Tuesday, June 30, 2015

June 27 and 28 at the New York Asian Film Festival 2015 Aaron Kwok is the wrong sort of strange, Ringo Lam is charming beyond words plus PORT OF CALL, EMPIRE OF LUST, CITY ON FIRE, FULL ALERT and INSANITY

Finally I go home....
The weekend at the New York Asian Film Festival was fun and crazy. For me it’s like going home and I get to see the guys running the festival as well as people like Jarod from Bullets over Chinatown who lives near me but I never seem to get to see.
Stan gets a heads up on the first movie

This year’s start was special since I had my friend Stan in tow. Stan’s a long time NYAFF fan but he missed the last two due to family matters. This time he was back and raring to go.

Lined up and waiting to go into the movie
Walking into Walter Reade everyone was a buzz about Aaron Kwok from the night before. Apparently he seized the spotlight and refused to give it back giving a long rambling speech and being a bit rude. There were other technical issues that had it referred to as a comedy of errors. Getting on line I saw Jarod and we talked for a bit. Its always a good sign when he’s in the house.

We were joined by Mondo, Mr C and Agent O

The lights dimmed and things got underway

The first film was PORT OF CALL

Aaron Kwok gives a killer performance as weary hunched over detective investigating the death of 16 year old girl who turned to prostitution. Based on an actual case the film plumbs the depths of cops, victims and killers.

This gory story is very much in need of an editor. Divided into chapters for no discernable reason the film confuses matters even more by jumping through time with wild abandon. Sometimes were told about the shifts, sometimes not. Worse a good chunk of the film is fantastical. I was told after the film that much of the killers story was in his mind. When I asked how we are supposed to know, I was told you’re just supposed to.

Frankly outside of Kwoks performance, some gory nonsense and one truly frightening nightmare there isn’t much (at least in this form) to recommend PORT OF CALL. It’s a film in need of editing, which according to Chris Bourne it will be getting for international release.

Wait for streaming

(Mr C's take on the film can be found at Planet Chocko)
Grady steels himself for a very long hour with Aaron Kwok

(This is about a third of the Q&A shot by Mr C and I lifted from Planet Chocko)

After the film Aaron Kwok came out and did a Q&A. It was a long and rambling one that got completely out of hand as Kwok prattled on and on. When Grady asked how they were on time someone said it’s 5:38 and he said he didn’t know what it meant (20 minutes to the next movie) and he took more questions. As Rufus and Samuel tried to cut things off from the audience Kwok continued on – taking a long question from a woman in Mandarin- which he then answered in Mandarin (meaning everything then had to translated into English. When Grady tried to cut Kwok off he said there as a follow up- which the woman again gave in Mandarin- and he answered in Mandarin- and when that was done Kwok just rambled on for a bit. Finally they got him off the stage some time after the start time of the next movie. (see below for another Kwok story)

Grady talks while Rufus stirs the names

The second film was EMPIRE OF LUST. The giveaway was breezed through and the movie started

Very badly named film would seem to be a softcore porn film when instead it’s an action filled court intrigue film.

A simple telling of the plot has the emperor giving command of the newly unified army to the father of his son in-law. This sets the general on a collision course with one of the Emperor’s sons who wants to seize control of the court, as well as putting him in contact with beautiful courtesan (SPOILER ALERT) has an agenda of her own.

A very soapy story with more twists than are allowed by US law is highlighted by several excellent but gory action sequences. While some of the court intrigue gets to be too much , the central through line of doomed love and action carry the film. Trust me if you drop out the classic Ringo Lam films from this year’s NYAFF this would be one of the top two action flicks of the festival. The battles all have weight and nary a sign of CGI.

If you want my vote for the one film of the festival that people are going to be kicking themselves for missing this is it. Everyone I talked to loved the film and was shocked at how the bad titling kept people away. This is one to track down.

A note to the Subway Cinema guys- thank you for giving us better titles than what was on the print- but the next time you live subtitle please find a better way of doing it (under the picture?) because too damn much was lost in the bright image.
Ringo Lam-the Man of the Weekend

The final film of the night was CITY ON FIRE with director Ringo Lam in attendance. He was being given a Lifetime Achievement award and he seemed to be truly humbled- commenting that he hadn’t gotten anything like that in Hong Kong but did in New York.
Ringo Lam cracks a joke or two

Lam was absolutely charming. Being in the audience you could feel the love flow off the stage. He said he was not going to do a Q&A but the next day would be willing to sign anything anyone brought in (As Grady said bring a couch he’ll sign a couch, bring a puppy he'll sign the puppy). He also wanted to sit with the audience as the film played.

The source of Quentin Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS, CITY ON FIRE is a Hong Kong Classic. The film has undercover cop Chow Yun Fat being forced to take over for another cop who was on the trail of a gang of really bad robbers who will stop at nothing to pull their job. They gang found out there was a rat in their midst and killed him. Chow at first refuses to do it but as police bodies mount and CID chases after him (they think he’s a bad guy), he takes o the case and is soon in the middle of it all. Much more complicated and infinitely better than Tarantio’s film CITY ON FIRE packs a punch that leaves you gasping. Chow’s character is between a rock and a hard place and his life is turning to crap as a result. We feel for him because there is so much more to the character as opposed to Tim Roth’s version in Tarantino’s telling.

