Asian presence at the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2021

We present the Asian films that will compete at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (Netherlands), which will take place in a hybrid format and divided into two parts. The first part will take place from February 1st – 7th, and the second part from June 2nd – 6th, 2021.

Feature Films:

Aristocrats by Sode Yukiko – Japan | 2020 – 124 minutes
Section: Big Screen Competition

Sophisticated, layered book adaptation by Japanese director Sode Yukiko (Good Stripes, 2015) that shows contemporary Tokyo from the differing perspectives of two women. Hanako has always been able to rely on her privileged background, but suddenly finds herself alone when her relationship with her fiancé ends. Under pressure from her wealthy family, she goes in search of a new potential husband. Her story is subtly contrasted with that of Miki, played by model-actress Kiko Mizuhara (Queer Eye: We’re in Japan!, Norwegian Wood). She has arrived from a less affluent family in a smaller town to build a life for herself in Tokyo. Two women from completely different backgrounds who meet by chance because of the same man: aristocratic lawyer Koichiro.

In shots composed with extreme attention to detail, Sode is able to finely dissect modern Tokyo with all its various social bubbles and accompanying standards of behaviour. She also manages to beautifully deconstruct the typical woman-meets-man story by placing the emphasis on solidarity, identity, background and class. (IFFR 2020)


As We Like It by Chen Hung-i and Muni Wei – Taiwan | 2021 – 107 minutes
Section: Big Screen Competition

As We Like It, a reworking of Shakespeare’s play, tells of the love blossoming between Orlando and Rosalind, who is disguised as a man. Filmmakers Chen Hung-i and Muni Wei opted for an entirely female cast, thereby referencing Shakespeare’s era when women were banned from the stage and all roles were played by men.

This colourful, energetic film follows Orlando and Rosalind and three other potential couples in their search for one another. All set in an internet-free neighbourhood in the bustling metropolis of Taipei where there is no rush and people consciously live together. Fairy-tale settings, magical meetings, cryptic messages, but also fights, kidnappings and family feuds. The film upends the binary world, making it a loving spectacle with plenty of music and doll-like design. (IFFR 2020)


Bipolar by Queen Li – China | 2021 – 107 minutes
Section: Tiger Competition

In this inventive, hyper-crazy variation on the myth of Orpheus, a young woman arrives in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. She has come as a pilgrim, she says – but in reality she doesn’t have much idea of why she is here. She has been blown to Lhasa by the pain of a loss; pain she doesn’t yet know how to handle.

Whatever her vague plans were, everything changes when she sees a lobster in a way-too-small aquarium in the restaurant of her hotel. The waiters assure her that it’s a holy lobster, one that thrives only in the light of the Ming Island lighthouse, far away at sea – but now it’s stuck in this tank of water. Before the other hotel guests are even awake, she has bought a car from a taxi driver for the long journey to Ming Island.

Dreams, hallucinations and memories in a nocturnal swimming pool gradually reveal the true nature of her pilgrimage to the sea. Perhaps she will be able to drag the pain of her loss away from the gates of hell and let it go. Maybe she again wants to feel the wind of life blowing in her face after months of the silence of death. Bipolar is a road movie with Western accents in high-contrast black-and-white and a carnival of bizarre apparitions which slowly lead the young woman back to reality. However weird this may be. (IFFR 2020)


Drifting by Jun Li – Hong Kong | 2021 – 112 minutes
Section: Big Screen Competition

Just out of jail, Fai finds a spot on a street corner where other homeless people welcome him. But he doesn’t get much time to settle in. The police soon chase them away, and their possessions disappear into a garbage truck. Young social worker Ms Ho thinks it’s time to fight this in court. In the meantime, Fai and his friends have other concerns.

‘Ordinary Heroes: Made in Hong Kong’ was an IFFR theme last year. Drifting, based on a real-life incident that took place in 2012, is a perfect follow-up. Shot during the period of intense protests on the streets of Hong Kong (which are not shown, although they were an influence on the film) and against a backdrop of the contrast between luxury high-rise buildings and makeshift huts under viaducts, Jun Li paints a committed, human picture of a marginalised group, showing friendship and solidarity, conflict and tragedy. (IFFR 2020)


Pebbles by Vinothraj P.S. – India | 2021 – 75 minutes
Section: Tiger Competition

The inhabitants of the village Arittapatti in southern India depend entirely on agriculture, which has suffered terribly due to a long drought. The fields have become deserts and the skinny livestock eat the last leaves. The women catch and roast rats or wait for hours until it is their turn to pull muddy water from the well. The men hang around, play cards and sleep.

