A strong moody atmosphere-driven crime drama is also an entry into this year’s Tiger Uncaged competition, and for good reason; it is an extremely accomplished first feature for one Dong Yue. Here again, setting is a crucial element of the story, with a city to the far north, built around its factories, on the verge of staggering depression in the years from 1997 to the early 2000’s. Its gray monoliths to production cast a dreary enough spell, but Yue also depicts a landscape besieged by harsh weather. This is the stage of a series of ghastly murders, which a revered security officer and unofficial sleuth, Yu, is compelled to get to the bottom of. The film deftly handles a variety of themes. With the overarching dread of economic collapse ever present, THE LOOMING STORM represents struggles that look inward; obsession with achieving a goal and preoccupations of not measuring up. Duan Yihongas Yu eschews both a sense of naïve pride and being haunted by self doubt.
A kindred spirit to the great BLACK COAL, THIN ICE and even South Korea’s supernaturally leaning THE WAILING, a murder case may seem to be the main plot, but it is exploded outward, abstracted even, to deal with bigger issues and ideas. While a bit difficult to construe at times, the beautifully shot drear makes for an absorbing cinematic experience.
THE LOOMING STORM is being screened at the 2018 New York Asian Film Festival on Monday, July 9th, at 9:30 PM at the Walter Reade Theater. Director Dong Yue will attend the screening for a Q & A. Visit the NYAFF homepage for tickets and information.
The first of two very dark and powerful suspense crime dramas from China (which are being screened together on the same night to make for a powerful double feature, WRATH OF SILENCE is only the second feature of Xin Yukun, but its sweeping cinematography and lurid interiors suggests a visionary at work. The backdrop of a desert landscape, peppered by sparsely populated villages of miners and their families, is integral to the story. Characters are moved into this minefield by motivations that speak both of their integrity and where their lot in society lies: finding a missing child, building a monopoly on work sites. Yunkun uses aggressive behavior as another way of defining characters, their weapons and manner of striking out extensions of who they are, be it the utilization of anything of nature within a grabbing range, or a polished and apparently expensive bow and arrow set used for hunting its owner’s quarry. It is a fantastic instance of strife arising from worlds colliding.
Violence is often jarring, and can downright brutal when making a point,. Visuals are left lingering in the viewers’ mind. Yunkun’s navigation of calm and calamity make this one of the strong picks of the festival.
WRATH OF SILENCE is being screened at the 2018 New York Asian Film Festival on Monday, July 9th, at 6:30 PM at the Walter Reade Theater. Director Xin Yukun and actor Jiang Wu will attend the screening for a Q & A, and Jiang will be presented with the NYAFF 2018 Star Asia Award. Visit the NYAFF homepage for tickets and information.
The screening of Malaysian drama JAGAT at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival is yet another feather in the annual cinematic summer happening’s plumage of rare and unusual imports to New York City. Past standouts have been the propaganda-laden feel good story COMRADE KIM GOES FLYING from North Korea and SELL-OUT, a musical comedy with audience participation sing-along, (hailing from a far more metropolitan Malaysia.
What JAGAT brings to the screen is a by now classic story of youth learning hard life lessons, the kind that lead to dark futures difficult to acknowledge. However, at times the story’s telling is so far removed from narrative sensibilities familiar in areas with prominent movie industries (as well as those influenced by them), it promises to leave some viewers feeling something askew. No doubt lending to the singularity of the film is its being helmed by a first-time director in Shanjhey Kumar Perumal.
The film first sets its focus on Appoy, a likable and thoroughly relatable middle school aged child who sways to a very different rhythm than his traditional teachers and working class father (a truly imposing figure) who espouse strict old school values. It is the stuff of stories from the good old days, with the resourceful child angling a mirror so he can watch his favorite crime dramas on the family television, and dad coming home in a poster-ripping rage when the absent minded son cannot remember what he did with a work ID card.
At the same time, another narrative unfolds involving some of Appoy’s uncles who are connected to gang that runs increasingly afoul of criminal activity. Pointed conversations suggest a running internal conflict within the Tamil immigrant characters between living modestly and seizing power by more ruthless means.
A combination of experiences that find his creativity unwelcome by those in position of authority, and the influence of those he looks up to reveling in roguish activities sets off a change in Appoy, one the viewers are left to ponder as the movie comes to a close.
