Preview – New York Asian Film Festival 2019, June 28-July 14, 2019

Film at Lincoln Center and the New York Asian Film Foundation announce the 18th edition of the New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) from June 28 to July 14, 2019.

After last year’s “Savage Seventeen”, this year’s program is dubbed the “Still Too Young to Die” edition with five international premieres, 23 North American premieres, four U.S. premieres, and eight New York premieres, showcasing the most exciting action, comedy, drama, thriller, romance, horror, and art-house films from East Asia, and bringing close to 30 directors and nine actors from Asia.

“Eighteen – Still Too Young to Die”: Many will recognize the cheeky reference to NYAFF 2016 audience award winner, Kudo Kankuro’s Too Young to Die!, in which a busload of high-school students plummet to their deaths. They either end up in heaven or hell, both of which defy expectations. Graduating into adulthood, NYAFF aims to defy expectations cinematically.

With the irreverence of the gonzo manga adaptation Fable and the singularly Singaporean zom-com Zombiepura as just two examples, NYAFF boasts both high-concept thrills and lowbrow gags. Rich contrasts can be found in deeply profound moral tales such as actor Kim Yoon-seok’s stunning directorial debut Another Child, or Huang Chao Liang’s literally explosive drama Han Dan. From the deadly serious to the gleefully absurd, from the disquieting to the freaky, NYAFF continues to celebrate the most vibrant and provocative cinema coming out of Asia today.

Opening Night is the North American premiere of Bernard Rose’s star-studded Samurai Marathon featuring a score by Philip Glass. This original take on the jidaigeki reinterprets a lesser-known historical event in the wake of the West’s arrival in Japan during the 1850s. Packed full of intrigue, thrills, and comic relief, the film is a marvelous amalgam of transnational aesthetics and distinctly Japanese genre traditions. The Centerpiece is the North American premiere of The Fable by Kan Eguchi, who will attend the festival. The film captures the spirit that has sustained NYAFF over the years – a sprightly combination of action and pop comedy that never takes itself seriously but never completely leaves its brain at the door. Closing Night will be announced at a later date.

Seven films will vie for the Uncaged Award for Best Feature Film in the third edition of the festival’s Main Competition: Moon Sungho’s 5 Million Dollar Life, Another Child, Han Dan, Katsumi Nojiri’s Lying to Mom, Kenneth Lim Dagatan’s MA, Yi Ok-seop’s Maggie, and Wu Nan’s Push and Shove. Six of these films are North American premieres, with one international premiere, and six of the competition titles are feature debuts, underlining the competition’s mission to showcase new cinematic voices.

Vietnamese singing and dancing sensation turned movie star Veronica Ngo burst into action with her starring role in the breakthrough martial-arts megahit The Rebel. She continued to flex her fighting muscles in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, as well as acting in films of other genres, including Star Wars: The Last Jedi. NYAFF commemorates her incredible contributions to cinema with the Daniel A. Craft Award for Excellence in Action Cinema and a special screening of what may be her best film to date, the phenomenal action opus Furie.

The Star Asia Lifetime Achievement Award will go to Hong Kong action choreographer and director extraordinaire Yuen Woo-Ping, perhaps best known to Western audiences for his work on The Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Kill Bill. The prolific Yuen started as an actor and stuntman in the 1960s. In 1978, he made his phenomenal directorial debut with the smash hit Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, and followed quickly with an even greater success, Drunken Master. These two films not only made Jackie Chan an international star but practically created the indelible kung-fu/comedy genre. Yuen’s filmography features a plethora of classics marked by innovations in fight choreography. Screening in the festival are the seminal Donnie Yen vehicle Iron Monkey (on 35mm), the brand-new Master Z: Ip Man Legacy, and The Miracle Fighters, Yuen’s first absolutely crazy melding of kung fu, fantasy, and comedy. The Screen International Rising Star Asia Award will be given to both Nana Komatsu and Ryu Jun-yeol.

