Au Revoir Taipei
This schizophrenic rom-com-cum-thriller flaunts a tres chic Taipei but with a story stretched beyond believability. After being dumped for Paris by his girlfriend, a young man learns French at a bookstore where, implausibly, a pretty clerk obsesses over him. One night, they meet cute at a food court and youthful thugs—out to impress their criminal boss—give chase.
Bodyguards and Assassins
The Qing Dynasty rules 1906 Hong Kong where pro-democracy leaders secretly meet with Dr. Sun Yat-sen, providing protection with dedicated bodyguards. Beneath the martial arts spectacle is a message about foreign occupation, colonization and Chinese caste. How does a wealthy businessman support the revolution while keeping his idealistic son uninvolved?
The Chef of South Polar
Starring Sakai Masato (Shinsengumi, Atsuhime), this comedy tackles the effects of isolation on eight Japanese scientists assigned to the South Pole. Suffering homesickness, the men are nurtured by the chef’s (Sakai) delectable dishes. From raiding the pantry for noodles to making ‘shave ice’ with fresh snow, the crew is as artful as the food featured. One hysterical scene shows unshelled peanuts used as chopsticks rests.
An engaging Tang Wei (banned after Lust, Caution) in a charming rom-com about two people forced into courtship by their Hong Kong families. While the bride-to-be already has a boyfriend (in prison), the unwilling groom is 41, living at home, and serving as a boy-toy to his older, successful ex-girlfriend. When the couple reluctantly joins in the charade, they discover they have more than just a passion for detective novels in common.
Director Sabu’s farcical take based on manga addresses class issues while spinning a subversive message. Matsuda Ryuhei (Taboo) is the mutinous leader aboard a Japanese crab canning boat circa 1929. Although the autocracy is portrayed one-dimensionally, the oppressed laborers aren’t. From having their mass suicide interrupted by the rolling sea to the Japanese Imperial Navy cruelly sabotaging their rebellion, the proletariat is relentlessly rendered impotent. A Russian ship scene is exquisite.
K-20: The Fiend with 20 Faces
In a 1940’s fictional Japanese city, a circus acrobat must clear his identity—jeopardized by a masked thief. Takeshi Kaneshiro is hot!
Like You Know It All
A captivating idea (a filmmaker at a film festival) quickly collapses in this Korean feature. Envious of a younger filmmaker earning more accolades, and insulted when students he’s lecturing ignore him, the protagonist reacts by skiing out on screenings, drinking and hitting on unavailable women.
Little Big Soldier
When is a Jackie Chan flick not a Jackie Chan flick? When it’s based on a script he wrote 20 years ago that shows him seriously acting. Although Chan is still funny in this tale about a drafted soldier surviving a battle and capturing an enemy general, he’s also tragic. Complete with martial arts antics and American Taiwanese musician Wang Leehom as eye candy.
Love in a Puff
As Hong Kong cracks down on public smoking, workers meet in the streets for cigarette breaks, gossip, and flirtatious banter. After a man’s girlfriend leaves him, he’s drawn to a salesclerk (Miriam Yeung). Bold, gutsy and imbued with personality, Yeung steals the movie. A scene of the couple pretending to be Japanese and Korean is side-stitching hilarious.
A chilling reality about caste is revealed in this comedy. An impoverished farmer in India convinces his younger brother (both roles perfectly cast, no pun intended) to commit suicide so his family can receive a government check. As the media descends on his village and bumbling bureaucrats abound, the terrified younger brother has regrets.
The Prince of Tears
Cinematically stunning, this drama feels incomplete. During 1950’s Taiwan, the attractive parents of two half sisters are arrested as communist spies. But the accusation is a lie spread by a jealous friend. While school children are forced to drink skim milk courtesy of Uncle Sam, a general’s gorgeous wife quotes seditious lines from a fairytale—The Prince of Tears.
Although not an Asian film, per se, this Seattle-made doc deserves mention because of musician Phillip Woo who played in the 1970’s R&B group, Cold, Bold and Together, along with Kenny G.