Flowers of Shanghai (1998), and Ann Hui’s Love After Love (2020).

 

Image still from Arbaeen (1970, Nasser Taghvai)

On Materiality and the Iranian New Wave Cinema, 1960–1979

MoMA has published a new piece on post: notes on art in a global context on cinematic renderings of ruins in Iranian New Wave Cinema. Looking at filmmakers such as Ebrahim Golestan, Nasser Taghvaim and Dariush Mehrjui, researcher Farbod Honarpisheh examines several recurring motifs: the ruin, the anguished body, the museum display, the mud-brick wall, and the old neighbourhood passageway.

 

Filming/No Filming: Notes on the latest films of Hong Sang-soo

As part of the ongoing series “Critique and the Moving Image”, In Media Res has published a series of articles. Taking a cue from the logic of Alain Resnais’s Smoking/No Smoking (1993), film scholar Sulgi Lie reflects on how Hong Sang-soo’s films paradoxically stage the non-existence of a film. Hong’s movies-within-movies problematise the creative process, blurring the line between fiction and reality.

 

Image still from In Water (2023, Hang Sang-soo)

The Subtlety of Language, According to Hong Sang-soo

More on Hong Sang-soo following the screening of In Our Day (2023) and In Water (2023) in North America: writer and filmmaker Jawni Han takes a close look at Hong’s use of the Korean language as a “tool of cinema, not unlike cinematography or blocking.” Han touches on the nuances of colloquial and formal speech use, and the double-entendre of the name of a cat in the film In Our Day, offering insights into Hong’s work that Anglophone viewers may have missed.

 

Humans and Trees: Hayao Miyazaki 

Reflecting on Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film The Boy and the Heron for the New Left Review, James Wham muses on the inevitability of civilisational collapse and ecological renewal in Miyazaki’s worldview. “At stake in his work is the anima of all things, the essential life force of a world soon to ‘end in flames’,” writes Wham.

 

John Woo Returns to Hollywood

Hong Kong filmmaker John Woo revolutionised the action film genre with his “heroic bloodshed” and gun fu movies in the 1980s, as classics like A Better Tomorrow (1986) and The Killer (1989) garnered international acclaim. In December 2023, Woo returned to the big screen with his first American movie in twenty years, the dialogue-free Silent Night. The New Yorker interviews the influential director, who touches on his childhood in the slums, how action choreography is like ballet, and the inspirations behind some of his most iconic films, including Red Cliff (2008/2009).

 

Image still from Concrete Utopia (2023, Uhm Tae-Hwa)

Dazed Review 2023: The best East Asian films of 2023 

Writer James Balmont looks back on some of the highlights of the year which mark the growing resonance of East Asian cinema in the West—critical acclaim for Celine Song’s Past Lives, prizes for veteran actors in major festivals (Tony Leung at Venice, Koji Yakusho at Cannes). Balmont also spotlights several award winners and “future cult classics”, including Uhm Tae-Hwa’s Concrete Utopia (2023) and Anthony Chen’s The Breaking Ice (2023).

 

Lists and Polls 

Image Still from In The Mood For Love (1962, Wong Kar-wai)

Looking at the top-ranking Asian, African and Latin American films in the 2022 Sight and Sound Critics’ poll, Kevin B. Lee examines the issue of inclusivity in the poll’s attempts to outline a global cinematic canon. Despite an “unprecedented effort to broaden the pool of participation,” the results of the poll reveal limits to its diversity, raising questions about how “cinephile cosmopolitanism” is defined. 

 

Sight and Sound has also published a list of the top 50 films of 2023—as voted on by 106 British and international contributors. (You can browse all the 363 films nominated here.) Among the top films are Asian titles including Pham Thiên Ân’s critically-acclaimed debut Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell which recently won the top prize at this year’s Singapore International Film Festival. 

 

LISTEN 

 

Image still from The World Is Family (2023, Anand Patwardhan)

The Film Comment Podcast: Mumbai Film Festival 2023

Co-deputy editor of Film Comment, Devika Girish, and film curator, Inney Prakash, discuss the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival, founded in 1997, which has returned in 2023 after a three-year hiatus. With a new curatorial team, the privately-funded festival offered a “unique combination of corporate glitz and die-hard indie cinephilia”. Girish and Prakash offer key contexts for the festival (state censorship, the commercial film industry) and touch on highlights of the South Asia selection, including Anand Patwardhan’s The World Is Family and Sarvnik Kaur’s Against the Tide.

