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The Fifth Annual New Asian Film Festival

Wednesday, Aug 15 2001
Thanks to Four Star owner Frank Lee's fifth annual Asian Film Festival, you can fill your August moviegoing calendar with 25 recent works from the major film-producing countries of Asia, among them rare entries from Singapore and Vietnam, selected revivals by Hong Kongers King Hu and Ann Hui, two Johnnie To productions, and the theater's longest-running hit, Zhou Xiao Wen's The Emperor's Shadow. Highlights include acclaimed Japanese auteur Miike Takashi's Dead or Alive, Gong Li in Breaking the Silence, and assorted daft comedies, martial arts films, and historical epics.

Other Japanese offerings include Round About Midnight, in which Sanada Hiroyuki plays a jazz musician trying to make it to a gig under difficult circumstances, and Made in Japan, a farce by Takita Yojiro (Yen Family) in which four Japanese salarymen (Sanada playing the most naive) compete on a major construction bid in a fictional Southeast Asian country just as it's hit by a coup d'état. Neither the film's attempts at cynical black humor nor its weak jabs at corporate automatons can hide its condescending attitude toward countries that accept Japanese aid.

The Korean-Chinese co-production The Anarchists follows five Korean shit-stirrers through 1920s Shanghai as they dynamite the Japanese occupiers. Its stock types -- the romantic opium addict, the wide-eyed innocent, the polemicist -- reduce it to the level of slo-mo bullet ballet with some amusing stretches. Occupied Shanghai is also the locale of Red Dust, the Yim Ho melodrama about a tragic affair between a writer and her Japanese-collaborating admirer in the 1930s. The scenes between Brigitte Lim as the writer and Maggie Cheung as her consoling best friend are more affecting than the romance. If you crave more female interaction, choose the frothy Taiwanese Woman Soup or the gutsy documentary Woman Private Parts, which probes sexual attitudes of women in Hong Kong, where they gather to entertain themselves. The latter's giggle sessions provide more revelation than a single dramatic confrontation in the former, which resembles Waiting to Exhale in its pat situations. Another documentary, Evans Chan's Journey to Beijing, follows a charity walk from Hong Kong to Beijing on the eve of the 1997 hand-over, exposing the prejudices that citizens of both places have against each other and brilliantly dramatizing social theorist Paul Virilio's epigram, "Everyone ... in his own way is living out the end of an era."

But since it's summer and the season for horror films in Asia, I'm most curious about Return to Pontianak, the first digital-video production from Singapore, which revives the legend of a nasty Malay ghost that who stays "alive" by digging long fingernails into victims' entrails and eating them.

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Frako Loden


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