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Why print one list when you've got six? APA's staffers take us on a tour through funky forests, dirty carnivals, golden flowers, and other worldly desires.
For the past two annual "best-of" issues, APA polled its writers for their top film picks, and the editors then accumulated those submissions into a master list. This year, we thought we'd try something a bit different, and instead publish the individual picks from each contributor. The purpose was to reflect the heterogeneity of Asian cinema and the nuances between individual viewers. There were certainly overlapping films and filmmakers (Johnnie To, Bong Joon-ho, and Zhang Yimou in particular), but it's the idiosyncratic picks that truly represent if not the best of Asian cinema, then the reason we keep coming back and attempting to discover titles and directors we hadn't heard of before.
The criteria we gave to the writers were purposefully general. Contributors were free to define "2006," "Asia," and "film" however they wished. The idea is not to give our readers an authoritative list of the "best" films, but rather a set of personal "maps" through which a number of passageways into Asian cinema are possible. -Brian Hu
Worldly Desires (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
Apichatpong back in the jungle. Filming a music video. Come on.
Cut (Royston Tan)
An energetic short film-musical on film censorship in Singapore in highly saturated colours to match Tan's justifiedly saturated tongue-in-cheekness.
Majidee (Azharr Rudin)
An encounter and conversation in the street captured in a one-shot 15-minute take that illustrates the short film format's dynamism. A very simple premise from which emerge intersections of possibilities and mysteries. Brought to you by the highly collaborative DV community from Kuala Lumpur.
It's Possible Your Heart Cannot Be Broken (Woo Ming Jin)
Yet another collaborative short film from the DV community of Kuala Lumpur, this time with Woo's fellow filmmakers Tan Chui Mui and Liew Seng Tat as his lead actors confronted with the im/possibility of love in urban spaces. Even before the camera Tan and Liew shine in their respective roles as a lonely, single woman living in KL with cynicism and sarcasm; and a desperate, eager-to-please salesman whoprovokes laughter instead of empathy.
1. The Host (Bong Joon-ho): In addition to setting box office records in Korea, The Host breaks almost every single conventional rule for the genre (i.e. showing the monster in broad daylight). The film initially appears like a family drama but quickly transforms into a horror film, before becomes a comedy and action film. And let's not forget the social and political commentary that seeps throughout the film. For me, it's the best of 2006 because I've never seen a blending of genres pulled off so well in any film.
2. Exiled (Johnnie To): It's hard to deny that Johnnie To is one of the world's finest directors. And boy is he on a hot streak. While I loved To's Election series for its social and political criticisms, I can't say the same for Exiled. It hardly has either of the two but when it comes to gritty action with gorgeous cinematography and gunplay battles you thought only Woo could pull off, Exiled just blows the Election series out of the water. The script? It's fairly generic (for HK films) but To's mastermind characters allow us to ignore this and focus on the unique bond they share. It's To's versatile storytelling that puts Exiled on this year's top ten.
3. A Dirty Carnival (Yu Ha): On an initial viewing it seemed like just another Korean gangster film with its 2x4s and drop kicks. Yet, with such a detailed script and amazing lead performance from Jo In-Seong, by the end, the film became something far beyond what we've already seen in the multitude of gangster films currently being cranked out.The award here goes to Director Yu Ha, because while so many Korean "gangster" directors fall short by focusing far too much on the moral stipulations that arise from being in a gang, Yu on the other hand displays more universal themes by concentrating on the characters and only using the gangs as a backdrop to comment about ambition, family, love, and betrayal.
4. Funky Forest: The First Contact (Katsuhito Ishii, Hajime Ishimine, Shin'ichiro Miki): Probably the most surreal film I've ever seen. Funky Forest is littered with dance numbers, bits of animation, and a series of bizarre Cronenberg-influenced bits, so it's no wonder it's already drawn a cult following.
5. Fatal Contact (Dennis Law): Call this a guilty pleasure, but if you're a martial arts fanatic, this film is a must see. I guarantee we'll all be seeing more of Wu Jing (Jacky Wu) after this film. Trained at the same academy as Jet Li, it's no surprise that Hollywood has been keeping a close eye on this wushu master. Ignore the acting and plot, because there basically isn't any. Just take in all the finely choreographed kung fu action with a grain of salt.
6. Brave Story (Kôichi Chigira)
7. Curse of the Golden Flower (Zhang Yimou)
8. Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (Zhang Yimou)
9. Invisible Waves (Pen-ek Ratanaruang)
10. No Mercy for the Rude (Park Cheol-hie)
This seems to have been a dismal year for movies, both in the number I've seen and the number I've liked. In no particular order:
The Host (Bong Joon-ho)
King and the Clown (Lee Jun-ik)
Water (Deepa Mehta)
Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (Zhang Yimou)
This Charming Girl (Lee Yoon-ki)
Of course, this list plays a bit hard and fast with the idea of "2006" since at least half of these movies had home releases in 2005…but that's when they've made it to our shores.
Top relatively new Asian films I saw in 2006, a so-so year, at least for films released in theaters and festivals around Los Angeles.
1. Be with Me (Eric Khoo)
2. Election 2 (aka Triad Election) (Johnnie To)
3. Curse of the Golden Flower (Zhang Yimou)
4. I Don't Want to Sleep Alone (Tsai Ming-liang)
5. Woman is the Future of Man, Tale of Cinema, Woman on the Beach (Hong Sang-soo)
6. Family Ties (Kim Tae-yong)
7. Blood and Bones (Yoichi Sai)
8. The Host (Bong Joon-ho)
9. Rang De Basanti (Rakeysh Mehra)
10. Shopaholics (Wai Ka-fai)
Favorite Chinese Films of 2006:
Curse of the Golden Flower (Zhang Yimou)
Three Times (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
Do Over (Cheng Yu-chieh)
Little Red Flowers (Zhang Yuan)
Sunflower (Zhang Yang)
Grain in Ear (Zhang Lu)
Blue Cha Cha (Cheng Wen-tang)
Dam Street (Yu Li)
Election 2 (aka Triad Election) (Johnnie To)
Troublemakers (Cao Baoping)
1. King and the Clown (Lee Jun-ik)
2. Election 2 (aka Triad Election) (Johnnie To)
3. Still Life (Jia Zhang-ke)
4. Woman is the Future of Man (Hong Sang-soo)
5. Blue Cha Cha (Cheng Wen-tang)
6. The Host (Bong Joon-ho)
If there is such thing as an honorary best film, then I would vault Edward Yang's Yi Yi to the top of the list. Technically speaking, it was released in 2000, but the Criterion DVD came out this year, so perhaps it should merit its own category.
Our Japan correspondent Bryan Hartzheim chimes in with his thoughts on Japanese cinema in 2006
Date Posted: 1/12/2007