The Asian Cinema Digest kicks off January 2024 with a spotlight on East and Southeast Asian cinema. Ring in the Lunar New Year with a selection of Chinese-language cinema classics and readings on Taiwanese New Wave pioneer Edward Yang. Delve into Filipino cinema with films by Adolfo Alix Jr. and Raya Martin, Isabel Sandoval, an interview with Miko Revereza, and a podcast on Marilou Diaz-Abaya. Plus, discover the poetry and potency of the moving image, with a plethora of short films ranging from the experimental to the essayistic.
TaiwanPlus presents a selection of 8 iconic Taiwanese films spanning 3 decades, as part of an online film festival that runs through May 17, 2024. The lineup includes Lee Han-hsiang’s epic warring states-era drama Hsi Shih: Beauty of Beauties (1965), Storm over the Yangtze River (1969), an espionage drama set in the late 1930s, and Chen Kun-hou’s Growing Up (1983).
Alongside the works of celebrated pioneers Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang, Between the Tides spotlights lesser-known works that shaped the rise of Taiwanese New Cinema in the 1980s. Featuring Mimi Lee’s Girls’ School (1982), a female bildungsroman which centres on the budding intimacy between two bosom friends in a deeply homophobic environment; Ho Ping’s The Digger and Lee Daw-ming’s The Suona Player (1988), two shorts filmed in the Taiwanese countryside and adapted from nativist literature; and Hou Hsiao-hsien, Wan Jen, and Tseng Chuang-hsiang’s portmanteau film The Sandwich Man (1983).
Three films by Filipina director Isabel Sandoval are now streaming on Criterion Channel. Lingua Franca (2019) centres on an undocumented Filipina trans woman working as a caregiver in Brooklyn, Apparition (2012) imagines the lives of nuns in a remote monastery just before Ferdinand Marcos’s declaration of martial law in the early 1970s, while the pulp-noir political thriller Señorita (2011) follows a trans sex worker who becomes a political double agent. The programme includes an interview with the director, part of Criterion’s Meet the Filmmakers series.
Shot on 16mm black-and-white film, Adolfo Alix Jr. and Raya Martin’s Manila (2009) is divided into a “day” and a “night” episode, paying homage to two classics of Philippine cinema—Ishmael Bernal’s Manila by Night (1980) and Lino Brocka’s Jaguar (1979). Manila (2009) centres on a young man grappling with a drug addiction and a bodyguard for a mayor’s son who is left to fend for himself. (Plus, Lav Diaz makes a cameo in the film’s opening credits.)
Chen Kaige’s epic historical drama Farewell My Concubine (1993) arrives on Criterion Channel on February 1, 2024. A gripping tale of unrequited love, jealousy, betrayal, and political upheaval, Farewell My Concubine (1993) charts the tumultuous relationship between two orphan boys who become stars of the Peking Opera (played by Leslie Cheung and Zhang Fengyi) and a headstrong courtesan (Gong Li). A landmark work of China’s “Fifth Generation” of filmmakers who grew up during the 1960s, Chen’s film captures five decades of China’s turbulent history.
Set in a dystopian future where the Japanese government offers free euthanasia to citizens aged 75 and above, Chie Hayakawa’s Plan 75 (2022) poignantly explores the value of life and community in an aged society. Now streaming on Criterion Channel. Also, check out Diego Semerene’s take on how “Hayakawa avoids sentimentality, treating the timid possibilities of a connection between human beings that’s beyond the register of a transaction with the utmost care.”
In this pared-down documentary by Wang Bing, an elderly woman named He Fengming recounts her life in post-1949 China, from the fervour of the Chinese Revolution, to her family’s persecution across separate labour camps, and her imprisonment. Fengming, A Chinese Memoir (2007) won the Grand Prize at the 2007 Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival.
City shorts: now on MUBI
Centring on the disappearance of a pedestrian overpass, The Skywalk is Gone (2002) chronicles fleeting encounters in an increasingly urbanised landscape. In this short film, actors Chen Shiang-chyi and Lee Kang-sheng reprise their roles from Tsai Ming-liang’s previous feature film What Time Is It There? (2001).
