Netflix will invest 52 billion yen (500 million dollars) to build up Korean content even more. I feel like the Korean film industry is on the rise, even more so than before, when I wrote the previous installment for this series. This time around, I’m going to talk about the Osaka Asian Film Festival, which I’ve been keeping an eye on since I started this series of columns. The 16th Osaka Asian Film Festival (OAFF2021) was from March 5th to 14th. In the first installment, I wrote:
“There are various criteria when it comes to judging any given film festival. One such criterion is taking into account the numbers of films that were distributed to theaters after its initial film screening. Another thing to consider is the ratio of films that later became moderate to major hits in theaters. These two factors are consistent when it comes to OAFF and it can be said it’s one of the few Japanese film festivals that are the real deal.”
What’s more, OAFF has streamed the screened films online for the first time through Osaka Asian Film Festival Online (February 28th-March 20th). Allow me to introduce some screened and streamed films while relating them to other works and topics I’ve spoken about in previous articles.
The screening of Taiwanese and Indonesian horror films
Previously, I wrote about Korean horror films. However, it was Taiwanese horror films that stood out at OAFF2021. If I were to write about Taiwanese horror films, Get the Hell Out (2020) by I-Fan Wang is a film I’d focus on, as it’s just as thrilling as Detention (2019), which is going to be in Japanese theaters from July. Get the Hell Out is a comedy/action film about a pandemic; it follows the protagonist, a politician, and his secretary trying to escape the parliamentary building infested by zombies.
Gwan Gung Vs. Aliens (1976) by Hung-min Chen is streaming online outside of Hong Kong for the first time. Director Ho-Cheung Pang bought the rights to the film and digitally remastered it. “Gwan Gung” refers to Guan Yu from Romance of the Three Kingdoms. It’s about a sculpture made by the protagonist who comes to life to fight against the aliens invading Hong Kong. Think of it as a combination of the famous Japanese trilogy Daimajin and sci-fi.
At the end of my previous article, I wrote a little about Indonesian horror films. The exciting Indonesian director Teddy Soeriaatmadja’s first horror film, Affliction (2021), was shown at OAFF2021. You can read more about him in this interview, “Cutting into the Taboos of Indonesian Society: Film Director Teddy Soeriaatmadja, Here-and-Now.” His masterpiece, Lovely Man (2011), will be streaming online. The story follows a transgender woman, and in Indonesia, where it’s difficult to make and show queer cinema, this film is a valuable piece of work.
Shedding light on independent Vietnamese films
In the fifth installment of this series, I spoke about two multi-language films that depict the reality of immigrants confront in Japan; Along the Sea (2020) and Come and Go (2020). These films were screened in Osaka for the first time at OAFF2021. Moreover, Ròm (2019), a debut feature film by Tran Thanh Huy — the Vietnamese director is from the same generation as the director of Along the Sea, Akio Fujimoto, and shares a similar sensibility with him — was screened too. Coincidentally, the festival showed the films back-to-back; Along the Sea was at 4:20 pm on March 9th, and Ròm was at 6:35 pm on the same day. If anyone involved with the two screenings is reading this, I’d like to thank you for your considerate scheduling. For those who would like to watch Ròm, a short prequel titled 16:30 (2012) is on YouTube. Watching this beforehand will enhance your viewing experience.
Tran Thanh Huy and Pham Hoang Minh Thy, (the director of The Graduation of Edison, which OAFF screened as a part of “Special Programs < New Action! Southeast Asia >”), were featured in “Contemporary Voices: The Past and Present of Vietnamese Cinema,” held at Athénée Français Cultural Center this February. Both are young directors and peers who carry the future of Vietnamese cinema with them. It’s unfortunate these independent Vietnamese directors, Akio Fujimoto, and other directors from the Indie Forum Section, couldn’t meet one another.
Another Vietnamese film screened at OAFF is the feminist thriller for ages 18 and older, Sister Sister (2019) by Kathy Uyen. I wrote the Japanese description for this film, so please take a look if you can.
OAFF, a film festival with variety and diversity
One appeal of OAFF is the variety of films they show, as evident in how they screened two distinctly different films- Ròm, which was edited to abide by censorship standards, and Sister Sister, the entertainment film featuring Vietnamese popstar Chi Pu. You can sense the program director, Sōzō Teruoka’s desire to promote films that portray bonds and sisterhoods between women in cinema, such as House of Hummingbird, the Korean film that got critical acclaim last year. Among the Vietnamese films that OAFF screened, two of the directors are women; Uyen and (Sister Sister) and Thy (The Graduation of Edison). The opening film of the festival, Keep Rolling (2020) by Man Lim-chung, is a documentary on Anna Hui, a director who represents Hong Kong. The woman director behind the Mongolian film, Black Milk (2020), Uisenma Borchu, won the Most Promising Talent Award for Don’t Look at Me That Way in 2016. Zero Chou, the director of Wrath of Desire (2021), is an openly lesbian filmmaker. Along the Sea, the film about three Vietnamese technical trainees in Japan is a story about sisterhood.
While the variety of films is one appeal of OAFF, another aspect is its diversity. OAFF is a festival that loves variety and diversity, qualities that involve a mixture of different things. In a sense, Lim Kah Wai’s Come and Go might be a film that symbolizes OAFF because it’s set in Umeda, where the venue is.
Focus on Thailand and Philippines new films
Here and There (2021) by JP Habac, produced by TBA Studios, a Filipino film production and distribution company I wrote about in the third installment of this series, was screened at OAFF. It’s a “remote love” story in Manila during the coronavirus lockdown. JP Habac’s debut feature film, I’m Drunk, I Love You (2017), is available for free on TBA Studios’ YouTube channel.
Also, The Con-Heartist (2020) by Mez Tharatorn was released through the film production company, GDH556, distributing films of Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, who I wrote about in the first column. Tharatorn is a filmmaker who makes comedic hits, and in 2013, ATM, which has a Vietnamese remake version too, was screened at OAFF. I Fine… Thank You… Love You, starring Sora Aoi, was screened in 2015, and Tharatorn won the Most Promising Talent Award. TBA Studios from the Philippines and GDH556 from Thailand continue to create new films despite the pandemic, and that fills my heart with joy.
Also, The Protector (2005), starring Tony Jaa and P-047 (2011) by Kongdej Jaturanrasmee, one of the screenwriters for the drama series Girl from Nowhere, is going to be streaming online. Similar to Thamrongrattanarit in the past, Jaturanrasmee’s films haven’t been shown in Japanese theaters yet, but he’s a highly respected director in Thailand. Incidentally, he plays the role of a teacher in Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy (2013), directed by Thamrongrattanarit. I recommend his coming-of-age films. It’s unfortunate Tang Wong (2013), which won best film, best director, best screenplay, and best supporting actor at the 23rd Subhanahongsa Awards (a prestigious award show akin to the Academy Awards), and Where We Belong, starring Jennis and Music from BNK48, haven’t been shown in theaters here. Where We Belong won best picture at the 29th Subhanahongsa Awards in February. Jaturanrasmee won best director, Music won best supporting actor, and the film won best screenplay, best editing, and best soundtrack- six wins in all.
That’s the end of my introduction of films re OAFF, but because there are 63 films from 23 countries in total, I couldn’t talk about them all. Also, Kontora (2019) by Anshul Chauhan, an Indian director living in Japan, is going to be released in theaters on March 20th. Derek Tsang’s Better Days (2019) is coming to theaters soon. As such, OAFF’s momentum from last year still hasn’t slowed down. It would be a waste if you don’t experience this film festival that celebrates variety and diversity. I hope you can take a look at their festival, even if it’s online.