Wednesday 26 October 2022

LEAFF: If looks could kill

The London East Asia Film Festival is packed with terrific movies and events, bringing the culture of Korea, Thailand, Japan, China, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to venues around town. I'm the head of this year's competition jury, which is made up of Critics' Circle members. And it's been great to watch a series of films that would otherwise be very difficult to find in the UK. Here's half of the competition programme, six narrative features and two docs. Part 2 of 2 will follow...

dir Lee Jung-Jae; with Lee Jung-Jae, Jung Woo-Sung 22/Kor ***.
Acclaimed Squid Game star Lee Jung-Jae steps into directing duties for this action-packed political thriller. Set in a period of real-life political turmoil, the script adeptly weaves fictional conspiracies and counterplots that keep the audience guessing right to the end. And the smartest touch is to scramble motivations, questioning what makes someone a hero or villain. This adds something to think about during an adrenaline rush of a movie... FULL REVIEW >

dir Shinzo Katayama; with Jiro Sato, Aoi Ito 22/Jpn ****
Complex and twisty, this riveting Japanese drama centres on an offbeat father and daughter who become entangled with a friendly serial killer. Beautifully directed by Shinzo Katayama, the story unfolds in layers that reveal surprising motivations. It also defies expectations at every turn, bristling with messy connections and wrenching emotions, plus situations that have a blackly comical edge to them.

Mama Boy
dir Arvin Chen; with Kai Ko, Vivian Hsu 21/Tai ***.
Two mother-son relationships intertwine to find warm, witty connections in this offbeat Taiwanese drama. Filmmaker Arvin Chen creates vivid characters who transcend stereotypes to surprise each other and the audience, worming their way under our skin to elicit sympathy even when they do something thoughtless. It's an involving film that gets a bit melodramatic but remains charming to the end.

Virgin Blue
dir-scr Niu Xiaoyu; with Ye Zi, Shengzhi Zheng 22/Chn ***.
Thoughtful and evocative, this subdued drama has a striking visual sensibility that plays on perceptions to scramble time and relationships. It's a story about a woman with dementia and her cheeky granddaughter sharing a flat that's haunted by ghosts from the past. Colourful musical fantasy sequences add to feel that we're watching dreams within memories.

The Abandoned
dir Ying-Ting Tseng; with Janine Chun-Ning Chang, Ethan Juan 22/Tai ***
Set in a particularly rainy Taiwan, this relatively standard serial killer thriller is spiced up with deeper emotions. There's also some sharp topicality in the setting among undocumented workers and human trafficking. It's sharply written and directed to dig beneath the surface even as the plot follows the expected twisty route to its conclusion. And it gets very grisly indeed.

Manchurian Tiger
dir Geng Jun; with Zhang Yu, Ma Li 21/Chn ***
With minimalistic dialog, this blackly comical Chinese drama features an ensemble cast playing a range of eccentric people wrestling with the realities of modern life. Observational, the film moves at its own quirky pace, barely bothering to string a narrative together. Filmmaker Geng Jung has a terrific eye for detail, vividly capturing the culture of this wintry northeastern city. But the film is long and rambling.

dir Won Ho-Yeon, Jung Tae-Kyoung; with Shasha, Enzo, Jamie, James 22/Kor ****
A truly global documentary, this powerful film explores the situations for a variety of children who, because their parents are undocumented migrants, have no nationality of their own. Filming in several countries in Southeast Asia, directors Won Ho-Yeon and Jung Tae-Kyoung hone in on a handful of kids to tell their distinctly personal stories. The result is eye-opening, moving and staggeringly important.

dir Hung-i Yao; with Fang-yi Sheu, Ying-Hsuan Hsieh 22/Tai ***.
While it runs too long, this documentary about iconic dancer Fang-yi Sheu is packed with wonderfully inventive sequences, telling her story through music, dance and performance rather than interviews or voiceovers. It gorgeously traces the life of this gifted dancer from childhood to her late 40s, facing retirement but still going strong. Which makes the film both beautiful and inspiring.

Note that a longer review will appear on the site if a film gets a cinema release.

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C R I T I C A L    W E E K

Non-festival films I've watched this week include the riotously inventive animated adventure-comedy Wendell & Wild, the offbeat and unnerving horror thriller Barbarian, the enjoyably camp 1950s drama Please Baby Please, the lavish biopic Hilma and the earthy Israeli drama Like Me.

This coming week, in addition to more Asian movies, I'll be watching the biopic Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, action thriller Medieval, quirky horror Something in the Dirt and acclaimed foreign-language films Holy Spider and All Quiet on the Western Front.

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