Every summer, just when it starts to feel like you’d rather give up on movies forever than trek to the multiplex for yet another blockbuster sequel or remake, the New York Asian Film Festival shows up out of nowhere and saves the day — for New Yorkers, anyway. Unquestionably the country’s best (and most demented) annual showcase of new Asian cinema, NYAFF has established itself as a perennial godsend for cinephiles whose appetites are a bit too adventurous for Hollywood to satisfy, and the festival’s 18th edition — dubbed “Eighteen: Still Too Young to Die” in a cheeky reference to the Kudo Kankuro movie that blew the roof off in 2016 — might be its most promising lineup to date.
This year’s NYAFF kicks off with Bernard Rose’s “Samurai Marathon,” which is an 1850s-set jidaigeki about a bunch of samurai running a marathon. Not that anyone could possibly need more reason to see it, but the film also boasts a gorgeous score by Philip Glass and a breakout performance from rising star Nana Komatsu (who will be on hand to receive an award). The 2019 Centerpiece is Ken Eguchi’s “The Fable,” a kinetic and seriously fun action drama about a legendary yakuza assassin who falls in love while taking some much-needed time off. And while the Closing Night film remains shrouded in mystery, we know that the NYAFF slate includes five international premieres, 23 North American premieres, and an immaculately curated program that touches upon and transgresses every genre you can think of while also probably inventing some new ones along the way.
Other highlights in the Main Competition include Hong Kong director Jacky Lee’s ultra-violent “girls with guns” extravaganza, “The Fatal Raid,” Malaysian filmmaker Ryon Lee’s Lynchian horror-melodrama, “Walk with Me,” Wang Lina’s bittersweet coming-of-age portrait about a Chinese Uighur girl who loses her pet lamb (“A First Farewell”), and Wei Zhang’s “The Rib,” a touching drama that tells the true story of a trans Chinese woman’s struggle to overcome the stigmas of sex-reassignment surgery.
NYAFF 2019 is also celebrating the work of legendary choreography and filmmaker Yuen Woo-ping, who may have done more than anyone to shape on-screen combat over the last 40 years. In his honor, the festival will be screening Yuen’s masterpiece, “Iron Monkey,” as well as a new installment of the “Ip Man” franchise (starring Michelle Yeoh and Tony Jaa!) and the unmissable WTF would-be classic, “The Miracle Fighters.”
While American audiences will have to wait a little while longer to feast their eyes on recent Cannes breakouts like “Parasite” and “The Wild Goose Lake,” it’s worth noting that many — most, in fact — of these NYAFF films may never get another chance to screen in this country. The current state of the market for subtitled fare is dire, and tons of exciting work (particularly the kind that might be too strange or specific to earn international recognition) is being denied a chance to find an audience. In other words, NYAFF is more essential than ever, and curious moviegoers will be rewarded by finding their way to Lincoln Center.
NYAFF 2019 will take place from June 28th – July 14th, and is presented by Film at Lincoln Center.
Check out the trailer for this year’s fest below, and click here for tickets and a look at the full lineup.