The 33rd International Film Festival of Rotterdam begins tonight and runs through February 1. It’s not quite the European equivalent of Sundance. For one thing, of course, it’s been around longer than Sundance. For another, there’s less of a focus on market concentrations, and a healthy selection of experimental and short films are featured. For Asian films, the festival has been an international springboard for a happy collection of unique artists.
By my count, 45 Asian features will screen this year, including a few retrospective titles.
ALL TOMORROW’S PARTIES (2003)
Lo-tech sci-fi from Hong Kong’s indie maverick Yu Lik-Wai. A Taliban-like sect rules Asia until its collapse leaves a huge void in the lives of adherents and dissidents alike. At once intimate and enigmatic… and very beautiful.
DIRECTOR: Yu Lik-Wai
ASHES OF TIME (1994)
To pay homage to Leslie Cheung (1956-2003), the festival is screening Wong Kar-wai’s melancholy martial arts classic, in which the inn keeper Cheung meets lots of swordfighters in the desert.
DIRECTOR: Wong Kar-Wai
BATTLE ROYALE II: REQUIEM (2003)
Three years after the brutal slaughter in Battle Royale, adults again try to keep kids down using pure violence. This time a school class has to take out the hero from Part I in the name of the ‘War on Terror’. With guest roles for Beat Takeshi and Sonny ‘Kill Bill’ Chiba.
DIRECTORS: Fukasaku Kerta, Fukasaku Kinji
BIRDMAN TALE (2001)
Nugroho is the poet of political cinema: passionate, but with a light and original tone. Here he integrates events in West Papua/Irian Jaya in a fable of a ‘flying man’ about liberation and freedom.
DIRECTOR: Garin Nugroho
BRIGHT FUTURE (2003)
Apocalyptic science-fiction melodrama about friendships, generation gaps, murder and the will to change. In other words: how poisonous jellyfish end up in fresh water, yet still choose the deep.
DIRECTOR: Kurosawa Kiyoshi
COP FESTIVAL (2003)
Japanese film makers each indulged themselves for ten minutes on the genre of the police film. With the assistance of familiar faces and surprising new talents, but who exactly? Last year an indie cinema in the Shimo Kitazawa district of Tokyo found itself with a sudden gap in its programme schedule. The owners contacted Shinozaki Makoto to see if they could programme his TV film Asakusa Kid (shown at the Rotterdam Festival two years ago) in the slot. That didn’t work out, but Shinozaki offered to come up with something else for the cinema. He called around to various film maker friends and asked if they could make ten minute video shorts on the theme of police detectives (in Japanese deka which can also mean ‘big’). So was born the Cop Festival (Deka Matsuri) phenomenon, which has already run to four programs of shorts with a fifth currently in progress. In this special one off presentation, Shinozaki Makoto will introduce a selection of Cop Festival shorts, rarely seen outside Japan before. The selection of eight short films will comprise some by such well known directors as Kurosawa Kiyoshi, others will be first films by individuals well known as actors, such as Tanaka Yoji (who has been seen in everything from Oshima’s Gohatto to films of the One Piece! Series). (Tony Rayns) titles: 1. Ghost Cop by Kurosawa Kiyoshi 2. The Unforgettable Detectives by Shinozaki Makoto 3. Atopy Cop by Iguchi Noboru 4. Love Juice Cop by Honda Ryuichi 5. The Gate of Cop by Fujita Hideyuki 6. Kitty Cop by Ozawa 7. Small Elephant Cop by Tsuda Kanji 8. Coming-out Cop, Kamaoka, by Tanaka Yoji
DEAD END RUN (2003)
Cult director Ishii pulls out all the stops in this theme and variation in style and cuts just to the chase. Using great young actors and his usual breathless, hip invention. Cool Japanese and earplugs in. Dead End Run is the first film by Ishii since the spectacular Electric Dragon 80,000 V (shown at the 2001 festival), to which some unsuspecting viewers can still think back with amazed ears and others with a feeling of euphoria that is difficult to place. Ishii continues on the road he had taken. Dead End Run is made up of three short films really. Total running time is 60 minutes.
DIRECTOR: Ishii Sogo
Kurosawa, the Japanese master of modern sci-fi weirdness and modest budget invention gives us existential shivers as the living are haunted by their dead selves.
DIRECTOR: Kurosawa Kiyoshi
DRAGON INN (1966)
Classic sword fighters’ film, one of the high points from the oeuvre of King Hu. With a refined, lyrical style of his own, King Hu depicts a game of cat and mouse in 15th century China that ends up in a grand battle. See also Goodbye, Dragon Inn.
DIRECTOR: King Hu
DREAMS OF DUST (2003)
An x-ray of the human soul, according to the maker. With unusual, occasionally surreal soundtrack, this unusual poetic road movie about the fantasy world of an Iranian trucker is literally a dream of dust. Or how life can continue after death.
