From Hong Kong we have Ho-Cheung’s DREAM HOME, an unbelievably brutal, imaginative horror film. CLASH (Bay Rong) is Vietnam’s Le Thanh Son’s high-speed martial arts movie set to an epic soundtrack. Brillante Mendoza’s latest LOLA paints a really touching portrait of two older women in the impoverished Philippines who are grieving their grandsons, one murdered, the other the suspect of the crime. From Japan, cult auteur Shinya Tsukamoto’s first English-language film TETSUO THE BULLET MAN of his Tetsuo series – with alll the frenetic hyperbolic experience one expects from him. Last but not least we have three films from South Korea. Ouie Lecomte’s A BRAND NEW LIFE is a beautiful story of a resilient, intelligently observant young girl (Sae Ron Kim) who is abandoned by her father at an orphanage and adjusts to life there. Straight from Opening Night of the Rotterdam Film Festival is Chan-ok Park’s PAJU. This film revolves around an incredible performance of a woman who loses her sister, bravely handles the mob, and it is really shots of her resilience and internalization of the character that make this film. And on another spectrum, Lee Yong-ju brings an exceedingly creepy horror show with POSSESSED (Bulshinkjiok).
A BRAND NEW LIFE (YEO-HAENG-JA) (Ounie Lecomte, South Korea/France) New York Premiere
When nine-year-old Jin-hee’s father takes on a trip, buying her new shoes and letting her choose any cake she wants, she is so full of love for him that she sings a love song… with the bittersweet notes inaudible to her own ear. It isn’t until later that she realizes his betrayal. Refusing to believe she has been abandoned at a Catholic orphanage, Jin-hee, bewildered and devastated, must learn to accept her lot and prepare to be adopted by foreigners into a whole new life. Under director Ounie Lecomte’s well-observed and powerful direction, and supported by an ensemble of compelling young talents, Kim Saeron delivers a remarkably nuanced and profound performance shining beyond her years. Kim Hyunsook’s expert lens richly captures the barren terrain of the land and of brokenheartedness, uncannily transforming Lecomte’s own memories into a cinematic gem reflective of both the state of its characters and the hardships of the era. Generating raves from the Cannes to Berlin film festivals, Lecomte’s directorial debut masterfully depicts one girl’s journey of loss, friendship, and starting anew.
CLASH (BAY RONG) (Le Thanh Son, Vietnam) International Premiere 4/23
Trinh, a reluctant mercenary, is beholden to a crime lord who promises only to release her kidnapped daughter when she completes a series of missions. On what could be Trinh’s final job, she meets and falls for Quan—whose hidden agenda could ruin the only chance she has of seeing her daughter again. Together with a motley crew of ass-kicking outcasts and no-goodniks, Trinh and Quan battle round after round against gangs and mafiosi… graduating each level like the progression of a video game. Reuniting martial arts gurus Johnny Tri Nguyen and Ngo Thanh Van, Clash takes the action of their 2006 feature The Rebel to the next level. With lightening-fast martial arts, hyperbolic shootouts, an epic soundtrack, and the archetypes you love and love to hate, this cinematic indulgence was the highest grossing Vietnamese film of the past year. If a video game adaptation isn’t already in the works, it should be.
DREAM HOME (Pang Ho-Cheung, Hong Kong) North American Premiere
Cheng Lai-sheung is a young, upwardly mobile professional working as a telemarketer in Hong Kong. She is finally ready to invest in her first home, a lavish penthouse apartment in the upscale city district that she has lusted after since leaving behind her impoverished childhood. But when the deal falls through at the last minute, Cheng does her gruesome part to drive down the property value and decrease the occupancy rate. She’ll do anything to keep her dream alive… even if it means keeping her would-be neighbors dead. Dream Home is a grisly fantasy, but also a smart cultural critique, the rare slasher film that brings as much innovation to its story and message as it does to the violence itself. Known for his creative stories and darkly humorous perspective, director Pang Ho-Cheung renders his disturbingly imaginative violence perversely plausible against an all-too-real backdrop of urban housing crisis and lifestyle fetishization. The result is a decidedly metropolitan spin on Guignol horror, and an incisive comment on a (literally) cutthroat real estate market.
