Asian Cinema at the Melbourne International Film Festival 2014

MIFF 2014 PosterIt’s MIFF time, everyone! The venerable Melbourne Film Festival has released their program for this year’s event, and as always it’s crammed with cinema from Asia, from horror classics from Hong Kong (which have their own stream this year, A Perfect Midnight: Haunted Hong Kong) to gritty noir or modern arthouse.

Read on for our rundown of the features from Asia (don’t forget there are some great shorts and documentaries, too) screening this year, and you can find the full program over at the MIFF site.

2013, Japan, directed by Shinji Aoyama

An unsettling coming-of-age story, this film from Shinji Aoyama (Eureka, Sad Vacation) follows a young man, Toma (Masaki Suda) who lives with his violent father by the river in Shimonoseki, but draws comfort from the presence of his mother and girlfriend.

Black Coal, Thin Ice
2014, China/Hong Kong, directed by Diao Yinan

A modern thriller from mainland China, this film earned serious acclaim at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, taking away the Golden Bear for best film and the Silver Bear for lead actor Liao Fan. It’s a detective story that begins with a mysterious killing in China’s north, and it has gritty, neo-noir atmosphere in spades.

Einstein and Einstein
2013, China, directed by Cao Baoping

Another coming-of-age film, this one from China: Einstein and Einstein focuses on a thirteen-year-old girl in China, who is given a puppy and sent away by her father to live with her grandparents, so that he can start a new family with his second wife and younger son. Starring Zhang Xueying (as the girl in question) in a reportedly excellent performance, it’s a film with plenty to say about both traditional and modern life in China.

Encounters of the Spooky Kind
1980, Hong Kong, directed by Sammo Hung

A very early example of the Hong Kong kung-fu horror comedy, Encounters of the Spooky Kind is also the first film in the jiangshi film genre, in which Taoist priests use kung-fu and ritual to control reanimated corpses. Directed by and starring venerated HK action director Sammo Hung, the film follows Courageous Cheung, who is talked into spending a night in a haunted temple in defence of his reputation for bravery, only to wander into a world of dark magic and the hopping undead.

See also Mr. Vampire (which spawned a series of sequels in the 80s) and Juno Mak’s much darker homage to the genre Rigor Mortis, both also screening at MIFF this year.

2013, India, directed by Nagraj Manjule

Much awarded at Indian film festivals in 2013, Fandry is a Marathi-language romantic drama that also takes on the issue of caste discrimination, some 60 years after the caste system was banned by law. It’s about a young man named Jabya from a Dalit family who falls in love with Shalu, a girl in his village from a higher caste.

2014, China, directed by Wang Chao

Set in Chongqing in southwest China, Fantasia is a film about a working-class family’s struggles after the head of the family — factory worker Zhao — is diagnosed with leukemia. His wife, Tang Min, begins begging for money to pay for his care, while their children Lin and Qin cope with their father’s illness in other ways. Director Wang Chao won the Un Certain Regard top prize at Cannes in 2006 with Luxury Car.

Fish & Cat
2013, Iran, directed by Shahram Mokri

Fish & CatFile this under “unusual films you’d probably only ever be lucky to see at a festival”. Fish & Cat, from Iranian director Shahram Mokri, is suggestive of a psychological horror film in a creepy, shot-on-the-run kind of way — except that it’s anything but, shot in a single take that took a month to meticulously rehearse. One of my favourite films at SIFF this year, though I haven’t written about it yet.

The Fort
2014, India, directed by Avinash Arun

Another Marathi film (like Fandry above), The Fort is a drama about a young boy who has moved from the city to the country with his mother, after his father’s death. This is the first feature from director Avinash Arun.

Giovanni’s Island
2014, Japan, directed by Mizuho Nishikubo

An anime feature set in the Kuril Islands (long the subject of a sovereignty dispute between Japan and Russia) after World War II. The film follows two brothers, Junpei and Kanta (named after Giovanni and Campanella from Kenji Miyazawa’s novel “Night on the Galactic Railroad”) living on the island of Shikotan, whose lives are turned upside-down when Russian troops arrive.