One of the latter is Ganapathy, a chain-smoking drunk with a permanent frown. His wife has fled the home and his domestic violence, but he is determined to fetch her back from her village. He forces his young son to join him. At his in-laws, Ganapathy causes a terrible scene and in revenge, his son tears up the money for the return bus journey. This is the start of a 13 km walk on one of the hottest days of the year.

A constant sense of anger and the threat of violence raise the temperature even more in the desolate landscape, filmed as beautiful, yet forbidding. The father-son relationship is deeply disturbed, yet they are inexorably drawn together. It seems next to impossible that the still-innocent boy will go down the same path his father did. Their pointless journey illustrates the disruptive influence of grinding poverty. (IFFR 2020)


Septet: The Story of Hong Kong by Sammo Hung, Ann Hui, Patrick Tam, Yuen Woo-ping, Johnnie To, Ringo Lam, Tsui Hark – Hong Kong | 2020 – 113 minutes – Section: Limelight

Omnibus film, composed of short films by seven prominent Hong Kong filmmakers about their home town based on personal experiences, resulting in a collective ode to the exceptional metropolis which is home to more skyscrapers than anywhere else and a Westernised generation more accustomed to hamburgers than steamed rice rolls. Each director tells their story in a different decade of Hong Kong’s history, from the colonial 1950s to Hong Kongs’s uncertain present.

Filmmaker Johnnie To initiated the project, finding six peers from the golden age of Hong Kong cinema, including founders of the influential Hong Kong New Wave (Ann Hui and Tsui Hark) and martial arts legend Yuen Woo-ping. Alongside a nostalgic homage to Hong Kong, Septet is also a celebration of these filmmakers and of the original medium: all the segments were shot on celluloid. (IFFR 2020)


Sexual Drive by Yoshida Kota – Japan | 2021 – 70 minutes
Section: Big Screen Competition

A Japanese triptych about sex, aphrodisiac foods and secret desires. Kurita appears in every part, always with a box of Chinese chestnuts under his arm. In part one, Natto, named after a traditional fermented soy bean dish, Kurita visits designer Enatsu purporting to be in an affair with the latter’s wife Masumi. In Mapo, named after Chinese tofu, Kurita asks Akane, the woman who used to bully him, to hit him with her car. The final part, Ramen, centres on the adulterous affair between married Ikeyama and Momoka.

Although Sexual Drive contains no explicit sex scenes, it is definitely an erotic film. Director Yoshida Kota’s sensual close-ups of the female leads relishing their favourite dishes with increasing arousal are reminiscent of the Japanese classic Tampopo (1985). Almost orgiastically, natto-eating Masumi asks Enatsu: “Do you want some?” A massive double entendre. (IFFR 2020)


The Edge of Daybreak by Taiki Sakpisit – Thailand | 2021 – 114 minutes
Section: Tiger Competition

A family’s mental state reflects the troubled history of Thailand in Taiki Sakpisit’s doom-laden feature film debut. Sakpisit’s The Mental Traveller featured in IFFR’s 2019 Tiger Short Competition.

The oppression of the student uprisings in the 1970s and the 2006 military coup are the implicit historic anchors for an equal parts fluid and suffocating family chronicle marred by psychological trauma, violence and guilt complexes. On the eve of a shift in political power, a woman is taken to a safe house, sharing a final meal with her husband before he is smuggled abroad. 30 years earlier, Ploy was a young girl in a coma after nearly drowning. Her father, a soldier, has been missing for three years and her mother is recovering from a nervous breakdown. Together with her lover, her husband’s younger brother, she relives the traumas of their youth.