LOLA (Brillante Mendoza, Philippines/France) New York Premiere
Two elderly matriarchs bear the consequences of a crime involving their grandsons: One is murdered, the other is the suspect. As the intense financial strains of a burial and legal case weigh on both women, they individually traipse around the prisons, funeral homes, and courtrooms of Manila amidst torrents of rain, while simultaneously struggling to maintain their families’ lives in the makeshift shacks built along the city’s rising waterways. Face-to-face with each other, they work together to reach a common, if compromised, resolution. Capturing the desperate and frantically beautiful texture of the urban Manila landscape, Lola confirms the depth and range of Filipino director Brillante Mendoza’s vision. Anita Linda and Rustica Carpio deliver incisive performances as the two determined leads in writer Linda Casimiro’s penetrating critique of the criminal justice system, its accompanying bureaucracy, and the incomplete quest for justice and reconciliation.
PAJU (Chan-ok Park, South Korea) North American Premiere
After a haunting accident while on the lam, Joongshik migrates to Paju, a gray town where the urban landscape is as bleak as the fate of its residents. In attempts to remain in hiding and sublimate the tragedies of his past, he finds a kindred spirit with secrets of her own. Her younger sister, Eunmo, disapproving of the romantic arrangement, quickly drives a wedge into the already aloof relationship. Delicately unveiled through an anachronistic period of eight years, Paju tells the story of a man and his transgressions, a girl in conflict with herself, and the alienation that we often face—even in the presence of those we love. From religion to social reinvention, writer/director Park Chan-Ok (Jealousy is My Middle Name, TFF ’03) leaves no controversial stone unturned by exploring the dialectical forces at work within of a community that simultaneously resists and accepts change.
POSSESSED (BULSHINJOK) (Lee Yong-ju, South Korea) North American Premiere
College student Hee-jin returns home after her younger sister, the recent survivor of a devastating car accident, has gone missing, only to find her mother is a fanatical religious convert and an ominous aura hangs over the family’s apartment complex. Things take a macabre turn when the neighbors start offing themselves in increasingly bizarre and grotesque ways, and Hee-jin calls on skeptical detective Tae-hwan to investigate the mysterious events. Together they begin to unravel the tangled web of connections between the victims that will ultimately lead back to the missing girl. Drawing equally from traditions of K-horror and police procedural, Possessed is an eminently creepy hybrid, a slow-burn horror film that builds its eeriness through a paced accumulation of unsettling details within its engrossing mystery plot. Director Lee Yong-ju mobilizes familiar horror imagery in imaginative new ways to craft a pernicious skin-crawler as Hee-jin and Tae-hwan unearth the twisted secrets behind the rash of ghastly deaths.
TETSUO THE BULLET MAN (Shinya Tsukamoto, Japan) North American Premiere
When his son becomes the victim of a hit-and-run car accident, Anthony’s consternation triggers his transformation from grieving father into human weapon. Unbeknownst to his wife—whose instigation for revenge has forced the reluctant Anthony on a quest to find the culprit—he uncovers not only the mystery of his son’s death, but his own past as well. In his first English-language film, over 20 years after he used 16mm to prove himself worthy of a cult following with Tetsuo The Iron Man, Shinya Tsukamoto (Gemini, Tokyo Fist) continues the aesthetic trajectory of the series by evolving the Tetsuo world through a sharp, steel-gray lens, masterful editing, and ornate sound design. Shown here in the final director’s cut for the first time, this modernized, hyperbolic third installation continues to challenge ideas of man and machine and the trouble that ensues when the two become one. In a time where technological advancements are constantly reshaping the way we function on a basic level, Tetsuo forces us to engage and become a part of what we’re watching: a reminder that when we look into the abyss, the abyss looks into us.