We present a list of ten Asian films you cannot miss at the 66th Sydney Film Festival which will take place from June 5th – 16th, in Sydney, Australia.
Alpha, the Right to Kill by Brillante Mendoza – Philippines | 2018 – 94 minutes
The new feature by Brillante Mendoza (Lola, SFF 2009; Foster Child, SFF 2007) reaffirms his status as one of the most vital and important voices in contemporary Filipino cinema. With characteristic fearlessness, Mendoza takes us to the epicentre of the drug-related violence and extrajudicial executions that have ravaged his country since 2016. Espino is an apparently honest SWAT commander and family man. In reality he’s another crooked cop in a hopelessly broken system. Manila slum resident Alpha peddles meth to keep his family fed and acts as Espino’s snitch in order to avoid arrest – or worse. Mendoza’s stylishly executed thriller provides a memorable picture of a city in the grip of overwhelming fear. (SydneyFF 2019 Catalogue)
June 8th | Saturday | Event Cinemas George St 5 | 4:30 pm
June 10th | Monday | Dendy Opera Quays Cinema 1 | 4:45 pm
Children of the Sea by Ayumu Watanabe – Japan | 2019 – 110 minutes
When Ruka is suspended from her school handball team, she decides to visit her father, who works at an aquarium. She soon meets and befriends Umi, a boy who seems at one with the ocean and has the ability to communicate with sea creatures. She also meets his older brother, the sickly and haughty Sora. Together they notice a song of the sea that’s luring all types of sea creatures away from their natural habitats. And Ruka discovers that her affinity with the sea is far greater than she imagined. Director Ayumu Watanabe (Doraemon the Movie: Nobita’s Dinosaur) has crafted a film of great beauty, depicting a magical seascape setting for this fantastic adventure. Selected for the Contrechamp Competition at the prestigious Annecy Festival.
June 15th | Saturday | Hoyts Entertainment Quarter 15 | 4:15 pm
June 16th | Sunday | State Theatre | 4:30 pm
Clean Up by Kwon Man-ki – South Korea | 2018 – 104 minutes
Kwon Man-ki’s impressive debut is refreshingly different from the high-tempo thrillers South Korean cinema is known for. Low-key visuals and minimal dialogue convey the tale of Jung-je (Yoon Ji-hye, superb), an emotionally-blank cleaner. Her new workmate is Min-gu, an unsettled ex-convict. Min-gu was just a boy when Jung-je and her husband blindfolded and kidnapped him. The question of whether Min-gu will recognise his captor is just one part of Kwon’s meticulously arranged screenplay. Jung-je is terrified of being exposed. She also has a desperate desire to reach out and help the troubled young man. What emerges is a suspenseful and emotionally rewarding portrait of damaged souls searching for hope.
June 9th | Sunday | Event Cinemas George St 3 | 8:45 pm
June 11st | Tuesday | Event Cinemas George St 5 | 6:30 pm
Jesus by Hiroshi Okuyama – Japan | 2018 – 77 minutes
Nine-year-old Yura moves with his parents from Tokyo to a countryside town to join the boy’s grandmother. A shy boy, Yura must adapt to a new school, complicated by the fact that it’s a Christian institution. At first Yura struggles with the religious enthusiasm of his classmates but when, in the midst of prayer, a very small Jesus (played energetically by Australian comedian Chad Mullane) manifests himself, the boy quickly comes to the faith. Jesus becomes his entertaining playmate with the added advantage of making Yura’s every wish come true. Behind the gentle, humorous and playful veneer, the talented 23-year-old Okuyama (who made his first music video at age 13) makes a pointed commentary on faith and religion.
June 14th | Friday | Event Cinemas George St 5 | 6:10 pm
June 15th | Saturday | Event Cinemas George St 3 | 4:30 pm
Manta Ray by Phuttiphong Aroonpheng
Thailand, France, China | 2018 – 106 minutes
On the coast of Thailand, a site of great misfortune and cruelty for the Rohingya, a local fisherman finds an injured man and nurses him back to health. The stranger does not speak, but that doesn’t stop the fisherman from befriending him, naming him Thongchai and involving him in every element of his life. In one lovely scene, not easily forgotten, the two men dance in a makeshift disco. When the fisherman disappears, Thongchai gradually begins to take over his friend’s life: his house, his job and even his ex-wife. A striking and relevant meditation on identity, Manta Ray is a film of exquisite beauty that finds moments of transcendence amidst a time of brutality. Manta Ray won Best Director and Artistic Achievement awards at Cairo and Thessaloniki film festivals.
