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After more than a year of restrictions and lockdowns it’s a relief to be able to escape the UK and travel back to familiar shores through the programming of the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF). Celebrating its sixth edition, LEAFF is once again supplying a remarkable range of movies: from high-octane Hong Kong action, poignant Japanese drama, whacky Thai comedy, and groundbreaking Korean artistry.
With 33 films, 19 UK premieres and 2 international premieres to choose from, here are a few highlights from a stellar line up this year.
Raging Fire (2021)
This year’s LEAFF opens with a tribute to directing and screenwriting legend Benny Chan, who sadly passed away in 2020. Raging Fire, his final film, is a big, brash and visually stunning action crime drama starring Donnie Yen as an honourable police officer fighting it out with his former protege (Nicholas Tse). Fully aware of the other’s strengths and weaknesses, the pair do battle across the streets of Hong Kong in explosive fashion. Raging Fire is everything the world loves about HK action movies and it’s bound to pin audiences to their seats. Tickets available here.
A Moment of Romance (1990)
With the film festival opening with Benny Chan’s final directorial effort before his death, it is only right to include his first film in this list. A Moment of Romance sees a bank robbing getaway driver (Andy Lau) take a young woman (Chien-Lien Wu) hostage. After saving her life from his fellow criminals the pair become star-crossed lovers as the world begins crumbling around them. This film has all the hallmarks of Chan’s excellent eye for an action scene, but the romantic tones add an extra level that make it truly unique. Tickets available here.
The Falls (2021)
Set during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this film from Taiwanese director Chung Mong-Hong may be a little difficult to watch for those still experiencing lockdowns and restrictions. The drama, following a mother and daughter’s relationship during quarantine, will feel uncomfortable as suspicions and tensions between the pair increase in a claustrophobic environment. Stylistically shot and beautifully scored, The Falls will no doubt conjure up huge emotion with many viewers. Tickets available here.
Sasaki In My Mind (2020)
Written and directed by Takuya Uchiyama, best known for his award winning Vanitas and the music video for King Gnu’s The Hole, Sasaki in my Mind is a crowdfunded indie film filled with coming of age tones and deep feelings. The story follows Yuji Ishii, an actor who moves to Tokyo with grand hopes and dreams who fails to get his big break. While toiling in the city his mind is drawn to his former classmate Sasaki, a larger than life character whose very nature draws people in before, inevitably, the ties between them begin to strain. The character of Sasaki is actually inspired by a young man actor Gaku Hosokawa went to school with, and while the trials and tribulations on screen may not be historically accurate, the project shows what an effect he had on him. Tickets available here.
Hand Rolled Cigarette (2020)
Returning to Hong Kong, Hand Rolled Cigarette is a stunning cinematic gangster movie with teeth. Actor Chan Kin-Long’s first outing as director sees a former British-Chinese soldier team up with a small time thief on the run after robbing a triad boss. Nominated for several awards, including Best Feature Film at the Golden Horse Film Festival, this neo-noir thriller pulls no punches. Tickets available here.
Sugar Street Studio (2021)
As LEAFF is taking place during spooky season it would be foolish not to include a little horror in this list, but for those who can’t handle big scares Sugar Street Studio is an ideal compromise. Evoking memories of the campy comedy horror films of the 80s and 90s, Sugar Street Studio is an unexpected homage to a bygone era. A film producer deep in debt to a local crime boss tries to recoup some of his losses (and make a new movie) by turning an allegedly haunted film studio into a genuine haunted house attraction. As real ghosts begin appearing a scaring the pants off members of the public the attraction becomes a huge success, but how will our film crew deal with their new spectral star? Tickets available here.
A Leg (2020)
A love story at its most brutal, A Leg follows dancer Yu-Ying as she searches for her late husband’s amputated leg. During the search to make the love of her life whole again before saying a final goodbye her mind is drawn to their meeting, falling in love and the tragic events that brought her to this moment. Tickets available here.
The Prayer (2020)
Who doesn’t enjoy a dystopian sci-fi tale warning about the dangers of artificial humans? We were gripped by Ghost in the Shell, Ex Machina and Blade Runner and now we have The Prayer from director Min Kyu-dong featuring decidedly creepy robotic nurses. Leaping headfirst into the ethical and practical implications of AI, in the future nurses are customised to look like a family member of each of their patients, but what happens when these units begin to overstep their directives for the purposes of better care? Tickets available here.
The Con-Heartist (2020)
Every festival needs a zany comedy and The Con-Heartist is just the ticket for some laughs. When a young woman foils a confidence man’s trickery, instead of turning him into the police she hires him as part of an elaborate plan to get back at her ex. What follows is a colourful, somewhat bonkers romp through Thai director Mex Tharatorn’s mind.
It makes total sense to end this list with the finale of LEAFF’s October programming, an epic South Korean action movie Spiritwalker. From director Yoon Jae-keun, we follow a man with no memories who wakes up in a new body every 12 hours. As he jumps from person to person, constantly having to wrestle with who he is and what is going on he investigates his condition further. Throw in a shadowy organisation, a woman who claims to know him and a world of dangers standing between him and his own body this looks set to become a fan favourite. Tickets available here.
LEAF is running from the 21 to 31 October, the full programme, information and tickets are available from leaff.org.uk