Asian Film Festival of Dallas 2012 Wrap Up

Editor, U.S. ; Dallas, Texas (@HatefulJosh)
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Asian Film Festival of Dallas 2012 Wrap Up
Thursday's closing night screening of the Yim Pil-seung/Kim Jee-woon omnibus film, Doomsday Book, capped another year of great films and great friends at the 2012 Asian Film Festival of Dallas.  I've been attending the festival for seven years now and they never cease to amaze me with the diversity and quality of their film selections, 2012 is no exception. For the first few days of AFFD I was joined by our Managing Editor, Peter Martin, though he was unable to complete the festival this year, I look forward to a more complete Pete-a-thon at Fantastic Fest.

This year I was honored to have been selected as a member of the Shorts Jury for the festival, and there were some quality films in those programs that may mark upcoming talent to look out for. The overall winner for best narrative short was Modern Family, a Korean film directed by KIM Kwang-bin. Kim's incredibly dark sense of humor puts a fun spin on the killer kid genre and attacks Korean social mores with a wink. Korea was a big presence in this year's shorts programs, and another Korean short, Guest, earned its lead actress, Jung Yeon-joo, a special jury prize for acting in a film obviously influenced by Ik Yang June's Breathless, another AFFD alumnus.

lla.jpegThe real discovery here, though, was Rashad Haughton's Love Like Aliens (trailer here). It is a remarkably powerful animated short that incorporates music into the narrative in a way that not many other films can match. Rarely is the success of an anime short as dependent on the sonic accompaniment as it is in Love Like Aliens, and even more rare is the success with which the film accomplishes its goal. Haughton and his producer, Yosuke Nagafuchi, were in attendance for this, their world premiere, and I'm happy to say that it was revealed in the Q&A that they do have a feature in the works. If you like Aeon Flux, the original Liquid TV version, Love Like Aliens is kind of in that vein, this is a guy to look out for!

Among the narrative features, there was a great variety of both big draws and smaller features to balance them out. The expected hits, Ace Attorney, Wu Xia (Dragon), Doomsday Book, and The Great Magician all delivered. Some of the less impressive features for me included Guns And Roses (veered into propaganda turf in the last few minutes), Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's Headshot (though I've fairly certain it will improve when I revisit it on home video this fall), Japanese braintwister Monsters Club (which a lot of other folks liked more than I did), and Thai lesbian romantic-comedy Yes or No, which was not bad, but simply underwhelming. However, as an overall percentage, AFFD turned out incredibly well, and a lot of the smaller films deserve more attention.

realtalk.jpgOne of my favorite things about the AFFD is that part of their mission is to share not only Asian films, but also films with Asian American themes and characters, which is something that not many festivals take the energy to do. Among the interesting features in this category were HP Mendoza's I Am A Ghost (review here), AFFD co-founder Mye Hoang's Viette (review here), Dave Boyle's Daylight Savings (review here), and many of the included shorts, including a very impressive experimental short titled Real Talk from NYU student Patrick Ng. The Asian American experience is looked at from all angles, everything from Daylight Savings' quietly funny moments to Viette's brutal extremism. Big time kudos to the filmmakers and the festival for taking chances on less glossy features that could easily be overlooked otherwise.

Now, it's time for my personal favorites.

My absolute favorite film of AFFD 2012 was easily the centerpiece film, Hitoshi Matsumoto's Saya Samurai (Scabbard Samurai). AFFD 2010 featured Matsumoto's brilliant Symbol and the AFI Dallas featured Big Man Japan, so we've been lucky here in Dallas to get both films on the big screen. However, as amazing as both of those films are, neither will prepare you for the incredible emotional journey that Matsumoto's characters take through Scabbard Samurai. His career was in danger of becoming that of a filmmaker that only a few people really "get", but those who do love him to pieces. With Scabbard Samurai he proves that he is among the best Japanese filmmakers out there, this is an absolutely heartbreaking film with a fantastic sense of humor that pulls at your heartstrings time after time and ends on such a powerful emotional note that I was damn near in tears as the credits rolled. If you get the chance, do not miss this film!

amok.jpgOne film that is currently at Fantasia and about which I knew nothing going in was Filipino crime film Amok (click here for Oggs Cruz's review of Amok). Amok runs 5 or 6 different connected stories simultaneously without losing focus and bringing them all to a head in a wonderfully synchronized clusterfuck. When I talked to Director of Programming, Steve Norwood, about Amok, he was worried that the film wouldn't land with audiences, but I think he underestimated the film's power and impeccable pacing. This is another film that I've seen at AFFD that I may never see again, but I'm glad to have had the opportunity.

