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NY Asian FilmFest: Serial Killers, Porno & More!

July 5, 2017

NYAFF-2017-OFFICIAL-POSTER

I was so discouraged by the lack of imaginative offerings from Hollywood over the Fourth of July weekend — Transformers 5, Cars 3Despicable Me 3, Audience Zero — that I took a flyer and saw three films I knew absolutely nothing about at The 2017 New York Asian Film Festival. The first two titles, Ordinary Person and The Long Excuse, didn’t sound as promising as the third, Wet Woman in the Wind, but each proved more original and adventurous in their own way than anything playing at my local hellplex. (And yes, that includes the wildly overrated Baby Driver.)

Set in 1987, director Kim Bong-Han’s Ordinary Person purports to tell the story of South Korea’s first serial killer, and while it’s about so much more than that, it does bear a resemblance to Michael Mann’s thriller from that same era, Manhunter. Hyeon-ju Son, a veteran character actor with a deadpan gaze reminiscent of Barney Miller‘s late, great Jack Soo, stars as a morally challenged detective who catches the case. He finds himself torn between his longtime friendship with an investigative reporter and governmental forces resisting the transition to democracy, with the lives of his mute wife and disabled son hanging in the balance. Ultimately, Ordinary Person takes on the epic scope of another Mann film, Heat, as the line between cops and criminals gets obscured under a cloud of corruption. In short, it’s anything but ordinary.

Japanese novelist-turned-screenwriter Miwa Nishikawa’s The Long Excuse features a more comic tone, although the event that sets the plot in motion — a bus crash on a snowy mountain road that takes the lives of two wives — is anything but funny. An unlikely friendship develops between their widowed husbands, a narcissistic celebrity novelist (Masahiro Motoki, whose dashing good looks recall The Last Emperor‘s John Lone) and a dim-witted but good-hearted truck driver (the ironically named musician and actor Pistol Takahara). The author volunteers to babysit the frequently absent father’s kids (the gifted Kenshin Fujita and Tamaki Shiratori) and learns to be less selfish, but rather than a cloying farce like Three Men and a Baby, The Long Excuse becomes a sardonic dramedy with the emotional impact of Kramer vs. Kramer.

Moving on to an entirely different genre, Wet Woman in the Wind seeks to reboot “Roman Porno,” a wildly popular category of Japanese films in the 1970s and 80s that I must confess I’d never heard of. Among its requirements: the films must run between 70 and 80 minutes and feature a sex scene every ten minutes. Director Akihito Shiota meets those standards with ease and finds unexpected romantic comedy in the tale of a sexually voracious waitress (Yuki Mamiya) who sets out to seduce a reclusive playwright (Tasuku Nagaoka) by any means necessary, including violence. In a post-screening Q&A, Mamiya charmed the audience’s proverbial pants off through a translator. Asked about her favorite scene in the film, she cited one in which her character makes acrobatic love while she and her partner eat food and drink beer, explaining she’d like to try that in real life, and that “I’m open to offers.” Succesfully achieving Mamiya’s pre-screening declaration that “I hope the movie makes you laugh to the bottom of your bellies,” Wet Woman served as a delicious dessert after a most satisfying three-course cinematic meal.

And yet I’m still hungry for more, so you can bet I’ll be sampling more offerings from the New York Asian Film Festival, which runs through July 16.

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