With a new year comes a new slate of films to get excited about and there is already plenty to look forward to in what is beginning to look like a potentially great and strong year for cinema emanating from the east.
Festival veterans like Sion Sono (The Whispering Star), Hirokazu Koreeda (Umi yori no Mada Fukaku) and Hong Sang-soo (Right Now, Wrong Then and probably another film cause it’s Hong Sang-soo guys, just look at his workrate) are already expected to bring their latest features to Australian audiences on the festival circuit (in the case of Hong, Right Now, Wrong Then has screened at BAPFF last year). The same can also be said of Na Hong-jin’s much anticipated return to the director’s chair with his latest film, The Wailing (his previous features have enjoyed local festival success).
Then there are others such as Makoto Shinkai’s romantic animation Your Name and Stephen Chow-directed comedy The Mermaid which remain uncertain as far as public screenings in the country are concerned. Madman Entertainment is expected to pick up Your Name (if they haven’t already) though whether it will get a limited run at select cinemas or any sort of appearance in an Australian event remains to be seen. Sony meanwhile haven’t confirmed a theatrical release of Chow’s film in Australia (that we know of — tip us off if you hear otherwise!) which could prove unwise given the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday period.
Compiling a list is never easy so consider the above as honorary mentions of films we’re already excited about moving forward into the year (and personally, just for me I’d like to also throw in Haeuhhwa into the mix a South Korean period film featuring The Beauty Inside stars Han Hyo-joo, Chun Woo-hee and Yoo Yeon-seok about ‘kisaeng‘ women wanting to become top singers in the country — fingers crossed one of the Korean distributors in Australia picks it up for release here!).
Below, however are new films that have a reasonable chance of reaching the Australian viewing public in 2016. That’s not to say these films will definitely be screened, rather, we predict that these may have a better standing and chance of being exhibited in the country than others given their varying levels of anticipation or prestige. Plus it’s always good to know what’s available and what will be coming!
Based on a novel by Shuichi Yoshida, Anger is a sprawling thriller taking place in three different locations across Japan with three separate sets of stories that all intertwine. Lee Sang-il – best known as the director of the Japanese-language remake of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven – has assembled one of the biggest ensemble casts for any Japanese film in recent memory: Ken Watanabe (Inception, Godzilla), Aoi Miyazaki (Petal Dance, The Boy and the Beast), Kenichi Matsuyama (Norwegian Wood, Death Note), Satoshi Tsumabuki (The World of Kanako), Go Ayano (Shinjuku Swan), Suzu Hirose (Our Little Sister), Mirai Moriyama (Crying Out Love in the Center of the World), Pierre Taki (The Devil’s Path), Takahiro Miura (Attack on Titan), Chizuru Ikewaki (The Light Shines Only There) and more will star in one of the most promising Japanese films of 2016.
The Bride of Rip Van Winkle
Japanese auteur Shunji Iwai (All About Lily Chou-Chou) has been a festival favourite for a long time now so whenever the filmmaker has a new project, it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on. Known for his unconventional stories and great female characters, Iwai’s latest features breakout actress Haru Kuroki (The Little House) in a leading role and will be his first live-action feature length narrative movie in five years (he directed last year’s animated film, The Case of Hana and Alice; the prequel to his 2004 cult favourite Hana & Alice and before that a documentary on the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan as well as a television drama).
Perfectly suited for a festival environment is Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s five hour long Happy Hour, a slice-of-life drama concerning the lives of four friends which unfolds almost in real-time. It’s picked up a few awards last year, most notably a Best Actress award at Locarno that was shared between the four leading women of the film, but as far as we know Happy Hour hasn’t actually been screened in Australia just yet. Here’s hoping we see this either at Sydney Film Festival, Melbourne International Film Festival or Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival this year.
The Handmaid (Agasshi)
After venturing into the United States to shoot his first English-language feature, Stoker, Park Chan-wook has come back to South Korea and this year will be unleashing his much-anticipated return to Korean-language filmmaking with The Handmaid. A loose adaptation of Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, Park’s film swaps the action from 19th century London to Korea and Japan in the 1930s (a time period that has been extremely popular in South Korean cinema as of late). It has been described as a lesbian thriller and will be Park’s first Korean-language film since Thirst in 2009.
Along with Bong Joon-ho and the aforementioned Park Chan-wook, Kim Jee-woon is among the top three commercial filmmakers working in South Korea today and his resume is certainly nothing to scoff at. Kim’s knack for finding success in every genre he’s played in — from black comedies, Westerns, horror and beyond — makes him one of the most versatile directors in the game today. His newest film, the period drama/thriller/actioner Secret Agent, will reunite the director with one of the country’s best actors, Song Kang-ho (Thirst, The Throne), and will take place in Japanese occupied-Korea during the 1930s.
Following the success of his thrillingly entertaining A Hard Day, Kim Sung-hoon will be returning in 2016 with a project that trades in A Hard Day’s entertaining thrills for something a little more dramatic. It’s a simple premise: a man is trapped inside a tunnel when it caves in on him and a rescue effort to get him out follows. Sure it mightn’t sound dazzling but Kim’s direction on A Hard Day proves he’s effecient when it comes to tension, thus making Tunnel perhaps more of a nailbiter than one might expect. And don’t forget about the cast too! Heavyweights Ha Jung-woo (Assassination) and Bae Doo-na (Netflix’s Sense8, A Girl at My Door) star as the leads in this film.
What was supposed to be Wong Kar-wai’s next directorial effort was later pawned off to Zhang Jiajia, the original author of the short story this film is based on. Wong will still be producing the picture and to help Zhang on the film, the Hong Kong auteur has enlisted the help of longtime collaborator, Tony Leung (In the Mood for Love, Infernal Affairs) and Fallen Angels/Chungking Express’ Takeshi Kaneshiro. Mainland actress Angelababy (Mojin: The Lost Legend) has also joined the project but curiously, this film has also been labelled a comedy in various circles. I’m not familiar with Zhang’s short story but if Wong’s given this his stamp of approval, I’m confident this may deliver.
Sammo Hung is one of the most prolific figures in all of martial arts cinema and in spite of his age and size, Hung can still go. His new film, The Bodyguard, treads in similar territory as films like Tony Scott’s Man on Fire or South Korea’s The Man from Nowhere and based on its recent teaser, looks pretty solid. When a young girl is kidnapped after her father (Andy Lau) falls in with the wrong crowd, it is up to Sammo Hung’s retired bodyguard character to rescue the girl by fighting his way through the mob. We’re hopeful this one will make it into cinemas for a limited theatrical run. Hung hasn’t been in the director’s chair for a while as well and this will mark his first film as a director since 1997’s Once Upon a Time in China and America.
After surprising critics and audiences with last year’s musical, Office, the master of gangster pictures, Johnnie To, will be returning to the world of crime with Three, a heist film which will star Louis Koo (SPL 2: A Time for Consequences, Drug War), Vicki Zhao (Dearest, Mulan) and Wallace Chung (Drug War, Girls). All we know about the film so far is that it involves a criminal who claims human rights to refuse immediate treatment after cops take him into a hospital, all in an attempt to bide time for his underlings to rescue him. Since To’s last two films made it into limited theatrical distribution here, chances are we’ll be seeing new To in select Aussie cinemas this year!