DIRECTOR: Sepideh Farsi
A loafer returns to his Chinese birthplace after being thrown out of the USA. That gives him some status, but doesn’t help dispel the disillusionment. Moving and beautifully shot drama offers a glimpse of the complex consequences of (re-) migration.
DIRECTOR: Wang Xiaoshuai
THE FIRST LETTER (ABJAD) (2003)
No one can film running boys the way Jalili can. Humane, poetic, epic and autobiographical: about a boy who grows up in Iran in the turbulent 1970s and has to confront the resistance to art and to his love for the girl next door.
DIRECTOR: Abolfazi Jalili
GOODBYE, DRAGON INN (2003)
Everyone tries to drive out the loneliness – from the visitors to the box office clerk – in nostalgic cinephile film about the last day in the life of a cinema. King Hu’s Dragon Gate Inn can be seen once more.
DIRECTOR: Tsai Ming-Liang
Miike Takashi and his Ichi the Killer scriptwriter have come up with a splendid, slow-burn Yakuza ghost story. A young gangster is ordered to deliver his deranged boss to Nagoya for termination, but he encounters cross-dressing, gender swaps and Gozu (a man with the head of a cow) along the way.
DIRECTOR: Miike Takashi
GREEN TEA (2003)
Elegant and confusing film by Zhang Yuan (East Palace, West Palace) about a man who becomes intrigued by a young and pretty unworldly student, who bears a striking resemblance to the fashionable nightclub singer he later meets in a bar. Delightful camerawork by master photographer Chris Doyle.
DIRECTOR: Zhang Yuan
INVISIBLE LIGHT (2003)
Intense, strongly acted and well visualised two part ‘experimental’ feature in which Gina Kim explores a woman’s struggle to free herself of obsessive behaviour.
DIRECTOR: Gina Kim
JOURNEY OF THE GRAY MEN (2002)
Yet another major talent appears on the stage of the Iranian cinema, with an eye for images and an ear for music. Quirky and ironic, touching and endearingly self-conscious, the story of three old musicians and puppeteers who set off on a long journey across Iran, performing en route and re-discovering old friends.
DIRECTOR: Amir Shahab Razavian
A very energetic, fresh and skilful début in DV from young Tokyo actor and model. Hanging out, clubbing and drugging, a young band of friends get way in over their heads when they inadvertently lose a stash of drugs they’re meant to deal to their friends.
DIRECTOR: Iseya Yusuke
LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE (2003)
Suicidal ex-Yakuza (Asano) with a fear of infection hides as a librarian in Bangkok. His life has almost come to a halt. Then people die and he meets a Thai who wants to go to Japan. Beautiful (camera Chris Doyle) and sensitive. And with Miike as Yakuza.
DIRECTOR: Pen-ek Ratanaruang
Seventeen-year-old Yusuke made the world’s first texting drama. Apart from the brief prologue, we only see the mobile phone of a young man one lonely evening. Incredibly gripping and moving.
DIRECTOR: Sasaki Yusuke
LOVE IS NOT A SIN (2002)
A very talented début DV feature from a young Macao/Hong Kong director about the friendship of two young girls and the strange, uncanny secret of one of them. Understated horror and fresh and inventive style.
DIRECTOR: Doug Kin-Tak Chan
MEMORIES OF MURDER (2003)
Melancholy humorous drama was the big hit of 2003 with press and audiences in Korea. The film is set in 1986, when Korea was ruled by a repressive military regime and the police did their best to hunt the first Korean serial killer.
DIRECTOR: Bong Joon-Ho
THE MISSING (2003)
Minimalist parable about loneliness, alienation and emotional traumas is the début by the regular actor in Tsai Ming-liang’s films and also shares with the master his great feeling for the atmosphere of urban spaces and architecture. A teenager seeks his grandfather while a grandma looks for her grandson.
DIRECTOR: Lee Kang-sheng
Iranian cinema, but very different. Prize-winning Iranian short-film maker Shirvani has made an experimental reality drama about five different modern Iranians (from a former imam to a conscript and a woman who has returned from abroad) in one house.
DIRECTOR: Mohammad Shirvani
ON THE MOUNTAIN (2003)
Time flies and snow falls to the ground. On the Chinese mountain, they pick tea. This beautifully shot peasant drama is atmospheric and documentary, but fortunately also often funny. And it all looks so idyllic. Life is hard. Especially on the mountain.
DIRECTOR: Zhu Chuan-ming
ONG-BAK: MUAY THAI WARRIOR (2003)
Muay Thai martial arts has found the perfect ambassador: Panom Yeerum (alias Tony Jaa) is stunning, overwhelming and breathtaking. He has to get the stolen Ong Bak Buddha statuette back to its rightful owners. During previous screenings of this ultimate Thai martial arts action film, audiences almost demolished the cinemas.
DIRECTOR: Prachnya Pinkaew
THE ONLY SONS (2003)
Beautiful landscapes are an ironic backdrop to this boldly outspoken, surprising and often visually stunning story of religious oppression, petty-communist tyranny and regional poverty from a new talent on the Chinese independent scene.
