The 21st The New York Asian Film Festival is underway and several titles are already dominating conversations at the event.
Filter sat down with industry and audiences at the festival, which returned as an all-in-person event for the first time since 2019, to gauge which of the nearly 70 films screened at New York’s Lincoln Center sparks the most of interest.
NYAFF runs from July 15-31 and is set to end with Korean director Choi Dong-hoon’s sci-fi fantasy Alienoid.
The Saleswoman (Mong)
Real. Janchivdorj Sengedorj
Almost everyone at NYAFF talks about The saleswoman, a Mongolian sex comedy about a university student – played by newcomer Bayartsetseg Bayangerel – who takes a temporary job at a sex shop and begins a journey of self-discovery. Mongolian films are often characterized by their setting among nomads in the cinematic steppes, but this feature film is distinguished by its urban setting and its young protagonist evokes the ironic tone of ghost world. Director Janchivdorj Sengedorj is one of Mongolia’s most eminent directors, whose previous feature films, including the award-winning film Oxygen and Spirit Thief as well as more recent titles Life: Admiral and Me, the sun.
One and four (China)
Real. Jigme Trinley
This thriller set in the remote wilderness of a Tibetan forest has shades of Agatha Christie and Quentin Tarantino The Hateful Eight. It revolves around a ranger who takes refuge in a wooden cabin and is visited by a man who claims to be a policeman looking for a poacher – but possibly the poacher himself. To say more would spoil the surprises that are unfolding. It marks the feature directorial debut of Jigme Trinley, the son of acclaimed Tibetan author Pema Tseden who also produces through Mani Stone Pictures, and marks the filmmaker as one to watch.
Quick and Feel the Love (Thai)
Real. Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit
This Thai comedy was a hit with audiences as NYAFF’s opening night movie. On the surface, this is a man who dedicated his young life to becoming the world’s fastest sports stacker (aka cup stacker). But it also explores his relationship with a previously devoted girlfriend, played by International Screen Rising Star Urassaya ‘Yaya’ Sperbund, and a hilarious set of secondary characters. The seemingly juvenile sport is billed as a Hollywood action blockbuster with tongue-in-cheek references to films such as Parasite, Taken and of course) The fast and the furious. Thai director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit is known for feature films such as die tomorrowwhich played at the Berlinale in 2018, and the award-winning film Heart attack.
Offbeat Cops (Jap)
Real. Eiji Uchida
Hiroshi Abe stars as a tough detective in this Japanese musical whose violent methods see him transferred to play in the police band. Abe is known for his roles in Hirokazu Kore-eda always walk and after the storm as well as Hideki Takeuchi Thermæ Romae, for which he won his first Japan Academy Film Prize. Director Eiji Uchida is also known outside of Japan as the director of the Netflix comedy-drama series The Naked Director. The film is an avowed favorite among some of the NYAFF programmers who observe that behind the orthodox comic facade, it’s a chronicle of middle-age failure, and coming to terms with bitterness and what you’ve got.
Real. Ken Kwek
Singaporean actor Yao (fka Thomas Pang de Tiong Bahru Social Club) delivers a tour de force in this queer social drama, which shines a light on the ever-growing cultures of YouTube and surveillance. The story centers on a renegade vlogger who ends up in jail after posting a video criticizing a televangelist who demonized homosexuality – leading his free-thinking single mother and gay identical twin to fight for justice. Told using a diversity of genres, director Ken Kwek effortlessly shifts from serious to camp in this condemnation of barbaric laws. This is Kwek’s third feature film after Unlucky placewhich made its debut in Toronto, and Sex.Violence.FamilyValues., which was banned by Singapore’s Board of Film Censors and the Malaysian government, sparking public outrage and prompting censors to reverse their decision after Kwek made substantial cuts.
Jean Noh contributed to this report.