Taiwan has Cape fever, with critics, distributors, and government officials in a frenzy over how an obscure local musical became box office legend. APA throws in its seven cents.
Shriya Saran and Jesse Metcalfe make cute and put the shallow sides of globalism on full display in the new romantic comedy, The Other End of the Line.
Subscribe to the APA Newsletter
Writer Brandon Wee gives us an overview of the Asian films playing at this year's Berlin International Film Festival.
At the 59th Berlin International Film Festival (February 5-15, 2009), much was made about how its program reflected the problems of today's globalized world. Globalization may be a fashionable sound bite, but for a more reflexive view on the subject, look no further than the workings of a major film festival like the Berlinale. The truth is, without globalization's continued presence, most films and film festivals wouldn't exist. There's far more transnational cooperation occurring across the world's film production, distribution, and exhibition industries than their resulting films often reveal.
At this year's Berlinale, Germany's gaze on Asia yielded a mixed bag of films heavily accented on queer themes, although this has been a mainstay of Berlin's overall programming. With only Chen Kaige's Mei Lanfang biopic, Forever Enthralled (2008) landing a prime slot in the main competition, the remaining titles were divvied across the festival's sidebars -- notably in its two marquee sections: the International Forum of New Cinema, a space reputed to promote alternative films, and the Panorama, an arena famed for shorts and features dealing mostly with queer themes.
Here are ten titles to watch for in the months ahead:
Antique (dir: Min Kyu-dong, South Korea 2009)
Enticing as any self-respecting baked good, Min Kyu-dong cute and colorful confection smells like a comedy: a rich pâtisserie boss (Joo Ji-hoon) recruits a team of metrosexual misfits (Choi Ji-ho, Kim Jae-wook, and Yu Ah-in) to run his French-style pastry café. But one bite into its flaky folds reveals curious elements of a mystery thriller fighting for attention alongside endless bursts of fruity flavors. It's an adventurous mélange of ingredients, but the aftertaste is a tad rich. Based on Yoshinaga Fumi's manga, Antique Bakery, this is the first non-Japanese adaptation to follow a television drama and anime series.
Deep in the Valley (dir: Funahashi Atsushi, Japan 2009)
Drawing from the legendary tale of Tokyo's gutted five-storey pagoda, Funahashi Atsushi's third feature fuses dramatized elements of Koda Rohan's 1892 novel, Five-Storey Pagoda with a present-day story about a team of youngsters determined to find and preserve all existing footage of the once-monumental edifice. A compelling experiment in narrative structure, the film also casts its roving eyes on the unspoiled working class neighborhood of Yanaka in Tokyo's Taito ward, in the city's northeast. A favorite with local and foreign tourists, the neighborhood preserves what Tokyo looked like half a century ago.
Dongbei Dongbei (dir: Zou Peng, China 2009)
Zou Peng's first feature owes as much a debt to his home city of Harbin as it does to Hou Hsiao-hsien's stylistics. A grim portrait of exploitation, it's the story of 19 year-old Xiaoxue (Tian Yiwen), who must decide on her next step in life after being knocked up and discarded by her boyfriend. Although called "A North Chinese Girl" in English, the film's Chinese title -- "Northeast Northeast" -- better captures Zou's tribute to the region that comprises China's three northernmost provinces. Photographed in frigid, bluesy hues by cinematographer Pablo Enrique Mendoza Ruiz, hazy and polluted Harbin is made to look utterly inviting.
Encirclement (dir: Richard Brouillette, Canada 2008)
The Berlinale may have defended its opening film choice of Tom Tykwer's The International (2009) by pointing to its prescient story of nefarious bankers, but Richard Brouillette's monochromatic documentary implicates neoliberalism as the more sinister villain responsible for the evils of global capitalism today. Empowered chiefly by the invincibility of free markets, this devilish economic ideology spawns more losers than winners in the long run simply because abuse is easily bred into the system. Unfolding in two parts and over ten chapters, Encirclement covers excellent ground on the subject through the participation of a dozen prominent thinkers and intellectuals.