 

Image still from Shoplifters (2018, Hirokazu Kore-eda)

Sounds on Screen: Kore-eda 

Delve into the sonic landscapes of Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters, 2018; Monster, 2023) with NTS Radio’s curated playlist. With flowing instrumentals, Kore-eda’s soundtracks evoke the “small but significant human moments” that his films aim to magnify. 

 

ATTEND 

 

Desire/Expectations: The Films of Edward Yang (New York)

From December 22, 2023 to January 4, 2024, the Film at Lincoln Center will be screening a retrospective of Taiwanese New Wave pioneer, Edward Yang. Highlights include Yang’s groundbreaking anthology film In Our Time (1982), winner of the Best Director Award at Cannes Yi Yi (2000), brand-new restorations of Mahjong (1996) and A Confucian Confusion (1994), and Yang’s unfinished final work The Wind

Known for his intimate, realist aesthetic, Yang captured a country in the midst of social and economic transformation in the 1980s. Read an introduction to Yang’s cinema on AnOther Magazine

 

Image still from A Hen in the Wind (1948, Yasujirō Ozu)

Yasujiro Ozu: The Elegance of Simplicity (Berkeley)

Currently on view at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) is a selected retrospective of Yasujiro Ozu (December 12 marks the 120th anniversary of his birth and the 60th anniversary of his death). Ozu “makes the ordinary extraordinary, in large measure because of the poetic sensibility of his cinema and the deep humanity of his characters,” writes curator Susan Oxtoby. Ongoing until February 25, 2024. 

 

SUBMIT 

 

Call for Entries: 48th Hong Kong International Film Festival

Founded in 1976, the Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) is Asia’s oldest international film festival. The 48th edition of the festival will be held from March 28 to April 8, 2024. Feature films, documentaries, short films are welcome. Read the rules and regulations and submit your entries via the festival’s website or FilmFreeway by December 31, 2023. 

 

Call for Entries: 5th Queer East Film Festival

Queer East Film Festival is calling for films and artists’ moving image works made by, or that are about queer people in East or Southeast Asia, or diaspora communities. The festival will take place in London in April 2024, and will tour the UK in autumn. Submit your works by January 12, 2024 on FilmFreeway.

 

Call for Entries: 25th Jeonju International Film Festival

Launched in 2000, the Jeonju International Film Festival spotlights alternative, independent and experimental films. The festival’s feature film financing and production programme, Jeonju Cinema Project (JCP), encompasses support and distribution for selected Korean feature films and documentaries. Both the festival and JCP are accepting entries now. Read the rules and regulations and submit your works by January 3, 2024.

 

Call for Entries: 7th Nepal International Film Festival 

Established in 2018 as Nepal’s premier annual film and cultural event, the Nepal International Film Festival (NIFF) is now calling for entries. The 7th edition of the festival will be held in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur from March 14 to March 18, 2024. Submit your entries via FilmFreeway by December 25, 2023. 

 

Call for Applications: International Film Camp (2023-2024) 

Supported by institutions in Hong Kong and Macao, the International Film Camp (IFC) is an initiative aimed at nurturing the next generation of aspiring filmmakers from Asia. Sixteen participants will have the opportunity to receive membership, and engage in panel discussions and masterclasses. Eight selected filmmakers will receive a grant of HK$300,000 to produce a short film. More details here. The deadline for application is December 31, 2023. 

 

Call for Proposals: Qiu Jiongjiong Seminar at the University of Hong Kong 

The Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Hong Kong is organising a seminar titled “Memories, Storytelling, and Intermediality in the Film World of Qiu Jiongjiong,” scheduled for March 15, 2024. Researchers interested in presenting on this major figure of contemporary Chinese cinema should email a 300-word abstract, working title, and short author bio to yeelmw@hku.hk and jasoncoe@hku.hk by January 2, 2024. More details here.

 

This edition of the Asian Cinema Digest was compiled by Sheryl Gwee. The Asian Cinema Digest is a monthly compilation of content taking place internationally involving Asian cinema and the moving image. Featured programmes are not representative of AFA’s views and are unaffiliated to the AFA unless otherwise stated.

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