Udine Far East Film Festival: Our Dream, Your Festival

by Martin Sandison on June 14, 2016 · 2 comments in Buddhist Blog

April 22nd to the 30th. Italy.  The Far East Film Festival.  The Festival’s official languages are Italian and English. Italian and English subtitles are provided during the screenings. The afternoon panel discussions, with the participation of our Asian special guests and artists, are entirely translated into Italian and English through headphones.

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The Udine Far East Film Festival in Italy, now in its 18th year, is called by many “the Cannes of Asian film.” Originally begun as a product of passion, it soon became an established and respected event.* Last year they even managed to have Jackie Chan appear, showing how far the festival has come. I had heard a lot about it, but never made a pilgrimage until this year. My new friend Ryan Law said he was coming to Edinburgh, my home city in Scotland, and asked if I would like to meet up. I said sure. Ryan has a film blog, mainly about Hong Kong cinema, that is in Chinese, and he has a reputation as a great writer. When he posted there saying that the legendary Sammo Hung would be going to Udine, I immediately thought “I’m there. It may be my only chance to meet one of my ultimate heroes.” I set about applying for press accreditation and arranging the trip, and I have to thank Ryan so much for his kindness in helping me with all of that. I discovered that Udine treats journalists and Industry professionals very well, in the past even putting them up for free. Even now they only charge 10 Euros a night for hotels, which in today’s economic climate is a fantastic deal. Unfortunately they only had three nights left as I applied so late, and I was worried about the cost of a hotel not connected with the Festival. Ryan said I could stay in his room if he got a twin room, an act of selflessness that set the tone for my stay in Udine.

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I arrived ready to get involved, and the first people I met were the director of the opening film THE TIGER (2015, South Korea, aka. THE TIGER: AN OLD HUNTER’S TALE), Park Hoon-Jung, and the director of FOURTH PLACE (2015, South Korea), Jung Ji-Woo! They were both very nice and humble. THE TIGER is a visual treat, with CGI tiger attacks that are visceral and astounding. The plot is a little labored, but Choi Min-Sik is wonderful as usual, and the movie keeps you entertained.

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This year the festival ran from April 22nd to the 30th, and there were over 70 movies in the program- the most there’s ever been. That made it hard to keep up with them all, and there were some notable omissions from my schedule. Most showings take place at the Teatro Nuovo, which is also the hub of all activity for the festival.

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Before the first screening I met some young locals, who enjoyed my Scottish sense of humor. I ended up becoming good friends with them, and saw them most days of the Festival. There was also a spread of free Panini and wine awaiting us. What an introduction to the festival experience! I had to head to bed after THE TIGER, missing the Johnnie To produced TRIVISA (2016, Hong Kong/China), which I had already seen at the Berlin Film Festival; it’s definitely worth a watch. Johnnie To is omnipresent at Udine, acting almost as an Ambassador.

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The next day I got up early to catch Nobuhiko Obayashi’s THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME (1983, Japan- not to be confused with the 2006 Anime version of the same name), the first in a retrospective of his films. I had only seen the all-time classic HOUSE (1977, Japan, aka. HAUSU) by Obayashi, so I was excited to see more of his output. This one was more subdued than the colorful HOUSE, but with some great ideas and surreal sequences.

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One of the things I was salivating about at this year’s festival was the prospect of seeing Bruce Lee’s movies WAY OF THE DRAGON (1972, Hong Kong, aka. RETURN OF THE DRAGON), THE BIG BOSS (1971, Hong Kong, aka. FISTS OF FURY), FIST OF FURY (1972, Hong Kong, aka. THE CHINESE CONNECTION), and GAME OF DEATH (1978, Hong Kong/USA) via 4K remasters. All of them, excluding FIST OF FURY, were on at the other cinema, called the Visionario. Unfortunately they were not very well-attended, which surprised me. They all look absolutely beautiful, and as my first time seeing them in the cinema (something I had wished for since I was a young boy), it certainly was a kick. FIST OF FURY was a midnight screening after IP MAN 3 (2015, Hong Kong), which was my third time seeing the latter in the cinema. In my view it contains some of the greatest action seen in any movie in the last few years.

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Another movie I was excited about was THE MASTER (2015, China, aka. THE FINAL MASTER)**, a Chinese Mainland Kung Fu film. A London-based programmer named Stephen that I met in Udine had raved about it, but to be honest I was a bit disappointed. The production values, acting and narrative were all very strong, but the approach to the action was a letdown. It attempts to be more realistic, with various styles such as Wing Chun depicted, but the action didn’t excite me. Old school fans will love the appearance of the legendary Chen Kuan-Tai in the end battle though.

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In the middle of the festival after three Obayashi movies had been screened (the two previously mentioned, plus 1981’s SCHOOL IN THE CROSSHAIRS, all excellent), I had my interview with him. I thought it would be a collective interview, but I got 20 minutes of one-on-one at the end with the great man. He was thoughtful, intelligent, funny and kind. The interview will be up on cityonfire.com in the coming weeks. That evening Obayashi was presented with his Lifetime achievement award, before the screening of the aforementioned HOUSE.

