Oh, Reel-y: Asian American International Film Festival Shorts

While I’ve been attending the New York Asian Film Festival and Japan Cuts for the past few years, this is the first year that I’ve been aware of the Asian American International Film Festival. Last Saturday, I made my way to Chelsea to view some of the selections. I’ll talk here about some of the shorts I saw and cover some feature length films in a later post.
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Oh, Reel-y: Unconventional Families


Leonie is a fascinating biopic of Leonie Gilmour, the mother of Isamu Noguchi, a world-renowned Japanese-American sculptor and architect from the mid-1900s. An editor, English teacher in Japan, and single mother, Leonie led an incredible and unconventional life that challenged the social mores of her time. As the movie depicts her, she has a fierce passion and independent streak that she instills in her two children, both of whom would become successful artists.
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Oh, Reel-y: Abductors, Kittens, & Loan Sharks


Rebirth crushed the 35th Annual Japan Academy Awards this past March, winning 11 awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Starring Actress, and Best Support Actress, along with a bevy of technical awards in categories like cinematography, lighting, sound, and editing. It deserved every accolade.

Plus, any movie that manages successfully to incorporate both John Mayer and Beach House into its soundtrack must be doing something right.
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Oh, Reel-y: Two Koji Yakusho Films and One Other

Koji Yakusho is a huge star in Japan, something like the George Clooney of Japanese cinema. He takes on diverse roles in a wide variety of genres, from novelists to lumberjacks to samurai, and he recently received the Medal with Purple Ribbon from the Emperor of Japan for his “outstanding achievement in the creative field” of acting. As part of their festival this year, Japan Cuts had a Focus on Koji Yakusho series, showcasing several of his films.
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Oh, Reel-y: Japan Cuts

I’m burning out a little on movies this summer. I’ve been attending screenings at Japan Cuts, an annual festival in NYC showcasing contemporary Japanese cinema. Japan Cuts typically follows the NYAFF, overlapping for one weekend where they share billings.

Some people love the bizarro craziness of Japanese films, but sometimes the most they impress on me is an overwhelming sense of WTF-ness. Still, I’ve watched some rad, bewildering films at the festival, and here’s my take on what I’ve seen in the past few weeks. As with the NYAFF films, I’ll roll out my thoughts in installments.
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Eddie Huang and Food as Cultural Expression

I’m not much of a foodie. I haven’t been to a lot of New York hot spots, nor could I name any celebrity chefs. Part of it is I hate waiting in lines, and the other part of it is I hardly ever leave my neighborhood to eat. Plus, good dining is quite literally an acquired taste, and my palate (and foodie vocabulary) is probably not so refined or evolved as to be able to truly appreciate (or praise) great food.
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The Poetry of Tomas Transtromer










The old cliché “write what you know” is something of a misnomer. The obvious question to me is “How can you write something you don’t know?” Even the most fantastical, absurd stories about aliens or ancient battles of thrones come from some common pool of one’s humanity and taps into the deep, unconscious myths of existence.

That being said, there are writers who seem to take “write what you know” to the extreme in that their writing is very much seeped in the time and place of their existence. One of these writers is the great Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer, the 2011 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Read the rest of this entry »

Oh, Reel-y: Moles, bullies, and cowboys

Infernal Affairs 1 & 2
Hong Kong, 2002/2003

It’s well known that Scorsese‘s Oscar-winning The Departed, a clever movie about an undercover cop matching wits with a gangster who’s infiltrated the police force, is a remake of Hong Kong’s Infernal Affairs. What’s not known to those who’ve only seen the American version is that the original is the superior film. Where The Departed differentiates the two moles at the center of the film into comfy good guy versus bad guy roles, Infernal Affairs takes a more nuanced and complicated look at the motivations of Andy Lau’s gangster-in-cop’s-clothing character. And in the original, there’s no painfully transparent rat symbolism or Marky Mark to save the day.
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Oh, Reel-y: Warriors, hipsters, drummers, and Casanovas

Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale 1 & 2
Taiwan, 2011

This past July 4, last Wednesday, I decided to forgo the fireworks for the four-hour long epic Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale, the most expensive Taiwanese film of all time. The movie is split into two separate films, The Flag of Sun and The Bridge of Rainbow, which the festival screened back to back. Warriors of the Rainbow tells the true story of the Seediq people, Taiwanese aborigines who fought back against the Japanese after thirty years of oppressive rule; watching this movie somehow seemed fitting on Independence Day.
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Oh, Reel-y: NYAFF movies from Tuesday

Nameless Gangster
Korea, 2012

Nameless Gangster is Korea’s latest entry into the cinematic mobster world, and it’s a darned good one. Set in the criminal world of Busan, South Korea’s second largest metropolis after Seoul, the film portrays the rise to power of a bumbling customs official played by Choi Min-Sik, in fine form as always. Choi Min-Sik’s character is an unlikely gangster–nonthreatening, long-winded, and self-deluded–but you’re never quite sure whether he’s a criminal genius or a well-connected fool. If anything, he’s a traditionalist, who masterfully (or fortuitously) manipulates Korea’s well-documented rigid social hierarchy and his familial connections during his rise to the top, and it’s strange seeing the juxtaposition of this unlikely crime lord with the “real” gangsters.
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