15 Films you shouldn’t miss at the 42nd Hawaii International Film Festival

These are fifteen films you shouldn’t miss at the Hawaii International Film Festival which will take place in Cinemas from November 3 – 20, and online from November 3 – 27, 2022

Bad Axe by David Siev – USA | 2022 – 101 minutes

After leaving NYC for his rural hometown of Bad Axe, MI at the start of the pandemic, an Asian American filmmaker documents his family’s struggles to keep their restaurant open. As fears of the virus grow, deep generational scars dating back to the Cambodian Killing Fields unearth between the family’s patriarch, Chun, and his daughter, Jaclyn. When the BLM movement takes center stage in America, the family uses their voice to speak out in their town where Trumpism runs deep. What unfolds is a real-time portrait of 2020 through the lens of this multicultural family’s fight to keep their American dream alive in the face of a pandemic, Neo-Nazis, and the trauma of having survived a genocide. (HIFF 2022)


Chosen by Joseph Juhn – USA, South Korea | 2022 – 89 minutes

On January 13, 1903, the first group of Koreans arrived in Hawai‘i, marking this day as Korean American Day. But the U.S. and Korea first established diplomatic relations through a treaty in 1882. In the treaty, Korea is referred to as ‘Chosen.’ However, since 1903, only two Korean Americans have been elected to US Congress. In 2020, five Korean Americans of diverse backgrounds make a bid for congressional seats. CHOSEN follows these five candidates through the highs and lows of their campaigns, examining what it means to be Korean American in an era of radical change and uncertainty.

David Kim is a young, progressive, LGBTQ candidate running in Koreatown, Los Angeles. His father, a far right conservative Christian pastor, rejects his son’s sexuality yet makes a temporary truce during the election.

Marilyn Strickland is a half Korean, half Black, Democrat running in Tacoma, Washington, while Republicans Young Kim and Michelle Park Steel, who show unapologetically strong allegiance to President Trump, run in Orange County, CA. Then finally, the only Democratic incumbent Andy Kim faces an uphill battle as no Democrat was reelected in his district in over 150 years.

They are determined to make history. (HIFF 2022)


Delikado by Karl Malakunas – Australia, Hong Kong, Philippines, UK, USA | 2022 – 94 minutes

Amidst the tropical rainforests and sprawling turquoise oceans of Palawan, Philippines, a brutal war is waging on two fronts. The first, a physical conflict between volunteer environmental protectors and those who exploit the island’s trees, fisheries, and mountains for profit. In this ongoing battle, the threat of death by violent, greed fueled resistance looms ever present. The second is a political conflict, where justice for the land and its guardians rests on the results of a contentious mayoral election influenced by the exterior threats of big business, tourism, and the government’s controversial, archipelago wide war on drugs.

DELIKADO captures the combined efforts of a heroic non government organization, a magnetic local leader, and the Indigenous Tagbuana people fighting back against the threats to their island’s ecosystem. Engaging cinematography and dramatic editing captures the intense emotions that underpin this intensifying human rights struggle characterized by grave betrayal, loss, and destruction.-Justin Gerald Ocampo


Demigod: The Legend Begins by Chris Huang Wen Chang – Taiwan | 2022- 103 minutes

When he ignores his master Eight-Toed Qilin’s advice, martial world fledgling Su Huan-Jen is caught up in a perilous power struggle because of his friend Yu Huan. Ensnared in a conspiracy that even his own master cannot escape from, Su Huan-Jen must turn back the tide and stop the evil mastermind once and for all…

Martial arts scholar Su Hua-Jen has risked assured death by climbing to the summit of one of the five sacred mountains, only to be thwarted by two monstrous beings ready for battle. His timely intervention turns the tide of the fight, and unbeknownst to him, sets in motion a series of monumentally consequential events. Back in the city, Su has a more mundane problem to face—an enormous debt with the local book lender. To pay this off, he must peddle his remarkable skills as a physician. While Su would prefer to steer clear of the affairs of the martial arts world, a request from the Lord of Globe Castle is financially promising—and might gain him access to the Fantastic Academy, where he can feast his eyes on the Limitless Celestial Book. But treachery is afoot, and Su is soon drawn into a crisis that will rock the foundations of Heaven and Earth.