End of Love (dir: Simon Chung, Hong Kong 2009)
The pains of loving and being loved smolder passionately in Simon Chung's intimate second feature. After witnessing his mother's suicide, Ming (Lee Chi Kin), a freewheeling young man, dives further into excess by partying, sleeping around for cash, and getting involved in a relationship that's doomed to fail. But a greater tragedy awaits him when he unconscionably leads Keung (Guthrie Yip), a buddy who stood by him during a rehabilitation stint, back down his own path of self-destruction. Natural and unaffected, Lee and Yip are terrifically cast, as is Joman Chiang in her key supporting role as Keung's girlfriend.
John Rabe (dir: Florian Gallenberger, China/France/Germany 2009)
The latest of several partisan films (both planned and completed) about the Nanjing Massacre, Florian Gallenberger's lacquered John Rabe biopic appeals primarily to German pride. Based on Rabe's diary entries, it tells of how the Nazi businessman led a team to create a safety zone in Nanjing when the Imperial Japanese Army invaded, thus shielding hundreds of thousands of civilians from slaughter. Ulrich Tukur is excellent as Rabe, but the supporting characters are too hackneyed, notably Steve Buscemi's hyper-cynical Dr. Robert Wilson. Given the feat Rabe has been credited with, any comparison of him to Oskar Schindler must be grossly modest.
Love Exposure (dir: Sono Sion, Japan 2008)
The undisputed tripper of Berlin's Japanese titles this year, Sono Sion's sweeping 4-hour epic is about Yu (Nishijima Takahiro), the sensitive teenage son of a Catholic priest, who, terrorized by his father's born-again antics, decides to fulfill his late mother's dying wish for him to consummate with someone Virgin Mary-like. Along his quest, he encounters a host of quirky allies and foes: a juvenile brotherhood of sexually repressed perverts, an evil sisterhood of cult church followers, and "Mary" herself: Yoko (Mitsushima Hikari), the bisexual, male-hating schoolgirl. Never missing a beat, this entertaining love story is bolstered by a catchy soundtrack.
Miao Miao (dir: Cheng Hsiao-tse, Hong Kong/Taiwan 2008)
In Cheng Hsiao-tse's directorial debut about the agonies of unrequited love, emerging talent Sandrine Pinna (Chang Yung-yung) plays Xiao Ai, a sassy high school student who develops a crush on exchange student Miao Miao (Ke Jia-yan). But to complicate matters, this Japan-transplanted Taiwanese girl has her heart set on severely aloof Chen Fei (Fan Chih-wei), who's still nursing deep regret from his own missed love opportunity. Backed by Hong Kong heavyweights Stanley Kwan and Wong Kar-wai, Miao Miao nested in the festival's Generation 14plus section, aimed at audiences in their younger teens. Most elsewhere, the same would be unthinkable.
My Dear Enemy (dir: Lee Yoon-ki, South Korea 2008)
Desperate but composed, Hee-soo (Jeon Do-yeon) seeks out her ex-boyfriend, Byoung-woon (Ha Jung-woo) to demand payment of an outstanding cash loan, only to find out that he, too, is broke. Sensing her steely will, the carefree Byoung-woon offers to settle his debt within the day by taking his ex across Seoul to mooch small sums of money off his bevy of girlfriends. Jeon, last seen overacting in Secret Sunshine (2007), is unrecognizable beneath her goth-inspired destitution, yet radiates subtle charm in her challenging interpretation of insolvency. Reconciliation doesn't figure between the two leads, but there's something romantic about their estrangement.
Yang Yang (dir: Cheng Yu-chieh, Taiwan 2009)
In this contrasting Sandrine Pinna vehicle (produced by Khan Lee, Ang Lee's brother), Pinna plays the eponymous college student who must overcome the trials of growing up biracial while bearing the stigma of an elusive father. Ashamed from caving in to the fetish-driven advances of her stepsister's boyfriend, Yang Yang leaves home with aspirations of breaking into showbiz, but is no sooner betrayed by a more potent form of objectification. In his second feature, Cheng deftly explores a heady range of emotions bathed in balmy tones, but it's debatable if his decision to rely solely on handheld camerawork impairs an otherwise strong story.
Date Posted: 3/20/2009