Having gotten my big TOP 5 list out of the way, I transmit to you one more round of reactions to my favorite film event to write about, the New York Asian Film Festival.
A question about this year’s tenth anniversary blow out, which was even raised by Subway Cinema’s twitter feed, is where were all the women? There were no female guests, and a scarce 3 films (one of which I was not such a fan of) were directed by female directors. Fortunately, there was no lack of girl power on the screen, as women featured prominently in many of this year’s new and old titles, kicking ass and fighting the powers that be.
In honor of that, I’ve come up with the following list to acknowledge those razor sharp female performances. As usual, I feel the need to disclaim that its only based on the movies I watched and prone to glaring omissions (for instance Dragon Inn, a movie I didn’t see during the fest, features Maggie Cheung in an action role!). Following the list is a quick look at some films that I feel deserve special recognition for particular achievements.
TOP 5 FURIOUS FEMME FATALES
1. Asami as Nonoko in HORNY HOUSE OF HORROR
Who is really in control when women are presented as sexual objects for men’s fantasies? In answer to this question is a brilliant scene where men ecstatically ogle girls’ exposed bottoms as if it is the greatest day of their lives. Meanwhile on the other side of a partition, Asami crouches in the crudest of manners, shooting the breeze with her colleagues like it’s just another day of parting the typical male slave to his sexual longing with his money. Of course unbeknownst to the men, they will lose more than just their cash…Asami leads the charge with a portrayal of maniacally energetic sexuality, which climaxes in her violently and bloodily rendering her john sexually powerless. She literally uses sex as a weapon, making the metallic vagina dentata she wields seem to fit like a …not a glove…I’ll leave you to finish that simile on your own.
2. Chiaki Kuriyama as Chigusa and Kou Shibasaki as Mitsuko In BATTLE ROYALE
Eleven years later, Battle Royale is still a shocking vision of kids embroiled in blood spattered violence, not the least of which involves aggression-fueled teenage girls. While Chiaki Kuriyama would go on to international notoriety as the giddy ball and chain swinging right-hand school girl in KILL BILL, Kou Shibasaki’s role as Mitsuko comes from an even darker place. She adapts to the kill or be killed mentality of the program immediately and, with a hunter’s proficiency, eliminates several classmates from the game. Chigusa (Kuriyama) lashes out against a classmate’s lustful obsession and attempt to threaten her into sexual compliance. There are hints that Mitsuko had been dealing with being ostracized from her classmates, forced to grow up too quickly at the hands of abusive father figures (this is explored further in the manga of the same name). They both represent a bloody blast of youthful female rage against elements of a male dominated society.
3. Seo Young-Hee as Bok-Nam in BEDEVILLED
Of all the female protagonists in this year’s movies, Bok-Nam has arguably the biggest cross to bear. She is good hearted and simple and sadly all alone to deal with an isolated existence on a remote island shared with a handful of abusive males and a community of elderly women that turn a blind eye in resentment. When the abuse extends beyond her to her daughter, her mind has nowhere to go but blank. Seo Young-Hee turns in an enthralling performance as an over the edge murder machine with a focus as razor sharp as the scythe she brandishes. One psychosexual scene finds her provocatively seducing her tormentor before exacting a painful revenge that is sure to please audiences looking for hard earned onscreen retribution.
4. Norie Yasui as Lulu/Junko in LOVE AND LOATHING AND LULU AND AYANO
The character of Lulu is perhaps the most complicated and least action-oriented of the list. We meet her as a shy and withdrawn girl with a troubling home environment and a diminished job situation. When opportunity, in the form of a successful porn video casting, arises she transforms herself into a 2-dimensional cliché of a male fantasy to escape from life’s hardships. With support from another strong female role Ayano, whose stress outlet of choice is clubbing away with a baseball bat, Lulu sheds this shallow persona. In a striking final scene, the weary, self-aware, and more alluring than ever Junko (no longer prone to using the moniker Lulu) looks her oppressor in the eye and hits back. Whether she ends up all right or not in the end isn’t important. It’s Norie Yasui’s transgressive portrayal of a girl fighting back that puts her on the list.
5. Pam Grier as various, Marie Lee as Cleopatra Wong, Jeanne Bell as TNT Jackson, and others in MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED
Pam Grier may have faired best in the end, but all of the real life fierce females featured in this Australian documentary on exploitation films made in the Filipino deserve to be acknowledged. Putting storyline exploitation to the side, the film asks if the actual struggles these girls put up with in the rugged jungle as movie set was worth it. Regardless of the answer, these actresses would not give up on dreams of stardom without a fight, sticking it out through the harshest conditions. Whatever the cause, be it the directors’ input or the market’s call for something new to drive up box office sales, there were few onscreen depictions of desperate damsels here. For whatever abuse was dished out by male tormentors, it was given back double in crazy explosions of violence by way of kung fu, machine guns, and of course those weed whacking blades called machetes.
Best Visuals – MILOCRORZE (dir. Yoshimasa Ishibashi)
This movie had hands-down the best look of any of the films in the festival this year. Had it packed the same emotional punch as the films I listed in my Top 5, it would’ve absolutely been my favorite film of the festival.
Best Soundtrack – THE UNJUST (dir. Ryoo Seung-Wan)
I should point out right away that the director’s previous festival hit, CITY OF VIOLENCE, which also screened this year, is another shining example of making excellent use of a film score to enhance a movie’s action. In THE UNJUST, there is a repetitive swirl of strings and drums that perfectly punctuates the dizzying, spiraling grip of panic that closes in around the corrupt protagonists. To get a sense, watch the clip of the far underwatched Subway Cinema trailer for their Korean Sea of Revenge program. The sounds from THE UNJUST comes in like a swarm of pissed off hornets at the 9 second mark and last until the 17 second mark.
Best English as a Second Language Comedy – SELL-OUT (dir. Yeo Joon Han)
This Malaysian movie has nonstop laughs, in English! It keeps up a hilariously absurd dialogue both in spite of and in full recognition of the potential for miscommunication and the unnaturalness of the thrown together English dialects as a lingua franca, often making it the subject of the jokes. The witty crafting of words continues right through to the show tunes ala karaoke box that make up the musical numbers of this stand out bizarre satire. Enjoy the "Money Song" below for a bit of the lyrical genius, subtitled for your convenience!
Best Erotic Moment – LAST DAYS OF THE WORLD (dir. Eiji Uchida)
I may be unnecessarily revealing deeply disturbing scars in the inner recesses of my psychological makeup, but that thing that the guy does with the thing, and then that other thing happens…that was pretty hot!
With much anticipation, I await the excitement that you bring our way next year, New York Asian Film Festival 2012!
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