A barebones production is made up for by impassioned performances and a clever script; one in which Appoy’s antics often induce laughter and the subtle threat of violence among the older characters occasionally unsettles. The movie’s unique allure includes a remote small town setting presented without any polishing up and music baring the influences traditional influences that together with scenes of local rituals creates a stormy psychedelic effect.
Where JAGAT proves a bit bewildering is an uneven narrative path, including a rather abrupt montage that advances parts of the story a bit too inscrutably. One can also infer cultural and/or government restrictions coming into play, as there is virtually no onscreen violence save a few afterschool scuffles between Appoy and neighborhood bullies. The realism in these scenes do prove to add a surprisingly unnerving element, though.
Despite, and sometimes because of its rough patches, JAGAT is an absorbing blend of classic tale and unconventional storytelling. Seeking it out not only supports a new, compelling voice in cinema, but is also a nod of approval to the New York Asian Film Festival’s continued commitment to bringing unique and far flung programming.
The New York Asian Film Festival continues its run through July 9 at the Walter Reade Theater and SVA theater. Visit the Subway Cinema website for more information and tickets.
By the time we reach the end of TWISTED JUSTICE’s convoluted police corruption tale spanning the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, it might be difficult to remember just what was the first link in the chain of immoral acts. It all starts with a young judo competitor named Moroboshi Yoichi being recruited to the Susukino (a crime ridden entertainment district) branch of Sapporo’s police force because it will bring their team a coveted championship. When the dust has settled, the ripple effect of this seemingly innocuous transgression is astounding.
The true impetus for the spiral out of control comes when a crooked senior cop (played by Pierre Taki, whose performance one again leaves a frighteningly indelible mark in a Kazuya Shiraishi film) begins to mentor the novice after taking a liking to him. Or perhaps not so much taking a liking to as receiving a rub to his ego by keeping him in his company. One striking element of the narrative is the virtual absence of any pure friendships, as everyone expresses a perceived financial or psychological benefit from the relationships they forge. A well intentioned ex-convict and hallucinogenic drug user describes how becoming Moroboshi’s subordinate on the wrong side of the law makes him feel like he can become a big deal. A fledgling female police officer who later joins the police force enjoys a boost to her self-esteem by being with Moroboshi at his most swaggering. And in one of several scenes of depraved sexuality, Moroboshi excites himself to climax by crying out how his love connection will bring him acclaim and help his star rise.
TWISTED JUSTICE is director Kazuya Shiraishi’s second feature film to take on the true crime genre and is evidence of an artisan thriving in his element. In a departure from the mood of slow creeping dread established in previous film THE DEVIL’s PATH, this is by design a lopsided, sprawling affair. The film’s off-kilter funky middle east tinged tune is puzzling when it first hits the ears but soon comes to perfectly suit the eccentricities. Rather than build an intricate plot piece by piece, Shiraishi sets up a landscape of lunacy gone unchecked with Moroboshi’s part in it taking center stage.
It is full of local color: The tacky flashiness of chinpira suits, giant crabs feasted on straight off the shore, and steaming bowls of curry create an appealing sort of low rent decadence as Moroboshi’s foraging into Sapporo’s underground leads to unlikely territory involving Pakistani nationals and hot car lots.
The often flailing occurrences of interagency conflict and blatant disregard for law and decency reach absurd heights as plans are made in Moroboshi’s department to purchase firearms so they can be reported found, giving credit to their agency. It is a display of the cost of results being pursued at any means that cuts as deep as the best of The Wire. Things become so far gone that when the bottom finally falls out, it is a shock to the senses.
Go Ayano plunges into the lead role, pulling off a riveting on screen transformation, from tepid ‘yes man’ to swindling operator and beyond. When Moroboshi is humbled to cowering in a life or death situation, the acclaimed actor’s (who was invited to the NYAFF for the screening to be bestowed with a Rising Star Award) depiction calls to mind Choi Min Sik’s unrestrained emotional performance in past NYAFF highlight NAMELESS GANGSTER. And the movie is a similarly jaw dropping character study, yet all the more curious for its anchoring in reality.
In this time of Asian film when director’s names are becoming more numerous but output less consistent, it is encouraging to see a director hitting his stride with uncompromising gritty celluloid visions.
TWISTED JUSTICE (or NIHON DE ICHIBAN WARUI YATSURA) received its World Premiere screening at the New York Asian Film Festival and is now playing in theaters throughout Japan. For more information about the New York Asian Film Festival’s programming, visit the Subway Cinema website.