The Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival (BAPFF) hits Brisbane tomorrow night, and any self-respecting cinephile has plenty to look forward to at the sophomore appearance of Brisbane’s annual, Asia-Pacific-centric replacement for the dearly departed BIFF. We’ll be covering the festival over the next two weeks – and you can expect to see more coverage from yours truly in Metro Magazine (and possibly some other publications) – but I thought I’d preview the festival with a selection of the best picks for each of the eleven days the festival runs for.
Sadly, I won’t be in attendance at the Opening Night, due to my day job as a teacher briefly turning into a night job, so I’m certainly envious of those checking out The Idol, Hany Abu-Assad’s film about a Palestinian Arab Idol winner. Palestinian cinema is often associated with conflict and suffering, so a warm comedy – based on a true story, even! – makes for a pleasant change. And I’m sure the after-dinner drinks and canapés couldn’t hurt, either. Jia Zhang-Ke’s Mountains May Depart (also screening on the 22nd) is a worthy second-choice for those looking for a cheaper option.
The Idol screens at 6pm at the Gallery of Modern Art.
Friday 20 November: Cemetery of Splendour
Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul – or “Joe” to his fans – is one of this generation’s most formidable auteurs, with a distinctive, oneiric style deeply situated in contemporary Thai history. His 2010 Palme d’Or winner, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, is one of my favourite films, so I’m very eager to check out his latest. That said, if somnolent dreaminess isn’t your bag, Sherpa – my second favourite film of 2015 thus far – is playing in the cinema next door, and it’d probably be my pick if it wasn’t getting an Australian release in early 2016. If you’re happy for a trip across town, there’s Iranian film Atomic Heart screening at New Farm Cinemas at 9pm – which comes with a personal recommendation from BAPFF Head Programmer Kiki Fung.
Cemetery of Splendour screens at 6pm at Palace Barracks.
Saturday 21 November: Right Now, Wrong Then
There’s a lot screening on the first weekend of the festival, and you could comfortably spend the whole of Saturday luxuriating in an air conditioned cinema with the likes of Mustang, Early Winter, Another Country and/or Hong Kong Trilogy: Preschooled Preoccupied Preposterous. But if you’ve just got time for one movie, you can’t go past Hong Sang-soo’s Right Now, Wrong Then. Last year’s BAPFF introduced me to the widely-loved, prolific South Korean auteur’s work with their Australian premiere of Hill of Freedom – an enigmatically charming film – and they’ve kept the ball rolling by premiering his latest – and, if the word-of-mouth is to be believed, one of his best.
Right Now, Wrong Then screens at 3:45pm at Palace Barracks.
Sunday 22 November: Floating Clouds
Another absurdly-overstuffed day of great cinema here. I’m personally planning to see four films, starting with The Daughter and Tehran Taxi and concluding with either Thanatos, Drunk or The Look of Silence, depending on how I feel. But the can’t-miss film has to be the screening of legendary Japanese director Mikio Naruse’s Floating Clouds, commemorating the director’s 110th ‘birthday’. I’ve only come across Naruse’s work this year, and he’s instantly shot into my shortlist of favourite directors, combining a lyrical, spiritual style with a deep, sympathetic humanism (and more than a hint of proto-feminism). I’m yet to see Clouds, but I understand it’s one of his best – which has me expecting a masterpiece.
Floating Clouds screens at 4pm at Palace Barracks.
Monday 23 November: A Corner of Heaven
Slim pickings here, admittedly; after a densely-packed weekend, Monday has a grand total of two films to choose from. I don’t know a great deal about A Corner of Heaven – screening with producer/director/cinematographer Miaoyan Zhang in attendance – but its nomination for Best Cinematography at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards is enough to confirm it as the correct choice.
A Corner of Heaven screens at 6:45pm at Palace Barracks.
Tuesday 24 November: Spear
A touch pick between An, Early Winter and the gala screening of Stephen Page’s Spear, but after Page’s entrancing short film in The Turning – and the impressive reputation of his Bangarra Dance Theatre – I’m locking in the latter. Besides, Page is a Brisbanite, so you gotta support your home team, yeah?