Enigmatic vignettes that linger meditatively on moving shafts of light and smoke meet swirling, flickering images filmed in the midst of dense traffic in Simon Liu’s Signal 8 (2019). Shot on 16mm, Liu’s short film is a poetic ode to the city of Hong Kong.
Set in 2066, Daniel Hui’s dreamy documentary and city symphony Snakeskin (2014) traverses Singapore’s urban landscape and its collective unconscious, recounting the country’s history through the eyes of the lone survivor of a now-extinct cult. This award-winning film is now streaming on DAFilms.com.
Jesse Chun’s short film draws on and subverts the cinematic tropes of the Western, using light, moving image projections, water, herbs and a mirror to disrupt the landscape. Shot in a school in Texas, the film addresses the school’s “haunting linguistic history”, where a forced burial ceremony of non-English language(s) took place in 1959. Watch it on ArtReview’s newly-launched Art Lovers Movie Club, which features a selection of artists’ videos available exclusively on the magazine’s website.
With 10 nominations, Iranian artist and filmmaker Maryam Tafakory’s split-screen video essay chaste/unchase (2023) tops the British Film Institute (BFI)’s poll of the best video essays of 2023. Combining footage from three decades of Iranian cinema since the 1990s, Tafakory’s film dissects how binary notions about female sexuality are encoded onscreen. Watch the film and read reviews and Tafakory’s statement here.
Films by Suneil Sanzgiri
Three short films by artist, filmmaker, and researcher Suneil Sanzgiri have arrived on Metrograph at Home. Combining imagery from sources as diverse as 16mm footage, drone videography, excerpts from India’s Parallel Cinema movement, digital renderings, and Skype interviews, Sanzgiri’s films meditate on memory and diaspora.
Through the lens of his father’s personal history (the elder Sanzgiri was born in Goa, India), the filmmaker confronts entwined decolonial histories and the entanglement of extraction and exploitation in At Home But Not At Home (2019) and Golden Jubilee (2021) respectively. Set amid the 2016 anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests, Letter From Your Far Off Country (2020) looks at “how we live through moments of trauma, violence, and revolt.”
Four films by Berlinale Talents alumni Daniel Asadi Faezi are now available on DAFilms.com. Born to an Iranian father and a German mother, Faezi has lived and worked in Munich, Kolkata, Tehran, and Lahore. His feature documentary Slowly Forgetting Your Faces (2021) delves into the history of his family through letters from his eldest brother in Iran to his younger siblings in Germany, while his short films The Absence of Apricots (2018), Where We Used to Swim (2019) and Aralkum (2022) explore ecological change and memory, focusing respectively on the dried-up Lake Urmia in Northern Iran, the Aral Sea (now a desert), and the aftermath of a landslide in the mountains of North Pakistan.
In this piece for the The Nation, Vikram Murthi reflects on how Edward Yang’s A Confucian Confusion (1994) and Mahjong (1996) deploy ensemble casts and the visual language of farce, featuring the late Taiwanese director at his “angriest, funniest, and most cynically romantic.” Set in Taipei in the 1990s, the two films confront the entanglement of love, desire, and greed, capturing shifting social relationships amid the country’s unprecedented economic boom in the late 20th century.
For The Criterion Current, columnist David Hudson surveys the Film at Lincoln Center’s Edward Yang retrospective, gathering critical reviews of Yang’s work that have been written over the years. Read more about the Taiwanese New Wave master’s acclaimed works—including Taipei Story (1985), Terrorizers (1986), and A Brighter Summer Day (1991).
In her thoughtful survey of Yasujirō Ozu’s portrayal of women, Moeko Fujii bounces off a line by a character in Ozu’s The Munekata Sisters (1950): “A wife is just another convenient tool.” Tracing scenes of convenience across Ozu’s oeuvre, Fujii looks at how characters in Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family (1941), Tokyo Story (1953), and Late Spring (1949) grapple with the social imperative to bring ease to and lighten the burdens of those around them.
