NYAFF 2022 Feature Film Showcase

The New York Asian Film Festival is easily one of my favorite film festivals in New York

Every year, I’m guaranteed to find a mix of compelling, challenging, fun, and meaningful films out of the festival. This year was no exception, as I had the fortunate opportunity to screen an enjoyable mix of dramas, martial arts movies, horror films, comedies. and many more. I already wrote about two films, Shin Ultraman and Offbeat Cops (a favorite out of the festival), but I’m proud to present a showcase of films you should be on the lookout for, as they tour the festival circuit and solidify wider releases.

Big Night!– in the vein of After Hours and Good TimeBig Night! follows Dharna (Christian Bables), a gay hairdresser who finds himself on a drug watchlist and has 24 hours to clear his name before the list is published, putting his life in jeopardy by corrupt cops and vigilantes. Director Jun Robles Lana makes the Philippines into a character, beaming with life, aided by Lana’s satire, which acts as a form of world-building. Dharna’s life becomes increasingly in danger due to bureaucracy and corruption, with the humor acting more as Dharna’s coping mechanism than anything else. Dharna’s odyssey is hilarious without letting you forget the urgency of his trek. The film’s intensity only builds as Dharna’s life seemingly falls apart before his eyes. Big Night is a wild ride with memorable characters, funny dialogue, and a foreboding, gritty aesthetic guaranteed to suck you in. It’s absolutely a personal favorite out of the festival.

Lesson in Murder– a chilling Japanese thriller, Director Kazuya Shiraishi presents an interesting twist on the serial killer/obsessed survivor dynamic. Upon the capture of serial killer Yamato Haimura (Sadawo Abe), he develops a relationship with a college student, Masaya Kakei (Kenshi Okada), who used to visit his bakery when he was a kid. Yamato reveals to Masaya that while he’s guilty of most of the murders he’s convicted of, he’s innocent of one, and it’s up to Masaya to investigate and find the real killer. While the film’s slow burn may be difficult for some, the strong performances from Abe and Okada carry the film effortlessly. The mystery itself is compelling, as Masaya’s descent into desperation and madness is brutal to watch. The mystery is full of twists and turns, and Shiraishi emboldens the film with a chilling atmosphere that amplifies Masaya’s haunting journey. Serial killer and mystery fans will enjoy biting down on this little gem.

Legendary in Action!– a love letter to classic wuxia, the directorial debut film of actor Justin Cheung is a funny and heartfelt call-to-action to defend a dying genre. Cheung plays a struggling indie filmmaker who, by chance, meets his idol (Chen Kuan-tai) and decides to make an adaptation of his favorite wuxia tv show from his childhood. As a fan of Chen Kuan-tai from films like Executioners from ShaolinThe Flying Guillotine, and The Crippled Avengers, it’s amazing to see him still doing impressive stunts in his late 70s. Fans of The Shaw Brothers and Hong Kong cinema from the 70s and 80s will enjoy the homages to the old-school filmmaking techniques, fight choreography, and character tropes. At the same time, Cheung’s struggles to thrive in the modern Hong Kong film landscape are incredibly relatable to active indie filmmakers. Cheung smartly puts his love for classic wuxia cinema in a personal context, showing how important the films were to him growing up and why he’s bending over backwards to get his film made. The passion he has for the source material overshadows the film’s budget limitations, which can make the film a little challenging for some. Even if you’re not a fan of those types of films, it’s easy to identify with his passion, and may even relate to his urgency to scramble whatever resources he can to make his dream film.

#LookAtMe– A daring LGBT dramady out of Singapore, director Ken Kwek tackles religious extremism, internet fame, and free speech in his sophomore feature. Following Sean (yao), a vlogger who’s imprisoned after going viral ranting online against a homophobic televangelist, and Ricky (also yao in a duel role), Sean’s gay brother, who tries to help free his brother. The film balances its dramatic and comedic tone well, highlighted by yao’s fantastic duel role. At no point is it distracting, as he gives each performance distinct personality. Kwek does a brilliant job highlighting Sean’s risk of speaking out against the televangelist, illustrating their societal privileges and the laws in Singapore against defaming religious institutions. Kwek balances the more serious and brutal moments with just enough camp to keep the film engaging. Those who are interested in films about LGBT issues coming out of countries where even tackling these issues puts the filmmaker at risk.

Hansan: Rising Dragon– the prequel to the astounding war epic Admiral: Roaring CurrentHansan follows Admiral Yi Sun-sin during his navel campaign during the Battle of Hansan Island. While the film lacks the gravitas of the Admiral, it’s an intense rollercoaster of a war film. Director Kim Han-min paints a comprehensive picture of the opposing Japanese army and the factors Admiral Yi considered leading up to the campaign. The battle itself is beautifully choreographed, showing incredibly inventive navel warfare rarely depicted on film. Hansan also provides enough historical context and exposition for those unfamiliar with the battle. While I do encourage starting with AdmiralHansan is a great film for those curious about why Admiral Yi is still celebrated to this today.

Hansan: Rising Dragon is now playing in theaters.

Preman: Silent Fury– this Indonesian martial arts film puts its focus in the right place, it’s action and characters. Following Sandi (Khiva Iskak), a deaf gangster who’s son, Pandu (Muzakki Ramdhan), witnesses a murder, they’re forced to run, as Sandi fights old gang and protecting his son from hitmen. Sandi and Pandu have excellent chemistry together and make up the heart of the film. You can feel their history and struggles, as Sandi tries to balance his gang lifestyle with being a good father. You care for them rather than impatiently wait for the fight scenes. The fights in the film perfectly encapsulate Sandi’s character, as while he’s not a martial artist, he’s brutal and can keep fighting even after taking hits. The hitmen and gangsters are all colorful and bursting with personality, hinting at a wider world beyond Sandi’s struggles. Preman is an enjoyable action film for those looking for something a little different in the world of martial arts cinema.

Preman: Silent Fury will be streaming on Hi-YAH! on August 5th.

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