Helsinki Cine Aasia 2019 gives a Finnish premiere to 18 East and Southeast Asian films

Helsinki Cine Aasia (14.–17.3.2019) is the only festival of contemporary Asian cinema in Finland. It has been organised annually since 2013. This year’s festival presents a wide-range of high quality films from 11 countries. 

The opening filmat Helsinki Cine Aasia 2019 is Mori, The Artist’s Habitat (Mori no iru basho, 2018) by the Japanese director Shuichi Okita. The film is based on the late artist Morikazu Kumagai, who remains highly valued in his home country. Okita draws a slow paced and perceptive portrayal of the artist, tinged with soft comic touches typical for the director. Shuichi Okita will also be visiting the festival and will attend the screenings of his film.

The other portrait of an artist at the festival is Dare to Stop Us (Tomerareru ka, oretachi o 2018) by Kazuya Shiraishi based on the enfant terrible of Japanese cinema Koji Wakamatsu (1936–2012) and his disciples during a period when Wakamatsu’s production company, known for its erotic and rebellious films, was at the peak of its success. Elements of real life are also present in No. 1 Chung Ying Street (2018), a passion project by Hong Kong director Derek Chiu. The film is set in two periods: in the aftermath of the so-called “Umbrella Revolution” in Hong Kong in 2014 and the 1967 riots. The film is a political hot potato and Chiu faced a long battle in financing and casting it. The status of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan will also be the topic of a discussion held during the Helsinki Cine Aasia festival, featuring Jyrki Kallio from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

Helsinki Cine Aasia celebrates the rising new talent of Asian cinema

In this year’s programme Helsinki Cine Aasia has no less than three movies from directors who have been nominated for the Best New Director Asian Film Awards. 

One Cut of the Dead (Kamera o tomeru na!, 2017), a metafilm by the Japanese director Shinichiro Ueda about filming of a zombie movie has been a box office hit in Japan and has also won over the critics. Thai director Phuttiphong Aroonphengi’s debut Manta Ray (Kraben rāhu, 2018) is a layered depiction of identity and friendship and was awarded with the Orizzonti award at Venice Film Festival. The director has dedicated the movie to the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar who are enduring hardship in Thailand. There will also be a discussion held at Helsinki Cine Aasia festival about the Rohingya’s situation, featuring Anu Tuukkanen from Amnesty International and Timo Kuronen from Siemenpuu Foundation. 

Still from “A Land Imagined”

In A Land Imagined (Huan tu, 2018) by the Singaporean director Yeo Siew Hua, a police officer suffering from insomnia investigates the case of a missing Chinese migrant worker. Yeo has called migrant workers the blind spot of contemporary Singaporean society: the wealth of the nation has been built on their labour even though they remain invisible to many in everyday life. Yeo prepared his film for three years and interviewed several migrant workers while doing research for his story.

Well established filmmakers and crème de la crème of the Asian movie year

Helsinki Cine Aasia also features new films from several filmmakers who have already established themselves on the top of Asian filmmaking. Alpha – the Right to Kill (2018), a docudrama by the Filipino director Brillante Mendoza, portrays the brutal war on drugs that is being fought in the streets of Manila. The Japanese cult director Shinya Tsukamoto returns to Helsinki Cine Aasia with his new samurai drama Killing (Zan, 2018). Masaaki Yuasa’s hallucinogenic romantic comedy Night Is Short, Walk on Girl (Yoru wa Mijikashi Aruke yo Otome, 2017), has been awarded the Animation of Year  in Japan.

Perhaps the most well-known director from Indonesia, Gavin Nughoro’s latest film Memories of My Body (Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku, 2018), is a coming-of-age story and a study of sexual identity in four acts. Typically for Nughoro, the film combines aesthetics with political commentary. Similar themes are explored in Song Lang (2018), the dazzlingly beautiful directorial debut by the Vietnamese-American director Leon Le. The love story between two men – a debt collector and an actor – is set in the 1980s and the world of Vietnamese opera Cai Luong. East and Southeast Asia have a strong tradition of dance and theatre. The relationship of dance, theatre and movies will also be discussed during the film festival in a discussion featuring researcher and critic Jukka O. Miettinen

Still from “Night Is Short, Walk on Girl”

The festival programme also includes two significant Chinese movies from last year. Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Diqiu zuihou de yewan, 2018) by Chinese director Bi Gan is a dreamlike art house film, which has also been noted in Cannes. The film is set in China’s underworld and invites the viewer to dive into the memories of the main character with a surprising combination of 2D and 3D imagery. Director Hu Bo’s first and sadly also last long movie An Elephant Sitting Still (Da xiang xi di er zuo, 2018) is a melancholic and mesmerising film set in northern China about one day in the life of four people. The 29-year-old director committed suicide shortly after finishing the film. The film has won several awards including Critics’ Prize at Berlinale 2018.

See the full Helsinki Cine Aasia 2019 programme at the festival webpage. All films have English subtitles.The tickets to the Helsinki Cine Aasia screenings go on sale on 28th of February 2019 on the festival webpage. A single ticket costs 10 euro, screening voucher 45 euro (including 5 single tickets) and tickets to the parent and baby screening cost 7,50 euro. During the festival tickets can also be purchased at the festival venues Korjaamo, Orion and Kino Regina.

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Ever since I watched Takeshi Kitano's "Hana-Bi" for the first time (and many times after that) I have been a cinephile. While much can be said about the technical aspects of film, coming from a small town in Germany, I cherish the notion of art showing its audience something which one does normally avoid, neglect or is unable to see for many different reasons. Often the stories told in films have helped me understand, discover and connect to something new which is a concept I would like to convey in the way I talk and write about films. Thus, I try to include some info on the background of each film as well as a short analysis (without spoilers, of course), an approach which should reflect the context of a work of art no matter what genre, director or cast. In the end, I hope to pass on my joy of watching film and talking about it.