This year’s Hong Kong Panorama, presented with the support of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in New York, the longest-standing partner and sponsor organization of the festival, offers an exciting feast of compassion, innovation, and nostalgia across 10 diverse and exciting films. In addition to the tribute to Yuen Woo-ping, G Affairs by Lee Cheuk Pan has its North American premiere, showcasing a fierce, transgressive directorial voice. Another debut, Oliver Siu Kuen Chan’s Still Human, produced by Fruit Chan, reveals a bittersweet and touching side of Hong Kong. Zhang Jiajia’s See You Tomorrow, a gonzo high-concept rom-com and then some, produced by Wong Kar-wai and starring Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Takeshi Kaneshiro, has been unearthed by the programmers to make its North American premiere, two years after it wrapped production. Veteran filmmakers are further represented by the international premiere of Wong Kwok Fai’s The Attorney, an exciting and insightful courtroom thriller, and Pang Ho-cheung’s outrageous comedy Missbehavior. No Hong Kong lineup would be complete without hyperkinetic modern action and Jacky Lee’s The Fatal Raid is an explosive new take on the classic “girls with guns” genre.

Finally, this year’s Secret Screening is a Hong Kong classic given a novel live-music treatment by the hip-hop collective Shaolin Jazz. It will be part of NYAFF Uncaged Award Ceremony for Best Picture on Saturday, July 13, 8pm at SVA Theatre (333 West 23rd Street). Conceived by Gerald Watson and produced by DJ 2-Tone Jones, “Shaolin Jazz – The 37th Chamber” is a testament to the stylistic connections between both Jazz and hip-hop. It’s a mix project whereby various jazz songs and breaks are fused with a cappellas and vocal samples from the iconic hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan. The music and lyrics are astutely crafted to match both in cadence and tone, with the jazz selections used also helping to further accentuate the essence and intensity of the Clan. For each event, cult-classic martial-arts films are screened and scored (scene by scene) with a blend of hip-hop, soul, funk, and more mixed on stage by DJ 2-Tone Jones. The result is a live, remixed soundtrack using music and DJ techniques to accentuate elements of specific scenes and fight sequences.

The China selection continues to grow exponentially and includes a wide-ranging selection of titles reflecting the complexities and contradictions of a film world whose theatrical market has surpassed that of North America. Bold and already masterful directorial visions such as Bai Xue’s The Crossing or Wushu Orphan by Huang Huang will be screened alongside movies that show the China familiar to the audiences of European international film festivals and their art-house fare: Wang Lina’s A First Farewell, a rare look at the struggles of growing up as a member of the Uighur minority in Muslim-dominated Xinjiang; Pema Tseden’s Jinpa, an abstract Tibetan Western produced by Wong Kar-wai; and Zhang Wei’s The Rib, a raw gem focusing on transgender issues. Furthermore, this year’s edition showcases unorthodox, smart social comedies, filled with pop energy and eccentricity: Wu Nan’s Push And Shove and Luo Hanxing’s Uncle and House put the spotlight on a living culture miles away from the CNN caricatures. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the selection offers a dark but superb discovery with the highly aestheticized historical observations of Xing Jian’s Winter After Winter. At the same time, NYAFF never ignores films that are beloved in their home countries, as represented here by Wong Amp and Zhao Ji’s animated fantasy White Snake and Cui Siwei’s action-packed wintry Western Savage.

The New Cinema from Japan lineup represents both the popular and the highbrow from a film culture that has established itself as one of the pillars of world cinema. The group of selected titles demonstrate the perennial and proverbial originality of Japanese visual storytelling, most of all with SABU’s new film, Jam, an almost indescribable dramedy driven by random yet fateful encounters. For the occasion, the festival is bringing back the director’s 2017 film Mr. Long, the strange tale of a Taiwanese hit man stranded in Japan after a disastrous job. Two Japanese titles made the cut for the competition this year: Moon Sungho’s 5 Million Dollar Life and Katsumi Nojiri’s Lying to Mom. Both films share exceptionally compelling narratives on the fundamentals of life, death, and the hardships of dealing with family and strangers alike, navigating the thin line between comedy and tragedy. As can be expected from Japan, the quirky, the poignant, and the absolutely nuts find a cinematic home in the following, just to name a few: Hideki Takeuchi’s Fly Me to the Saitama, Nobuhiro Yamashita’s Hard-Core, and Take Masaharu’s noir The Gun. This is all a far cry from your average tea ceremony.