Spear screens at 8pm at Palace Barracks.
Wednesday 25 November: Bad Boy Bubby
Amongst all the respectable Asian cinema retrospectives dotted throughout the BAPFF program, you’ve also got this: Rolf de Heer’s audacious Bad Boy Bubby, introduced by the director himself. I had the pleasure to chat to de Heer at a Q&A screening of Charlie’s Country last year, and he’s a wonderful, quietly-charming gentleman. “Quietly-charming” isn’t quite how I’d describe this film, though, which memorably combines incest, murder and rock ‘n’ roll into one controversial whole. You can check out End of Winter or Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s debut, The Small Town, beforehand if you’re looking for a double feature!
Bad Boy Bubby screens at 9pm at Palace Barracks.
Thursday 26 November: Tehran Taxi
If all goes to plan, I’ll be spending this evening at the 9th annual Asia Pacific Screen Awards Ceremony; thankfully, I will have already caught what looks to be one of the festival’s highlights – if its reception at the Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals is anything to go by – Jafar Panahi’s Tehran Taxi (called just Taxi pretty much anywhere else). Panahi is a prominent Iranian director who caught a lot of people’s attention in 2011 with This is Not a Film, a pseudo-documentary filmed under house arrest and smuggled to Cannes in a USB drive hidden in a birthday cake. Taxi, filmed primarily in – yes – a taxi, looks to continue the artistically and intellectual ambitious Brechtian provocation seen in both This is Not a Film and Closed Curtain. Alternatively, you can’t really go wrong with Hirokazu Kore-eda, whose Our Little Sister screens at the same time.
Tehran Taxi screens at 6:30pm at Palace Barracks.
Friday 27 November: The Assassin
Another gala screening for the big spenders out there! The Assassin inspired a lot of discussion at its Australian premiere in Sydney, providing not the action-packed wuxia you might expect from its marketing, but rather a meditative, ambiguous reflection on identity and loyalty. Or maybe it’s not that – the film’s storyline is so opaque that you probably need to see it twice to figure out what’s going on. Whatever’s happening, Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s transcendently gorgeous cinematography will keep you entranced.
The Assassin screens at 5pm at Palace Barracks.
Saturday 28 November: The Family
It’s tempting – very tempting – to select the 35mm retro screening of Hsiao-Hsien’s A City of Sadness in this slot. And probably correct. (I’m deeply disappointed I’ll be unable to catch it due to a prior social engagement, but such is the life of a cinephile.) But every festival needs an endurance test, and this year that need is met by Chinese-Australian Liu Shumin’s 282 minute monstrosity, The Family. The film reportedly provides a portrait of China, “a nation in transition, torn between the weight of tradition and the irresistible forces of modernity and capitalism.” It’s also sure to be a real test for the durability of your bladder.
The Family screens at 1pm at New Farm Cinemas.
Sunday 29 November: A Touch of Zen
The final day of the festival, and my third retrospective pick – which is reflective of either the strength of the retro films offered, the gaps in my knowledge of Asia Pacific cinema, or a little of both. A Touch of Zen is a legendary wuxia from the (aptly-named?) King Hu. Mostly available in low-quality transfers for years now, BAPFF’s screening of the film is a 4K restoration straight from Cannes. And if you want to finish the festival in style, you’ll still have time to catch the Closing Night film, 3D epic The Taking of Tiger Mountain.
A Touch of Zen screens at 3pm at Palace Barracks.
No doubt I’ll have missed some seemingly-minor films that’ll turn out to be major in six months time (notice, for example, that last year’s BAPFF screening of Corn Island was barely attended – the PR team was literally giving tickets away – but subsequent screenings at Sydney Film Festival sold out to enthusiastic crowds). So, feel free to let me know if you’ve heard some good buzz on any of the ‘smaller’ films in the line-up – and I might see you at the festival!