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NYC Film Festivals

Sneak Peek: New York Asian Film Festival

Miki Nakatani in Memories of Matsuko, one of the highlights of this year's New York Asian Film Festival (Photo: TBS)

By S.T. VanAirsdale

Among the handful of New York festivals whose opening days are circled, starred and counted down on the calendar at Reeler HQ, few get our blood churning the way the New York Asian Film Festival does. Maybe it's because NYAFF was the first festival we covered in our more innocent, beige days, or possibly because it's programmed with more love, knowledge and boundless glee than virtually any other festival in town.

Or maybe it's because we have a culture crush on Grady Hendrix, who, with his partners at Subway Cinema, has shepherded the annual event to its stature as the city's preeminent outlet for stirring, shocking, where-the-hell-did-they-find-that Asian cinema. "What we realized is that this year is turning into the Pop Year," Hendrix told me about the 2007 festival, which runs June 22-July 8 and includes work by Park Chanwook, Johnnie To and Tetsuya Nakashima among numerous others. (The confirmed portions of the program are viewable at Subway's Web site.) "There is no art here. I don't know what it is, but more than any other year, everything is like big, huge, blockbuster-style entertainment movies. And that's partially a result of the fact that, frankly, a lot of the Asian movie industry did really well last year, but they did really well with big movies, like the Death Note movies in Japan. It's fun to feel absolutely irresponsible about what we're programming. We have no illusions that we're going to bring anyone to a higher level of consciousness with this year's program. If anything, we're going to leave them brain dead, but having a good time at least."

From the surprising change of venue from the recently downsized Anthology Film Archives to IFC Center ("We sort of operate on the knife edge of total economic failure," Hendrix said. "Losing 30 seats really hit us hard. ... We feel terrible about it.") to an impressive new presenting sponsor, Hendrix ticked off some thoughts in a game of title association with The Reeler:

Exiled (Dir: Johnnie To): "We just asked Magnolia and they said, 'Yeah, sure -- that'd be great.' We were actually asking them about Dynamite Warrior, the Thai action film, which is unbelievably trashy and unbelievably fun. And like most big hits, it revolves around the magical powers of a virgin's menstrual blood. But they were like, 'Do you wanna show Exiled?' And we were like, 'OK.' It just sort of fell into our laps. It's interesting; I don't like it very much, but everyone else in Subway loves it. So there you go. But I'm glad we got it."

Hell's Ground (Dir: Omar Khan): "We've all known Omar Khan, the director, for a really long time. He basically owns a bunch of ice cream shops in Lahore, and has been sort of an advocate and preservationist of Pakistani exploitation cinema for years and years and years. And he's a really, really nice guy. When he finally got it together to make a movie, I met up with him in London when I was over there, and they were very sort of , 'Well, we shot it, but it was kinda crazy. There were a lot of issues... we don't know... but if you guys are interested in it, you should look at it before you commit.' And when we saw it, it was a hell of a lot of fun. ... One of the things we're doing with it is putting together a reel of what they think of as the crowning moments of Pakistani exploitation cinema from the '60s on. We're going to play that before the screening."

I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK (Dir: Park Chanwook): "I haven't seen it yet; The other guys in Subway saw it when it played overseas. It's a good movie, and it's really getting mixed reviews. It did decently in Korea, but the problem is that everyone is expecting Oldboy again. But it's a goony love story. It's very stylish, it's very slick, but there's no violence in it whatsoever. It's just a girl who thinks she's a robot falling in love with a kleptomaniac in a home for mental patients. Although Park Chanwook's name is a great selling point, expectations are a real problem. If everyone comes in expecting Oldboy II: The Cyborg Returns, they're going to be really disappointed to find a love story."

Memories of Matsuko (Dir: Tetsuya Nakashima): "If we didn't have that in the line-up this year, I'd really be considering quitting. I think it's probably the best movie that came out in 2006. It's amazing. It's a musical version of this total loser's life. It's by the director who did Kamikaze Girls; he's sort of known as a big jerk. He's one of those perfectionists who yells at his actors; everything is about getting it on film. Miki Nakatani, the lead actress, she and he very famously fought all through it. ... It's really astounding -- Song of the South mixed with The Life of Oharu mixed with, like, Moulin Rouge. ... It's really interesting because some people in the West have criticized it for being style over substance, and I just think they're full of baloney. If you see this movie and you don't wind up crying or feeling some emotion at the end of it, then you really need to reexamine where you are in life and what kind of person you are."

Hard-Boiled (Dir: John Woo): "We're doing this for two reasons: Midway is doing the official sequel to Hard Boiled, which is this video game called John Woo presents Stranglehold. They're personally footing the bill for a lot of the festival this year, and they asked if we'd consider doing a screening. And to be honest, it really didn't strike any of us as a good idea at all. But we sat down together and rewatched the movie, and we finished up and we thought, 'You know, this has held up so much better than we think it has. It's the 15th anniversary, and this is really classic action filmmaking.' ... So between Exiled and Hard-Boiled, view them back-to-back and you have a time-lapse image of everything that happened to action cinema in the past 15 years. So we figured, 'What the hell?' We're about showing fun movies, and this is as fun as they come. ... It's the real world; we all make compromises. If Hard-Boiled is the extent of our compromises this year, then it's a pretty fucking sweet compromise."

Hendrix also tipped us off that his beloved Asian film blog Kaiju Shakedown, which went on indefinite hiatus from Variety in January, will triumphantly return to the Web in the weeks ahead. Congrats to him, and stay tuned for the when-and-where details -- we'll bring them to you as they're available.

Posted at May 10, 2007 11:06 AM

Comments (2)

Wow, I may start reading blogs again.

Probably not writing them too much, though.

Nice interview, S.T.

I am really looking forward to the fest, as per usual. Grady is the best, and those guys really know what they are doing in terms of programming. It's all about fun this year? When is it ever not?

Great news about Kaiju Shakedown, too.

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