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APA critics weigh in on the best of Asian cinema, 2008.
As always, our writers were free to define "best," "Asian," "film," and "2008" however they wished. Here's what they decided.
To skip to individual entries:
Ten moments of bliss:
1. Still Walking (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
2. Sparrow (Johnnie To)
3. A Gentle Breeze in the Village (Nobuhiro Yamashita)
4. Useless / 24 City (Jia Zhang-ke)
5. All Around Us (Ryosuke Hashiguchi)
6. Routine Holiday (Li Hongqi)
7. Drifting Flowers (Zero Chou)
8. Candy Rain (Chen Hung-i)
9. Service (Brillante Mendoza)
10. Connected (Benny Chan)
2008 Asian film trend I could do without in 2009: movies about violent men pimping out women because they "love" them (The Chaser, Exhausted, Ocean Flame)
1. Gachi Boy Wrestling With a Memory (Norihiro Koizumi)
After an accident, a law student loses his short term memory and realizes the only thing that makes him happy in the present is college-level professional wrestling. This is the happiest, and closest to tears, I've ever been watching a skinny masked-and-costumed Japanese boy learn to do a double-legged side kick.
2. 881 (Royston Tan)
Papaya Sisters bonded by bright feathery costumes, a loudmouthed aunt, a cute mute boy, fear of a curse, and the love of performing getai music.
3. Tuya's Marriage (Wang Quanan)
Self-reliant woman herder working in the desert of Inner Mongolia seeks a husband to take care of her other husband.
4. My Father (Hwang Dong-hyuk)
In a phenomenal performance, Kim Yeong-cheol, playing a criminal on death row who's meeting his adult adopted son for the first time, keeps his intentions unclear -- knowing his circumstances make it impossible to endear himself in the straightforward way.
5. Three Days to Forever (Riri Riza)
Two young Indonesian cousins take a road trip to a family wedding and get distracted along the way.
6. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (Aditya Chopra)
The film reels you in from the start with lots of emotionally-complicated tragedy. Then, you aren't sure if Shah Rukh Khan, in a love triangle with himself, is completely awesome or slightly creepy. You question the need for a dance competition to solve all problems. However, by the end, there is an important lesson learned: a mediocre Shah Rukh Khan film is still more entertaining than anything else I've seen this year.
0.5. Retrospective: Barking Dogs Never Bite (Park Chan-wook)
Barking Dogs Never Bite is for people who thought it was funny when Jack Black threw Will Ferrell's dog off the bridge in Anchorman. The debut film of Bong Joon-ho (The Host) elicited sympathy for -- or perhaps, fear of -- grad students and introduced audiences to the idea that actress Bae Doona could do no wrong. Barking Dogs Never Bite played at The Hammer Museum in Jan 2008, as part of a "Korean Cinema Now (And Then)" series.
1. The Good, the Bad, and the Weird (Kim Ji-woon)
2. The Midnight Meat Train (Ryuhei Kitamura)
3. Sword of the Stranger (Masahiro Ando)
4. Tokyo Gore Police (Yoshihro Nishimura)
5. A Gentle Breeze in the Village (Nobuhiro Yamashita)
6. The Chaser (Na Hong-jin)
7. Warlords (Peter Chan)
8. Red Cliff, Part 1 (John Woo)
9. The Machine Girl (Noboru Iguchi)
10. Fatal Move (Dennis Law)
1. Departures (Yojiro Takita): so good it deserves its own top ten list
Film discoveries 2008, in no particular order:
24 City (2008), The World (2004) (Jia Zhang-ke)
My introduction to Jia and his world(s), and without doubt the highlight of the "Xstream" sidebar at the 2008 AFI Film Festival.