With a plot description straight out of a Shaw Brothers cult classic, DEMIGOD: THE LEGEND BEGINS uses the Taiwanese art of bùdàixì glove puppetry, producing a visual feast of handmade wizardry (think Gerry Anderson’s THUNDERBIRDS but on steroids). A big-screen spinoff of the popular PILI television series, this film serves as an origin story for one of its popular characters. DEMIGOD is a ravishingly beautiful and riotously entertaining fantasy adventure that bursts with enough violence, intrigue, magic, and humor to rival the finest swordplay epics this beloved genre has to offer. -Anderson Le


Goddamned Asura by Lou Yi-An – Taiwan | 2021 – 114 minutes

During the night of his 18th birthday, Jan-wen commits a random shooting in a crowded night market, using a self-made modified gun. Although an everyday occurrence in America, this is a once-in-a-lifetime incident that rocks Taiwan (although there was an infamous knife attack in Taipei’s subway a few years ago). We soon discover that Jan-wen has been buckling against intense pressure from his demanding father who has been pushing him to go abroad. As an escape, he devotes hours of screen time on an online RPG, as well as creating a webcomic with his pal Xing. But feeling no love from either of his parents and believing he has nowhere to turn, he reaches a breaking point.

And it is here that the film takes a radical shift. As a reporter investigates this tragic incident, the narrative is reframed by the individuals forever tainted by the shooting, asking the question, What would they have done differently? Would minuscule actions bring a brand new outcome? And what would happen if it did?

GODDAMNED ASURA is a complex, multi-layered psychological drama that explores the Butterfly effect of a random shooting by an ordinary teenager through six characters while also exploring the concept of nature versus nurture when it comes to sensationalist acts of violence. Wowing critics locally, the film is Taiwan’s official entry to the Academy Awards Best International Feature category. (HIFF 2022)


Hommage by Shin Su-won – South Korea | 2021 – 108 minutes

Ji-wan is a filmmaker at the crux of a mid-life crisis, flatlining in a middling career after her 3rd film is a flop and stuck in a loveless marriage. Then she gets a catalyst of an opportunity to jump start her career–a restoration of a 1960s classic that purportedly is directed by Korea’s first female filmmaker. This leads her on a path of self-discovery, re-examining her life, her career and her relationship with her college-age aspiring poet son. (HIFF 2022)


Just Remembering by Daigo Matsui – Japan | 2021 – 115 minutes

Teruo is a stage lighting manager forced to give up his career as a dancer due to injury. Yo is a female taxi driver who loves her independent career. It’s July 26 (Teruo’s birthday) and these two lonely hearts are navigating a Tokyo changed by the pandemic. Told in reverse chronological order, JUST REMEMBERING visits July 26th’s of year’s past, exploring the lives of two people in and out of love with humor and style. An homage to Jim Jarmusch’s A NIGHT ON EARTH. (HIFF 2022)


Leonor Will Never Die by Martika Ramirez Escobar – Philippines | 2022 – 99 minutes

Leonor Reyes was once a major player in the Filipino film industry after creating a string of successful action films, but now her household struggles to pay the bills. When she reads an advertisement looking for screenplays, Leonor begins tinkering with an unfinished script about the quest of young, noble Ronwaldo, forced to avenge his brother’s murder at the hand of thugs. While her imagination provides some escape from reality, she goes all-in after an accident involving a television knocks her out, sends her into a coma, and transports her inside the incomplete movie. Now Leonor can play out her wildest dreams firsthand and discover the perfect ending to her story. (HIFF 2022)


Mama’s Affair by Kearen Pang – Hong Kong | 2022 – 127 minutes

Mei-Fung gave up her career as a top recording artist manager years ago when her son was born. Though she has had a fulfilling life as a housewife and mother, her son is almost grown and she is separated from her husband. Just when she decides to take a part-time job, she unexpectedly discovers a young singer named Ching with incredible talent. But when she goes all-in to make Ching the star she believes he is, she draws jealousy and ire from her son. Can a single mother find a balance between her family and her career? Is her dedication driven by love or responsibility? (HIFF 2022)


Next Sohee by July Jung – South Korea | 2022 – 100 minutes

Young Sohee (Kim Si-eun) is a bubbly, tenacious vocational high-school student with a fiery temperament living in rural Korea. She is excited when she lands an externship at a major internet provider’s call center, but the prized office job turns out to be a nightmarish workplace. She is placed under immense pressure from the company to reach the best team target. The work is daunting even to a gutsy girl like Sohee, and to make matters worse, externs only receive a fraction of the normal wages. Sohee is constantly threatened, but when her overworked supervisor takes his own life, it sets off a psychological descent that will lead her to commit an irreparable act. When rebellious detective Yoo-jin (Bae Doona) is brought in to investigate, what she discovers about the events that led to this dark act lead her down a rabbit hole into a world of institutionalized exploitation, corruption and neglect. (HIFF 2022)


Plan 75 by Chie Hayakawa – France, Japan, Philippines, Qatar | 2022 – 112 minutes

Chie Hayakawa’s PLAN 75, which had its world premiere at Cannes, is a beautifully humanist tale that inventively uses Japan’s aging population crisis as a conceit for a dystopian tale that looks at the value of life. Legislation has passed to fix Japan’s “aging problem;” Anyone over the age of seventy-five can apply for government-funded assisted suicide (hence, the name Plan 75).

