So many great movies at the New York Asian Film Festival, so little time to watch as many as I can in order to tell you about them. The most popular movies from Asia last year served up to us on a plate in a single festival. If you miss them at the festival, they might be out on DVD soon, either on a US label or an Asian label you can order online. Some of them are already out on DVD in Asia.
In no particular order, I’m just going to go through the list of films I saw as it occurs to me to write about them.
Based on a true story of the most notorious police corruption scandal in Japan this century, this tells the story of the rise and fall of a flagrantly corrupt cop from the 1970s all the way to the 1990s. Go Ayano gives a career-defining performance, appearing in every scene playing cop Moroboshi from his days as an ambitious rookie trying to get a leg up in the police force to hotshot whose success comes from cultivating ties with snitches and gangsters to broken has-been drug addict. Director Kazuya Shiraishi directs the movie as if it was a throwback to the types of 70s and 80s Japanese crime movies that Kinju Fukasaku used to make, treating the story as a lurid absurdist comedy as Moroboshi acts more like a Yakuza who’s been allowed to run amok in the police department, using his ties to snitches and mobsters to buy drugs and guns specifically for busts in order to keep up police quotas and make the force look like the police are doing a bang-up job, all with the approval of the top brass. Crime and the police become a snake continuously eating its own tail with Moroboshi as the cop with no moral centre who ends up chasing that tail as he spirals deeper and deeper into a hell partly of his own making.#
Director Yeon Sang-Ho makes the Korean equivalent of The Walking Dead, only as an animated feature film. Yeon sides with the outsiders of society: the homeless, the marginalized, the exploited, as the zombie apocalypse hit the centre of the South Korean capital. A runaway girl forced into prostitution has to survive the growing hordes of snarling flesh-hungry undead while her boyfriend tries to find her from another part of town. This movie doesn’t have the big-eyed, cutesy cartoon look of Japanese anime but instead uses a kind of rotoscoped animation where the characters look like actual people to get across its theme of ordinary people at the mercy of forces beyond their control, including a clueless government that declares martial law and starts shooting indiscriminately, which references South Korea’s past with oppressive regimes. As pessimistic and downbeat as you might expect a merciless South Korean thriller can get.
The biggest R-rated hit in Korea this year, a big budget adaptation of a popular webcomic that depicts the relationship between corporations, politicians, gangsters and the law, this twisty decades-spanning crime thriller follows a journalist who gets to be a fixer for powerful interests, a small-time gangster out of revenge against the bigwigs who used, then spat him out, and a criminal prosecutor out to take down some big game. The three circle each other in a furious dance of bait-and-switch, double-crosses to expose a scandal that links the journalist, a company chairman and a presidential candidate, referencing real-life scandals that have dominated South Korea’s headlines for the last few years, making this movie an angry critique of the political power structures that’s very much part of the zeitgeist. I actually saw this movie weeks ago and liked it enough to buy the Korean DVD which came with both the two-hour theatrical cut and three-hour director’s cut.
Every country has its own popular horror movie every year, and this is Taiwan’s latest, the equivalent to the likes of The Conjuring or The Ring. Inspired by a 1988 viral video that showed a group of mountaineers being followed by a creepy little girl believed to be an evil spirit that stole children and the elderly, this movie uses the supernatural to address issues of guilt and taking loved ones for granted when the spirit begins haunting an apartment block in the city. A real estate agent finds his grandmother missing and strange events in his wake before he disappears. His radio DJ girlfriend then finds herself stalked by the spirit as she investigates its origins and tries to find him and his grandmother, culminating in a search in the woods like a mythical confrontation out of a fairy tale. Director Cheng Wei Hao takes his cues from Japanese horror, introducing a creepy menace to mundane urban settings to turn the modern world into a place full of dark corners hiding things that are waiting to attack you.
A Violent Prosecutor
Another massively popular Korean crime movie involving prosecutors and corruption. These issues must be big in the headlines in Korea right now as there are a lot of movies and TV shows about attorneys and prosecutors. This one is a little bit different, a high concept variation on The Count of Monte Cristo that could only ever be a movie-movie: an ambitious and aggressive prosecutor gets framed and sent to jail. There he meets a young con man and uses him to hatch his revenge. He coaches the con man in the ways of the law and gets him released from jail to pose as a lawyer to lure the people who framed him into a trap that will get him out of jail. Twists and turns abound as the con man makes a play to escape from his clutches and the plan while he counters his moves with a network of ex-cons he cultivated to keep the plan on track.
Still watching at firstname.lastname@example.org
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