Wednesday, 6/19/2019

Looking Eastward

Asian films at the FILMFEST MÜNCHEN

Looking Eastward

Hard stuff from the Far East: the Philippian thriller ALPHA, THE RIGHT TO KILL

Films are a wonderful opportunity to open a gateway to far-off lands, to become acquainted with other cultures, and to have exciting experiences. The Far Eastern films showing at FILMFEST MÜNCHEN this year are good examples of this. They teach us to take another look at the world with fresh eyes.

This even applies literally to the two Taiwanese short films that are part of the new Virtual Worlds section: AFTERIMAGE FOR TOMORROW deals with memories in an artificial world, while in LIVE STREAM FROM YUKI <3 we follow a young woman who makes her love life public. The hot topic of live streams is also addressed in the documentary film PRESENT.PERFECT. from Hong Kong. More than 800 hours of footage were collated and edited into a cross-section of the way China's young people live. What motivates them? What does the Internet mean to them? What does everyday life look like when it's lived in public?

A completely different image of the Middle Kingdom is conveyed in UP THE MOUNTAIN, one of five films that FILMFEST MÜNCHEN is showing in cooperation with the Confucius Institute. This documentary takes us on a journey to Dali in southern China's Yunnan province, a place where time appears to stand still. This film is like a panorama made by a master of naive landscape painting. In Dali, people maintain their traditions, enjoy dragon dances, and approach life with meditative calm. KOALI & RICE is also a contemplative film; in it, a 70-year-old woman rethinks her life. What's left when your children no longer need you and your friends are dying off?

Modern spirit vs. tradition: The Taiwanese Virtual Reality short film LIVE STREAM FROM YUKI <3 and the Chinese drama KOALI & RICE

Also reminiscing is Zhou Jun, who is searching for his lost son in WALKING IN DARKNESS. With a bottle of liquor and the help of a taxi driver, he rides through the night and sees the images of the past merge with the shimmering gray of his surroundings. Completely black-and-white, on the other hand, is WINTER AFTER WINTER: in precisely composed artistic shots, this period drama is about fragile family ties and shadows of the past. In the occupied China of World War II, a patriarch will go to any lengths to ensure that his bloodline continues. And finally, blood flows in THE WILD GOOSE LAKE. In this exciting thriller, everyone is after the gangster Zhou Zenong; the police and former fellow gangsters are all trying to catch the fugitive.

Things are no less exciting when we leave China and continue our journey in the Far East. In MANTA RAY, which is set on the border between Thailand and Myanmar, people hunt not only manta rays, but also refugees — until a fisherman has a change of heart. This drama, which received awards at several festivals, gives us a puzzling but also poetic look at a very special encounter. ALPHA, THE RIGHT TO KILL, by contrast, is a hard-hitting action thriller that takes us to the world of illegal drugs in the Philippines. There, everyone is fighting to survive, from the small dealer to the policeman, while the whole country is pulled into a violent drug war.

Our journey across the Far East ends in South Korea, where rigid genre classification is a thing of the past. FILMFEST MÜNCHEN is devoting a retrospective this year to the exceptional talent of Bong Joon Ho. The director will be bringing along PARASITE, his masterpiece which recently received a Golden Palm in Cannes, in which satire, drama, thriller, and a portrait of society naturally form a unit. Equally unusual is MAGGIE, directed by his countrywoman Yi Ok-seop: a sensuous but absurd cinematic experiment in which talking catfish and apparently bottomless sinkholes are only the tip of an idiosyncratic iceberg.

Tip: If you want to find out more about Asian cinema, we recommend the FILMMAKERS LIVE! events BEST OF PINGYAO, about that city's film festival featuring young directors, and the discussion with Bong Joon Ho.


Oliver Armknecht