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By Anna Merlan
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Distribution companies for Asian cinema have been in steady decline over the last decade, often citing illegal downloads and lackluster international market response when they fold. For lovers of the genre, this means fewer funds are being put toward the creation of new films, making it tougher for innovative talent to fight its way into our local theaters.
For 11 years, the Asian Film Festival of Dallas has sought to change that by bringing the biggest and most experimental names from Japan, China, Cambodia, Vietnam and other countries to Dallas and screening their work as it should be seen: big.
This year's edition, which starts Thursday, looks especially solid — packed with parties, short films, documentaries, comedies, feel-goods and dozens of ultra-brutal action flicks. Die-hard fans will spend all seven days planted deep in Magnolia Theater's seats, while the rest of us will shop this film fest a la carte. Here are five movies that you should see before the banners get rolled back up.
Asian Film Fest
All film screenings take place at Landmark's Magnolia Theater (3699 McKinney Ave.), but festival parties are mostly centralized at the Stoneleigh Hotel and Spa (2927 Maple Ave.). Get individual tickets, VIP passes, a full schedule, party details and information on all of the films being shown at the 11th Annual Asian Film Festival of Dallas at 2012. Visit asianfilmdallas.com/films.
This festival opener also marks the Texas premiere for director Takashi Miike's newest film. In the past, he's left us clutching our own skin with his entrail-splicing, tongue-cutting, nipple-hacking retelling of the Manga series Ichi The Killer, which if done by anyone else would have fallen into the junk drawer of gore cinema. But it's Miike's ability to convert unlikely forms of entertainment into masterful visual spectacle — slowing down film with surveillance cameras, freezing scenes to resemble stills from a comic book — that makes him such a force.
His 2010 tribute to samurais, 13 Assassins, gave the full scope of his range. While brutal and raw, we also saw beauty in his tale of honor through revenge. On Thursday night, gamers get theirs when Ace Attorney, a film ripped from the popular Japanese Nintendo series of the same name, is revealed. This futuristic world of legal justice requires quick action, deep research and — for the film's hero, Phoenix Wright — the ability to stay alive.
Expect lots of fun camera play and science-fiction elements peppered into this high-action crime drama, along with plenty of Miike's signature violence. See it while you can. You might not get another chance on a Dallas big screen. Catch it: 8 p.m. July 12 and 9:30 p.m. July 19.
Guns N' Roses
This left-of-center heist flick by Ning Hao is bursting with swagger. Set in Japanese-occupied Manchuria, a con man and a team of revolutionaries seek to hijack one massive gold shipment. All that stands in their way is a fully stocked army, hot women and impenetrable vaults. What could go wrong? Stylistically, this film looks stunning: The costumes are hypnotizing, scenes shift at a quick clip and the rowdy musical score adds a fresh, modern angle to a time-period work. Catch it: 3:35 p.m. July 15 and 4:45 p.m. July 19.
This Dave Boyle production is heavy on the heartache but manages to stay light through its character-integrated soundtrack. A sequel to 2011's indie hit Surrogate Valentine, it stars Goh Nakamura as a musician who seems to have it all. Now two years after the black-and-white road trip in Surrogate Valentine that left Goh steeping in lady trouble and touring blues, he's what you might call a bona fide success. Hell, he's even sold one of his songs to a popular antidepressant company for its new television jingle.
Things are looking up for our introverted hero, until his girlfriend dumps him on Skype and his life crumbles. Daylight Savings brings back some old friends, like girl-next-door love interest Lynn Chen, but also introduces a new gal who's got her own tune to hum, singer-songwriter Yea-Ming Chen. Feeling bad has never felt so good. Don't let the sequel label deter you: Each film of the series (another is in the works) can be viewed freestanding. Catch it: With a filmmaker Q&A at 5:40 p.m. July 15.
This film just looks hip. This action-packed, explosion-rich revenge tale by Wong Ching-Po doubles as a love ode to the import cartoon Space Emperor God Sigma. Expect a bipolar combination of brutal destruction and cheerful high kicks — imagine a bloodthirsty hitman loaded up on MDMA. Get in on the ground floor: This is the film's North American premiere. Catch it: 2 p.m. July 14.
I Am a Ghost
Here's what I like about this film: You know exactly what you're getting into by title alone. Also, it marks a sharp turn for director H.P. Mendoza who, until now, had been known for song-and-dance comedies like Colma: The Musical. Here, he finally gets to tackle his other passion: dark, gritty horror.
There are only two characters in I Am A Ghost. One is Sylvia, a psychic; the other is Emily, a ghost, played by Anna Ishida. Knowing that she's dead isn't enough for this tortured spirit: She must unlock her repressed memories if she wants to free herself from this eerie quasi-afterlife. Set in the muted tones of a Victorian mansion, Emily floats through a daily hell of sped-up and slowed-down flashbacks that will surely scare the life out of the living. To transcend, she'll have to dig deep, confronting the horrific details of her past life ... and death. Catch it: With a filmmaker Q&A at 9:45 p.m. July 16.
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