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Oscar Foreign-Language Race: Asian Titles Struggle for Exposure

In a year jam-packed with submissions from Cannes-minted international auteurs, the 27 Asian films competing for a nomination in this year’s foreign-language film race are facing stiff headwinds. Only a couple have U.S. distribution, something that both narrows the likelihood of nabbing one of the five slots and presents an enormous opportunity for exposure, given that many films haven’t traveled far from their respective regions.

CJ Entertainment’s “The Age of Shadows,” distributed in the United States by CJ, is from South Korea’s Kim Jee-woon. He is a genre specialist who brings the muscular action of his pics “The Good, the Bad, the Weird” and “I Saw the Devil” to a spy thriller about Korean resistance to Japanese rule in the late 1920s.

Film Movement has Singapore’s death penalty drama “Apprentice,” from rising star Boo Junfeng. The film first screened to strong reviews in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard this year.

Another Asian front-runner is the Philippines’ “Ma’ Rosa,” from Cannes mainstay Brillante Mendoza. The film represents a voice of resistance, casting a sympathetic eye toward parents who sell crystal meth out of their convenience store in order to make ends meet.

India’s “Interrogation,” from Vetrimaaran, is also hard-hitting look at police brutality in South India’s Andhra Pradesh.

China’s “Xuan Zang,” a rare Indo-China co-production, celebrates the Chinese monk’s 17-year overland journey to India in the 7th century and Japan’s “Nagasaki: Memories of My Son” is a sentimental treatment of a mother visited by the ghost of her youngest son, who was killed in the city’s bombing.

Turkey’s “Cold of Kalandar,” about an impoverished family in the mountains of northern Turkey, argues for social justice in the midst of the country’s recent conservative crackdown.

Rounding out the Asian submissions are the Cambodian noir thriller “Before the Fall,” Hong Kong’s fact-based procedural “Port of Call,” Indonesia’s political drama “Letters From Prague,” Kazakhstan’s historical drama “Amanat,” Malaysia’s autism soaper “Beautiful Pain,” Nepal’s “The Black Hen,” Pakistan’s time-jumping drama/biopic “Mah-e-Mir,” the Taiwanese heart-warmer “Hang in There, Kids,” Vietnam’s nostalgia piece “Yellow Flowers on the Green Grass,” and perhaps the unlikeliest entry, Thailand’s “Karma,” a horror film about Buddhist monks that was initially banned until two minutes of cuts and an online petition signed by more than 100,000 people turned it into a theatrical hit.

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