Impending doom and repression pervade monochrome shots of desolate, dilapidated locations with lanterns creating ghostly shadow theatre. The dark soundtrack, minimal cinematic action and slow tempo conjure up a hypnotic state. The characters seem imprisoned in emotional paralysis where past and present meld into a single, endless nightmare. A shadow crosses the sun: is it an omen or will it awaken everyone? (IFFR 2020)


The Harbour by Rajeev Ravi – India | 2021 – 175 minutes
Section: Big Screen Competition

In the Indian State of Kerala, a number of Communist parties still wield considerable power today. The basis for this was laid in the 1940s and 1950s, when left-wing leaders led an uprising against the oppression of workers and farmers. The divide-and-rule tactics used by tyrannical bosses was symbolised particularly by the ‘chappa’ system practised in the Mattancherry district of the port city of Kochi. This meant that day labourers were forced to fight one another for metal tokens entitling them to work. Union meetings were broken up by force.

The Harbour shows how two brothers end up on opposing sides of this system. One becomes the leader of an employer’s gang of thugs, while the other becomes an activist. All the while, the women in their family go hungry and the community is ravaged by violence and alcoholism. In this epic film featuring a generous helping of fight sequences, the struggle for social justice and the desire to make the best of your life are two sides of the same coin. (IFFR 2020)

The Last Farmer by M. Manikandan – India | 2021 – 120 minutes
Section: Big Screen Competition

Octogenarian Maayandi is the last active farmer in his remote village in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. His farm work, his fields and livestock are enough for him, and he refuses to sell his land to a property developer. But Maayandi’s pleasantly predictable way of life comes to an abrupt end when he is wrongly accused of killing three peacocks – the national symbol of India – and burying them on his property.

While his case takes Kafkaesque twists and turns, the incarcerated Maayandi worries mainly about his crops, sown as tribute to the gods and an entreaty for rain. Farming traditions passed down from generation to generation could be lost forever as Maayandi remains absent from the farm. Until the other villagers join together to take action.

This parable about the impending loss of ancient traditions skilfully interweaves dramatic scenes with dry humour. The striking soundtrack accompanies fairy-tale footage of the peacock-studded surroundings. (IFFR 2020)

Short Films

Happy Valley by Simon Liu – Hong Kong | 2020 – 12 minutes

Through processing a year of bewildering news and images from my home in Hong Kong, I’ve come to question the significance of dear memories and personal joy in the face of things falling apart. As the days teeter toward an uncertain future, Happy Valley cinematically probes the role of the so-called “little things”. A rendering of the perseverance of spirit in Hong Kong − an attempt at irony that can’t help but be emotional. (Simon Liu) (IFFR 2020)

Lemongrass Girl by Pom Bunsermvicha – Thailand | 2021 – 17 minutes

An ancient, yet still-common Thai superstition is the basis for this subtle reflection on power relations and sexism. The young Piano gets lumbered with the job of keeping the set dry during the shoot for Anocha Suwichakornpong’s latest film Come Here. Only she seems capable of warding off the rain. Fiction and making-of are joined virtually seamlessly: Thai filmset as an allegory for society. (IFFR 2020)

Tellurian Drama by Riar Rizaldi – Indonesia | 2020 – 26 minutes

Mount Malabar in West Java, Indonesia, shows us a spectrum of human-nature relationships: the Dutch colonial government saw the mountain as a suitable spot for an antenna for radio transmission; for indigenous communities, the mountain itself is a partner for spiritual communication. In Riar Rizaldi’s eclectic essay film, archival history collides with personal narratives on the history of technology, nature and colonisation. A shaman’s breath-taking zither performance brings us a moment of clarity. (IFFR 2020)

The Eternal Springtime by Viet Vu – Vietnam | 2021 – 26 minutes

In a landscape on the brink of extinction, a son and mother trek into a native cave to recount their lifetime memories. By just quietly sitting together in their humble shelter, a loving energy is shared through these two human beings’ naked bodies. This personal portrait cuts deep into the vulnerable present of an ex-colonised nation transiting into the digital age. Seen from a first-person perspective, the film also explores a new possibility of storytelling. (IFFR 2020)

The Women’s Revenge by Su Hui-yu – Taiwan | 2020 – 16 minutes

Following The Glamorous Boys of Tang (Tiger Short Competition 2019), The Women’s Revenge is the latest iteration of Su Hui-yu’s ‘reshooting’ series where he resurrects the ghosts of Taiwanese film history through dynamic re-enactment. A thudding bassline accompanies five women on a vengeful rampage, paying homage to Taiwan Black Movies, the politically subversive 1980s sexploitation genre that was suppressed by the Chinese Nationalist party during the Martial Law period. A sword raised above the head; a stab in the stomach. (IFFR 2020)

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