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May 17, 2012

Your Guide in Picking What to Watch on Asian Film Festival

The Asia Society Philippine Foundation Inc. brings a new festival to the Shang Cineplex: Asia as Our Society. A selection of films from eight Asian nations will be screening from May 17 to 21. There are a lot of films to get through, and each will only be given one screening. Here’s a guide to help you pick what you’re going to be seeing.

Two Filipino films are being exhibited. Opening the festival is Dinig Sana Kita (2009, Mike Sandejas), which depicts a budding teenage romance between a hearing-impaired boy and a troubled, musically inclined girl. The film enjoyed a short run in our theaters, and is a pretty good crowd pleaser in spite of its lengthy runtime. The other Filipino film in the selection is Halaw (2009, Sheron Dayoc), a far grimmer tale about a group of people trying to illegally enter Malaysia by sea. While the circumstances of the character are quite dire, the film finds strange moments of warmth in how they share their dreams and offer each other support in a world that seems set on denying them any comfort.

Some of the stronger films of the festival come from Indonesia, which is a nation that’s really coming into its own in cinema. 3 Doa 3 Cinta (2008, Nurman Hakim) is a coming of age tale following three boys in an Islamic boarding school. Cinema has a tendency to simplify matters of religion, and Islam has been particularly ill served by these simplistic depictions. 3 Doa 3 Cinta seeks to rectify that with a more nuanced perspective, outlining the struggles of the modern young Muslim with both humor and a strong eye for personal detail.

The Rainbow Troops (Laskar Pelangi, 2009, Riri Riza), was a huge success in the Indonesian box office, and it’s not hard to see why. The film is about a school in the island of Belitong, which is home to a large population of marginalized poor. An idealistic teacher arrives in town and dedicates himself to shaping fine citizens. The film is all about pulling the audience’s heartstrings, and it does so largely effectively. Though it runs a little long, skillful filmmaking brings out all those emotions rather well. The other Indonesian film in the festival is Jakarta Maghrib (2010, Salman Aristo), which is an anthology with interconnecting tales that all happen just as the evening call to prayer sounds across the city. It’s a little uneven, and has far less polish than the other two films. It has nice moments, but it’s Altman-style storytelling doesn’t quite work out.

Vietnam brings two films from director Dang Nhat Minh. Dang is one of Vietnam’s most renowned and respected filmmakers, and his films are always of a consistent quality. Even his weaker films offer a sense of grace that transcends most cinema. Nostalgia for Countryland (Thuong no dong que, 1996, Dang Nhat Minh) and The Guava House (Mua Oi, 2000, Dang Nhat Minh) are largely consider two of his lesser films, but both are still quite graceful and emotive. In Nostalgia for Countryland, Dang cleverly uses a love triangle set in a rural village to examine the clash between the traditional culture of Vietnam and the more modern values of the city. The Guava House follows a mentally handicapped man through three decades of Vietnamese history.

The Japanese selection of the festival skews mainstream. Wanko: The Story of Me, My Family and My Dog (Rokku: Wanko no Shima, 2011, Isamu Nakae) is part of a recent Japanese trend of movies featuring dogs. It’s about a family displaced by the eruption of Mt. Oyama in 2000, and their struggle to find and keep their adorably loyal dog Rock. Éclair (Ekureru: Okashi hourouki, 2011, Akio Kondo) is about an orphan trying to find his happiness in 1940s Japan, beset on all sides by war. Both films are lavishly made, and overall quite pleasant, portraying a comforting vision of humanity that few will object to.

I honestly don’t know much about the festival’s lone Lao film, Only Love (2010, Anousone Sirisackda). But I’d recommend it offhand just for the fact that we don’t get a lot of films from The Lao People’s Democratic Republic. It is a story of a young man who returns to his rural hometown with the hopes of establishing sustainable farming practices. Along the way, he meets up with his childhood sweetheart, and runs afoul of a rival who doesn’t cotton to his big city thinking. The trailer doesn’t make it look like there will be a lot of surprises, but I’m definitely curious what the culture might bring to a movie like this.

