Asian Film Festival of Dallas Returns This Weekend

Seoul Searching opens the Asian Film Festival.
Seoul Searching opens the Asian Film Festival.
Asian Film Festival Dallas

Dallas: listen up. Another film festival is coming at ya. Thursday, the 14th Asian Film Festival of Dallas kicks off for eight days of some of the best Asian cinema you will not see at a theater near you. This is one of those festivals where you get to see films that may never release in the U.S. but are a hit overseas. In other words, you will get to brag the shit out of seeing a film that your pal will have to fork over a lot of money for, just to get the expensive Blu-ray import.

In most cases, however, a chunk of the films have been picked up by distributors, mostly notably Dallas’ own Well Go USA, AFFD’s main sponsor and an excellent distributor responsible for bringing Flash Point, Kung Fu Killer, and one of my favorite films of the year (which is ironically not Asian), the end-of-the-world Australian flick These Final Hours. Point is, this wouldn’t be on U.S. soil if it weren’t for Well Go USA.

The festival's lineup has just been announced and there are a lot of bone-crunching, throat-punching films on it, as well as romances, comedies and horror flicks. Here’s what’s in store: 33 feature film screenings, 5 shorts blocks (including local students’ shorts), one world premiere, three international premieres, two U.S. premieres, four Southwest premieres, nine confirmed filmmakers in attendance, 11 countries represented and a partridge in a pear tree.

There will also be a first for the festival this year: a film presented in 3D. Sure, you might hate 3D more than your ex-girlfriend’s face, but some people really love it (3D, not her face). Either way, the festival is trying out new things, which puts a big smile on my face. They are taking chances instead of sticking to the same old formula, which a lot of festivals do.

Enough of my mindless yakking, here are a few picks from the lineup: 

SEOUL SEARCHING (OPENING NIGHT FILM)
Language/subtitles: English
2014/ 110min/ color/ DCP
Director: Benson Lee
Country: USA/South Korea

**Director Benson Lee and actor Esteban Anh will be in attendance.**

Seoul Searching is an '80s romantic teen comedy about a group of diverse Korean high schoolers from around the globe, coming together in 1986 to experience the most important summer of their lives. They meet at a special camp in Seoul where they were sent by their parents to learn what it means to be Korean — a side to them they know little about. The story focuses on three boys from the U.S., Mexico and Germany and the three girls they meet who change their lives forever.

THE LEGEND OF QIN (3D film)
Language/subtitles:  Mandarin w/English Subtitles
2014/ 90min/ color/ DCP 3D
Director: Robin Shen
Country: China
Premiere Status: North America

The Legend of Qin tells the story of the rise and fall of the Qin Dynasty, the first Dynasty of China (221-206 B.C.). During this period, six kingdoms were conquered by Qin in a ruthless takeover, with the new emperor forcing his subjects to follow his will and laws. The story centers around a young man, Jing Tianming, who grows from a weakling into a great hero who challenges the Qin empire and changes the course of history.

As the story progresses, fantasy, steampunk and history intertwine to tell this truly unique tale of courage during uncertain times. Tianming faces treacherous enemies, hope and loss, and the challenges of adjusting to a changing world. Eventually, a new era will be created out of their struggles for a better world.

WILD CITY (Bou Chau Mai Sing) aka Hustle (CENTERPIECE FILM)
Language/subtitles: Cantonese w/English Subtitles
2015/ color/ DCP
Director: Ringo Lam
Country: Hong Kong
Premiere Status: International

In this long-awaited feature, writer-director Ringo LAM sets his sights once again on Hong Kong’s seedy underbelly. In the spirit of City on Fire and Full Alert, Lam’s latest Canto-noir finds unsuspecting bystanders caught in a tangled web of greed and betrayal, their growing anxieties punctuated with sudden bursts of violence.

When former-cop turned bar-owner T-man Kwok (Louis KOO) befriends a drunken woman at closing hours (TONG Liya), they soon find themselves targeted both by her former lover — a high-powered Hong Kong attorney — and the thugs (CHANG Hsiao-Chuan) he employs. Once Kwok’s underachieving half-brother (Shawn YUE) and a suitcase full of tainted cash enter the picture, the chase turns deadly, with the brothers’ tense family history coming to the surface as Kwok finds himself torn between the triads and his former police colleagues.

