We continue with our list of Asian films that you shouldn’t miss at the International Film Festival Rotterdam which will take place from January 25 until February 5, 2023 in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
To see the first part of this article, please go HERE
An elderly bedridden couple lives apart under the care of different families. Their daily needs are attended to by begrudging children and grandchildren, who would rather be busy with their smartphones on lazy summer afternoons. Days pass, seasons come and go, and the couple bides its time.
The story of filial neglect has been told countless times since Tokyo Story (1953), particularly in family-oriented Indian cinema. But Kumulai’s durational film radically simplifies the premise, eliminating its didacticism and melodramatic excess in order to capture modest, truthful vignettes from everyday life. With a gently drifting camera, it pores over time-worn faces, textured landscapes and flourishing animal life with equal care and attention, rendering them all part of the same ecosystem.
Measured in pace and rich in atmosphere, Karparaa shows the cruelty of grown-up children chafing under unwanted responsibility and the plight of aged parents losing their dignity and autonomy. Still, instead of milking these tensions for sentiment, it couches them within inevitable cycles of nature. Through its gradual accumulation of moods, the film reaches a quietly devastating emotional pitch. – Srikanth Srinivasan (IFFR 2023)
Anxious, out of work and without access to transport during the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, migrant labourers in India’s metropolises decided to walk back home to their villages en masse. As news channels beamed heart-rending silhouettes of millions of men, women and children marching along national highways with their meagre belongings, it became plain that the lockdown had already drafted one of the most traumatic chapters in the nation’s modern history.
Mihir Fadnavis’s resourceful documentary trains its attention on this tragic phenomenon that made apparent the invisible labour sustaining Indian cities and households. The film follows the efforts of NGOs and middle-class volunteer groups in providing food and healthcare to workers stranded in slums or adrift on highways. The prevalence of these civic initiatives, enabled by donations but also by social-media amplification, stands in stark contrast to the negligence and short-sightedness of state actors.
Through interviews on the ground, Lords of Lockdown gives voice to the frustrations of helpless workers, who call out the government’s failure in formulating a relief plan for them. The film cogently demonstrates that, far from being a great leveller, the pandemic has only deepened the existing iniquities of our world. – Srikanth Srinivasan (IFFR 2023)
In early 2017, the mining corporation Freeport Indonesia laid off several thousand workers from its Grasberg copper mine in Mimika Regency, Indonesia. The miners demonstrated on May Day, inaugurating what would become one of the longest strikes of the 21st century, continuing for over five years now. Despite being nationalised in 2018, the company has refused to recognise the strike, denying workers access to public healthcare and thus causing the death of 97 people.
Yonri Revolt’s politically committed documentary Mayday! May day! Mayday! is a sincere record of the strike told from the point of view of its participants. Combining reportage, talking-head interviews and archival footage, the filmmaker crafts a lyrical portrait of lives in suspension. We see the workers – mostly ethnic Papuans – take up alternate employment to make ends meet, even as they keep up the strike in the face of corporate indifference and police clampdown.
But we also witness quieter moments between the demonstrations: workers brewing coffee, singing karaoke, going to church or just engaging in casual conversation. There is no voiceover giving us the larger picture, no on-screen texts; everything is seen at the workers’ eye level. Mayday! May day! Mayday! is an unassuming work of Imperfect Cinema that bears witness to a movement whose existence has been long denied. – Srikanth Srinivasan (IFFR 2023)
Take in the genesis of cult Japanese filmmaker Yuasa Masaaki’s psychedelic and strikingly strange visuals with his first animated feature, Mind Game. Based on Robin Nishi’s manga, the film follows the frenetic and crazed adventures of Nishi and Myon as they battle gangsters and dabble with death on a surreal voyage of self-discovery. Released in 2004 by Studio 4°C, Mind Game climbed to cult status and collected a host of awards from festivals around the world.
With an unrestrained vision, Yuasa tackles complex themes of identity and pre-determination using a mash-up of traditional and modern techniques. Never sticking to any particular style, the film flips between hand-drawn animation and digital effects as Nishi slips between the worlds of the living and the dead while struggling to change his destiny. – Justine Maybank (IFFR 2023)
Rudran, facing trial as an ex-Tamil Tiger militant, is released on bail. He returns to his village in the North Province with his mother, an ageing soothsayer. While she spends her days in the spiritual realm, attempting to locate the whereabouts of those who have disappeared for a village community deeply bereaved, Rudran begins his own tireless search for his childhood love, Vaani.
