Asian Cinema at the Sydney Film Festival 2013

Sydney Film FestivalFestival season is upon us again, and this year’s Sydney Film Festival released their full programme a couple of weeks ago. SFF always includes a pretty serious cohort of Asian films, and this year is no different! I’ve put together a quick roundup of the feature films from the East on show this year.

You’ll find schedule info, trailers and more information on the SFF’s official site — don’t forget to book your tickets early, as the popular films always fill up quickly, and there’s only a few weeks to go.



2012, Bangladesh, directed by Mostofa Sarwar Farooki

SFF’s first ever film from Bangladesh, and it’s a satire! Set in a rural village where a community leader bans television on religious grounds, only to have the people around him rise up in revolt…

Longing for the Rain
2012, Hong Kong/China, directed by Yang Lina

A surprisingly explicit-sounding drama with a focus on female erotic desire, the first non-doco feature from Chinese documentarian Yang Lina. Set in Beijing, it tells the story of an affluent Beijing housewife who finds herself being visited in her dreams by a ghost lover.

Touch of the Light
2012, Hong Kong/Taiwan, directed by Chang Jung-Chi

A biopic from Taiwan that tells the story of real-life blind piano prodigy Huang Yu-siang, who plays himself in the film.

Monsoon Shootout

Monsoon Shootout

Monsoon Shootout
2012, India, directed by Amit Kumar (in competition)

The debut film from director Amit Kumar, Monsoon Shootout pits a rookie cop against the system, in a city where police corruption and violence are all too common. This film has some of the talent behind last year’s Gangs of Wasseypur both behind and in front of the camera! Director Amit Kumar is attending the festival.

Ship of Theseus
2012, India, directed by Anand Gandhi

A contemplative independent drama following the lives of three characters living in Mumbai, also the debut feature for its director (who’ll be present at the festival!)

Closed Curtain
2013, Iran, directed by Jafar Panahi and Kamboziya Partovi

Shot in secret (as Iranian director Jafar Panahi has been banned from making films for two decades), Closed Curtain is an inward-looking portrait of melancholia and depression. Winner of the Silver Bear for Best Script at this year’s Berlin Film Festival.

The Land of Hope
2012, Japan, directed by Sion Sono

A drama set in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, telling the story of a family whose property lies right on the edge of the nuclear evacuation zone.

Outrage Beyond

Outrage Beyond

Outrage Beyond
2012, Japan, directed by Takeshi Kitano

HC favourite Takeshi Kitano continues his return to his yakuza film roots in this, the sequel to 2010’s Outrage. Expect guns shoved in faces (see, right there on the screengrab!), shifting allegiances and Kitano’s ever-present inscrutable stare.

2012, Japan, directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Penance isn’t a feature, but rather a TV series, made for Japanese station WOWOW by director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse, Bright Future). The five-episode series (screened in one huge session, with a 20-minute interval) follows four girls who witness the abduction and murder of a schoolgirl as children, but can’t recall the killer’s face. Sworn to help to find the murderer, the events of that day still haunt the four of them fifteen years later…

2012, Saudi Arabia/Germany, directed by Haifaa al-Mansour (in competition)

Another first in a whole bunch of ways. Wadjda is the first feature shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, directed by their first woman filmmaker — Haifaa al-Mansour, who went to film school here in Sydney. The story follows a young girl who wants nothing more in the world than to own a bicycle (taboo in the conservative Kingdom for girls) and works hard to raise the money for it herself. Director al-Mansour is attending the festival.

Comrade Kim Goes Flying

Comrade Kim Goes Flying

Comrade Kim Goes Flying
2012, Belgium/UK/North Korea, directed by Kim Gwang-hun, Nicholas Bonner and Anja Daelemans

Comrade Kim is SFF’s first North Korean film, and is also the first film from there made as a co-production with Western partners in more than three decades. The film stars real-life acrobat Han Jong-sim in the title role of Kim, a female coal-miner who wants nothing more than to join the circus as a trapeze artist, and it looks to have (as you’d expect, perhaps) a strong egalitarian, underdog message, and an innocent romance to boot. One of the directors — Nicholas Bonner, from the UK — is attending the festival.

2012, South Korea, directed by Kim Ki-duk

Arthouse favourite Kim Ki-duk’s eighteenth film, Pietà became the first Korean film to win one of the three big European festivals’ top prizes, taking out the Golden Lion at Venice last year. It’s a dark, disturbing film (from what I’ve read, anyway!) that focuses on the relationship between a brutal debt collector who works for loan sharks and a mysterious woman who claims to be his mother.

2012, South Korea, directed by Shin Su-won

A thriller set in an elite South Korean high school, where students compete to be admitted to prominent universities. New kid June must learn to fit in fast after he transfers in, replacing a student who committed suicide.

Midnight's Children

Midnight’s Children

Midnight’s Children
2012, Canada, directed by Deepa Mehta

Prominent Indo-Canadian director Deepa Mehta directs this adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s celebrated 1981 novel about Indian independence and the partition of India and Pakistan. It follows the stories of two boys, born in India on the cusp of independence, who are swapped at birth and live each others’ very different lives. Rushdie himself narrates the film, which he sold the rights to for $1 (according to his Daily Show interview) and adapted himself.

Only God Forgives
2013, France/Denmark, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (in competition)

A Danish director, Nicolas Winding Refn, and a Hollywood star, Ryan Gosling, don’t really give this film much of a claim to an Asian pedigree, but I’m including it here because of its genre and setting: a darkly violent crime film set in Bangkok’s underworld. Early reviews from Cannes (such as this one, from Fiona Williams for SBS) suggest that Hong Kong cinema’s influences (particularly Wong Kar Wai’s) are on display, along with the violence of some of Winding Refn’s previous films (Valhalla Rising, the Pusher series.)

2013, UK/USA, directed by Park Chan-wook

Stoker is celebrated South Korean director Park Chan-wook’s first foray into Hollywood film, and it’s a slick-looking thriller/horror piece starring Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, and Our Nicole, who I’ve always liked best in darker fare. I’ve been hanging out to see this since it was announced, whether it’s about vampires (titling it Stoker seems like quite a broad hint!) or not.

Don’t forget that there are a pile of features from elsewhere, of course, and a bunch of fascinating-looking documentaries in the programme as well. See you at the festival!

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