by Jason Suzuki
Distribution is not an accurate litmus test for quality, especially in the area of Asian film. Sometimes it even works the other way around in the case of things like two-part live action adaptations of most material manga or anime. Here in the states we got Miike's Yakuza Apocalypse but Lesson of Evil, Ninja Kids!!!, or even Sono's The Whispering Star are nowhere to be found. Even the consistently brilliant Kore-eda couldn't get Air Doll a proper theatrical release despite it being just as somber yet life-affirming as the rest of his work. For film festivals, copying what gets played at Cannes only gets you so far (French sales agent = Cannes selection), and unless it's a major international festival or specifically catering to the Asian film niche, doesn't completely happen as even those handful of title get cherry picked. The Denver Film Festival plays around 100 films from all over the world, about 10% of the 2016 and 2015 programs was dedicated to Asian/Asian-American related offerings. Within that, most were films that had secured full theatrical bookings in the Denver area. The festival screenings were for those who just couldn't wait a month or so (in the case of things like World of Kanako, about a week). Using only one screen during a single weekend (June 2 - 4), the Colorado Dragon Film Festival 2017 edition (2nd annual) hopes to do its best to fill that gap; similar to that of a device that can be found in one those shops that gets advertised in the back pages of cost-free publications.
Like the Taiwanese omnibus film from 2011, CDFF 2017 could have been subtitled "10+10" as the weekend will feature ten feature films and ten shorts, the majority of those playing before a feature as the movie gods intended. Its lineup is a mixture of classic and contemporary, international and Asian-american, established directors and first-timers, and art-house fare plus works with more broad appeal. Again, one screen, one weekend. Ninety percent of which will be Colorado premieres which isn't saying much but still something worth noting.
52Hz, I Love You (Taiwan) - CDFF 2017 opens with the latest film from Wei Te-sheng (Cape No. 07, Seediq Bale). Wei returns to the musical roots of Cape No. 07 and makes a full on musical with this film, named after the whale whose emitted frequency no other species of whale can hear. This is a metaphor for the collection of lonely hearts that populate the film (most played by actual singers/musicians popular in Taiwan). Hosted by the Denver Art Museum in its Sharp Auditorium, director Wei will be in attendance for a Q&A/meet and greet.
ALL OTHER FESTIVAL SCREENINGS WILL BE HELD AT THE KING CENTER ON AURARIA CAMPUS
Being Good (Japan) - If Western distributors were willing to venture out from the same core group of Japanese filmmakers they would discover such marvelous talents like Mipo O. She gained a good deal of international exposure when her previous film The Light Shines Only There was chosen as Japan's official entry to the Academy Awards that year and has followed it up with this beautifully moral film about intertwining cycles of abuse occurring in a small sea-side town in Hokkaido. If you though Machiko Ono had a weak role in Kore-eda's Like Father, Like Son it is O's film she is given the chance to be nuanced, ugly, fascinating.
The Future Perfect (Argentina) - Official selection of New Directors/New Films 2017 and winner of the Best First Feature prize at the 2016 Locarno Film Festival. This is a narrative/documentary hybrid film about a young Chinese woman who has immigrated to Argentina and takes it upon herself to learn the language. Structuring itself around her Spanish classes, Xiaobin takes what she learns and puts it into practice on the streets. Eventually she learns the conditional tense and is able to influence the narrative of the film itself.
Heart Attack (Thailand) - From the guy who made a movie based off of a real teenage girl's twitter feed is this almost rom-com about an overworked graphic designer who starts to develop a serious rash over his body. His doctor is kind of cute so he accepts her challenge to change his lifestyle and find a balance between work and things that are not work, if there is such a thing. In one chooses to do so, the film can be brilliantly mapped out like a romantic comedy looking just at the monthly visits between the protagonist and his doctor. One of the more exciting voices to come out of Thailand, free-spirited and defies pigeon-holing.
The Last Princess (South Korea) - Yet another Korean blockbuster set during era of Colonial Japan, except instead of a self-aware genre piece this is a sincere retelling of the story of Princess Deokhye of the Joseon dynasty from Hur Jin-ho director of Christmas in August and Dangerous Liaisons. With shades of romance and the spy thriller this is more than anything an examination of rampant nationalism on the human level.
Millennium Actress (Japan) - For the all ages crowd is a showing of the Satoshi Kon picture that gets the least rotation. Despite influencing a few major filmmakers working today and being an all around better filmmaker than Miyazaki, his otaku presence is diminishing now that he is no longer alive, his last film still incomplete and production put on hold seven years later. This is the other side of the tale of idolization, regret, and shared memory that he explored in Perfect Blue. Kon exhibits a love for film history and a keen eye for stylistic detail of all the genres he presents. Using what can now be called the Hara Legend, Kon places two documentarians in the midst of a retired film superstar's reminisces. All of the fake film posters seen in the film were designed and illustrated by Kon himself.
Taipei Story (Taiwan) - Newly restored by the Film Foundation's World Cinema Project is another film by the Taiwanese master Edward Yang (52Hz, I Love You's director Wei Te-sheng was assistant director to Yang for 1996's Mahjong). A detail of note is Hou Hsiao-hsien's involvement in the film; he co-wrote the script, mortgaged his home to help finance it, and even has a leading role as a former baseball player who can't let go of the past. CDFF is offering a chance to see this early masterpiece (some call it Yang's first) after its theatrical runs on the coasts.