With a cast and crew of local Tamil-speakers from the area, all direct witnesses to the civil war, Munnel is a deeply authentic reflection on the post-war consciousness of Sri Lanka’s ethnic minority. Filmmaker Visakesa Chandrasekaram explores this perspective with masterful subtlety and a meticulous, languid pacing. Rudran’s journey is composed of moments of stillness, tenderness and contemplation, encompassing the costs of civil war and the weight of its failures on the Tamil identity in the quiet melancholy of Sivakumar Lingerswaran’s revelatory, layered performance. There are no flashbacks, and yet the past is achingly present in his physicality, his gazes and gestures that debut cinematographer Rishi Selvam frames in wide and tranquil shots, uniting characters and landscape in a wounded harmony.
“What happened over there?” Rudran’s friend asks him. Rudran remains poignantly silent, and the wind blows sorrowfully through the grasses that surround them. – Fiona Armour (IFFR 2023)
This gorgeous landscape film is an invitation to the magical wonders of the night. Sohn Koo-yong’s second feature is a soothing, silent caress for our senses. Composed of a series of deliciously framed still shots and abstract drawings made by the filmmaker himself, superimposed onto the filmed images, it will enthral you with an enchanting ambience and unique lyricism. Without any sound or music, it speaks in a selection of poems by the Seonbi of the Joseon Dynasty that melts into the nightscape.
Shot across several seasons during a series of night walks, the film is set in Segeomjeong, an idiosyncratic neighbourhood in Seoul which combines the city architecture with all-embracing nature: the delightful mélange of the moon and the stars, the fluttering leaves of trees, passing cars, the abstract figures formed by artificial lights, occasional visits of birds and cats, the reflections in the water of a brook, the geometries of mountains and electrical wires… Night Walk is an otherworldly visual song to accompany the dreams of those who remain awake after the setting of the sun. – Cristina Álvarez López (IFFR 2023)
A wild ’n rowdy ode to a cinema seemingly lost forever: the Philippines’ silent-film production. What we have, though, is a plethora of research on the subject, our ideas about those works, as well as a lot of Mga Pinoy Pelikula that in one way or another surely include traces of their ancestors. – Olaf Möller (IFFR 2023)
Edo-era Japan. If you are familiar with the attitude of Sakamoto Junji, you don’t even need the cheeky welcome to understand that the samurais, nobles, and landlords in this jidaigeki will not be portrayed in the heydays of their glory. And so it is: our welcome party are two rogue vagrants making their living as “manure men”, turning the waste from the tenement toilets into fertiliser sold to local farmers. Enter Okiku, the only daughter of a fallen samurai, and amongst the overflowing piles of excrement, a well-nourished love story unfolds.
Naturally, the cesspools are a wonderful place to store environmental concerns and class issues that Okiku and the World explores with a blend of impish humour and sewage wit. The cast of characters sparkle and the relationships that develop between them are full of resilience and gentle romance. This unconventional tale finds wonder amidst the waste.
A powerhouse in his native Japan, Sakamoto Junji’s work has been mostly overlooked on the international stage. No stranger to controversy, he brings a signature boldness to the period drama, with an aesthetic confidence that makes the viewing experience both playful and rich. The meticulous production design is captured in black-and-white photography embellished with glimpses of colour, revealing both the beautiful and the foul. – Jessica McGoff (IFFR 2023)
Founded in 1922, the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) is the country’s oldest political party. With around 10 mandates in the House of Representatives, it is the harshest critic of the long-time ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Filmmaker Nishihara Takashi follows the younger members the JCP on the campaign trail as they seek to to motivate higher turnout and win over voters with their vision of a different and more equitable Japan.
One Hundred Years and Hope goes beyond party politics and opens a broader dialogue about Japan’s deep-seated patriarchal and neoliberal values of ‘old men’ – ossans – opposed by the political left, determined to fight for political change by proposing and realising concrete, small acts promoting social and gender equity. The ambition of loosening the ruling LDP’s more than fifty-year grip on power proves a slow and arduous uphill battle. Still, for each of the candidates, a new Japan seems possible.
Nishihara refuses to lament about the status quo. Through the stances, thoughts and tireless work of young politicians presented in One Hundred Years and Hope, he challenges it and debates a new vision of Japan interested in its citizens’ living conditions and in fair and equal opportunities. – Imogen Greenhalgh (IFFR 2023)
Let the enthralling match sequences toss you onto the court and into the heat of the volleyball game. Meet the two league outcasts: Kim Woo-jin (Parasite’s Song Kang-ho, as fantastic as ever) who now can’t even coach kids nor the whole women’s volleyball team, Pink Storm. They’ve been brought together by an eccentric super-young entrepreneur, who needs a super-underdog story to play his super-PR game. Little does he know that this might be the best smash pass of his life.