From director Mizuho Nishikubo, with an old-school, hand-drawn aesthetic from animation studio Production I.G. (Ghost in the Shell, A Letter to Momo).

A Girl At My Door
2014, South Korea, directed by July Jung

Fresh from a three-minute standing ovation at Cannes, where it competed in the Un Certain Regard section, Korean writer-director Juny Jung’s film stars Bae Doo-na as a rookie cop traferred from the city to a small seaside town, where she meets and takes under her wing a bullied fourteen year-old girl (played by Kim Sae-ron).

The Grandmaster
2013, China/Hong Kong, directed by Wong Kar-wai

Celebrated Hong Kong arthouse director Wong Kar-wai’s loose biopic of real-life Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man was a long time in development: so long that there was time for Wilson Yip and others to produce a string of other Ip Man films between its announcement and release! This film follows Ip Man’s life from the 1930s in Foshan through to his later life in Hong Kong after the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Zhang Ziyi in The Grandmaster

Zhang Ziyi in The Grandmaster

Wong’s film swaps martial arts powerhouse Donnie Yen for frequent collaborator Tony Leung Chui-wai in the lead as Ip Man, rounding out the cast with Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, Zhao Benshan, Son Hye-kyo and a host of figures from HK’s golden age of action cinema, from Yuen Woo-ping and Lau Kar-yung, to Bruce Leung Siu-lung and Lo Mang.

Han Gong-ju
2013, South Korea, directed by Lee Su-jin

A powerful drama that revolves around the life of 13-year-old Han Gong-ju (Chun Woo-hee), who is suddenly transferred away from her school and her family to another school in the city, traumatised by an event in her past. Just released domestically in mid-April, this is now one of the most successful independent Korean films of all time, and it’s garnered a lot of attention (and awards) at festivals across the globe too — see Aussie critic Russell Edwards’ review from Busan for SBS for his reaction. It’s the début film for writer/director Lee Su-jin.

A Hard Day
2014, South Korea, directed by Kim Seong-hun

Since the early 2000s, South Korea has produced a steady stream of suspenseful thrillers, often shot through with a rich vein of black comedy, as regular readers of HC would know. A Hard Day looks like it treads that path as well: it follows a homicide detective (played by Lee Sun-kyun) who commits a hit-and-run at the end of an incredibly difficult day, a crime that becomes increasingly harder to cover up.

The Imp
1981, Hong Kong, directed by Dennis Yu

Another entry from the Hong Kong horror collection screening this year, 1981’s The Imp has garnered a bit of a reputation as a progenitor of the genre. The film follows a luckless man with a pregnant wife who takes a job as a night watchman to earn enough to provide for his young family. Naturally, evil forces and dark magic stalk his path, and only a Taoist priest can save him. Director Dennis Yu was part of Hong Kong’s New Wave, and is mostly remembered for this film and Evil Cat (1987).

Journey to the West
2014, France/Taiwan, directed by Tsai Ming-liang

From Taiwanese arthouse director Tsai Ming-liang, this is what Variety’s review calls “another exquisite, snail-paced cinematic perambulation”. The whole film consists of fourteen deliberately composed shots of a Buddhist monk, played by frequent Tsai collaborator Lee Kang-sheng, moving ever so slowly through locations in Marseilles, France. As the name suggests, it’s a reference to the monk Xuanzang from the classic novel, but I wouldn’t go the film expecting to see the Monkey King causing havoc in Heaven. Lee is joined in front of the camera by French actor Denis Lavant, in scenes juxtaposed with the monk’s steady progress.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
2014, USA, directed by David Zellner

OK, so this is an American film. I’m only mentioning it here because the lead is Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi (Babel, Pacific Rim, Norwegian Wood) and because I really like the hook: it’s about a young woman who is convinced that the satchel of cash in the Coen brothers’ film Fargo is real, and that all she’s got to do is get to Minnesota and dig it up.

