Afterthoughts on Terracotta Far East Film Festival 2012

The 4th year of Terracotta Far East Film Festival was extremely successful, boasting a really outstanding programme of films and events with many films playing to packed houses. The Festival has gone from strength to strength since it was originally conceived by Joey Terracotta in 2008.  The variety and scope of Terracotta is unique: it is a festival that manages to please both cinephiles and critics alike with its mixture of art house films, documentaries and blockbuster epics. Importantly, for me at least, it does not end up recreating economies of power and privilege in which Japanese cinema generally dominates such festivals, as demonstrated by the fact that it opened with a South Korean film, My Way ((마이웨이,  Kang Je-Gyu, South Korea: 2011).

Alongside South Korean cinema, Chinese and Taiwanese cinema were all represented, along with the first film ever shot in Burma, Return to Burma (Gui lái dí rén, Midi Z, Taiwan/Burma: 2011) which had its UK premiere on Friday, 13th April 2012.

Still from Return to Burma

The Terracotta Film Festival operates an audience award, by which all films are scored by viewers out of 10 and then the aggregate mark is posted. Not surprisingly, the high marks went to the less art-house contributions with the historical epic Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale (Sàidékè balái, Wei Te-Sheng, Taiwan: 2011), Studio Ghibli’s latest anime, From Up on Poppy Hill (Kokuriko-zaka kara,   Goro Miyazaki, Japan: 2011) and Sion Sono’s dystopian drama Himzu (Japan: 2011) proving to be crowd pleasers – with Himzu eventually taking the honors and the audience award.

I did not manage to see all the films myself, as I cannot remain sedentary for long periods of time so I had to pick and choose my films carefully and in the process miss some films that ideally I should have and would have liked to have seen on the big screen. For me, there were three outstanding films of the films that I managed to see at the Festival. These were My Way (마이웨이,  Kang Je-Gyu, South Korea: 2011), UFO in Her Eyes (Guo Xiaolu, China: 2011) and Arirang (아리랑, Kim Ki-duk, South Korea: 2011).  It does need to be noted that I have not seen Himzu yet, but will be seeing it soon and posting a review on my site in due course. My honorable mention goes to Dancing Queen (댄싱퀸, Lee Suk-hoon, South Korea: 2012), which I enjoyed more than a typical romantic drama/comedy partly due to strong performances but also because the film managed to deal with a variety of social issues without disappearing into melodrama. Unfortunately and despite its ambition, my dishonorable mention has to go to Return to Burma, which was just too long and repetitive: it was a film that mimicked a documentary, which would have been better if it had been a documentary. In terms of a critique of contemporary capitalism, UFO in Her Eyes was much more successful, managing to comment on the localized nature of Chinese State Capitalism while at the same time, marking a globalized experience of late capitalism that has a resonance far beyond its locality.

I was also lucky enough to attend a masterclass with Guo Xiaolu, which was a highlight of the festival for me. As I am tend to watch mostly Japanese, South Korean and Hong Kong cinemas, I had no prior knowledge of Xiaolu, either as a writer or a director. I attended the Masterclass as I am interested in the work of East Asian female directors, particularly through my current work on South Korean cinema. The Masterclass was fascinating with Xiaolu referencing in European art house cinema, alongside theories of literature and philosophies of cinema, in her discussions of both her work and her life. I have four pages of notes from the session that I will be transcribing and posting when I have more time.

While I have already posted a review of My Way on this site, I will be writing a more extensive review for the forthcoming Directory of World Cinema: South Korea, which will share film of the year along with Kim Ki-duk’s Arirang (I will not be doing a long review of it for this site therefore). My Way and Arirang represent opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of contemporary South Korean cinema: one an epic war drama which tells of events in World War 2 from the perspective of a Korean soldier that constructs its cinema using broad brush strokes, the other a more subtle and precise painting of a director’s internal conflict, which may well be fiction masquerading as documentary and for which Kim Ki-duk, appropriately enough won Prize Un Certain Regard at last year’s Cannes Film Festival (sharing the award with the Argentian film, Los Labios).

Fittingly enough, I will finish this post with the trailer for Arirang with Kim Ki-duk singing the title song.

I am already looking forward to Terracotta 2013!

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