12 movies to watch at the 2016 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival

Event that showcases the most exciting new movies from the region has a particularly strong line-up this year, with films by Derek Tsang, Feng Xiaogang, Yoji Yamada and Boo Junfeng among the must-sees

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2016, 5:20pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 October, 2016, 5:27pm

A premier showcase of the region’s most intriguing new titles, the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival returns this year for its 13th edition with an exceptionally strong line-up. While the 12 films highlighted here represent our picks of the best from the best, film lovers are encouraged to dig deep into a programme boasting too many films by established talents – including Lee Sang-il, Kim Ki-duk and Hong Sang-soo, to name just a few – to do justice to in this concise list.

1. Soul Mate

When his co-directing debut Lover’s Discourse opened the 2010 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, few expected Derek Tsang Kwok-cheung – son of Eric – to become a film director to be reckoned with. But this China-set drama, fêted with seven nominations in next month’s Golden Horse Awards, should settle the case with its delicate portrayal of two best friends (Zhou Dongyu and Ma Sichun) who fall for the same guy. (October 13, opening film)

2. Nagasaki: Memories of My Son

Veteran Japanese director Yoji Yamada’s post-war drama on grief and acceptance is Japan’s entry for the best foreign-language Oscar – the fifth of his films to be selected. Revolving around the ghost of an atomic bomb victim and his regular visits to his mother and fiancée, this touching film, set in 1948, has been described by the 85-year-old Yamada as “the most important film in his life”. (October 14, 15 and 21)

3. Three Stories of Love

With a cast of unknowns and a screenplay that channels his own experience with depression as an openly gay man, Ryosuke Hashiguchi’s sensitive drama weaves together three stories of people unlucky in love – a bridge inspector who lost his wife in an inexplicable murder, a disgruntled housewife who starts an affair, and a gay lawyer who succeeds at his job but fails in romance – in one of the most original Japanese films in recent times. (October 15, 21 and 31)

4. The Wailing

South Korean writer-director Na Hong-jin proved his genre credentials with The Chaser (2008) and The Yellow Sea (2010), but nothing in those violent crime thrillers could have prepared us for this engrossing murder mystery. A deeply unsettling experience which embraces supernatural manifestations of evil and defies definition, the horror film, set in a rural village, unfolds like a nightmare that refuses to loosen its grip. (October 16 and 22)

5. Apprentice

A young prison officer develops a complex bond with the prison’s chief executioner – who hanged the junior employee’s father – in this death-penalty drama, Singapore’s submission for the best foreign-language Oscar. Director Boo Junfeng’s second feature, the film takes a spare but engrossing look at the country’s system of capital punishment and does so, remarkably, from the perspective of the men who pull the lever. (October 18 and 19)

6. The Road to Mandalay

Kai Ko Chen-tung fell off the radar with his drug offences in 2014, and the Taiwanese star couldn’t have hoped for a better comeback than this tragic romance, which has received six nominations for the upcoming Golden Horse Awards. Scripted and directed by the Myanmar-born, Taipei-based Midi Z, the poignant film follows a pair of illegal Burmese immigrants in Bangkok as they are driven apart by their discordant visions of a better life. (October 20)

7. Harmonium

The Jury Prize winner in the Un Certain Regard section of this year’s Cannes film festival, writer-director Koji Fukada’s deceptively humdrum drama hides a gripping suspense thriller at its core. When a contemporary Japanese family of three allows a mysterious stranger (played by Tadanobu Asano) from the father’s past to move into their ordinary household, complications predictably follow – albeit totally shocking ones. (October 20 and 22)

8. The Long Excuse

Don’t miss the five films being shown in the festival’s “Director in Focus” section, dedicated to the Japanese novelist-turned filmmaker Miwa Nishikawa. Once an apprentice under the great humanist Hirokazu Koreeda, Nishikawa’s bittersweet new film, based on her own novel, sees Departures star Masahiro Motoki again tackle the intricate issue of mourning when his cold-hearted author character loses his wife in a car crash. (October 23 and 24)

9. Heart Attack

A crowd-pleasing comedy which swept the Thailand National Film Association Awards (garnering prizes in the best picture, director, screenplay, actor and actress categories), former experimental filmmaker Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit’s commercial breakthrough revolves around a workaholic 30-year-old freelance designer who begins to reconsider his priorities after encountering an attractive dermatologist in a public hospital. (October 23 and 26)

10. Album

Turkish director Mehmet Can Mertoglu is a self-proclaimed student of the deadpan filmmaking of Roy Andersson, Ulrich Seidl and the Romanian New Wave, and his debut feature proves just that. Under the lens of Romanian cinematographer Marius Panduru ( Police, Adjective ), the testy subject of adoption is tackled through a mordant social satire, in which a respectable couple go to absurd ends to forge their adopted child’s history. (October 24 and 29)

11. Hang in There, Kids!

As Taiwan’s contender for the best foreign-language Oscar and the winner of five awards at this year’s Taipei Film Festival, the second feature by Taiwanese aboriginal filmmaker Laha Mebow tells the playful story of three indigenous kids in a mountain tribe. Once they discover that their physically handicapped teacher has an amazing singing talent, the trio set out to take her demo tape to Taipei on a memorable trip. (October 28, 29 and 30)

12. I Am Not Madame Bovary

Ever since its China release was abruptly postponed to November 18, Chinese director Feng Xiaogang’s daring parable – about a peasant woman who stubbornly pursues justice before what she sees as a petty and self-serving bureaucratic system – has been shrouded in speculation. Starring Fan Bingbing in an impressively unglamorous role, the film’s alleged brush with censors makes its current cut a must-see on this occasion. (October 31, closing film)

Hong Kong Asian Film Festival runs from October 13 to 31 at various venues. For full programme details, visit www.hkaff.asia.

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