Love Hotel
Dir. Hikaru Toda, Philip Cox | France, UK, 2014

Want a peek into a fairly unique world that may not be around for much longer? Then look no further than Love Hotel, a documentary about the Angelo Love Hotel in Osaka, run by Ozawa and his efficient staff. Once upon a time such hotels flourished, but these days most of the them are struggling to stay afloat under pressure from conservative groups and a growing lack of patronage. Not only will you get some insight into the behind the scenes operations of these shrines to sexual fantasy, you’ll also glimpse the types of people who use them, and maybe find yourself surprised that they’re not all that different from everyone else.

Dir. Yuen Chiu-feng | Hong Kong, 1962

Surprise. Midnightmare isn’t a term someone cooler than you came up with on Urban Dictionary, because the term has been around at least since this film was made in 1962, and even that was based on what is widely considered China’s first expressionist horror film, Song at Midnight (1937). Basically, it’s an adaptation of Phantom of the Opera, but instead of an opera house, it’s a teahouse theatre. Originally the film screened in two parts. MIFF is screening them together though, so if you like your Hammer horror classics (or the Asian equivalent thereof), especially ones that are likely to never be seen again, you might want to not miss this.

The Mole Song – Undercover Agent Reiji
Dir. Takashi Miike | Japan, 2014

It’s Miike – do you really care what it’s about? Either you’re a fan of this somewhat polarising director, or you’re not. If you are, and you still want to know, this is based on manga series Mogura no Uta (lit. Mole’s Song), about a seemingly incompetent cop (teen idol Touma Ikuta from shoujo hit TV shows Honey & Clover and Hana Kimi) who infiltrates the biggest crime group in the Kanto region, and it looks to have all Miike’s trademark craziness.

Naked guys tied to car bonnets aside, though, since it’s Miike it’ll probably also be awesome. You can tell we’re of the “are a fan” contingent here at HC, can’t you?

Mr Vampire
1985, Hong Kong, directed by Ricky Lau Koon-wai

After Encounters of the Spooky Kind came this film, which honed the jiangshi film genre and spawned a long line of sequels, where slapstick comedy and Taoist mysticism take on the undead. The underrated Lam Ching-ying stars as a uni-browed Taoist priest with two disciples (played by Ricky Hui and Chin Siu-ho) who take on the job of reburying the dead father of a wealthy businessman in a more auspicious plot. Said corpse is not quite so easy to control, though, rising as the titular vampire and chasing down his descendants one-by-one.

The Nightingale
Dir. Philippe Muyl | China, France, 2013

Technically a re-imagining of the director’s last feature The Butterfly, this film — a generation-gap right-of-passage dramedy — is the second ever French-Chinese production, and boasts some absolutely gorgeous cinematography by Sun Ming. Looks to be a solid feel-gooder with some light commentary on modern Chinese society.

Our Sunhi
Dir. Hong Sang-soo | South Korea, 2013

Our SunhiThis very Woody Allen-esque slice of life offering from Hong Sang-soo (Nobody’s Daughter) is a quirky and quietly delightful story about Sunhi, the girl that everyone wants but that no one can get, both literally and figuratively.

Patema Inverted
Dir. Yasuhiro Yoshiura | Japan, 2013

In up and coming animation director Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s (Pale Cocoon) new film, gravity isn’t a constant, at least not in Patema’s world. Exploration leads her to falling up and into surface-walker Age’s life. The two, despite their fundamental differences, soon team up to fight a mutual enemy.

Quarter Number 4/11
Dir. Ranu Ghosh | India, 2012

Part of the India in Flux: Living Resistance program, documentarian Ranu Ghosh’s film chronicles 6 years of the life of an ordinary man who refuses to move off site when the company that he worked for closes.

Dir. Hitoshi Matsumoto | Japan, 2013

Salaryman Takafumi (Nao Omori) escapes his dull existence by paying for a year’s membership at an exclusive S&M club, where he is beaten anytime, anywhere, by beautiful dominatrices. Meanwhile, an one hundred year-old film maker makes a film about Takafumi’s fetish that the censorship board rates as R-100 — no-one under 100 years of age is allowed to see it!