With some nods to, and the emotional drive of the Rocky series (1976-2006), One Win builds up a sports drama that serves up some well-played comments on coaching and management. Coach Kim inspires the Pink Storm players to know and believe in their own strengths and capacities. But will that be enough for them to win? Or will they enter history the same way as Rocky Balboa? Marrying the heartfelt emotion of a sports drama and comedy in an old-school way, One Win serves a story that will get you up and cheering. – Felicia Maroni (IFFR 2023)
A lifelong surfer, Hinako is completely at home cresting the waves in the open sea. When her apartment catches fire, the first thing she thinks of saving is her surfboard. However, she has trouble living on the land. Clumsy in her environment, she can barely cook for herself and is the unfortunate type to be splashed by a passing truck. So when Hinako meets ace firefighter Minato, opposite to her in every way, it is the beginning of the perfect love story. But tragedy strikes, and the couple’s relationship is forever altered.
Japanese filmmaker Yuasa Masaaki’s funny and touching anime feature Ride Your Wave is a marriage of water and fire that casually combines everyday realism with spirited fantasy to poignant ends. Delicious close-ups of coffee and omelette rub shoulders with striking vistas of conflagrations and high tides. As cool blues and buoyant oranges make way for a more sombre colour palette, the film itself metamorphoses from a breezy seaside romance to a delicate study of loss, grief and acceptance. – Srikanth Srinivasan (IFFR 2023)
Police officer Wu Jie is about to take her own life when the body of a young Thai woman washes ashore. A cut-off finger and a missing heart only confirm that what looked like a tragic accident is a murder, and evidently a gruesome one. As the number of missing women climbs, Wu Jie braces herself, pushes her demons aside and together with her rookie colleague dives into the pattern of grisly clues and unreliable scraps of evidence. The awareness that the killer might strike again gives the investigation the tension of a torturous, incessant drip of water.
In the world of solving crime, a dramatic accident triggers strange meetings, reveals hidden social connections and implies a malign fatality. With The Abandoned, Taiwanese filmmaker Tseng Ying-ting takes us on a journey into the night in old-school noir fashion, seamlessly refreshing the familiar format with a duo of women officers, each of them working a double shift: crime-solving and self-searching. If they fail, the migrant women will stay invisible – abandoned, falling easy victim to all sorts of hunters. – Justine Maybank (IFFR 2023)
The swift closure of a robbery and murder case brought fame to the local police department of a small South Korean town and their chief in 1999. The culprits, three boys, even confessed. Soon after, contradictions in the investigation file lead the newly appointed chief of the squad “Mad Dog” Hwang Juncheol to have doubts. But when the boys confess again, the reinvestigation of the case leads nowhere. 17 years later, just when he is about to retire, he’s asked to try again. Is it even possible, after all this time, to break through the coercive tactics and corruptive camaraderie of the entire police force and finally bring justice to the boys?
The most recent feature by South Korean cinema veteran Chung Ji-young blends fact and fiction, a small-town crime investigation and political games, building up a compelling story of a cold case and a man who risks it all to stand up not only to the fading memories of murder but to the intricately corrupt system that made him and still supports him – now as well as in 1999. – Adrian Martin (IFFR 2023)
It’s 1953 and martial law has been imposed on Taiwan. The White Terror period lasted over four decades, and was alert to slightest hints of dissent. This is a story of female ‘thought prisoners’ confined to Green Island, a penal colony off Taiwan’s eastern coast, who couldn’t stop thinking. They’re only let out of their barracks to sit through ‘re-education’ classes and carry out hard labour. When authorities start forcing prisoners to ‘volunteer’ to demonstrate their dictated patriotism – requiring signatures in blood, anti-communist tattoos upon their bodies – rebellion begins to intensify.
Untold Herstory holds nothing back, shedding warranted light on a story of women’s dignity, humanity and resilience at a time of profound political terror. With powerful, nuanced performances from the three lead actresses, effective use of flashbacks, and a sensitivity to the real lives it’s based on, Untold Herstory is an unflinching portrait of these women’s determination to live. – Sophie Tupholme (IFFR 2023)
Hermes Papauran is a distinguished police officer involved in the Philippines government’s brutal war on drugs. Ridden by guilt over the staged massacres he witnesses, he develops a debilitating skin condition, prompting him to retreat to the countryside. Meanwhile, Supremo Macabantay, a shady figure from Hermes’ past who has just been released from prison, is looking to settle scores with the convalescing policeman.
A stylised, expansive film noir alternating between its two lead characters, Lav Diaz’s When the Waves Are Gone intensifies the celebrated Filipino filmmaker’s unrelenting inquiry into his country’s besieged moral conscience. Moving from Manila City to a port town and a coastal village, the film maintains a dynamic rhythm, interweaving large narrative ellipses with unbroken stretches of real-time action. – Srikanth Srinivasan (IFFR 2023)
To see the first part of this article, please go HERE
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