There are nine films in the South Korean Cinema section. In Kim Yu-ri’s Sub-Zero Wind and Jeong Seung-o’s Move the Grave, the programming team has found unforgettable portrayals of youths who endure the full force of the hard times that only adults should fall on. Actor Kim Yoon-seok’s remarkable directorial debut, Another Child, displays the same stylized, somber realism, but with a light-touch comedic mastery that earned it a place in the competition section. Yi Ok-seop’s Maggie, the other Korean entry for this year’s competition, shares this humorous streak but with more extravagant innovations. Joe Min-ho’s historical drama A Resistance offers a formidable vehicle for actress Ko A-sung as the real-life heroine of the 1919 independence movement, exactly a hundred years ago. Last but not least, NYAFF expands for the first time to the grand Alice Tully Hall with the film concert Kokdu: A Story of Guardian Angels, a once-in-a-lifetime experience marrying cinema with traditional Korean music performed live by a 20-member ensemble from the National Gugak Center, who will be playing the score for the first time in the U.S.

The four-film selection from Taiwan is resolutely pop, accessible, and unapologetically fun in a way not normally associated with productions from the island better known for its art-house output. Han Dan is a macho tale of friendship and betrayal anchored in the savagery of local tradition where fireworks are shot at a parading half-naked man. Hsieh Nien Tsu’s It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Show is a madcap comedy about TV producers gone wild and wrong. Hung Tzu-Hsuan’s The Scoundrels is a violent action piece while Mitch Lin and Gary Tseng’s Someone in the Clouds is a decidedly unrepentant rom-com.

This year’s Southeast Asian Vanguard selection spotlights a fascinatingly varied breadth of electrifying cinema. From the Philippines comes MA, a chilling debut from Kenneth Dagatan who was born to make horror films. On the other side of the spectrum is Chito Rono’s Signal Rock, a realist yet poetic drama that shows what life is really like on one of the country’s many little islands. In similar contrast are the two films from Vietnam. Le-Van Kiet’s Furie is a balls-to-the-wall actioner while Leon Le’s Song Lang is a sweeping and touching drama that combines a story of traditional opera with both crime and LGBTQ elements. Indonesia brings old-school matinee-style comedy and martial arts adventure with Angga Dwimas Sasongko’s 212 Warrior while from Malaysia comes Ryon Lee’s brooding psychological horror film Walk with Me. The living dead are represented this year by Jacen Tan’s hilarious Singaporean zom-com Zombiepura. Capping it all off is Ping Lumpraploeng’s The Pool, a stunningly original existentialist thriller that redefines the meaning of “hitting rock bottom” in the most literal way.

As TV and film increasingly converge, NYAFF will screen, ahead of its August 12 release on AMC, The Terror: Infamy. Set during World War II, the haunting second season of the horror anthology centers on a series of bizarre deaths that haunt a Japanese-American community, and a young man’s journey to understand and combat the malevolent entity responsible. The series stars Derek Mio, Kiki Sukezane, Shingo Usami and renowned actor, producer, author and activist George Takei.

This year, NYAFF also presents several free talks, sponsored by HBO®, at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center’s Amphitheater. They include opportunities for NYAFF audiences to meet festival guests from Japan, China, and Southeast Asia and discuss their careers, trends, and regional genre cinema.

The New York Asian Film Festival is co-presented by the New York Asian Film Foundation and Film at Lincoln Center and takes place from June 28 through July 11 at FLC’s Walter Reade Theater (165 West 65th Street), and July 11-14 at SVA Theatre (333 West 23rd Street). It is curated by executive director Samuel Jamier, head programmers Claire Marty and David Wilentz, and programmers Karen Severns and Koichi Mori.

Full schedule and ticket booking facility are available at the festival website.