Helsinki Cine Aasia will once again bring the best of contemporary Asian cinema to Helsinki in March. The festival opens with the award-winning Tibetan film Balloon.

The only festival of contemporary Asian cinema in Finland, Helsinki Cine Aasia, is celebrating its eighth edition between Thursday March 12th and Sunday March 15th, 2020. Through the festival selection, Helsinki Cine Aasia’s audience is provided with a view to current Asian cinema as well as the Asian cultures in a broader sense. The program consists of a selection of the most interesting, acclaimed and popular films from East and Southeast Asia over the past year.

Opening film: Traditional and modern collide in Tibet

Helsinki Cine Aasia’s opening film is Balloon (Qi qiu, 2019), the latest work from one of Tibet’s best-known filmmakers, Pema Tseden. “We are excited to bring rarely seen Tibetan cinema to Helsinki,” says festival director Eija Niskanen. “Films set in Central Asian steppes expand the geographic range of our program.” Premiering at the Venice Film Festival, Balloon has subsequently garnered praise at international festivals such as Toronto, Busan and Rotterdam as well as several accolades. The film is about the difficulties of combining the traditional with the modern. The story is set in the 1980’s, during the one-child policy. A couple raising a herd of sheep and three children is forced to navigate between human nature, spirituality, politics and free will. No more children should be born, but how will they take care of contraception when the children turn their parents’ last condoms into balloons?

Pema Tseden (b. 1969) is an award-winning filmmaker and writer who depicts the conditions and culture of his origin with insight and a humane touch. In Balloon, he wanted to explore the relationship between reality and the soul. “When the Buddhist faith and the reality of modern society collide, Tibetans are faced with choices,” Tseden has said. Balloon‘s sheepherder Dargye, and especially his wife Drolkar, also struggle with these choices. To balance the major social issues the film also offers light-hearted and gentle humour. Filmed around the scenic Qinghai Lake, the film tells its multifaceted story with poetic images.

Pema Tseden’s previous film Jinpa (Zhuang si le yi zhi yang, 2018), a road movie with a darkly humorous tone and influences from the Western genre, is also featured in this year’s Helsinki Cine Aasia selection. The film stars the actor of the same name – Jinpa – who portrays Balloon‘s leading character as well. Tseden’s unique style is already familiar to Helsinki Cine Aasia’s audiences from the 2016 festival, when the program included his film Tharlo (2015), a drama-comedy about a Tibetan man hitting the road in search of his true identity.

From Chinese arthouse to Korean zombie comedy

Helsinki Cine Aasia’s selection of the new Asian cinema once again emphasizes not only quality but also the geographical and genre spectrum. The program features films from both renowned filmmakers and emerging talent. From China there’s Gu Xiaogang‘s debut Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains (Chun jiang shui nuan, 2019), which premiered at Cannes. Following three generations of a family in a changing city, the work draws inspiration from Huang Gongwang‘s famous 14th-century scroll painting of the same name and the narration style of Taiwanese auteurs Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao-hsien.

A completely another kind of family film is Lee Min-Jae‘s debut, The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale (Gimyohan gajok, 2019), representing Korean cinema which is being hyped around the world right now. In this fast-paced and sharp comedy, a small-town family comes up with a promising business idea while being under the threat of a zombie apocalypse. For the film selection process, Helsinki Cine Aasia’s programming team visited major Asian film festivals such as the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea, Tokyo International Film Festival and Tokyo FilmEx.

The full festival program for the eighth Helsinki Cine Aasia will be released on Tuesday February 25th. Completing the program are the traditional parent & baby screening as well as expert discussions linked to the themes of the films. Helsinki Cine Aasia’s venues are Korjaamo Kino, Cinema Orion and Kino Regina. Ticket sales will begin on Thursday February 27th.