Ten Years (Hong Kong) - "Important" is a label too easily applied to new releases. Every other month something of historical importance supposedly comes out. To use the buzz word for Ten Years would be a disservice to the immediacy and to-the-point ideals of the film, which imagines Hong Kong in 2025, ten years from the film's initial release in 2015, even further out from the handover by the British in 1997 Five short stories by five first time filmmakers (one of them, Jevons Au, was also one-third of the team behind Trivisa). This is an omnibus film in the dystopian mode that went on to win Best Picture at the Hong Kong Film Awards and of course get banned by China.
What's in the Darkness (China) - Debut film from Wang Yichun. A teenage girl's coming of age takes place against the backdrop of a hunt for a serial killer terrorizing a small town. It's seedy and unsentimental, displaying the creative energy and imperfections that make debut work so special.
Youth of the Beast - Seijun Suzuki Tribute Screening - The famous Nikkatsu rebel died in February of this year, leaving behind a wife half his age. CDFF is hosting a free screening of 1963's Youth of the Beast, the first truly "Suzukian" film. It is the second major role for Shishido in a Suzuki picture after the mostly conventional Detective Bureau 2-3 the same year and a smaller part as the antagonist of 1958's Voice without a Shadow. Their collaboration can be likened to that of Hara and Ozu in that most people associate her with the few films she did with Ozu. Mifune was in over half of Kurosawa's pictures and Chishu Ryu almost all of Ozu's filmography. Shishido only did a handful of films with Suzuki but this is the start of the mania that would culminate in Branded to Kill.
Mid-Length Films Block - A film in the range of 30 to 60 minutes limits it festival prospects. These runtimes are in the weird space of not being features but not necessarily short enough to precede a feature, possibly too long that they would dominate a shorts program. CDFF 2017 will feature a two-hour block of four thirty minute shorts.
Ken Ochiai, whose film Uzumasa Limelight opened last year's inaugural Colorado Dragon Film Fest, returns this year with Sumo Road - The Musical about an exchange student's acclimation to a new club and a new passion: sumo wrestling. The cast is great, featuring Taiwanese singer Lin Yun-chun, Ryusuke Komakine (Love's Whirlpool), and Sion Sono regular Tetsu Watanabe.
Then there's Dancing Through Life: The Dorothy Toy Story. Hailed as the "Asian Ginger Rogers," 99 year old Dorothy Toy Fong is a living dance legend. Award winning reporter Rick Quan asks Fong to look back at her career which began with humble vaudeville performances to her rise to fame as a duo with Paul Wing in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. In the 1960s she formed, managed, and performed with the Oriental Playgirl Revue, which traveled throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, South America and Asia. At last her story can be told in this labor of love documentary film.
Threads: The Life and Art of Surayia Rahman is an intimate portrait of the 84-year old Bengali artist who transforms the quilt-work tradition of kantha to create possibilities for a better life for her family and hundreds of destitute mothers in Bangladesh. Over three decades, as their art becomes prized possessions of connoisseurs around the world, Surayia Rahman and the artisans overcome their hardships with needle and thread, stitch by stitch. Threads takes us on a journey into the heart of an artist and illuminates an unconventional path to dignity and independence.
All of three of these will show during the "Mid-Length Films Block" plus a mystery fourth film to be revealed at the time of screening.
Bloody Dairy (USA, Taiwan) - Choose a creative activity and practice it for 100 days straight. It was this simple concept that caused the 100 Day Challenge to become a global phenomenon. Animator Min Liu took on the challenge by creating 100 hand drawn gif animations, using only red, black, and white. Once finished she spliced all 100 of her creations together allowing access to an imaginative and irreverent train of thought.
Bruce Takes Dragon Town (USA, Taiwan) - Director Emily Chao chases the story of her filmmaker uncle from a bootlegged Brucesploitation flick to Taiwan during Ghost Month. The form of the film and its inventive use of subtitles will make you excited for new voices in the documentary sphere.
Cowboy and Indian (USA) - A directorial effort from actress Sujata Day. A young Bengali bride (also Day) materializes out of the barren, desert landscape like a mirage. Our Indian protagonist collapses in the dry heat. The bride wakes up in a cowboy’s bedroom. The cowboy attempts to help her, but gets nowhere because she doesn’t speak English. The unlikely pair discover things aren’t always what they seem.
Ho Chi Minh Kim Chi (Vietnam) - A sensory exploration of a kimchi factory in Vietnam. Like a pocket Leviathan (2012).
Mango Sticky Rice (USA) - A musical romance (the third musical of the festival) that centers on Katie, a lover of food and TV dramas but no one to share them with, and Chris the delivery guy whose unrequited affection for Katie manifests in song. Once Katie's friend convinces her to try online dating, Chris must bear witness to each of these dates as he remains the invisible waiter, serving them their dinners. Both sing out into the void, wondering if there's someone out there for them.
Twenty Years (USA) - Low-key noir. A police officer faces a difficult decisions when he comes across a stranger waiting for a childhood friend. At only five minutes Twenty Years is short and doesn't fall into the punch-line trappings that so many short form films seem inclined to do.
Opening Night Tickets: https://cdfilm.ticketleap.com/cdfilm/
CDFF 2017 Tickets: http://siteline.vendini.com/site/kingcenter/king-center-events-title