24 City on France 24
Patriotism (Mishima Yukio, 1966)
Avant-garde cinema, militarist ideology and eroticism, what more can you ask? Criterion issued in the summer the one and only Mishima's one and only film.
from Chapter 1
The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter (Lau Kar-leung, 1983)
I was already a fan of Lau Kar-leung's films, especially those with Gordon Liu. One of the standouts in the "Shaw sensation" sidebar in the 2008 Los Angeles Film Fest, despite the disappointing disclosure that Digi-beta replaced the scheduled 35mm print.
End fight: in Mandarin, in English
Om Shanti Om (Farah Khan, 2007), Paheli (Amol Palekar, 2005), Main Hoon Na (Farah Khan, 2004)
My introduction to one of Bollywood's changeling megastars, Shahrukh Khan. Mind it.
"Jag Soona Soona Lage"
Tattooed Life (Suzuki Seijun, 1965)
I have long since been a huge Suzuki filmgoer. Though not his best film, it's one among several films he made with Takahashi Hideki. The last sequence continues the stylised, theatrical reworking of the gangster genre begun in Youth of the Beast (1963).
That Day, On the Beach (1983), Taipei Story (1985), A Brighter Summer Day (1991) (Edward Yang)
My introduction to Yang's work outside of his most well-known film, Yi Yi (2000). A fittingly warm, even familial, reception marked the screenings of Yang's works at the LA County Museum of Art. A revelation.
"Why didn't you show up?" from A Brighter Summer Day
"Velvet Hustlers & Weird Lovemakers: Japanese Sixties Films" series
With titles like My Gun is My Passport (1967) and Glass Johnny looks like a Beast (1962), it was hard to pass down this Japanese film series, which played at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood. Masuda Toshio's Velvet Hustler (1967) was not the most memorable Nikkatsu gangster film of the bunch, but the sequence where Watari Tetsuya does a nice little dance makes it all worthwhile.
Graveyard of Honor (Fukasaku Kinji, 1975)
His Battles without Honor and Humanity series (1973-1976) put the dagger to the 1960s bebop interpretation of the gangster film (which Suzuki perfected), and ushered in the 70s' gritty realism. This film ups the ante; the series is tame in comparison.
In no particular order:
881 (Royston Tan)
Perhaps the campiest musical to come out of Asia (or ever?) -- how could you not love this movie?
Cyborg She (Jae-young Kwak)
Haruka Ayase and Keisuke Koide make one quirky yet cute human/cyborg pairing in the middle of the well-executed special effects that take over the film.
Quickie Express (Dimas Djayadiningrat)
Pizza-deliverymen disguised as gigolos. 'Nuff said.
Flower in the Pocket (Liew Seng Tat)
I'm a sucker for children dramas -- and this one is definitely no exception.
Home Song Stories (Tony Ayres)
If Joan Chen's performance doesn't take your breath away in this film, then you probably have no soul.
Fine, Totally Fine (Yosuke Fujita)
This film is perhaps the best Japanese comedy I've seen in years.
Hito no Sex Warau Na (Nami Iguchi)
Kenichi Matsuyama's low-key performance is nearly overshadowed by his fellow female actresses, including the lovely Yu Aoi, as radiant as ever whenever she appears on screen.
Gachi Boy Wrestling with a Memory (Norihiro Koizumi)
A fantastic cult comedy/sports movie with a superb cast, great script, and direction. Ryuta Sato is definitely on his way to becoming a well-known lead actor.
Crows - Episode Zero (Takashi Miike)
Two of Japan's heartthrobs, Shun Oguri and Takeyuki Yamada duke it out in this action-packed drama.
Red Cliff, Part 1 (John Woo)
Although it may not be quite the epic drama I'd hoped for, it still makes for one visually stunning film with a great cast of characters.
In no particular order:
The Chaser (Na Hong-jin)
Flower in the Pocket (Liew Seng Tat)
Funky Forest: First Contact (Katsuhito Ishii, Hajime Ishimine, Shunichiro Miki)
Speed Racer (The Wachowski Brothers)
Gentle Breeze in the Village (Nobuhiro Yamashita)
Back to APA's Best of 2008 issue
Date Posted: 1/2/2009