Asian Cinema Digest #45

Tribute to David Bordwell

David Bordwell, a renowned film scholar who recently passed away at 76, also a member of Asian Film Archive’s International Advisory Panel,  left an indelible mark on the world of cinema studies. Over three decades at the University of Wisconsin, Bordwell authored over 20 influential books alongside his partner Kristin Thompson, including seminal texts like Film History: An Introduction and Film Art: An Introduction. Their collaborative blog, “Observations on Film Art, provided invaluable insights into filmmaking techniques. Bordwell’s impact extended beyond academia, shaping film pedagogy and fostering a deeper appreciation for Asian cinema through groundbreaking studies like Planet Hong Kong and Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema.

In this edition of Asian Cinema Digest, we honour Bordwell’s legacy by revisiting his profound insights on Asian cinema, highlighting his enduring contributions to film scholarship and appreciation.


Image still from The Boys from Fengkuei (1983, Hou Hsiao-Hsien)

Early Hou Hsiao-hsien: Film culture finally comes through (a repost)

David Bordwell’s final blog post is a repost of his earlier writing. The piece revisits Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s early films where Bordwell analyses how a basic technical decision such as the choice of the lens or the composition created powerful effects on Hou’s visual style providing readers with a more discerning perspective to interpret Hou’s films. Criterion Channel is streaming three films by Hou, including Cute Girl and Green, Green Grass of Home and his first international breakthrough The Boys from Fengkuei.


A Brighter Summer Day: Yang and his gangs

David Bordwell wrote about another essential director from Taiwan New Cinema, Edward Yang and his masterpiece, A Brighter Summer Day. The essay traces the history of Taiwanese cinema, discusses Yang’s filmography, and examines the techniques employed by Yang in A Brighter Summer Day. Bordwell provides a critical perspective in reading the choices made by the filmmaker through his detailed and thorough shot analysis.


Book: Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema

Enjoy one of David Bordwell’s most prominent out-of-print books, Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema, for free on his blog. The book combines biographical information with discussions of the films’ aesthetic strategies and cultural significance. Bordwell questions the popular image of Ozu as the traditional Japanese artisan and examines the aesthetic nature and functions of his cinema. 


Observations on Film Art: David Bordwell on Sanshiro Sugata

Besides his eminent career as a film writer, Bordwell participated in some educational video essays initiated by Criterion Channel. In this short video essay, Bordwell offers an in-depth analysis of the editing techniques in Akira Kurosawa’s 1943 debut feature Sanshiro Sugata, an exhilarating tale of a martial arts rivalry that showcases the director’s preternatural mastery of his medium.


Book: Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment

In what could be considered his love letter to Hong Kong Cinema, Bordwell described this book as “an essayistic attempt to understand the interplay of art and entertainment in one popular cinema”. This book offers a deeply informed and highly engaging look at how Hong Kong cinema became one of the success stories in film history. Bordwell also replaced all original black-and-white film stills with coloured ones.

Barely moving pictures: Kiarostami’s 24 Frames

One could consider that the greatest contributions of Bordwell go beyond educating the audience about the technicalities of cinema and its production, but at learning to appreciate the beauty of cinema. In this piece of writing, Bordwell scrutinizes the last film of Abbas Kiarostami’s 24 Frames. Bordwell examines the camera’s position and regards the film as a homage to Lumière. He also thinks the film is responding to the problem of digital cinema: the stillness captured by the digital camera makes certain portions of the frame go dead. Bordwell provides an alternative on how the digital has shaped audiences’ perception on time and stillness. 



Image still from The Boys from Feng Kuei (1983. Hou Hsiao-Hsien)

Becoming Hou Hsiao-Hsien

Read Sean Gilman’s comprehensive account of Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s early films that are streaming on Criterion Channel. Tracing back to the starting point of Hou’s film career, Gillman points out the  influence of renowned Chinese modernist writer Shen Congwen on Hou’s aesthetic. The piece encapsulates the early stage of Hou’s film career characterised by an adherence to a more commercial style and the drastic changes in style since The Boy From Fengkuei, that have made him the director that we now know. 