The film becomes a triptych of stories–There’s Maria (Stefanie Arianne), an empathetic Filipina migrant worker who leaves a job in elder care for higher pay working with Plan 75 in order to raise funds for her daughter’s heart surgery; Hiromu (Hayato Isomura), a young salaryman who believes his work with Plan 75 is a benevolent social service until his estranged uncle shows up at his desk one day; And at the film’s heart is Michiko (an amazing performance by veteran actress Chieko Baishô), an independent-minded senior who turns to Plan 75 as a last option after facing discrimination that causes her to lose both her home and her job.

PLAN 75, however, is not all doom and gloom. In following Michiko, Maria, and Hiromu’s journeys, Director Hayakawa celebrates life and all its mundane, tiny joys–A love of cream soda and bowling; singing karaoke with a group of friends; altruistic tasks like feeding homeless some soup on a wintery night or donating blood for those in need. Hayakawa asks us to remember that it’s the little gestures and acts of kindness that bind us and not make individuals slip through the cracks of society.-Anderson Le (HIFF 2022)


Return to Seoul by Davy Chou – Cambodia, France, South Korea | 2022 – 115 minutes

Freddie (Park Ji-Min), a young French woman, finds herself spontaneously tracking down the South Korean birth parents she has never met while on vacation in Seoul. Unfolding across several specific time periods in Freddie’s life, usually tethered to her birth country (geographically and metaphorically), the film’s time-jumping narrative weaves in twists and turns, chronicling the turbulent rhythms of its impetuous protagonist, portrayed by Park in a galvanizing, fiery breakthrough performance. (HIFF 2022)


Stonewalling by Huang Ji, Ryuji Otsuka – Japan | 2022 – 147 minutes

20 year-old Lynn is told she needs English classes, flight attendant school, and a go getter-attitude. She perseveres along this path of upward mobility until she finds out she’s pregnant. Indecisive and running out of time, she tells her boyfriend she’s had an abortion and instead returns to her feuding parents and their failing clinic to try and figure out (if she can) what’s next.

Built from interviews with college women happy to invest in themselves, observations of a post-Tik Tok China, and their own lived experiences, STONEWALLING is perceptive with meticulous attention to detail. Returning with a now adult Yao Honggui (FOOLISH BIRD, EGG AND STONE) opposite the directors’ own parents, husband-and-wife team Huang Ji and Ryuji Otsuka take a look at the new norms of gig-economy, grey markets, MLMs, and hustling in modern-day metropolitan China through the experiences of one ordinary young woman. (HIFF 2022)


The Last 10 Years by Michihito Fujii – Japan | 2022 – 125 minutes

From director Michihito Fujii comes one of the biggest Japanese box office hits of the year.

The Sakura cherry blossom seasons mark each of the 10 years of life left to Matsuri (Nana Komatsu), a promising writer diagnosed at age 20 with an incurable lung disorder. She vows to live a stoically solo life, though those blossoms remind her that however short their life may be, they bloom to the fullest. When she runs into angst-ridden Kazuto, an old and forgotten classmate ready to give up on his life, she finds a connection she never expected. She resumes a writing career; he finds his talent running a warm and friendly neighborhood izakaya. With supportive friends and Matsuri’s family cautiously hovering over her health, will she learn to embrace love after all?

Based on Rika Kusaka’s novel facing her own terminal illness, director Michihito Fujii brings the award-winning book to the screen in soft colors exposing oases of natural beauty in ultra-urbanized Tokyo. Something feathery is always in the air: Sakura, autumn leaves, rain, snow. A heartstring plucking soundtrack adds an extra tissue ranking to this LOVE STORY- like weeper. But it’s a good cry for lives not lost, but well-lived. -Tom Brislin (HIFF 2022)


We Don’t Dance for Nothing by Stefanos Tai – Hong Kong, China, Philippines | 2022 – 87 minutes

WE DON’T DANCE FOR NOTHING is a photo-montage love letter to the Filipina Domestic Workers of Hong Kong. This visual recreation of true memories shared by this community of 400,000 women (millions globally) follows one woman’s plan to run away. Captured on Super-16 amidst the Hong Kong Protests, stills blend with motion to highlight the passionate Street Dancing of these women, and touch upon LGBTQ+ themes, issues of Workers’ Rights, and Hong Kong’s changing political landscape.

From Chinese – Greek – American director Stefanos Tai, the film has been described as “La Jetée” meets “La La Land”, and its use of stills vs. motion represent a bold new method of filmmaking: one which invites the viewer to viscerally experience the entrapment felt by these women, and their release into freedom when they dance. Among saturated and staid media coverage of these women, WE DON’T DANCE FOR NOTHING paints these heroes beyond their job descriptions, as people full of talent, joy, and grace. (HIFF 2022)


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