NYAFF 2010: Team Twitch Wraps Up

Ben Umstead, East Coast Editor
With last night's screening of BLADES OF BLOOD and GALLANTS (which tied with CASTAWAY ON THE MOON for the Audience Award), the 9th annual New York Asian Film Festival has come to a close.

We at Twitch have to thank co-founder, Grady Henrix for being our ambassador to the festival, providing us with everything a growing group of writers need to cover such a whirl wind event. An extra shout out to all the staff at Subway Cinema, Lincoln Film Society, IFC Center, and Japan Society for running a smooth show. And lastly thanks to the filmmakers and actors who were so gracious enough to sit down and talk with us about what they do so well. 

So, with another year down, lets take a look back at some of our favorite films and highlights from the festivities.

I'll get the ball rolling...



BEN UMSTEAD:

Cinema - in any and all forms - is one of the most personal, intrinsic things in my life, alas, some other personal matters came up, and this year I was unable to attend much of the actual fest. I'm sure the rest of the gang will weigh in on the vibe and overall nature of this
year's NYAFF  -which saw a big move uptown to The Lincoln Film Society and Walter Reade Theater - but I can talk about movies.

Last year was my first NYAFF experience and it was like a big bang of cinematic goodness. I was assaulted with the tender fury that was Yang Ik-joon's BREATHLESS mesmerized by THE CLONE RETURNS HOME and to top it all of had one of the greatest screening experiences ever, with the Jury Prize winner, LOVE EXPOSURE.

So, yeah, the bar was set high for this year's fest. Maybe a little too high. Still, I was expecting nothing less than "Pure, Unfiltered Awesome" from Grady, Marc Walkow and their cohorts. If anything they always know how to put on a show, and though I missed much of the actual "show" their selection of films always impresses.

Right now the movie that is sticking with me the most is Toshiaki Toyoda's return to the big screen, THE BLOOD OF REBIRTH. Now I can't say triumphant return, because before ...BLOOD... I had never seen a film by Toyoda... which is probably some kind of sin I need to absolve. What struck me with ...BLOOD... was being washed in sight and sound. And it wasn't something that was incessant, oh no, far from it. Toyoda manages to gently shape his folktale and yet he's got an edge to his images that is twisted and strange and dark, but there was that meditative hand, which consistently steered the picture, even into some pretty trippy territory. So for that alone I'll remember it fondly.

As for a performance I'm gonna have to give a little praise on last year's IT Girl, LOVE EXPOSURE's Hikari Mitsushima. I'm not sure how this year's SAWAKO DECIDES was received by audiences, but if the film has one thing going for it, it would be Mitsushima as the titular Sawako. Her performance here is practically a 360 from her role as the feisty, fist-a-cuffs school girl in LOVE EXPOSURE, but she still retains some of that spunk... when needed. I got a lot of pleasure out of watching how Mitsushima played Sawako's bemused bewilderment as she returns home to save the family business. Physically, I can see how Mitsushima could be pigeon-toed as the West's quintessential image of a young Japanese Woman - big eyed, sweet and cute as moon pie - and that is kind of what makes Mitsushima great, or rather her ability to transcend that image, while still stringing us on with it. She really should have a varied, and long career.


CHARLES WEBB:
Like you, Ben, last year was my first NYAFF, and as with last year it was all about trying new things - avoiding the known commodities. Sure, there was Jackie Chan in LITTLE BIG SOLDIER, but from there it was all about casting off into uncharted waters with the likes of CASTAWAY ON THE MOON and CONFESSIONS. In fact, those titles represent the breadth and depth of my experience with this year's festival: a plainly emotional and beautiful love story (of a sort) with a hint of magic to it (again, of a sort); then there's the bruising, bitter CONFESSIONS which practically destroyed the sold-out audience on the night of its international premiere. I don't know about the rest of you guys but I loved sitting down to movies with actual worldviews and positions - movies willing to draw the viewer in and provoke them.


JOSHUA CHAPLINSKY:
This was my second NYAFF as well. Last year I was unemployed, so in addition to the screeners I reviewed, I also caught quite a bit at the IFC Center. (Glad to see Ben mention THE CLONE RETURNS HOME, because that was a favorite of mine as well.) This year, unfortunately, I only got to go to one actual screening, which was CONFESSIONS at Japan Society.