To commemorate the 120th anniversary of Yasujirō Ozu’s birth, the Criterion Current invited six writers to explore the Japanese auteur’s career, from his early silent comedies, to his later works in colour which brought his thematic concerns into a “revelatory, heightened register of expression.” Moeko Fujii, Sean Gilman, Pamela Hutchinson, Aliza Ma, Musab Younis, and Genevieve Yue delve into the nuances of Ozu’s touch, reflecting on his portrayal of family units “fractured, whether by illness, war, or the less-perceptible dislocations of modern life”, the queering of kinship in his films, and more.
For MUBI’s Notebook, Leonard Goi interviews comedian, actor and director Takeshi Kitano on his latest film, Kubi (2023), a period drama that centres on the assassination of a 16th-century Japanese warlord by one of his generals. “Laughter has a rather devilish side to it,” Kitano remarks, before touching on the distinctive cinematography of his films, the process of working with costume designer Kazuko Kurosawa (Akira Kurosawa’s daughter), and how Kubi undermines the glorification of historical figures in mainstream films.
Film Comment has published a new interview with filmmaker Miko Revereza, whose latest feature film, Nowhere Near (2023), made over seven years, weaves together filmic fragments from his personal archive as an undocumented immigrant from Manila, frank conversations with his mother, and a journey to the Philippines. Revereza touches on his love for home movies, how writing the book version of Nowhere Near was integral to his process, and his withdrawal from the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) in 2023.
Through the eyes of multiple characters—two ten-year-old boys, and the adults who struggle to understand their burgeoning relationship—Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Monster (2023) contemplates how social norms and assumptions thwart our attempts to communicate with and truly know one another. In the interview, Kore-eda reflects on his collaboration with writer Yûji Sakamoto and the late composer Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Film critic Sean Gilman looks at how Lau Kar-leung’s unforgettable The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978), and the many Shaolin and kung fu films produced by the Shaw Brothers and other studios in the 1980s and 90s, collectively “form an interrelated and at times contradictory mosaic of history and legend.” This deep dive traces a chronological Shaolin lineage through the works of Lau, Chang Cheh, Corey Yuen, Yuen Woo-ping, Tsui Hark, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and more, surveying the development of the martial arts film.
Writing for MUBI’s Notebook, Jonah Jeng rounds up 2023’s best action scenes – a large number of which happen to be Asian films. What is it that makes these feisty battles so riveting? Jeng delves deep into the rhythm, movement, and framing of each shot, looking at how tightened spaces in Qin Pengfei and Yang Bingjia’s Fight Against Evil 2 (2023), for instance, physically induce a growing sense of tension, or how the deliberately flat, digitally-composited landscapes in Ngô Thanh Vân’s Furies (2023) “lend the action an otherworldly air.”
“Wherever she went, she was a test of the public threshold for difference, and where she found that tolerance wanting, she knew that glamour could make her legible, corral the dissonant signifiers of her Chinese face and California twang into stunning, cosmopolitan coherence,” Phoebe Chen writes of the first Chinese American Hollywood star Anna May Wong. In her review of a new biography by Yunte Huang, titled Daughter of the Dragon: Anna May Wong’s Rendezvous with American History, Chen looks at the “entwined production of race and visual culture.”
The Asian American/Asian Research Institute (AAARI) at CUNY has also released a podcast on Huang’s book. Listen to it on Spotify.
Reviews: The Boy and the Heron (2023) by Hayao Miyazaki
A number of new think pieces on The Boy and the Heron (2023), Hayao Miyazaki’s first feature film in ten years—and possibly his last—have been published. MUBI Notebook contributor Jennifer Lynde Barker reads the film as an elegiac reflection on how and why humans should create. The Baffler’s Grace Byron considers Miyazaki’s “elusive open worlds” which resist moralising meanings in opposition to the relentless cheeriness of Disney cartoons. FilmComment has also published an interview with Atsushi Okui, who worked as the cinematographer on almost every Studio Ghibli feature and short since 1992’s Porco Rosso. Plus, check out The Film Stage Show’s podcast on The Boy and the Heron. Special guest Steph Watts, who hosts her own podcast on Studio Ghibli and animation, joins this episode.
GQ Japan has published in Japanese, a conversation between director Kiyoshi Kurosawa and the late composer and pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto.