Image still from Executioners (1993, Johnnie To)

The Heroic Trio / Executioners: To the Power of Three

Beatrice Loayza’s essay delves into the production and cultural impact of Johnnie To’s The Heroic Trio (1993) and its sequel The Executioners (1993) starring Michelle Yeoh, Anita Mui and Maggie Cheung. Loayza notes that the films’ representation of distinctly Cantonese cultural identity was fostered by the golden age of Hong Kong cinema. She further analyses the construction of the three female lead characters, which cemented the films as remarkable cultural objects, nestled between the heyday of an industry on the brink of implosion and the currents of globalisation. Both The Heroic Trio and The Executioners are streaming on Criterion Channel. 


Image still from The Hour of Liberation Has Arrived (1974, Heiny Srour)

The Image of the Palestinian Woman

Sabzian features an essay by Heiny Srour, the first Arab female filmmaker, that examines the representation of Arab women in films from the region, and is translated into English by Jonathan Mackris. Her first film The Hour of Liberation Has Arrived (1974) chronicles the anti-colonial struggle of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman and the Arabian Gulf. It was a Cannes Film Festival competition entry. 


Menaces and Martyrs: A Brief History of the Political Assassin on Film

With a special focus on political Japanese filmmaker, Masao Adachi, the essay is a survey of films that represent political assassinations from different eras and countries. With Adachi’s new film, Revolution+1 (2023), a biopic of Shinzo Abe’s assassin, Tetsuya Yamagami, having premiered in  North America last year, Lewis draws the connection between Adachi’s approach to filmmaking. He concludes that assassination is a real-time rewriting of history and Adachi’s film is a political reflection of a moment of bloodshed.


In Perfect Days (2023), It’s Okay to Cry

Jeongrak Son ponders on Wim Wenders’ stoic representations of sorrow and the mundane, writing about the Kōji Yakusho-starrer Perfect Days (2023). Jeongrak reads the ending scene of the film through the lens of Paul Schrader’s stance on transcendental cinema. The review ends with a sense of warmth and suggests that acceptance might be a solution by returning to the quote by  Slavoj Žižek: “Things happen. Things happen here and there.”



Director Bong Joon Ho and Cinematographer Darius Khondji behind the scenes in Okja (2017). Image by Lee Jae Hyuk

Darius Khondji: A Virtual Exhibition

Film Secession has curated an exhibition on Darius Khondji, an Iranian-French cinematographer who worked with filmmakers such as Michael Haneke, Wong Kar Wai, Bong Joon-ho, Nicholas Winding Refn, and Jonathan Glazer. The exhibition explores Khondji’s work—especially his approach to light, colour, space, and framing—and the larger question of the role of the cinematographer as a shaping agent in the overall style of a film. Film Secession is a newly launched platform founded by film curator and academic Richard I. Suchenski, aimed at creating new ways of exploring the ideas and artistic currents that have shaped different filmmakers, periods, and art forms.



Dreadnaught (1981, dir. Yuen Woo-ping)

Everything that made 1980s Hong Kong action cinema such a blast—the furious fights, bursts of wild comedy, and larger-than-life performances—is cranked up to eleven in this audacious cult classic directed by legendary martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-ping (Drunken Master, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). Disguised in fearsome face paint, a psychotic fugitive killer known as White Tiger (Yuen Shun-yee) hides out in a theatre troupe. When he murders the friend of cowardly laundry man Mousy (Yuen Biao), the latter must overcome his timidity to take revenge. An almost schizophrenic mishmash of slapstick, horror, mystery, and martial arts mayhem, Dreadnaught succeeds in its total commitment to its craziness.


