With advertisements proudly emblazoned with the words “exotic, erotic and just plain psychotic” and a programme headlined by films with titles like Karate-Robo Zaborgar and Invasion of Alien Bikini, the first annual Fantastic Asia Film Festival (FAFF) promises to bring a very different breed of Asian filmmaking to Melbourne’s Cinema Nova.
Screening a combined twenty films from Japan, South Korea, China, Hong Kong and the Philippines, FAFF aims to shine special attention on the more obscure, absurd and extreme edges of Asian genre cinema which so often goes ignored by the programmers of Australia’s more high-minded film festivals.
Kicking off on Thursday November 10th the opening night film, Yoshihiro Nishimura’s zombie movie Helldriver, will surely set the gold standard for four days worth of bad special effects, copious fake blood and plenty of scantily clad women brandishing really big swords. An acclaimed effects artist, Nishimura’s previous films Tokyo Gore Police and Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl have seen him labelled “the Tom Savini of Japan.” His latest effort is described as a “hard rock psychotic, psychotropic future epic.” Nishimura will be in attendance for a post film Q&A along with New York Asian Film Festival director Marc Walkow.
Project director Kwenton Bellette describes the FAFF programme as containing “the latest and most innovative cinema from Asia that is guaranteed to shock, offend, surprise and every other describing word I can think of.” Certainly, it’s shocking to think that the Nova – Melbourne’s home of art house and the cinematically high brow – will play host to soft core Japanese pinku films like Erotibot, or crudely titled horror movies such as Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead (a film that even Bellette concedes “only a small sect of humanity will enjoy”).
But while some of the programme might best be reserved for the most die-hard of fans, Bellette also points out some more approachable titles. From China, Wu Xia is a period piece that mixes film noir with martial arts extravaganza. It stars international sensation Donnie Yen (Ip Man) and seriously impressed audiences at this year’s prestigious Cannes Film Festival.
Similarly, two other films on the programme – The Yellow Sea, Na Hong-Jin’s crime epic from Korea, and Guilty of Romance, Sion Sono’s eerie sexual thriller from Japan – had their Australian premieres at the Melbourne International Film Festival in July, where both garnered considerable critical praise.
Perhaps the most acclaimed film on offer is also the most violent: Kim Ji Woon’s I Saw The Devil continues the tradition of stylized Korean revenge thrillers in the vein of Park Chan Wook’s Oldboy and will not disappoint fans of Kim’s previous films, which include A Bittersweet Life and The Good, The Bad and the Weird.
But with no intention of letting film snobbery win out over a raucous good time, the Fantastic Asia Film Festival will close with perhaps it’s most eyebrow raising selection of all: Underwater Love, an aquatically themed pornographic musical shot by award winning cinematographer Christopher Doyle (Rabbit-Proof Fence) about a half man-half turtle who returns from the dead to win back a former love.
And what, I ask, is not fantastic about that?
The Fantastic Asia Film Festival runs from Thursday November 10 through to Sunday November 13 at Cinema Nova in Melbourne. The full programme can be viewed at the festival website, where you can also book tickets.
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