In this episode of the Film at Lincoln Center (FLC) Podcast, director Phạm Thiên Ân discusses his feature directorial debut Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (2023) at the 61st New York Film Festival. With artfully cinematographed interiors and breaktaking panoramas of Vietnam’s rural highlands, the film unfolds a dreamlike meditation on faith, loss, and nature.
For more on how Phạm Thiên Ân’s film transcends the “accomplished but perhaps not scintillating form” that new festival films tend to stick to, check out this episode of the Film Comment Podcast. Film Comment’s Co-Deputy Editor Devika Girish joins FLC programmer Madeline Whittle and critic Mark Asch to cover the highlights of the Toronto International Film Festival, which took place from September 7 to 17, 2023.
Japanese director Atsushi Funahashi and film scholar Ethan Spigland join FLC Programmer Dan Sullivan for a conversation about the celebrated filmmaker Kijū Yoshida (1933–2022), whose films will be screened as part of an upcoming retrospective. Kijū Yoshida, also known as Yoshishige Yoshida, rose to prominence in the 1960s with an “unapologetically subversive body of work.” Funahashi shares how Yoshida’s trilogy of Eros + Massacre (1969), Heroic Purgatory (1970) and Coup d’État (1973) criticised conventional interpretations of history, portraying the uncertainty of human existence in depth.
Writing for ScreenSlate, Vince Warne reflects on Yoshida’s radical formalism, his “unusual eye for compositions,” and his “materialist, anti-humanist stance that seeped its way into his otherwise commercial studio efforts.”
This episode of Deep Cut delves into the historical drama José Rizal (1998), a film based on the life of the revolutionary writer and national hero who was imprisoned under Spanish rule, directed by Marilou Diaz-Abaya, a leading figure of the Second Golden Age of Philippine cinema from the 1970s to the early 1980s. Podcast hosts Wilson, Ben, and Eli consider what “national cinema” means in Asia, where it emerged alongside questions of decolonisation and collective identity.
10 thought-provoking films which shed light on Palestine through the eyes of her people will be screening at The Projector at Cineleisure from January 12 to 21, 2024. The lineup includes award-winning films such as Emat Burnat and Guy Davidi’s documentary 5 Broken Cameras (2012), Mats Grorud’s animation The Tower (2018), and Annemarie Jacir’s feature drama Wajib (2017). Proceeds from the festival will be donated to the Singapore Red Cross to aid relief and recovery efforts in Gaza.
Founded in 2003, the annual London Short Film Festival (LSFF) presents a selection of 250-500 films curated from over 5000 open submissions. This year’s edition features several Asian programmes, including the NOWNESS China Short Film Awards Programme; Dreaming in Mother Tongue, a collection of five short films by female Chinese ethnic minority directors from Tibet and Mongolia; and a special screening of artist films from Palestine by Shasha Movies. From January 19–28, 2024.
Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) offers two film grants for Southeast Asian film projects. The Tan Ean Kiam Foundation-SGIFF Southeast Asian Documentary (SEA-DOC) Grant supports the production and post-production of four projects annually with grants of up to SGD30,000 each. This year, the SGIFF Southeast Asian-Short Film (SEA-SHORTS) Grant will support three short films, each with a cash award of SGD5,000 and post-production support worth SGD5,000. The deadline is February 5, 2024 (2359, GMT+8).
The Academy Awards-qualifying Shorts Shorts Film Festival & Asia is calling for entries for its 26th edition which will take place from June 6–17, 2024, in Tokyo, Japan. The festival will be accepting live-action, animation, non-fiction and smartphone shorts until January 31, 2024 (late submission). Branded shorts will be accepted until February 29, 2024. Visit the official website for more details.
Scheduled for April 2024, the 14th BJIFF is calling for entries to four sections across genres ranging from fiction, documentary, and animation, to giant screen, dome, or 4D films. The deadline is January 25, 2024. Read the rules and regulations here.
Established in 2004 by Korea Green Foundation to platform issues of sustainability, Seoul International Eco Film Festival (SIEFF) is Asia’s biggest environmental film festival. The 21st SIEFF will be held from 5 to 9 June 2024 in Seoul, in tandem with World Environment Day on June 5. Submissions should be made via FilmFreeway by January 31, 2024.
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.