Asian Cinema at the Sydney Film Festival 2015

SFF 2015

The full programme is out and the clock is ticking down to the opening of the 2015 Sydney Film Festival, in just under two weeks from the time of writing! This year’s festival runs from 3-14 June, and as usual we have run through the list and picked out the Asian feature films on show this year.

It looks like there are slimmer pickings from this year, too, with only one from China and two from Japan — but there’s no specialist tracks on Asian cinema this year, which may account for it. Read on for the full list.

(The usual caveats apply: see the SFF website for tickets and more info, and don’t ignore the documentaries and shorts just because I haven’t written about them!)

2014, India, directed by Chaitanya Tamhane
The very well-received debut feature for director Chaitanya Tamhane, Court takes on India’s class politics, legal system and bureaucracy — with the story of a folk singer hauled before into court, accused of having incited a sewage worker’s suicide with one of his protest songs. This film has swept its way through festivals, picking up some 18-odd awards including two at Venice.

The Crow’s Egg
2014, India, directed by M. Manikandan
A Tamil-language film from India, The Crow’s Egg is something I keep seeing compared to Danny Boyle’s hit Slumdog Millionaire. It stars two young boys who live in a Chennai slum and are energised by the opening of a neighbourhood pizza shop, scraping together all the cash they can in hopes of being able to taste their first pizza. The trailer suggests a fun mash-up of kids’ flick, broad comedy and social drama.

The Crow's Egg

The Crow’s Egg

2014, China, directed by Peter Ho-Sun Chan
Based on a true story, Hong Kong star director Peter Chan’s new film tells the story of a divorced couple whose three year-old was abducted while playing in the street, and the years-long hunt that ensues. Dearest stars Zhao Wei, Huang Bo and Hao Lei, and Yvonne Teh’s review at the SCMP assures us that it’s an intelligent, heartbreaking drama.

From What Is Before
2014, Philippines, directed by Lav Diaz
From independent Filipino director Lav Diaz comes another award-winning social drama, though it requires some dedication — it clocks in at 338 minutes and the SFF guide warns that there’s no intermission, at the request of the director. The film focuses on the mysterious events in a remote village at a pivotal moment in 1972, just before Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law. This hypnotic trailer (from its screening at TIFF 2014) might give you a bit of a feel for the film.

2014, South Korea, directed by Shim Sung-bo
Topical both in South Korea and in Australia, Haemoo (literally “Sea Fog”) is a dramatic thriller about a ship attempting to smuggle thirty illegal immigrants into China; it’s based on tragically true events. Co-written by HC favourite Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer, Mother, The Host) and directed by Shim Sung-bo, who co-wrote Memories of Murder with Bong. I’ll be there for this one.



Hill of Freedom
2014, South Korea, directed by Hong Sang-soo
Prolific South Korean director (and favourite of festival programmers everywhere, it seems!) Hong Sang-soo is back with his latest film, a bittersweet-looking romance/comedy/drama (here’s a trailer) about a Japanese man named Mori who travels to Seoul to find the woman he loves. A stack of reordered letters from him provides an unusual structure, while Hong find comedy and pathos in Mori’s reliance on English to communicate with the locals in Korea.

Turkey/Germany, directed by Tolga Karaçelik
“Bad blood and madness aboard a decrepit cargo ship” says the SFF blurb about this Turkish film, which follows six men slowly unraveling as they drift along on a stranded ship off the coast of Egypt. Psychological horror is name-checked too, which makes me think of half a dozen sci-fi/horror flicks, but my suspicion is that this film is more likely to go for eerie atmosphere than blood-spatter patterns.

Kabukicho Love Hotel
2014, Japan, directed by Ryuichi Hiroki
Disaffected urban Japanese youth take centre stage in this film from veteran Japanese director Ryuichi Hiroki, who got his start in “pink film” in the 1970s and transitioned to mainstream cinema in the late ’80s, though sexuality has remained a frequent focus in his films. This particular film is an ensemble drama that takes a love hotel in Tokyo’s red light district as its setting, following the lives of the people who live and work there to tragicomic effect. Director Ryuichi Hiroki is attending the festival.

2009 (B&W version in 2014), South Korea, directed by Bong Joon-ho (Here’s Samson’s review of the original version)
Now this is an interesting one. Showing in this year’s Classics Restored track, this version of Mother (originally released in 2009) is one that director Bong Joon-ho decided to re-examine in black and white in 2014, while he was finishing up on Snowpiercer. Film scholar David Bordwell has some notes on this version from when it screened at HKIFF — it certainly sounds like an interesting opportunity to see such a recent film from a different perspective.

Bong Joon-ho's Mother, now in monochrome

Bong Joon-ho’s Mother, now in glorious monochrome!

Our Little Sister
2015, Japan, directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
Master Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda returns to SFF with this film, which in in competition for the Palme d’Or at Cannes right now, and doesn’t open in Japan until mid-June. In keeping with his dramatic focus on family relationships, it tells the story of three sisters in their 20s, joined at their house in seaside Kamakura by their younger half-sister when their father passes away. Here’s a trailer.

Red Rose
2014, Iran, directed by Sepideh Farsi
A drama built from both real footage and scripted scenes, Red Rose is a drama set in the political tension of 2009’s Green Revolution in Iran. A young woman seeks refuge from the violence and protesting in the streets in the apartment of an uninvolved man, from which they watch as events unfold below. Director Sepideh Farsi is attending the festival.

2014, France/India, directed by Partho Sen-Gupta
A psychological thriller set in a rain-soaked, neon-washed Mumbai (just check out the trailer!), Sunrise is a noirish-looking story about a haunted detective hunting for his abducted six-year-old daughter. The trailer has an oddly detached, Lynchian feel at times. Both the director and star Adil Hussain will be at the festival.



Tehran Taxi
2015, Iran, directed by Jafar Panahi
One of two Iranian films screening in Official Competition this year, Tehran Taxi is another film from daring Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, this third since he was officially banned from making films in Iran in 2010. Painful as it no doubt is, the ban makes for interestingly constrained cinema: in this film, Panahi himself plays a taxi driver, chatting away with his passengers about the state of modern Iran, shot with a dashcam. Tehran Taxi took the the Golden Bear and the FIPRESCI prize at this year’s Berlinale.

2014, Iran, directed by Rakhshan Bani-Etemad
Iran’s most prominent female writer-director, Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, won best screenplay at Venice with this film. It’s a built from a set of seven loosely-connected stories, each focusing on characters who have been marginalised by Iranian society, some of whom have appeared in Bani-E’temad’s earlier work. She’ll also be at the festival, so hopefully we can expect an interesting Q&A.

2014, Jordan/Qatar/UAE/UK, directed by Naji Abu Nowar
Theeb is sort of a middle-eastern Western, set in the Arabian Desert in 1916 — and beautifully shot, judging by the screen-grabs and trailers. Two Bedouin youngsters find themselves escorting a British army officer on a mission across the desert, in a part coming-of-age story, part adventure film. This is a rarity, a Jordanian film (though with funding from a variety of sources) and it took the Best Director prize in Venice’s Horizons section.



2014, France/India/UK, directed by Danis Tanović
From Bosnian director Danis Tanović (whose No Man’s Land snared the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2001) directs this drama based on real events about a Pakistani pharmaceutical salesman who discovers that the products he’s been selling to hospitals have been causing children’s deaths. He decides to challenge the system and take on the corporation.

See you at the festival!

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