In all the important ways the NY Asian Film Festival – now underway at the Lincoln Center in NYC for its 15th anniversary – is as it ever was, a firebrand catalog of exceptional cinema from Japan, Korea, China and Hong Kong, with a slant toward the savage. The guiding influence of Executive Director Samuel Jamier over the past few years has helped to meaningfully expanded the pool of talent into the underrepresented cinemas of Southeast Asia and has invited all genre’s into the company of thieves. Through NYAFF, Taiwan cinema is emerging from the shadow of Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Tsai Ming-Liang to reveal strong and distinctive new voices. Under Jamier, an already egregiously enjoyable festival has matured into an intertextual presentation of themes and subjects that span borders, histories and class, balancing brains braun and beauty like a boss.
Differing from the “best-of” methodology characterizing most film festivals, Jamier curates as if by sextant, merging the contemporary and repertory to navigate thematic chains in all directions. Recurrent ideas, motifs, pairs and opposites, expressed in a stratum of creative voices define his programming style, which feels like being gifted a high vantage and a set of clues to understanding an intercultural zeitgeist.
2016’s lineup eschews size for substance, with a tight 50 film run that goes straight into the veins. The thirst for power and its resultant forms of corruption – either complicit or contested – are this year’s unifying principle, explored in various and overlapping shades of the political, personal, legal, social, economic and the emotional. As American society becomes ever more watchful of itself, ever more intolerant of abuses of authority and disproportionality, ever more actively critical of systems of power and cognizant of corruption, and ever more eager to seize autonomy, NYAFF draws America into the conversation had by its selections by virtue of reflecting those realities in Asian contexts. Characters from all walks of life and speaking many tongues demonstrate that means-motive-and-opportunity in the face of power desired will yield a wild gamut of impropriety. Whether it is the hunted seat of the South Korean Prime Minister, three girls vying for one boy’s affections, a rookie cop on fevered bull run of self-corruption, or the will to shake off the yolk of an imperial power, there will be a muddled mix of deceits and truths, selfishness and generosity, severity and sincerity that makes category as great a challenge as it has ever been.
With deception so rife in fold, NYAFF embraces a parallel theme regarding appearances. The extent to which we “believe what we see” or that “we perceive what we know” is central to each film as they survey differing schemes and psychologies. Such is the beauty of themes and scale, that the massive and the minute can contain the signature of the same idea.
Works by Shunji Iwaii (All About Lilly Chou Chou), Kazuya Shiraishi (Twisted Justice), Woo Min-ho (Inside Men), Shanjhey Kumar Perumal (Brutal), Lee Jun-ik (Dongju), Luk Yee-sum (Lazy Hazy Crazy), Cheng Wen-tang (Maverick), Yoji Yamada (What A Wonderful Family!), and more make it phenomenally difficult to limit oneself, so to the adventurer from Philly I offer only this advice: pick a day and see every film playing.
In the meantime look forward to my BEST OF NYAFF ’16 selections coming this week and next!