Amid all the New Year’s Eve options out there, my husband and I picked a good one. While the ball was droppin’, our eyes were poppin’—at the final, climactic scene of the modern Korean classic Oldboy. Wow. We were so into it, we forgot to switch over to the TV countdown as we had planned. Will the real Asian film geek please stand up? And does this auspicious beginning to 2009 foretell a great year for Asian film?
Some of you may be thinking, “Elena, you’re not a film fan. You’re a stick in the mud.” Well, I am one of Ningin’s more mature contributing writers. We’re not too old to party, but we were just too beat to go out. And we’d wanted to watch Oldboy for forever. This 2003 gem did not disappoint. Gripping, shocking, funny, and fast. What I loved about it is what I love about Asian film in general.
There’s something about Asian cinema that just resonates. Sometimes it’s beautiful, sometimes it’s painful, but you feel something real when you leave the theater.
Perhaps it’s the themes of revenge and redemption. The characters long to be forgiven their sins, but find that their actions have consequences that fan out over the waters of life. Honor is hard to get. Success costs. And we hurt the ones we love in ways that are impossible to undo. Ever seen the Korean film Addicted, where the two brothers love the same woman?
Perhaps it’s the moral ambiguity. On a personal level, I very much believe in right and wrong. But I see—and sympathize with—the pure and loving motives that motivate people to do dastardly things. Last year, Gina Kim’s Never Forever struck a chord with me… before that, it was Tian yu (The Sent-Down Girl), written by Joan Chen and Geling Yan.
The sets, the cinematography, the nuanced acting and subtle cultural dynamics…many factors make Asian cinema a treat. But it’s the gripping plots and thematic materials that set the Asian films apart.
It’s such a sharp contrast to the typical mainstream Hollywood flick. On top of that I’ve-seen-this-before feeling, the syrupy ending leaves you with that dejected why-can’t-real-life-be-like-the-movies slump. In contrast, Asian films reflect the pathos of real life. That might be a balm for your soul in these difficult and uncertain times.
I mean, come on. After you find out that the killer is really his brother, and the hero falls from a ten-story canopy, and then gets the crushing cell phone call…maybe your own problems might not look so bad.
Count your blessings in 2009! Watch an Asian film! Let’s hope that 2009 is the year that Asian filmmakers get the recognition they deserve.
Here are my predictions for Asian film in 2009:
On the coattails of this film, Sung Kang will gain more respect as an actor, and more female fans.
And Free Food For Millionaires, Min Jin Lee’s best-selling novel about Korean-American NYC in the 90s, will be made into a movie….and it’s gonna make a splash. Honey, we’re talking ’bout a modern-day The Joy Luck Club. You just wait.
Stay tuned to elena.ningin.com for news on these great artists, as well as smaller and emerging names in Asian and Asian-American film.
What are your 2009 Asian film predictions?
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