Rigor Mortis
Dir. Juno Mak | Hong Kong, 2013

Juno Mak is certainly not the first pop idol to turn his attentions to film making, but under J-horror icon Takashi Shimizu’s (Ju-on) tutelage, Mak manages a film with many of the classic Chinese tropes and all of Japanese Horror Cinema’s shock and gore, woven into an impressive layer of real life references and topped with a surprising amount of actual emotional depth.

Dir. Stanley Kwan Kam-Pang | Hong Kong, 1988

An undeniable classic and multi-award winning film, Rouge is part mystery, part romance, part ghost story. Fleur (Anita Mui) is a courtesan in 1930s Hong Kong; Chan (Leslie Cheung) is her wealthy lover. Of course his family doesn’t approve, and of course the two lovers make a pact to suicide and meet again in the afterlife. When Chan doesn’t seem to make it, Fleur returns to the world of the living to find out what happened. A somewhat sedate and flawed film, this is still a must-see, or a must-see-again.



2013, Australia, directed by Amiel Courtin-Wilson and Michael Cody

Australian-directed film Ruin follows to story of two young Cambodians, Phirun and Sovanna, drawn together as they both try to escape troubled lives. The trailer suggests a poetic, dreamlike piece of filmmaking, both in terms of its narrative and its visuals/score, and it sounds like this has drawn attention on the international festival circuit already. Winner of a Special Jury Prize at Venice.

Still The Water
Dir. Naomi Kawase | France, Japan, 2014

In this contemplative mystery set on the subtropical island of Amami, 16-year-old Kaito discovers a dead body floating in the sea and learns through the search for answers what it means to be an adult.

Stray Dogs
Dir. Tsai Ming-liang | France, Taiwan, 2013

An alcoholic father and his two children eke out a living on edges of Taipei and shelter in an abandoned building with a strange, hypnotic mural, until one day they meet a lonely grocery clerk who will change everything.

The Tale of The Princess Kaguya
2013, Japan, directed by Isao Takahata

The latest film from Studio Ghibli director Isao Takahata (see also Grave of the Fireflies above!), The Tale of The Princess Kaguya is an animated adaptation of the ancient Japanese folk story, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, in which a woodcutter finds a tiny princess inside the stalk of a bamboo shoot. It’s his first film since 1999’s My Neighbors the Yamadas.

‘Til Madness Do Us Part
Dir. Wang Bing | France, Hong Kong, Japan, 2013

A quietly gruelling four hour examination of life in a mainland Chinese mental hospital by renowned Chinese documentarian Wang Bing.

Dir. Kanu Behl | India, 2014

Titli desires to leave his violent family and their illegal business of car jacking but instead is married against his will. All seems lost, until he discovers in his new wife Neelu an unlikely ally and the two form a pact to break the hold their own histories have over them. Some good performances and a lot of emotional content by the looks of the trailer, if drama is your cup of tea.

Tomorrow We Disappear
Dir. Adam Weber, Jimmy Goldblum | India, USA, 2014

“Disappear” in this context is entirely literal in this film about the last days of Kathputli, a hand-built artist colony hidden away in the alleyways of New Delhi. Spanning three years, the documentary follows Puran the Puppeteer, Rahman the Magician, and Maya the Acrobat as they approach their looming eviction.

Trap Street
Dir. Vivian Qu | China, 2013

Accessibly modern noir, Qu’s mainland mystery turns an old cartographer’s trick — where a mapmaker would add a street that didn’t exist to help forgery-proof their work — on its head. Instead, digital surveyor and surveillance installer Li discovers a street not on any map, and falls for a mysterious woman who leads him into trouble.

Why Don't You Play in Hell

Why Don’t You Play in Hell

Why Don’t You Play in Hell
Dir. Sion Sono | Japan, 2013

Self-professed radical film students in high school, Yakuza movie fans Hirata and his friends languish in dreams of one day making a hit movie, until they get caught up in a genuine yakuza war and decide to turn it into a blockbuster or die trying! Sono drafted this script while still in film school himself, so post-modern irreverence is all part of the (gory) fun!

Enjoy the festival!

— Justin and Deni

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