Saturday, May 12, 2007


Updates on this blog have been as slow lately as my feet on a tennis court and will likely stay that way until I catch my Asian film watching breath in a week or two. For the past two months I have been psychotically charging through Asian films to help program the New York Asian Film Festival and watched somewhere in the vicinity of 125 films that were in contention. My brain feels like it has been lobotomized. But the other day I saw the last four films that we were considering and am now a free man for a while! The program is almost complete with spots left for only about four more films and we are basically waiting for confirmations from a few companies to be ready to go. Over these months, I have written short reviews on a bunch of these that I saw - mainly ones that I enjoyed to some degree - and have politely refrained from bashing the many bad films I have had to sort through with my finger itching to hit the fast forward button. Now I just want to watch old American films for a while - the 60's spy retrospective at Film Forum and the Lee Marvin retro at Lincoln Center as well as get through my box sets of the Mr. Moto and the Michael Shane, Private Detective series of films from the 1930's and 40's.

It looks like the festival will have about 25 films from us but it then magically segues into the Japan Society's First Cut fest that will add another group of Japanese films - so in total it will be three weeks of non-stop orgasmic Asian films. Hopefully, everyone can find something they like. I actually like some of them myself! The festival admittedly does strike me as a bit too lopsided towards action, horror, violence and just weird films, but there really weren't that many great dramas or comedies that came out this past year and in many cases the ones that were we could not get or had already played here. So basically we went fan boy crazy and are offering a buffet of high voltage chaos, freaky stuff and some really silly films. It won't be brain surgery but it should be fun! The line-up and descriptions will be ready to go in a week or two and I will post it here. Grady's descriptions often are more entertaining than actually watching the film!

I did want to mention one of these last screeners I saw as it was one of my favorites of all these films that I waded through. It is called GETTING HOME from director Zhang Yang (Spicy Love Soup, Shower, Sunflower) - a Chinese film that manages to be highly entertaining while still having something serious to say about the human spirit. A friend saw it in Hong Kong a while back and e-mailed that we had to consider it and the screener finally arrived last week. On first reading, the plot may unfortunately remind people of an older American comedy called Weekend at Bernie's, but trust me this is nothing like that. It is comical, stirring, heroic, tender and poignant - a road film that traverses the immense empty spaces of China and meets up with a variety of people and situations that adds up to a total much bigger than its parts.

Zhao had promised his friend that if ever he died he will get him home where he can be buried in his own land so that he won't become a wandering ghost. When in fact this happens during a drinking bout, Zhao is determined to keep his pledge. Far from the typical cinematic male protagonist, he is a middle aged construction worker with no future and not much of a past - just a guy trying to get by in China's new free market economy. But beneath his placid uneducated working man exterior lies the heart of a lion - an enormous perseverance - fueled simply by his word to a dead friend. So he dresses up his friend in sunglasses and a hat and begins the long journey across much of China to the Three Gorges - sometimes trying to pass off his friend as drunk or a vegetable - other times he just carries him on his back for miles - or puts him in a giant truck wheel and rolls him. However he can.
In the background constantly is the striking beauty of the Chinese landscapes - miles and miles of it - and the enormous change that it is now going through. Among the people he meets are a heartbroken truck driver, a "dead man" (the legendary Wu Ma) who hires people for his funeral, bee keepers who want to live away from society, bus robbers who believe in loyalty to a friend, a cyclist going to Tibet and a woman that gives him hope again. Some of the people he meets are indifferent to his plight - or want to take advantage of it - but he also meets with many small kindnesses in the most unexpected places at the most opportune times. By the end of his journey - it is in its small way like that of Ulysses going home - and in its small way equally heroic. Though much of the first two thirds is comical and whimsical, it enters a different stage towards the end that becomes surprisingly moving, powerful and humanistic. One near final scene of him carrying his friend on his back past a long line of vehicles brought to a halt by an avalanche of rocks is a stunning image of resiliency and friendship.

My rating for this film: 8.0
Getting Home won the Audience Award at Barcelona and Thessalonika and played Berlin where it won the top prize in the Panorama section.
Publicity Sheet

And here are a few pictures of some of the nominees at the Hong Kong Film Awards - portraits taken for the occasion in a book I got. If I have incorrectly identified the three female New Performers, please let me know - they look so different then they did in their films that I wasn't really sure!


Buma said...

So GETTING HOME was good, but not quite up to festival standard ?

Anyway, I read your Subway Cinema News blog and I'm glad to see Hong Kong movies are making a return to your festival. Can't wait to your schedule goes up so I can start requesting my vacation days at work ( I need to switch day/nite with my baby's nanny so I catch your flicks ).

So, any Indian movies this year ? ;-)

glenn ( said...

in that group shot, Christy Chung looks pregnant. That is newsworthy as that would be the first I heard of her having another kid.

Jet Li looks pudgy but who am I to talk?

Brian said...

Getting Home - well its not out yet - the problem is that by the time the screener arrived we only had 3-4 slots available and 2 new big ones just showed up on our doorstep this weekend and there are a bunch of requests already out there. Still I would like to show it - its one of the few feel good movies we saw this year.

Christy Chung - isn't that Sandra Ng?