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Thursday, 22 June 2017

Asian Awards sprout. AACTA announces new Award for Best Asian film

My goodness! Now we are to have, within two weeks of each two separate awards for Asian movies. The decade long APSA event in Brisbane, to be held on November 27, will be joined by an award from the Melbourne-based Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) to be announced on December 6. AACTA seems to have got one early jump ahead by announcing its jury, to be chaired by Russell Crowe.

AACTA’s announcement said: The inaugural AACTA Award for Best Asian Film, …, reflects the popularity and importance of Asian films in Australia. The growing Chinese and Indian diaspora have had a substantial impact on Australian box office and cinema trends, and films from these thriving filmmaking nations, along with those from the esteemed industries of South Korea, Japan and 15 other countries in the region, will now be honoured and celebrated alongside Australia’s best and brightest to an increasingly diverse Australian audience. 

Full details click here

APSA has a much larger base for entries, including the countries of the Pacific as well as adopting a UN definition of what constitutes ‘Asia’, thus allowing a much broader range of entries, most notably from the Middle East.

This could get to be a serious competition.

Sydney Film Festival (31) - OKJA (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea). Reviewed by Kiki Fung

I enjoyed OKJA at the closing night of the Sydney Film Festival 2017

Bong Joon-ho is among the most talented of contemporary Korean directors and he always has something interesting injected into what seem to be commercial/genre films (my favourite, however, is still MEMORIES OF MURDER). It is certainly far beyond a "cute monster film" and in fact, there weren't many predictable "cute" scenes. Instead, I was constantly surprised and entertained. I would also argue that the "sweetness" and bright colours, esp those around Mirando's campaigns, are meant as irony and a critique of commercial packaging.

The film is beautifully directed and has a strong visual fluidity. Bong demonstrated that it is possible to make a film that bears social commentary WITHOUT being too serious or pretentious, and it is always possible, as we have seen in his cinema alongside several other Korean directors, to not follow genre conventions. In fact, in a way I don't think "genre" is ever a guiding principle for many Asian filmmakers.

Tilda Swinton, Ahn Seo-hyun, Okja
I'd like to also add that this is probably an antidote or an (unintentional) answer to Hollywood's "white-washing", in that it has the guts to NOT glorify the Caucasian character played by a superstar (Tilda Swinton) and it certainly hasn't looked up to Western capitalist/corporate culture. The film is committed to celebrating the dedication and determination of a teenage Korean girl. i.e. Asian characters are not sidelined. The film also has something interesting to say about anarchist (I wouldn't say terrorist) activities.

It would be ideal to watch this film in a cinema because it is very cinematic - with its grand truck chasing and massive crashing scenes superbly filmed and directed - believe me I am not a fan of this kind of cinematic spectacle but I was really impressed at how fresh these scenes look. So again, this is a film best enjoyed on the big screen - all the more so with a big crowd. Nothing beats clapping together with fellow audiences at a very funny scene at the State Theatre.

I will conclude by quoting Mr Ackbar Abbas, my teacher at the University of Hong Kong, whose lectures I enjoyed tremendously, "The commercial is not necessarily the junkyard of cinema, just as the noncommercial is not necessarily the guarantee of quality or even of integrity."

This is simply good filmmaking.

Ahn Seo-hyun, Okja

Streaming - Rod Bishop finds David Michôd's new Netflix production WAR MACHINE (USA, 2017)

The career of Stanley McChrystal, the general in charge of the war in Afghanistan in 2009, came to an abrupt end when a profile “The Runaway General” written by Michael Hastings appeared in Rolling Stone (and later as a book The Operators). Unflattering remarks about the US administration brought the straight-talking, gung-ho general undone and he handed in his resignation to President Obama. 

David Michôd has written and directed his third feature, War Machine, based on the Afghan exploits of General McChrystal (now renamed Glen McMahon). Commissioned by Netflix and reportedly budgeted at $US60 million with Brad Pitt in the role of the general, it’s a film struggling to find a consistent tone.

Pitt gives it his all, contorting his face so much at times it makes him unrecognizable, while he channels the farcical style of George C Scott in Dr Strangelove and inwardly copies the bravura of Scott in Patton. It’s a wink-to-the-audience performance, matched only by the even slyer winking to the audience of Ben Kingsley as Harmid Karzai.

Problem is, with very few exceptions, they are the only two actors to do this and the rest of the cast play it as a straightforward war drama. There’s an impressive array of military hardware in the background, but very little action in the first 90 minutes.

General McMahon, known to his troops as “Genimal”, is told by the US administration he should not ask for more troops. Deciding to take on what sounds like an impossible task against the Taliban in Helmand Province, he asks for 40,000 extra troops, but gets 30,000. To round-up the remaining 10,000 he heads to Europe to wrest more support from the Coalition.

In Germany, Tilda Swinton pops up in a press conference as a “German politician” and gives one of those riveting, chameleon-like performances of hers, this time demolishing the Coalition’s war in Afghanistan in a couple of minutes. She plays it straight, but Michôd cuts back and forward to reaction shots of Pitt mugging it up on the podium. The acting styles clash badly and it underlines the problem Michôd has with the film’s tonal consistency.

Despite the issues (is this a comedy, a drama or a dramedy?), War Machine is an ambitious and often enthralling work. It’s odd, however, for the writer-director of the admirably consistent Animal Kingdom and The Rover to find himself, much like the Coalition forces, bogged down in unexpected territory.