If it’s late June in Manhattan, it must be time for the city’s annual dose of martial-arts madness, indescribably twisted revenge stories, and go-for-broke dramas about sexually liberated high school girls. A collaboration between Subway Cinema and The Film Society of Lincoln Center, the New York Asian Film Festival has established itself as one of the summer’s most vital (and occasionally traumatizing) annual events, a celebration of the best and most bonkers in classic and contemporary Asian cinema. Even in an age of VOD and streaming, many — or most — of these gems never receive American distribution, making the fest that much more valuable to local cinephiles.
Running from June 22 thru July 9, the 2016 edition promises to live up to the NYAFF legend, as iconic films like “All About Lily Chou-Chou” and “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” will be screened alongside a smorgasbord of new stuff that’s just waiting to be discovered. Check out the full lineup here, and read below as Indiewire highlights the five unmissable films from this year’s fest.
Just look at that picture. There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who breathlessly bought a ticket for this movie the moment they caught a glimpse of a graying Sammo Hung beating the hell out of some young ruffians, and those who are flagrantly wasting their time on this mortal coil.
Hung, the famously plumb martial arts legend behind such classics of the genre as “Pedicab Driver,” squeezes his frame into the director’s chair for the first time in almost 20 years for this seemingly generic action drama about a retired bodyguard who’s forced back into action when a young girl is kidnapped. Playing a character who’s forced to contend with waves of henchman and Alzheimer’s Disease, Hung makes a triumphant return with this surprisingly somber late-career comeback, the film resolving as the mash-up between “Taken” and “Away From Her” that you never knew you always wanted.
“Cure” director Kiyoshi Kurosawa titling one of his movies “Creepy” is like if Nicolas Winding Refn titled one of his movies “Vapid.” On one hand, it feels like a redundant flourish from someone who played an instrumental role in defining the last 20 years of J-horror. On the other hand — and this should be frightening — it could be interpreted as a bleak promise from a filmmaker who’s throwing down the gauntlet after last year’s soporific misfire, “Journey to the Shore.”
The good news is that “Creepy” is a little bit of both. The serpentine story of a retired detective whose sinister new neighbor (the great Teruyuki Kagawa) might have something to do with an unsolved triple-homicide, the film is a throwback to the psychological nightmares upon which Kurosawa built his brand, and also a bold stab at shining some light into previously unexplored pockets of human darkness. In other words, “Creepy” does exactly what it says on the tin.
“Hentai Kamen 2: The Abnormal Crisis”
It wouldn’t be NYAFF without a Japanese movie about a guy who turns into a superhero when he wears his girlfriend’s panties on his head. A fun time even for people who haven’t seen the first one — this isn’t “Game of Thrones,” it’s a movie about a guy who turns into a superhero when he wears his girlfriend’s panties on his head — Yuichi Fukuda’s “Hentai Kamen 2: The Abnormal Crisis” is a wacky comic adventure that effectively serves as the “Spider-Man 2” of its weird franchise, as its hero is forced to confront the consequences and responsibilities of being a superhero who fights crime while wearing his girlfriend’s panties on his head. More emotionally complex and (slightly) less pervy than it sounds, this sequel to the winner of NYAFF’s 2013 Audience Award is what going to a film festival is all about.
“Lazy Hazy Crazy”
Unfolding like an X-rated season of “Gossip Girl” that’s been translated to a Hong Kong high school and squeezed into 100 incredibly dense minutes, Luk Yee-sum’s “Lazy Hazy Crazy” is a volatile and sexually frank melodrama about three teenage girls who struggle to come of age in a modern world that’s chomping at the bit to commodify them. The trio of heroines have a long history, but the story doesn’t kick off until the hyper-virginal Tracy (Kwok Yik-sum) moves in with her friends Alice (Fish Liew) and Chloe (Mak Tsz-yi), and gets swept up in their favorite extracurricular activity: Selling sex via WeChat.
Flirting with social realism — at least to the extent that it disarms you of your judgements — this wild import blends the sensitivity of “The Virgin Suicides” with the salaciousness of “Risky Business” in order to paint a uniquely stirring portrait of young women at a crossroads.
“The Tenants Downstairs”
A depraved movie made by (and for) depraved people, “The Tenants Downstairs” might be the most disturbing movie to ever play NYAFF, and longtime attendees of the festival know all too well that such a claim isn’t made lightly. Unfolding like a sadistic Taiwanese “Amélie,” the sickeningly whimsical film centers on a scheevy landlord (Simon Yam) who’s installed hidden cameras into each of the units in his rundown apartment building.
Spurred on by some encouragement from the cannibalistic serial killer who lives on the second floor, our noble hero begins interfering with the lives of his residents, nudging each of these poor souls in dark new directions. And yet, for all of the horror contained within, the most insane thing about this slick debut feature might be the fact that director Adam Tsuei is the former president of Sony Music Entertainment’s Chinese region. The corporate world might be even more twisted than we thought.