Friday, June 29, 2012

The FSLC's New York Asian Film Fest 2012 opens today at the Walter Reade Theater

From animation (The King of Pigs, above) to zombies (Dead Bite, below), from Asian art films (a few, at least) to box-office blockbusters, romance and comedy, sci-fi and sports, heists and hotties, retrospectives and current films, award-winners and some that will only inspire genre-audience love -- hell, there's even a South Korean remake of an Argentine rom-com on tap! -- the New York Asian Film Festival is back for its 2012 edition. Sporting the kind of movies that he who Trusts would die for (had he not just finished seeing the complete Italian Open Roads fest and so must rest awhile and content himself with a few of the films currently opening in NYC), this festival seems to only grow more popular from year to year.

The 2012 collection of films comes from Thailand, Hong Kong, China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, and Taiwan and contains just about every kind of movie you can imagine, including some that you probably can't -- until you've seen 'em, that is. (View the entire program here, and then click on the individual films for more specifics.)  There is, 'natch, a movie based on a video game (Ace Attorney, below), as well as another that's an oral history of

Cambodian cinema that was destroyed by the Khmer Rouge (Golden Slumbers, below). There are plenty more movies of every sort -- 43 programs in all (44, if you don't count the classic Infernal Affairs 1 & 2 as a single entity) shown over a two-week period at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center.


Other than the above-mentioned Infernal Affairs duo, TrustMovies has seen but one of this year's films, the Korean crime opus titled NAMELESS GANGSTER (Bumchoiwaui junjaeng). This heady stew of societal corruption, which takes us back to the 1990s and to South Korea's "war" on organized crime, and then via flashback to the decade previous, is said to be based on a real case from that fetid period involving one particular criminal, here known as Mr. Choi (given a memorable rendering by Choi Min-sik, below), who goes from a bribe-taking civil servant (not all that different, it would seem, from most civilians of that time) to a major criminal kingpin without ever quite being able to completely take on the calculatingly lethal criminality required of the "best" gangsters.

Choi wants himself and his family to survive above all else. But on the other end of the spectrum is a real gangster, played by another exceptional Korean actor, Ha Jung-woo, below, who uses his somewhat younger age, effortless sexuality, and utter ruthlessness to counter Choi. For a time the two men work together, but betrayal is never far away.

How else can one get ahead in a society this corrupt, the movie asks? Many Americans will shake their head in recognition. Venality and corruption run neck in neck throughout: politicians, police, special prosecutors all give the gangsters a run for their money. "There's no end to a man's greed," notes the slut of the moment to Choi, with a certain pride in her voice.

While an understanding of the ins-and-outs of Korean culture would be a big help in deciphering some of the mores on display, most regular art house audiences will be able to keep up well enough with this film, which has been described as a kind of Korean Goodfellas -- quite an appropriate comparison. Written and directed -- both exceedingly well -- by Yun Jong-bin, the movie is intelligent, exciting, fast-moving (despite being over two hours long), featuring a pulse-pounding finale and a denouement (a family party a few years down the road) that's a quiet humdinger.

Nameless Gangster plays twice during the festival: tomorrow night, Saturday, June 30, at 9pm, and again Tuesday, July 3, at 1pm.  Click here to purchase tickets.

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