Movies from the Asian/Pacific Rim have become more available in the U.S. in recent years. Here’s a capsule of some recently screened selections from the 2013 Hawai’i International Film Festival in October. Most can be found online, at your local video store, or at a future screening near you. Happy viewing!
For more information on these and other great API films, visit hiff.org.
In 100 Days, Bo Dan (Sze-Ming Lu) lives a high-tech life in the city, stringing along his high-maintenance girlfriend like a fashion accessory. When his mother dies, he returns to the small island where he was raised and learns that Taiwanese tradition dictates he marry within 100 days of her death. Frantically searching for a cell phone signal in the remote village, he misses the romantic signals emitted by his childhood girlfriend—on the verge of being married herself.
It’s a perfect match of samurai swords and sushi in this pleasant period piece. In A Tale of Samurai Cooking: A True Love Story, Yasunobu’s (Kora Kengo) utter failure at cooking is unacceptable because he’s heir to his samurai father’s high-level chef position. Realizing his boy isn’t cut out for cooking, dad arranges for him to marry the lower-status and divorced Oharu (Ueto Aya) to teach him the ways of the kitchen.
The family that plays together may stay together, but members of the Korean Boomerang Family don’t play fair. Lazy, former gangbanger In-mo (Park Hae-il) lives alone with mom (Youn Yuh-jung) until sister Mi-Youn (Kong Hyo-jin) moves in with her sulky teenager. And, when brother Han-mo (Yoon Je-moon) arrives after a failed career in filmmaking, tension explodes in funny, but inexplicably violent ways.
An intense drama with powerful performances about four people driven to fight back, A Touch of Sin features some squeamishly bloody scenes. Dahai (Wu Jiang) vocalizes his dissatisfaction to his party leader over corruption at the mine where they work. But his voice remains unheard until he backs it up with a weapon. Conversely, San (Wang Baoqiang) uses his to rob the rich. Spa worker Zheng Xiaoyu (Zhao Tao) fends off both her boyfriend’s wife and customers who are convinced she’s a prostitute. And, a young man from the country (Luo Lanshan) is disillusioned by work in the city. With its Cannes award-winning screenplay based on real events about justice, this film remarkably passed by Chinese censors.
In Ilo Ilo, Filipina maid Terry (Angeli Bayani) is outsourced to work for a family in Singapore during the 1997 financial crisis. Immediately, pregnant wife Hwee Leng (Yeo Yann Yann) demands her passport, commanding her to speak only English. From there, the level of disrespect grows with young son Jiale (Koh Jia Ler) chiming in with verbal abuse. Meanwhile father Keng Teck Lim (Chen Tian Wen) hides the fact that he’s lost his job. Director Anthony Chen won the Camera d’or at Cannes for this excellent study of classism.
Mourning Recipe features excellent performances of believable characters. While Yuriko (Nagasaku Hiromi) is heartbroken over her inability to conceive, her philandering husband impregnates his lover. In the middle of this crisis, Yuriko learns that her stepmother has suddenly died leaving her father in a deep depression. Arriving home, she’s shocked by the appearance of a wayward girl offering a recipe book for living. This diverse Japanese film features a Japanese-Brazilian character, hula, and Hawaiian Queen Lili’uokalani’s song “Aloha Oe.”
From New Zealand, comes Mt. Zion, a story about a community of Maori potato laborers in 1979 Pukekohe. When young Turei (StanWalker) decides he’d rather play music, his father (Temuera Morrison) is furious. But Turei’s idol, Bob Marley, is searching for a band to open his upcoming Aotearoa concert, and Turei and his mates want the gig. The culture of camaraderie and original music are captivating.
Based on a popular Japanese TV series broadcast 30 years ago, Oshin is the tender tale of a young girl sold into servitude. Oshin (adorable Hamada Kokone) may be mistreated by elitists, but she never loses courage or love for her mother. Sent away to work at age 7, Oshin struggles through icy winters, hard labor, and separation from her family. Friendship with a fugitive hunter leads to tragedy, but Oshin remains inspired in this subtle salute to feminism.
Following the forced suicide of samurai lord Oda Nobunaga, Japan’s first group meeting is arranged to name his successor. The Kiyosu Conference is told with sassy, droll humor, but unless well-versed in Japanese feudal history, one could get lost in its crowd of historical characters. Yo Oizumu plays the most comical Hideyoshi ever seen onscreen.
Zone Pro Site: The Movable Feast showcases the traditional Taiwanese outdoor banquet or “bandoh.” After Master Fly Spirit dies, daughter Wan (Kimi Hsia) comes home as a failed model chased by debt collectors. Joining her stepmother, they prepare for a bandoh contest. Handsome but tricky Ah-hai (Yo Yang) appears, offering expertise as a food doctor.
Today’s popular sumo matches feature well-paid wrestlers, but the sport started out as a religious rite. In Kon-Shin, a tournament held every 20 years in remote Okinoshima becomes the battleground for Hideaki (Sho Aoyagi) to prove himself to his second wife, fearful daughter, estranged family and the villagers he once abandoned.
The story of how the Han became the largest ethnic group on the planet today begins with a dying emperor (Liu Ye) recalling his friendship-turned-rivalry with Lord Yu (Daniel Wu) and General Xin (Chang Chen). This riveting, yet sometimes repulsive, tale is told in The Last Supper by director Lu Chan (City of Life and Death) with a Kurosawa-esque approach employing dreams and nightmares.
After a boy is born alongside his dead twin, his grandmother urges his mother to destroy him. Believing he’s cursed, the villagers shun him and, after being displaced by a new dam, they all become refugees. When a tragedy befalls the family, 10 year-old Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe) is further alienated until he meets Kia and her eccentric Uncle Purple. Learning about a competition for creating and shooting rockets to gods to make it rain, Ahlo decides to enter. Featuring the lush Laos countryside, The Rocket rocks.