DIRECTOR: Gan Xiao’er
PEEP “TV” SHOW (2004)
Raw, cheap and bravura video film that does not pay much attention to the boundary that apparently exists between fiction and reality. With and about a gothic girl and other kids from Shibuya, Tokyo, obsessed by the Internet, looks and security cameras.
DIRECTOR: Yutaka Tsuchiya
PIRATED COPY (2004)
Life-sized portrait of contemporary Chinese society based on the ubiquitous illegal trade in pirated western features. Eroticism, violence and confusion, but also tenderness and understanding.
DIRECTOR: He Jianjun
RAGHU ROMEO (2003)
The title hero of this mix between popular and independent cinema is an Indian Don Quichot who works in a night club. His obsession with a soap star means he doesn’t notice that one of the girls is interested in him.
DIRECTOR: Rajat Kapoor
With his characteristic tongue-in-cheek wit and understated style, Yamashita draws us into the world of a couple of going-nowhere young film makers, who just ramble around town while waiting for their no-show actor.
DIRECTOR: Yamashita Nobuhiro
RESURRECTION OF THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL (2002)
Unpredictable look at H.C. Andersen’s famous fairytale about the match girl is essential viewing for gamers and Jang Sun-Woo fans. In the virtual and addictive world of computer games, the frozen girl is brought back to life. Visually devastating.
DIRECTOR: Jang Sun-Woo
ROOM TO LET (2002)
Third feature by Malaysian DV maestro about the unusual inhabitants of an old house in the middle of the skyscrapers of Kuala Lumpur. He doesn’t need much to portray the alienation, loneliness and the indescribable elements of big-city life: in other words with ghosts and eroticism.
DIRECTOR: James Lee
SAVE THE GREEN PLANET (2003)
A confused young man thinks that a major industrialist is an alien from outer space who is out to destroy our planet. A wild and wacky début with a suitable style for each scene: horror, suspense, detective, slapstick etc.
DIRECTOR: Jang Jun-Hwan
Kawase’s captivating third feature is about a family that faces the sudden and inexplicable loss of a child. Spastic traditions in modern Japan, with hypnotically filmed colourful, ritual festivities, this is also an ode to community values and her home town of Nara.
DIRECTOR: Kawase Naomi
THE SILENCE BETWEEN TWO THOUGHTS (2003)
How messages from hell can taunt heaven with their beauty. In a godforsaken landscape, a simple executioner does his work. Then he has to marry a woman condemned to death, because she is still a virgin and otherwise she might go to heaven. His world starts to fall apart slowly and inevitably.
DIRECTOR: Babak Payami
SILENT WATERS (2003)
Pakistan, late 1970s. Against the background of increasing intolerance and fundamentalism, in which her son also becomes involved, unbearable secrets about Aicha’s past come to light. Winner of the Golden Leopard in Locarno.
DIRECTOR: Sabiha Sumar
SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER…AND SPRING (2003)
Transcendental, humorous, occasionally grim and above all wise film about the journey of life. An elderly monk teaches his young pupil some hard lessons in this intriguing reflection on the cyclic nature of life.
DIRECTOR: Kim Ki-Duk
TEHRAN 7:00 A.M. (2003)
24 hours in Tehran. A traffic cop is interested in an actress, two old sourpusses terrorise the drug control lab, not everything a taxi driver says is the truth and a building worker seems to be in love. By the maker of Journey of the Grey Men.
DIRECTOR: Amir Shahab Razavian
TURNING GATE (2002)
Subdued modern love story filled with intrigues about the unemployed actor Kyung-Soo, who falls for Sun-Young, a woman who is already spoken for. Funny with mocking compassion. By the maker of The Day a Pig Fell into the Well.
DIRECTOR: Hong Sang-Soo
New realism from the exciting new generation of Chinese ‘underground’ film makers: a young guy starts posing in a policeman’s jacket to impress a girl and raise his income.
DIRECTOR: Diao Yinan
Love at first sight between a writer and a trucker leads to a voyage of (self) discovery. Hiroki, an expert in erotic fantasies, makes a modestly dreamy, powerful love drama about female desires.
DIRECTOR: Hiroki Ryuichi
This exciting saga has been made in the best traditions of the Indian popular ‘formula’ films, spiced with dance and song sequences, action and romance. The extraordinary film personality Kamal Haasan scripted, produced and directed the film, wrote the lyrics, choreographed some dances and sung his songs himself.
DIRECTOR: Kamal Haasan
Takeshi Kitano plays the famous Blind Swordsman and hits the entertainment high spot without losing any of his creative élan. Witty, with brilliantly choreographed fights and a finale that will have you dancing out of the cinema.
DIRECTOR: Kitano Takeshi
Rotterdam favourite and the dauntingly inventive and prolific king of the Japanese genre pic takes his work in a new direction with this story of a geekish husband who dreams of being a superhero.
DIRECTOR: Miike Takashi
(Blurbs, credits, and pictures courtesy of
International Film Festival Rotterdam.)