I'm a big fan of Tran Anh Hung's Scent of Green Papaya, the film's atmosphere and laid back pacing put me at peace, this year the AFFD had another Vietnamese feature that had a very similar effect on me. Cuong Ngo's Pearls of the Far East is an anthology in which the director takes on seven short stories, each depicting women at different stages of life. The film will certainly not be for everyone, the friend who accompanied me to the screening got restless as the film wore on, but for those willing to sacrifice narrative push for evocative cinematography and casual pacing, Pearls of the Far East is a real gem. The AFFD always seems to find great Vietnamese features, and this year was no exception.

Of the twenty six features I managed in eight days, several others stuck out as worthy of attention. Rather than give each full reviews, I'm just going to make a small list and let you do some of the leg work. First up is Hong Kong throwback Nightfall (check out James Marsh's contrary opinion here), featuring Simon Yam and Nick Cheung, presented by Well Go USA, the film featured about three minutes of footage cut from its home release by the Hong Kong censor board. Then were was seventy minute gross-out film, Gyo (review here), which pitted walking fish monsters against panicky Japanese civilians, my review says it all. Another film that ended up being a bit of a tear jerker was Chinese high altitude biking drama One Mile Above, the synopsis sounded sappy as hell, but the film turned out great and wrenches oodles of drama from a story that could have gone really flat. Taiwanese anthology 10+10 is a set of twenty short films from that country's filmmaking community that range from straight up comedy, to horror, to action, and everything in between. Some parts are better than others, but it was a great collection, that's for sure. Last, but certainly not least, was Harry Kim's neo-noir Too Many Villains (review here), my review is up and almost certainly doesn't do this nifty film justice.

whmh.jpgThe documentary category was also filled with winning features this year, something for everyone. Due to scheduling I unfortunately missed award winners China Heavyweight and Golden Slumbers, but the Filipino gut-punch Give Up Tomorrow and Indonesian slice of life Where Heaven Meets Hell were both more than adequate. Where Give Up Tomorrow relies heavily on construction and talking head interviews to paint a vivid picture of an ongoing despicable miscarriage of justice in the Philippines, Where Heaven Meets Hell instead simply observes and allows the story of Indonesian sulfur miners to evolve on it's own. The latter is certainly the more cinematic of the two, and had me fooled into thinking it was a narrative feature for the first 10 minute or so because micro budget docs never look that good. Both great films, both worth looking out for.

That wraps up my wrap up. The Asian Film Festival of Dallas never fails to impress me, and 2012 was another banner year for them. I'm already excited for next year!  Thanks to everyone on the board and all of the volunteers for running a fantastic event, see you all soon!
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r0rschachJuly 22, 2012 12:16 AM

Great wrap-up and I enjoyed your reviews.

For me Headshot was actually one of the best films of the fest, the no-frills aesthetic really worked for me and although it was predictable I liked the ideas at play.

I felt Doomsday Book was a complete mess. All three films were tedious, plodding and way too talky. The zombie segment had nothing new to add to the genre and didn't have enough laughs for a comedic take on zeds. I liked the concept from the robot segment but I felt the execution was really lacking and the dialogue felt stilted and cheesy in its black and white portrayal of the subject matter. The third segment had one good joke that was stretched to 30 minutes. (Also, have you noticed that the audience always laughs every time someone in a Korean or HK film says a few words in English? I don't know why that's funny, they use all kinds of English words in those places!)

Joe YoungJuly 22, 2012 11:29 AM

"but for those willing to sacrifice narrative push for evocative cinematography and casual pacing, Pearls of the Far East is a real gem."

I´m willing....sounds like my kind of movie. Nice wrap up, thanks Mr Hurtado.