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Other Japanese movies of note were the excellent BAKUMAN (2015), about two teenagers trying to break into the Manga publishing house Shonen Jump. At turns both hilarious and insightful, it’s a very touching movie which won the “My Movies Audience Award”. Another was LOWLIFE LOVE (2016), a low budget movie about the life and times of a director trying to get a production made. Interestingly when I told my friend from Scotland that I had seen it, he told me he contributed to the Kickstarter of the film. It was produced by Third Window films and Adam Torel, who was there to present the film. Two days later the same friend was in Tokyo and met Adam Torel! He must have flown straight back from Udine! Synchronicity was working in our favor. I also met an actress from the film called Nanami Kawagami the next day, and she was very nice.

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On horror day I caught three movies, all pretty good. The best one was THE SILENCED (2015, South Korea), which combined psychological chills with well developed characters. That same day I met Jasper Sharp, co-founder of the fantastic UK Japanese film website Midnight Eye. We discussed how so many Asian cinema websites had folded recently, and he said he just wasn’t passionate about new Japanese film; the main reason the website stopped. The resource they left is magnificent, and I would urge anyone with even a passing interest to check it out. The next day I woke early to check out the information screening and European Premier of TEN YEARS (2015, Hong Kong), one of the most controversial and important Hong Kong movies ever made. It’s five short films which imagine what Hong Kong may be like in ten years time. Despite the technical failings of the film, its political importance and low budget ambitions have captured the imagination of Hong Kong audiences. Ryan told me it’s actually hard to see the film in Hong Kong because all of the screenings are sold out! The third short film of the five was especially moving, and brought a tear to my eye with its poignant tone.

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Later on that day a Hong Kong film brought a smile to my lips with its retro leanings, THE MOBFATHERS (2016, Hong Kong). Directed by Herman Yau (BUNMAN: THE UNTOLD STORY, 1993) and starring and produced by Chapman To and Anthony Wong, it’s a whole lot of fun. Chapman always appears at Udine, and his colorful character lights up the festival, this year being no different. I asked him what the budget of THE MOBFATHERS was in his talk, and he said: “Why? Do you want to invest in my movie?”

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The next day Sammo arrived, and I sat in the press room with bated breath. Before his talk I met Andrew Daley, co-founder of the great UK website easternkicks.com, and Fred Ambroisine, a cameraman and authority on HK cinema. As the talk kicked off, I was in awe of Sammo’s legendary humor, kindness and glowing personality. He spoke of his amazing experiences in Hong Kong cinema, his new film THE BODYGUARD (2016, Hong Kong/China, aka. MY BELOVED BODYGUARD), and shared some great stories about playing soccer with Jackie Chan!

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The next day I was in on a collective interview with Sammo, and it was amazing to be sitting across from, and interacting with this man whose movies have inspired so many. When I was a kid his movies helped me through some hard times of my life, and they will be in my heart forever. I told him at the end how much his movies mean to me, and he commented on my 36 Styles  Angela MaoYing T-shirt! (There’s a plug for the site!)*** Again, this interview will be up on cityonfire.com very soon.****

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At the end of this wonderful festival Sammo took the stage to receive his award, and we were treated to a great directorial return with his film THE BODYGUARD. I would go so far as to say this may be his best performance, alongside playing his own master in the wonderful, semi-autobiographical film PAINTED FACES (1988, Hong Kong).

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The closing party took place a few hours after. Udine is in the wine region Friuli, one of the best in Italy, and we were treated to free glasses of it.

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As I passed a table I noticed a guy wearing the 36 Styles  THE HOT, THE COOL AND THE VICIOUS T-shirt. I immediately stopped and said “I have that T-shirt!” I sat down and chatted old school Kung Fu with the guy, a very nice Croatian fellow named Matija. He said he had managed to get a one on one interview with Sammo, I jokingly said “I hate you.” We arranged to combine both interviews for the forthcoming piece. As everything started to wind down, I felt a little melancholy. But as the late, great Prince put it “Life’s a party and parties weren’t meant to last.”

Editor’s Notes:

*According to their official website “The Festival’s official languages are Italian and English. Italian and English subtitles are provided during the screenings. The afternoon panel discussions, with the participation of our Asian special guests and artists, are entirely translated into Italian and English through headphones.”

** THE MASTER (2015) will be distributed on home video by United Entertainment Partners under the title THE FINAL MASTER.

*** A shameless plug? We’ll take it! LOL

**** Here’s the link to the fantastic Sammo Hung interview: http://cityonfire.com/sammo-hung-interview-city-on-fire-far-east-film-festival-exclusive-new-the-bodyguard-ip-man/

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

mpm74 June 14, 2016

Great coverage Martin! 🙂


Martin Sandison June 15, 2016

Thanks dude!


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