Report from the 1st Sydney Asia Pacific Film Festival
The inaugural SAPFF ran from March30th to April 2nd, screening 10 Asian features and 12 Asian-Australian short films. Each film was selected on the basis of critical and box-office success in their country of origin. This prerequisite of commercial success is an unusual criteria for foreign film festivals, which generally cater towards a more arthouse audience.
The festival was well attended, with over 3000 people squeezing into Chinatown's Reading cinemas. Surprisingly, just over half the attendees were white Australians, according to one festival insider, perhaps because the various ethnic communities had already seen the films overseas or on pirated VHS and VCD copies. Regardless, most of the sessions filled quickly, the Japanese films Perfect Blue and Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl being especially popular, along with the gory yet beautiful Thai ghost-story Nang Nak which sold out despite a repeat screening.
Yet it was the Korean films Nowhere to Hide and The Quiet Family which stole the show, thrilling audiences with their kinetic camera work, peversely black humour and genre-defying inventiveness. undergoing a grassroots renaissance, with a new generation of film-makers producing aggressively confronting films in response to the mainstream staple of weepy melodramas and soap-operas.
The Quiet Family
The Quiet Family was a farcical comedy about a family forced to cover up one death after another, in an attempt to save their mountain-lodge from bankruptcy, only to find you can sweep everything under the carpet before it becomes impossible to stand on. Its conspiratorial theme bordered on political satire, the final shot suggesting that every Korean, no matter how silent or apathetic, is complicit in the country's political crises and suppression of ugly truths.
Nowhere to Hide
The Korean film industry is The playfully kinetic chase-film Nowhere to Hide opened the festival with director Lee Myung-Se and star Park Joong-Hoon in attendance. Using a variety of comic-book inspired and computer generated visual-effects, the film distorted temporality and narrative genre to focus on the beauty of movement. Another festival highlight was the Hong Kong comedy Where a Good Man Goes set in Macua, directed by the under-profiled Johnnie To and starring Lau Ching-Wan, whose roguish charm has made him one of Asia's best actors. Pleasantly different from the usual Hong Kong film, Where a Good Man Goes driven by good acting and character development, instead of choreographed combat, celebrity cameos or sheer scale.
The SAPFF also included two free seminars open to the public, the first about Asians in the Australian film industry, and the other about Australia's role in the Asian film industry. The issues covered included the lack of Asian representation in Australian narratives, with the few roles on offer being either heavily stereotyped or tokenistic. On the panel were two Asian-Australian actors, Linden Goh and Anthony Wong. Linden argued that bad representation was better than no representation, whilst Anthony criticised the type-casting of Asian men as asexual, bisexual or homosexual, an observation that was born out in the prevalence of homosexual themes in the Asian-Australian short films.
In all, the SAPFF is a valuable addition to the cultural scene in Australia, and goes a long way towards correcting mainstream Australia's palpable ignorance of Asian cultures and Asians in Australia. The festival's organisers are already back in Asia, attending local film festivals and scouting out new talent for next year's program. Keep your eye out for screening details, this time next year, as it promises to be bigger and better. Check out www.sapff.com.au for pictures and more info
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