Powered by Chinese streaming technology, the New York Asian Film Festival will this year move from the real world to the virtual. With strong focuses on women filmmakers and Korean movies, the 19th NYAFF will run Aug. 28-Sept 12.
The opening film is the North American Premiere of “The Girl and the Gun” (aka “Babae at Baril”), directed by Rae Red, starring Janine Gutierrez, and produced by Iana Celest Bernardez and Bianca Balbuena. Other female-centric picks include “Heavy Craving” from Taiwan, “Lucky Chan-sil” and “Kim Ji-young, Born 1982,” both from South Korea, “My Prince Edward” from Hong Kong, and “Victim(s)” from Malaysia.
The virtual festival will play out on software supplied by Smart Cinema, a three year old Chinese operation, backed by former Wanda executive Jack Gao. Its U.S. arm is a joint venture with pioneering distributor of Asian films WellGo USA.
“I’m sure people will pick up on the fact we are using a China-U.S. mobile platform at a time when Trump is attacking TikTok and WeChat,” the festival’s executive director Samuel Jamier told Variety. But Jamier is unapologetic. “The security is better.”
Smart Cinema initially launched as a platform offering movie screenings on mobile devices, within the theatrical window, and for which users would pay prices equivalent to a theater ticket. It has since expanded its reach beyond China and beyond commercial screenings. It was most recently used for sections of the Shanghai film festival and Korean fantasy festival BiFan.
Jamier says that the NYAFF films will be geo-blocked to the U.S., but made available to festival viewers using either mobile or tablet devices. “It is castable, but not having a laptop interface helps against piracy,” he said.
One of the festival’s programming highlights is “They Say Nothing Stays the Same,” a directorial debut by Odagiri Joe, one of Japan’s best-known actors. Odagiri is joined by a stellar cast and crew: cinematographer Christopher Doyle; veteran actor Emoto Akira, who leads a star cast including Nagase Masatoshi, Asano Tadanobu and Aoi Yu, plus a rare appearance by musician Hosono Haruomi; Oscar-winning costume designer Wada Emi; and a score courtesy of Armenian jazz pianist Tigran Hamasyan.
While “Parasite” was an eye opener for many U.S. audiences last year, the NYAFF sees its mix of arthouse and genre titles as a continuation of its previous programming efforts. Standouts that combine storytelling finesse and accessibility include “Secret Zoo,” “Hitman Agent Jun,” and “Moving On.”
The Korean flavor is at its strongest with “SF8,” a series of eight stand-alone 52-minute science fiction films by directors including Min Kyu-dong, Jang cheol-su, Noh Deok. The series premiered on Korean streaming platform Wavve and will have its international premiere at the virtual festival.
The festival also holds true to its roots in Hong Kong cinema, with a large Cantonese selection, headed by Johnnie To’s “Chasing Dream.” Other Hong Kong titles include world premiere of “Hell Bank Presents: Running Ghost,” the North American premieres of “Memories to Choke On, Drinks to Wash Them Down,” “The Grand Grandmaster,” “Legally Declared Dead,” and “Unleashed.”
It also includes crime thriller “Witness Out of the Blue.” The NYAFF notes that though this was one of the genres that put Hong Kong cinema on the world map it has recently fallen out of favor.