Image still from Love Letter (1953, Kinuyo Tanaka)

Kinuyo Tanaka Directs

Criterion Channel puts a spotlight on the directorial works of Kinuyo Tanaka. While known more for her work as an actress, Tanaka is the first woman in post-war Japan to direct a film with her debut Love Letter (1953) and her contributions to Japanese cinema have only been celebrated in recent years. All six of her directorial works are restored and streaming on Criterion Channel. If you missed the Kinuyo Tanaka retrospective in Singapore 2 years ago, it’s time to revisit her work on the Criterion Channel! 


Image still from The Green, Green Grass of Home (1982, Hou Hsiao-Hsien)

Early Films by Hou Hsiao-Hsien

Criterion Channel is showcasing the titan of Taiwanese cinema, Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s early works, including Cute Girl (1980), The Green, Green Grass of Home (1982) along with his international breakthrough, The Boys from Fengkuei (1983). Cute Girl and The Green, Green Grass of Home are considered his commercial works made in collaboration with famous stars such as Feng Fei-fei (凤飞飞), Kenny Bee (钟镇涛) and Chen Mei-feng (陈美凤). Characterised by languorous long-takes, The Boys from Fengkuei marks a stylistic change in Hou’s career which garnered him Golden Montgolfiere at the 1984 Nantes Three Continents Festival.


Tokyo Sonata (2008, dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s essential work, Tokyo Sonata is streaming on Mubi. Salaryman Ryuhei, hides the news about his retrenchment from his family, but his lie soon unravels the bonds that hold his family together. The film reinvents the Japanese domestic drama with an unusual blend of a redemptive family story, dystopian dread and deadpan humour. It won a jury prize in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.


La Luna (2023, dir. Raihan Halim)

The closing film of the 2024 Rotterdam Film Festival, La Luna directed by M. Raihan Halim is streaming on Netflix. The film tells the story of a woman who opens a lingerie store named La Luna in Kampung Bras Basah, a small village in Malaysia governed by the strict religious authority Tok Hassan. A provocative comedy that critically envisions the battle between modernity and tradition.


STRNGE PLCE (2016, Chloe Yap Mun Ee)

A short film by Chloe Yap Mun Ee, one of the editors of Malaysian-Singaporean co-production Oasis of Now that is currently showing at Oldham Theatre. Focusing on the exploration of sexual desire and and intimacy of the younger generation, Chloe’s short film is an experimentation of the cinematic medium and a way for her to confront her personal struggles and questions on love, sexuality, gender and intimacy. 



Call for Submissions: Singapore Shorts ’24 

Singapore Shorts is an annual showcase organised by the Asian Film Archive that celebrates the boldness and diversity of Singapore short films. The programme will feature a broad range of new works chosen by an esteemed selection panel. There will be online discussions with the filmmakers, critical writings, as well as a special guest-curated programme. The deadline for the submission is EXTENDED till 29 Mar 2024.


Call for Submissions: CHANEL X BIFF Asian Film Academy 2024

CHANEL X BIFF Asian Film Academy, a leading education program of the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), is recruiting for this year’s participants until 12 April 2024. 24 filmmakers from across Asia will be selected and supported to write, direct, and produce original short films, which will be screened at the 29th edition of the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) in Busan, South Korea, in October 2024. The Academy will provide a diverse curriculum of workshops, mentoring schemes, and masterclasses, allowing participants to collaborate and innovate across cultures.


Call for Submissions: 29th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) Official Selection

The 29th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), which will be held from Oct 2 – 11 Oct 2024, is accepting submissions for its official selections. Refer to the BIFF website for more details. The submission for feature films closes on 17 July 2024 short films submission will close on 19 JUNE.


Call for Submissions: BIFF Asian Cinema Fund

Asian Cinema Fund (ACF), which seeks to discover and support projects by talented directors across Korea and Asia, is now accepting submissions for 2024. Script Development Fund deadline: 20 March 2024; Post-Production Fund and Asian Network Documentary deadline: 15 April 2024.


This edition of the Asian Cinema Digest was compiled by Lee Peng Ming. 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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