Now celebrating its 20th anniversarye anniversary, the New York Asian Film Festival presents more films than the entire New York Film Festival lineup. (In the early years, it was possible to watch all of the festival’s films.) This year’s series comes at a crossroads: censorship in mainland China has destroyed the vivid spirit of its own cinema, as well as that of Hong Kong. , in favor of blockbuster nationalism, but South Korean movies, TV shows and music have risen to prominence in American culture — something no one expected when the festival began.
His selection includes a variety of LGBTQ-themed works — “Big Night!” by Jun Robles Lana, “Tank Fairy” by Erich Rettsadt, “Terrorizers” by Ho Wi Ding, and a cover of Wong Kar-wai’s 1997 classic “Happy Together.” in addition to the four films reviewed below. The festival will also host a panel discussion on queer Asian cinema with filmmakers Ken Kwek, Rettstadt and Leon Le.
A profile of transgender actor/dancer/drag queen More, South Korean director Lee Il-ha’s “I Am More” queens the documentary by turning it into a musical. Introduced as the camera moves through a nightclub to her stage performance, More performs several songs in stylized and colorful costumes. “A Bit of More” eschews documentary conventions. More’s voiceover detailing her youth and early experiences as an adult is never directly linked to the footage, although the film shows her hanging out with her lover (a European guy who cheats on her and talks about her as if she was a cis gay man), going to rehearsals and traveling to New York to perform at a Stonewall 50th anniversary celebratione anniversary.
The film covers grim subject matter, including his attempted suicide. A pride parade is filled with homophobic protesters, and not even pop music can drown them out. But the ultimate tone of “I Am More” is festive. His musical performances underscore that More exists as his most outrageous alter ego in public spaces. She sings as she struts in the middle of a freeway and stands on a crowded subway platform wearing a huge headdress. “A Bit of More” finds the truth of his life in a mixture of fantasy and reality.
“Maybe Love,” actor Cho Eun-ji’s debut film, shows a much more privileged side of South Korean life, but it puts a refreshing spin on romantic comedy and melodrama. The idea of a gay stalker approaching a straight man is fraught with difficulty, but “Maybe Love” takes it in a subversive direction. A film about the midlife crisis, it follows 50-year-old writer and teacher Hyeon (Ryu Seung-ryong) as he tries to get his career and loves back on track. Once one of Korea’s most popular novelists, he’s been out of ideas for years. He and his wife Mi-ae (Oh Na-ra) have divorced but are still having sex, as their son Seong-keyong (Sung Yoo-bin) discovers, to his fury, when he catches them in bed .
One of Hyeon’s students, a gay man named Yoo-jin (Mu Jin-sung), has a crush on him. Although Yoo-jin’s behavior makes Hyeon visibly uncomfortable, the two gradually become friendly enough to move in together. The film deftly balances all of these storylines, cutting between them. It also mixes tones deftly, including moments of silly comedy but remaining mindful of its characters. Although the film is full of sobering scenes, it ultimately wants Yoo-jin, Hyeon, and the latter’s family to be happy.
“#lookatme” by Singaporean director Kwek receives its world premiere at NYAFF. He has no shortage of anger against homophobia, the prison system or abuses in Christianity – he takes direct aim at the criminalization of gay sex in Singapore.
His only lighthearted minutes come at the very beginning, when Sean (Thomas Pang) makes a few humorous videos in an effort to launch a career as a YouTube vlogger. His girlfriend takes him to a Baptist mega-church where Pastor Long’s (Adrian Pang) entire sermon is a homophobic rant. Furious on behalf of his gay brother Ricky, Sean posts an attack on the minister, in which he sarcastically insinuates that Pastor Long has sex with horses, on his YouTube channel. The result leads to an 18 month prison sentence, as well as a world of suffering for Ricky and their mother.
The film is as dark as possible without anyone dying on screen. But while well-meaning, he also has a deathly fear of subtlety and only sees ambiguity as a sign of Sean’s mental instability. Even his good intentions backfire: Sean and his family’s plight is so grim that ‘#lookatme’ could be seen as a cautionary tale suggesting the danger of speaking out politically isn’t worth it . The twist ending, which can be seen coming from the first 20 minutes, doesn’t help, nor does the movie’s flat, TV-ready style.
The highlight of my viewing was Kashou Iizuka’s “Angry Son,” a deeply felt drama about a teenage boy’s tormented relationship with his mother. The main character, Jungo (Kazuki Horike), is dating another teenager, Yusuke. But he lives with his mother, Reina, a Filipino immigrant who works as a bar hostess. (The film implies this is a thin veil for sex work.) They are so poor that he wakes up to find their electricity has been cut. For several reasons, he resents Reina and goes in search of the biological father he never knew. ‘Angry Son’ creates complex characters – it echoes ‘Moonlight’, but is far more sympathetic to its protagonist’s mother. Jun resents how he’s been altered because of his mother’s identity, with flashbacks to him being called a “Filipino sissy boy” and other classmates laughing at the lunch she takes. prepared. Reina’s brashness becomes a way of expressing cultural differences between Filipinos and Japanese, and the choices she’s made make economic sense, including marrying a man she met as a hostess. .
Living for love is a privilege she doesn’t have, but her son seems to be able to do more. Iizuka plays emotional confrontations in a detached style, filming key scenes like Jun discovering Reina’s ex-husband wasn’t her long-term father. The film is moody without turning into melodrama, taking Jun from teenage anger to the brink of fatherhood in a matter of years.
New York Asian Film Festival 2022 | Filming at Lincoln Center | July 15the-28e