I am equally in the dark about the Sri Lankan films in the festival. I will say that the few bits of Agnidahaya (2002, Jayantha Chandrasiri) looked pretty amazing. The film takes place in 1664, following an exorcist who leads a rebellion against a king who appears to have ceded control to the Dutch. Sri Lankan film takes more influence from Tamil and Hindi cinema, making Agnidahaya radically different from the other films in the festival. Its epic scope might make it worth checking out. I have heard unkind things about the other Sri Lankan film Dheevari (2006, Salinda Perera), but I can’t offer much of a personal opinion. It is about a young Sri Lankan woman who moves from the city to a fishing village. There, she is appalled by the plight of the people, and sets out to change things. This is the only film in the festival that I haven’t seen a single frame of, and that naturally makes me want to see it.

From Korea, we get two films that were already shown in the 2011 Korean Film Festival. Speedy Scandal (Kwasok scandle, 2009, Kang Hyeong-Cheol) is about a radio DJ whose playboy ways are interrupted when a girl from his past shows up at his doorstep with a young boy who she claims is his son. This is a tried-and-true Hollywood plot, and the film is solid in its execution. More interesting but also more frustrating is Hwang Jin-Yi (2007, Chang Yoon-Hyun), a historical biopic of Korea’s most famous kiseang - a female entertainer somewhat equivalent to Japan’s geisha. The movie eschews historical accuracy in favor of action and melodrama, and the result can be intriguing if mostly ridiculous. The strangest part about it is it doesn’t show much of the titular character performing her duties as a kiseang, which is a pretty odd choice.

The Chinese contingent brings three films. Forever Enthralled (Mei Lanfang, 2008, Chen Kaige) brings director Chen back into the world of Peking Opera, which he so deftly explored in 1993’s Farewell My Concubine. It is a biopic of one of Peking Opera’s biggest star, Mei Lanfang, and in typical Chen fashion, it is visually lavish and emotionally tender. To be honest, Chen has a lost a couple of steps in his later years, but he can still deliver a few powerful moments.

Glittering Days (2009, An Zhanjun) depicts life in a traditional Beijing tenement/courtyard in the 1990s. The film is built around a message of community and a rather overt bid for Beijing’s modernization, but it is still a rather skillful drama built on the back of director An’s affinity with the city and its characters. The film strains under the weight of all its subplots, but it works well enough. A more difficult proposition is The Founding of a Republic (Jian guo da ye, 2009, Han Sanping and Huang Jianxin). Produced in celebration of the PRC’s 60th anniversary, the film zigzags through dozens of historical events as it tries to the story of the rise of the Communist party, and the fall of the Kuomintang. Dozens of China’s biggest stars pop up in small roles, highlighting the film’s complete lack of interest in sustaining any dramatic or narrative momentum. It’s not bad as a visual textbook, and one might learn much about China’s recent history from it. It’s just difficult to recommend it as a cinematic experience.


May 17, 2012 (Thursday)
Dinig Sana Kita (If I Knew What You Said) - 7:00pm to 9:00pm

May 18, 2012 (Friday)
3 DOA 3 CINTA - 12:30pm
The Guava House (MUA OI LA SIASON DES GAYAVES) - 3:00pm
Only Love - 5:30pm
Forever Enthralled - 8:00pm

May 19, 2012 (Saturday)
Dheevari - 12:30pm
Laskar Pelang (The Rainbow Troops) - 3:00pm
WANKO - The Story of Me, My Family and My Dogs - 5:30pm
Hwang Jin Yi - 8:00pm

May 20, 2012 (Sunday)
Nostalgia For Countryland (Thoung nho dong que) - 12:30pm
Eclair - 3:00pm
Speedy Scandal - 5:30pm
The Founding of A Republic - 8:00pm

May 21, 2012 (Monday)
Glittering Day - 12:30pm
Agni Dahaya - 3:00pm
Jakarta Maghrib - 5:30pm
Halaw - 8:00pm

Note: Schedules are subject to change without prior notice. Seats are on a first come, first served basis. For inquiries, please call (63 2) 633-7851 loc.

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