Asian Cinema at the Sydney Film Festival 2016

SFF 2016The program is out, tickets are selling and the clock is ticking for this year’s Sydney Film Festival, which opens in about a week on June 8 and runs through to the 19th.

As usual, we have combed through the list and picked out the films from Asia — this year led by a couple of modern films in Competition, two restorations (including Ozu’s classic Tokyo Story) and a varied slate of features from across the region. There’s also a Korean film track, called Korea on the Verge: Social Faultlines in Korean Cinema.

I should also note (because I’m such a fan) that the opening film, Aussie crime thriller Goldstone, counts veteran Hong Kong actress Cheng Pei-pei (Come Drink With Me) amongst its impressive cast.

Read on for the list, and some notes where we’ve got something to say about the films!

(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 mentioned them!)

Apprentice (In Competition)
2016, Singapore/Germany/France/Hong Kong/Qatar, directed by Boo Junfeng [SFF Link]
A tense Singapore-set drama about a prison guard who becomes the apprentice to the prison’s executioner. Partly shot here in NSW.

Psycho Raman (In Competition)
2016, India, directed by Anurag Kashyap [SFF Link]
Indian indie director Anurag Kashyap’s name keeps coming up on SFF programs! Here he is directing one of his leads from Gangs of Wasseypur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, in a thriller about a psychopath obsessed with Raman Raghav — a serial killer who operated in Mumbai in the 60s.

Insiang (Restoration)
1976, Philippines, directed by Lino Brocka [SFF Link]
Restored by Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project, this was the first film from the Philippines ever to screen at SFF.

Tokyo Story (Restoration)
1953, Japan, directed by Yasujiro Ozu [SFF Link]
Renowned as one of the finest films ever made. Here’s our own review, from Ben.

Tokyo Story

Tokyo Story

3000 Nights
2015, Palestine/Lebanon/France/Jordan/UAE, directed by Mai Masri [SFF Link]
The first fiction feature from documentarian Mai Masri. Tells the story of a Palestinian schoolteacher who is falsely convicted of a crime and sentenced to 3000 nights in prison — shortly into which she discovers that she is pregnant.

Alice in Earnestland
2015, South Korea, directed by Ahn Gooc-jin [SFF Link]
This high-energy black comedy stars Lee Jung-hyun as Soonam, a young woman who turns to vengeance as she struggles to dig herself (and her bedridden husband) out of debt.

Angry Indian Goddesses
2015, India/Germany, directed by Pan Nalin [SFF Link]
An all-female ensemble buddy movie set in Goa, from the director of 2002’s Samsara.

Barakah Meets Barakah
2016, Saudi Arabia, directed by Mahmoud Sabbagh [SFF Link]
It’s rare to have a film from Saudi Arabia at the festival, and doubly so for it to be a rom-com. Follows the romance between a humble city worker and a wealthy fashionista.

A Copy of My Mind
2015, Indonesia/South Korea, directed by Joko Anwar [SFF Link]
Modern Jakarta provides the backdrop for a romance between a movie-loving beautician and a DVD bootlegger (and subtitler), but the SFF’s blurb and the trailer suggests that there’s a bit more to the film than that…

A Copy of My Mind

A Copy of My Mind

Dark in the White Light
2015, Sri Lanka, directed by Vimukthi Jayasundara [SFF Link]
The darkest-looking film on this year’s slate to me, from Sri Lankan writer-director Vimukthi Jayasundara. Three intersecting stories, with the main narrative following a surgeon who becomes a serial rapist at night.

A Fish
2011, South Korea, directed by Park Hong-min [SFF Link]
Shot on a small budget and in homemade 3D, A Fish is a mystery in which a professor hires a detective to find his missing wife, only to discover her performing shamanistic rituals on Jindo Island.

Fukushima, mon amour
2016, Germany, directed by Doris Dörrie [SFF Link]
A German film, though I’ve included it for the Japanese setting. Fukushima, mon amour focuses on the growth of a friendship between a German woman working for a charitable institution in the wake of the Fukushima disaster and the last geisha left in town. Shot in B&W.

Halal Love (And Sex)
2015, Germany/Lebanon, directed by Assad Fouladkar [SFF Link]
A frank and funny romantic comedy set in Beirut, where three families struggle with everything the title suggests — love, sex and Islamic law.

Life After Life
2015, China, directed by Zhang Hanyi [SFF Link]
The debut feature from writer-director Zhang Hanyi (and produced by Jia Zhang-ke), this drama took the Firebird award at HKIFF. An eerie ghost story set in rural China with a very distinctive dreamy low-contrast look. See the trailer.

Life After Life

Life After Life

Love and…
2015, South Korea, directed by Zhang Lu [SFF Link]
A four-part omnibus drama with an experimental, elliptical bent musing on the Korean film industry and the nature of love, from Chinese-Korean director Zhang Lu. Stars Park Hae-il, Ahn Sung-ki and Moon So-ri.

Spa Night
2016, USA/South Korea, directed by Andrew Ahn [SFF Link]
Another debut feature from its writer-director, this low-key drama follows a young first-generation Korean-American as he struggles with his two cultures and his sexuality amongst the bathhouses of Lon Angeles’ Koreatown.

Stateless Things
2011, South Korea, directed by Kim Kyung-mook [SFF Link]
Korean indie filmmaker Kim Kyung-mook turns his camera on two ways of being “stateless” in modern South Korean society, as an illegal immigrant from North Korea encounters another fringe-dweller, the male lover of a wealthy married businessman.

Ten Years
2015, Hong Kong, directed by Zune Kwok, Wong Fei-Pang, Jevons Au, Chow Kwun-Wai, Ng Ka-Leung [SFF Link]
Ten Years is the controversial HK film we saw covered in the news in April, when it was pulled from screenings by the Chinese government even as it took out best film at the Hong Kong Film Awards. An omnibus film with an overarching theme of Hong Kong in 2025, ten years into an uncertain future.

2015, China, directed by Pema Tseden [SFF Link]
Shot in striking black and white, Tharlo is a contemporary drama about life in modern Tibet.



2015, India, directed by Raam Reddy [SFF Link]
I’m quite interested to see this one. A social satire that’s gotten a lot of attention on the festival circuit, Thithi is a Kannada-language film focusing on the maneuverings that follow the death of a rural patriarch in a village on the southern Indian state of Karnataka.

Under the Shadow
2016, UK/Jordan/Qatar, directed by Babak Anvari [SFF Link]
A malevolent, supernatural entity terrorises a mother and her child in Iran, during the Iran-Iraq war.

Under the Shadow

Under the Shadow

Wednesday, May 9
2015, Iran, directed by Vahid Jalilvand [SFF Link]
Starring prominent Iranian actress Niki Karimi, this is a moral drama that grows around the mysterious offer of a significant sum of money advertised in a Tehran newspaper.

What’s in the Darkness
2015, China, directed by Wang Yichun [SFF Link]
The SFF’s blurb for this film includes both the phrase “burgeoning sexuality” and the phrase “serial-killer investigation”. I’m expecting a bit of a genre mashup (police procedural and coming-of-age film?) from this Hebei-set drama.

See you at the festival!

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