SHIREN AND RAGI (same people who brought us last year's Seven Souls in the Skull Castle)
Language/subtitles: Japanese w/English Subtitles
2014/ 117min/ color/ Blu-Ray
Director: Hidenori Inoue
Country: Japanese
Premiere Status: Southwest

Two souls were drawn to each other without any possible escape from their doomed fates. It was in an era when the country was divided between the north and the south. A legendary woman, "Shiren"(Hiromi NAGASAKU), was born to a family of assassins. A young sword fighter, "Ragi"(Tatsuya FUJIWARA), looked up to Shiren with admiration. News was brought to the north that the King of the South "Godai"(Katsumi TAKAHASHI), once assassinated by Shiren, had been revived. Shiren was once again ordered by "kyougoku"(Arata FURUTA), a high-ranking vassal of the North, to assassinate Godai. Shiren was upset to learn her original attempt to kill him had failed. Ragi, who sensed Shiren's distress, volunteered to accompany her on the mission. Shiren's cold heart started to melt due to Ragi's determination to be there for and support her. Finally the moment to attack Godai comes. At that moment, an astonishing truth was revealed to the two who had shared their love by that time.

BALLERINO
Language/subtitles: Korean/English Subtitles
2015/ 115min/ color/ BluRay
Director: Lee Min-woo-II
Country: South Korea
Premiere Status: World Premiere

The president of Korea emphasized the importance of unification in her speech, and the successful reunion of long-separated families has become a hot issue. The unfortunate truth is that the younger generations are occupied with college entrance exams and employment. Unification is of no interest to them or at most a bothersome task that has to be carried out sooner or later.  This drama is about the friendship and the flowering of a North Korean defector and a star ballerina. Through the story of two young men as they become true dancers, the program hopes to make viewers think about the issue of the reunification of the two Koreas, which will soon become a reality.

THE LAST REEL (first Cambodian film)
Language/subtitles: Khmer/English
2014/ 105min/ color/
Director: Sotho Kulikar
Country: Cambodia
Premiere Status: Premiered at Tokyo International Film Festival - World Premiere, Japan, 2014

Sophoun, the rebellious daughter of a hard-line army colonel, lives her life for the moment, hanging out with a local gang. But when her father returns home with another arranged marriage proposal, Sophoun flees her imploding home and seeks refuge in a derelict cinema. There, she is shocked to discover an incomplete 1970s melodrama from pre-Khmer Rouge times, a film which starred her now desperately ill mother as a glamorous young woman.

A story from a different world, a different time.  With the help of the cinema’s elderly projectionist, Sophoun re-makes the missing last reel of the film, reprising her mother’s role. By premiering the completed film 40 years later, she hopes to remind her mother of a life she’d once lived and to mend the psychological scars that still haunt her. However, the old film poses more questions than it answers. The promise of the Cambodian film industry and its newest star was cut short in 1975 by the brutal Khmer Rouge regime which specifically targeted actors and filmmakers as enemies of the people. Remaking the last reel offers Sophoun an opportunity to dictate her own destiny but at the cost of uncovering some painful truths about her family and their past.

SOMEONE ELSE
Language: English
2015/ 72min/ color/ Blu-ray
Director: Nelson Kim
Country: USA
Premiere Status: Southwest 

A shy young Korean American law student, hungry for a more vivid,risk-taking existence, visits his playboy cousin in NYC. Seeking to emulate his cousin, the law student sheds his old identity and journeys into the dark side of his own nature.

A GIRL AT MY DOOR (CLOSING NIGHT FILM)
Language/subtitles: Korean w/ English
2014/ 119min/ color/ DCP
Director: July Jung
Country: South Korea
Premiere Status: Dallas

After graduating from the police academy, Young-nam rose to the upper ranks in Seoul, but censure for misconduct gets her transferred to a small seaside town. On her first day as a small precinct's chief, she keeps bumping into the odd, strangely dressed teenager Dohee. Overly conscious of others, easily intimidated and regularly bullied by other kids, Dohee spends her time alone roaming dark alleys. All of this is just part of her daily existence.

When Young-nam catches Dohee's stepfather Yong-ha beating her, she intervenes. This is the first time Dohee experiences someone defending her, and she becomes devoted to Young-nam. Despite the regular abuse at home and her mother's abandonment, Dohee retains a childlike innocence that touches Young-nam, and they become friends.

But then a family tragedy occurs that makes Yong-ha even more violent. Young-nam invites Dohee to stay in her home to protect her, but things become increasingly more complex over time.

Want to go? Purchase a badge or individual passes at asianfilmdallas.com. And in case you skipped to the lineup and ignored my intro that I spent weeks on: the festival runs from July 16 - 23. 

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