June 8th | Saturday | Dendy Opera Quays Cinema 2 | 8:45 pm
June 9th | Sunday | Event Cinemas George St 5 | 12:00 pm
One Child Nation by Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang
China, USA | 2019 – 85 minutes
Launched in 1979 and ending only in 2015, China’s mandatory policy was an attempt to curb the country’s looming population crisis. Co-directors Nanfu Wang (Hooligan Sparrow, 2016) and Jialing Zhang grew up in 1980s China. As a child, Wang recalls seeing relentless propaganda reinforcing the government’s strategy. Now a first-time mother living in America, she returns to China to investigate the devastating impact of the program. In shocking interviews with journalists, officials and family members, she documents a horrendous trail of social destruction, from forced sterilisation to child abandonment (nearly all girls) and state-sponsored kidnappings. Wang and Zhang’s important and uncompromising documentary challenges widespread assumptions.
June 7th | Friday | State Theatre | 1:45 pm
June 9th | Sunday | Event Cinemas George St 3 | 4:30 pm [SOLD OUT]
Parasite by Bong Jooh-ho – South Korea | 2019 – 131 minutes
Bong regular Song Kang-ho (The Host, Snowpiercer) plays Ki-taek, whose family of four is close, but hopelessly unemployed. Without prospects, they hustle as best they can to scrape up the money to survive in their subterranean apartment. Hope comes in the form of an unusual offer. The son, Ki-woo, is recommended for a very well-paid tutoring job. Though Ki-woo lacks a university degree, it turns out his sister Ki-jung is a master forger and soon, bearing a fake degree, he is being interviewed at the luxurious home of the very wealthy Park family. Ki-woo gets the job as tutor, and quickly realises that the Park family could well prove to be the solution to his family’s money problems. With every frame beautifully composed, Parasite vividly contrasts the two families using humour, mystery and a creeping sense of tension. Bong once again skillfully fuses genre elements with social critique in a wildly entertaining, visually extraordinary and intoxicating manner.
June 15th | Saturday | State Theatre | 9:10 pm [Sold Out]
June 16th | State Theatre | 11:35 pm
So Long, My Son by Wang Xioashuai – China | 2019 – 180 minutes
Yaojun (Wang Jingchun) and Liyun (Yong Mei) were once happy, but when their young son dies in a tragic accident, the couple never truly recovers. They adopt a son who struggles to adapt to his new circumstances and rebels against his anxious parents, culminating in him running away from home. A mainstay of Chinese independent filmmaking, Xiaoshuai (Beijing Bicycle, Shanghai Dreams) uses this story as the basis for a thorough examination of the effect of the political on the personal in China. The Cultural Revolution, China’s One-Child Policy and eventual burgeoning wealth all play out as the backdrop to this immensely emotional story of loss, love and redemption and human upheaval in China.
June 13th | Thursday | State Theatre | 8:35 pm
June 14th | Friday | Event Cinemas George St 5 | 8:15 pm
The Third Wife by Ash Mayfair – Vietnam | 2018 – 112 minutes
Mayfair’s dreamlike feminist tale of repressed desire is filled with passion, beauty and melancholy. May (Nguyễn Phương Trà My) is a teenager who, through an arranged marriage, becomes the third wife of prosperous rural landowner Hung. She quickly comes of age, learning what she can about sex, and also about the strict patriarchal hierarchy of her society: a world in which women are scarcely more than property and fulfilment of any kind is fleeting. May soon pins all her hopes on becoming the first of Hung’s wives to bear him a son. Writer/director Mayfair based the tale in part on her own family history, recruiting a splendid cast including the great Trần Nữ Yên Khê (The Scent of Green Papaya). The Third Wife’s ravishing cinematography brings the pastoral setting to life with a mix of lyricism and bracing immediacy.
June 5 | Wednesday | Dendy Opera Quays Cinema 2 | 8:30 pm
June 6th | Thursday | Hayden Orpheum Cremorne | 6:30 pm
June 7th | Friday | State Theatre | 11:45 pm
Up the Mountain by Zhang Yang – China | 2018 – 126 minutes
Master painter and teacher Shen Jianhua moved from Shanghai to a mountaintop Yunnan village years ago. He offers drawing lessons to numerous guests, including elderly village ladies who produce colourful folk canvases. The women are delightful, chattering as they paint and cook, revealing much about their calm approach to the ups and downs – the very rhythms – of life. One of Shen’s pupils is less serene: newly married, he’s torn between staying and leaving for the big city. His story exemplifies the clash between modernity and tradition in today’s China. Using an aspect ratio similar to a painting, director Zhang Yang (Festival favourite Shower, SFF 1999) has crafted an exquisite, unhurried portrait of a community and the joy of creating.
June 8th | Saturday | Event Cinemas George St 9 | 4:05 pm
June 10th | Monday | Dendy Opera Quays Cinema 2 | 2:00 pm