Side note: Japan Society has the most bad-ass toilets ever! They are computerized bidets with their own control panels. I am in love. The Japanese really know how to use the bathroom.

CONFESSIONS is not a film I was assigned to review, as the screening was supposed to be a meet-and-greet for Twitch writers covering the fest. The meet-up itself was a bit of a bust, (personally, I couldn't get out of work early enough and I high-tailed it out of there right after the screening because I'm like an old man and don't like to stay up late,) but the film itself was my favorite of the fest. The first act especially is so artfully made. I love how it takes place predominantly in one room, yet it doesn't get boring. Visually, it is almost like an art film or a long form music video. The score and use of sound editing are fantastic. It really is a beautiful film. I can see why it has done so well in it's native Japan.

As far as the films I was assigned to review, I enjoyed SYMBOL the most. I dug the existential nature of it, despite some of the sophomoric humor. (It will forever be known as the baby angel penis movie.) CRAZY RACER was a high energy caper a la the films of Guy Ritchie, but between that and the ending of the disappointing GOLDEN SLUMBER - I NEVER WANT TO SEE ANOTHER MOVIE THAT USES THE CLICHED DEVICE OF A HIDDEN SENTIMENTAL OBJECT STOPPING A BULLET TO THE HEART EVER AGAIN.

Sorry. Overall, the NYAFF is a great fest, and I am proud to be a part of it, no matter how small the capacity. I'm already looking forward to next year.


DUSTIN CHANG:
My second year at NYAFF as well. Like Ben, three out of my 2009 top ten films were from the festival. After getting overdosed with Nishimura and Co.'s always crowd-pleasing v- cinema outputs last year, I decided to go conservative this time, choosing standard fare (IP MAN 1, 2) and smaller films (8000 MILES 1, 2) but not neglecting my guilty pleasures like muay thai films (RAGING PHOENIX and POWER KIDS) and kaizu (DEATH KAPPA). It was great to see bare knuckle kung-fu flicks making a comeback after souless excess of wire-work ridden, FX heavy wu xia  period in HK cinema(ok, throw stones at me).

But if I had to choose one this year, it would have to be DEAR DOCTOR. This old fashioned modern fable of sorts is amazingly put together with great performances all around. Hirokazu Kore-eda's pupil Miwa Nishikawa is a major talent and I'm expecting great things from her. No doubt it will end up on my end of the year top ten. Seems like there are number of women directors from Japan represented both in NYAFF and Japan Cuts this year. If possible, I'd like to get a chance to meet some of them for interviews next time around.

Over all, another great year. And I've been enjoying all your reviews very much.

 
PETER GUTIERREZ:
I feel that this year's NYAFF, partly because of the big name guests, was a throwback to earlier years of the festival, showing more of an emphasis on action and thrills (with not as much notable horror, borderline transgressive film, or dark fantasy/drama). But even though I did not catch a couple of the key martial arts/HK films, I wasn't disappointed by the lineup overall. One reason I was satisfied is that some films I did not know much about or have high expectations for, such as CRAZY RACER and COW, turned out to be pleasant surprises. What I'm realizing is that my sense of Chinese cinema itself is changing, due in no small part to NYAFF over the years, so that I'm no longer looking only to the same handful of directors and genres.

In any case, the smaller films, and the output from Korean and South/Southeast Asia did not really blow me away as in the past -- it could be, though, that I missed the one or two titles that would have changed my mind. On the other hand, the Japanese films went above and beyond, and so were the most consistently rewarding, with a disproportionately high concentration of these screening during the Japan Cuts overlap. And this is true despite the fact that I think that CONFESSIONS has been way, way overpraised -- which I guess shouldn't surprise me since I also feel that it's over-produced and over-directed. ;-)  Still, it's a film you can really sink your mind into. (SYMBOL, a non-Japan Cuts title, might also fall under this heading, although for very different reasons.) And BLOOD OF REBIRTH, wow, that's a highlight by any standard. And finally, if you were in the mood for deranged popcorn fare -- which is kind of what NYAFF has been known for -- how could you do better than ALIEN VS. NINJA and MUTANT GIRLS SQUAD?  


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