AGI presents five must-see films from this year (plus one runner-up and a special home video release) for any fan of Asian cinema. In alphabetical order.
1. The Grandmaster: A ‘grand’ return to form for the ‘master’ director from Hong Kong, Wong Kar Wai. Only his second martial arts film, this one centers on Bruce Lee’s real-life teacher Ip Man (the subject of numerous other Hong Kong films). Breathtaking cinematography, often choreographed in slow-motion, brings his story to life. With an excellent cast including Tony Leung (‘Hero’, ‘In the Mood for Love’) and Zhang Ziyi (‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’).
2. Hide and Seek (숨바꼭질 in Korean): The only film without an English-language poster here (yet), H&S was shown as the opening film of the 2013 London Korean Film Festival, and based on the noisy reactions of the audience throughout, it was a tremendous success. An intense thriller which never lets up from start to finish, it may lose something if you can only watch it at home, but it is sure to put nearly anyone on edge and is guaranteed to have you checking your doors after seeing it. Fingers crossed that it will pick up a distributor in the UK and the US for a wider release, which it strongly deserves.
3. Like Someone in Love: Although filmed exclusively in Tokyo with Japanese actors, LSIL was made by the famous Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. Shown at film festivals in 2012, it opened in more markets during 2013, and is now available on home video. The abrupt ending had some reviewers confused or disappointed, but we think it was most appropriate when you consider everything that comes before it.
4. The Lunchbox: Screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October (and at quite a few other festivals around the world), this touching Indian indie features a great performance by the always-reliable Irrfan Khan. From first-time feature director Ritesh Batra, The Lunchbox forgoes the usual song-and-dance numbers of Bollywood for something a little more simple but no less effective.
5. The Wind Rises: Japanese anime legend Hayao Miyazaki recently announced that this will be his final film as a director, which has saddened many who love his work (‘Princess Mononoke’, ‘Spirited Away’, etc). All the more reason to make sure you catch this one in theatres when it is released sometime next year in America and presumably the UK. In Japan, however, it has already conquered the box office, selling more tickets than any other film released this year. It’s also been nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film prize at the Golden Globe Awards.
Runner-up: The Act of Killing, a savage and surreal documentary ‘starring’ Anwar Congo, a former death squad leader in Indonesia responsible for the deaths of numerous people. He is invited to re-enact many of his heinous deeds, which he does gleefully, but slowly he comes to realize the true nature of his actions and their ramifications.
DVD/Blu-ray release: Revenge (Mest’) is a 1989 film from Kazakhstan recently released in the UK as part of a special boxed set from the Masters of Cinema series and the World Cinema Project presented by Martin Scorsese. Unfortunately the only way you can obtain this rare film at the moment is by buying the whole box set (which includes 2 other films: one from Morocco and the other from Turkey), but it may be worth it to get your hands on such a rich and unique piece of cinema. Directed by Ermek Shinarbaev in collaboration with Korean-Russian writer Anatoli Kim, it’s a slow-moving but picturesque drama (think Tarkovsky) set in the first half of the twentieth century in Korea, China and eastern Russia.