I don’t know what to say beyond it’s a classic.

This film is amazing and then some. A huge must see.
Grady Hendrix and Ringo Lam

I should mention that the film was screened in 35mm. Grady Hendrix said that they tried to call in favors to find a print and could only find the last known surviving complete print at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Sadly the film is no longer complete since a section of the film ended up on fire. (Yes CITY ON FIRE as literally on fire). Apropos of nothing I found I missed the smell of burning celluloid. As much as I hate what it means it still a treasured smell of my childhood.

After the movie I dashed home in the pouring rain. (Apropos of nothing I did win A Bluray of KILLERS)

On Sunday I met Jarod outside the theater. It was hot inside so he was waiting in the cool air. We talked about the films the day before. He also told me about how Aaron Kwok refused to sign anything when he passed people after PORT OF CALL. He said he had a dismissive attitude. He also said that everyone didn’t seem to have a good thing to say about him. I mention this not as gossip, rather because everyone and I do mean everyone, who has ever been at NYAFF has gone above and beyond to be nice to the fans and organizers. This was the first time I have ever heard a bad word about anyone.
Ringo Lam takes a seat with all of us

The first film of the day was FULL ALERT. Director Lam was there and he was applauded when he entered the theater, applauded when Grady introduced him and he was applauded when the film ended. And as he stood to the standing ovation at the end he humbly told everyone “Thank you” to which many of us yelled back “No Thank You” he then disappeared behind the screen for a brief respite before heading out (again to applause) to the lobby to sign and take pictures.
Grady asks Ringo Lam to stand to thunderous applause

I talked to several people who spoke with Lam in the lobby and everyone was glowing. He was the definition of class and a truly cool guy. I would tell you the stories of things like Jarod and Lam discussing Jarod HK film collection but they aren’t my stories to tell besides you really should have been there-trust me its one of the greatest NYAFF moments.

As for the film itself...

Grady called FULL ALERT the final monument of the Hong Kong crime cinema which had its heyday from the mid 1980’s until 1997. He called it a great under seen gem of a film and the only film in the festival that mattered.

Not sure if it’s the only film that matters but I can get on board with the rest. Thank god for NYAFF for bring this film to the open because now that I’ve seen it I’ll never forget it.

One of the meanest and nastiest HK films I’ve seen it begins with a whole building being poisoned by a rotting corpse in their water supply and goes on to chart the cops vs robber battle between a gang of cut throat thieves aiming to rob a race track who will kill anyone to get their score and the police trying to stop them.

One killer action sequence after another cranks of the tension as bodies pile up and the psychological toll is taken on both sides. This is a brutal nasty film where everyone gets abused. There is a cost for the evil that men do and for the men who try to stop it…and for the audience watching it, when it was done I felt wonderfully abused.

The film is a masterpiece in the truest sense of the word.

If there is a flaw in the film it’s that the crooks insist on going through with the robbery depite knowing the police know what they are doing (more or less). Yes I know the film deals with hubris and the need to be number one but completing the robbery is just damn stupid.

Still the film packs a punch.

Track the film down

Before the final film INSANITY, Mr C appeared and sat behind Jarod and myself. We talked briefly before the movie started.

INSANITY is for most of its running time a taut little thriller. Yea you can kind of guess where it’s going but until it gets there it’s the sort of a film that just drags you along.

Beginning with an obviously mentally ill man being a party to the death of his wife, the film shifts gears and jumps three years ahead when the staff at a hospital argues about whether or not to release the man. The man’s doctor, the favored colleague of the hospital administrator argues he’s ready to go, some of the others are not too sure. The man is released and as the doctor tries to keep his patient on the straight and narrow he begins to be put under a great deal of stress. Where the film goes is the film.

For most of the film the shifting lead characters and skillful filmmaking keep this a taught and compelling film. Even as we watch events unravel and begin to suspect what’s happening we keep watching because how we are seeing things keeps us unsure of what is really going on. Only in the final section, say the last 20 minutes or so when it all begins to come together does the film deflate slightly. It’s not that what happens is bad , more that what happens is much too conventional for what had gone before, and we realize that the film wasn’t playing fair with what we were seeing. Worse- a final revelation about the event that set everything in motion seems to be more WTF then truly shocking. We didn’t need to know it nor did it need to happen.

Reservations aside, INSANITY is worth seeing if it comes your way.

(Mr C reviewed the film yesterday and his take can be found here)

After the film I left I had a dinner date with the lovely Lesley Coffin and couldn’t stay. I said a quick good bye and headed off… until Friday when I get to do this all over again.

As always being at the festival is like being at home- I can't wait until the weekend when I get to do it all over again.

For tickets and more information on up coming films go to the SUBWAY CINEMA webpage

To see more pictures from the weekend go to our Tumblr Page here
The Subway Cinema crew and Ringo Lam

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