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Juanita Kwok* whets our appetite for tasty films from our neighbours – about everything from gunslinging Thai cowboys to a porcine Hong Kong – at this year’s Asia Pacific Film Festival in Sydney.

In the Filipino film, Woman On a Tin Roof (1998), which screened at last year’s Sydney Asia Pacific Film Festival, Amapola, an aged actress fallen on hard times (played by Anita Linda), leafs through an album filled with photos of the screen stars of 50s Filipino cinema. The significance of these faces was completely lost on me, though to a Filipino audience, they would be as recognisable as Greta Garbo, Bette Davis and Cary Grant. Mario O’Hara’s lament for the glory days of Filipino cinema was my epiphany of a parallel universe to Hollywood. The Philippines has a Joseph Estrada for a Ronald Reagan, and star couples like Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston, or Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz - except with real movie star names like Cesar Montano and Sunshine Cruz. And that’s just the Philippines - each country in Asia has its own unique and rich cinema history. 

"The more you see..."

The more you see, the more the universe expands. Tears of the Black Tiger, (2000), the film from Thailand which will screen at this year’s Sydney Asia Pacific Film Festival features a gun-slinging cowboy, Dum, who falls in love with a Hollywood 60s style screen goddess. Vividly hand coloured, it looks like a pastiche of Hollywood genres, but in fact the director, Wasana Sasanatieng was quoting the films of Thai director Rattana Pestonji in seeking to return to an authentic Thai aesthetic. “I felt that Thai cinema once had its own style and characters and I wanted to go back to something that had been lost.” 

Hearts Desire

Of course, there’s Bollywood. Mumbai, which has a higher annual output of films than Hollywood is only the centre of the Hindi film industry. Then there’re films in Kannada, Bengali, Urdu... and it goes on. There are dynasties of Indian stars like the Kapoors, the Indian equivalent of the Barrymores. This year the Sydney Asia Pacific Film Festival will celebrate Bollywood by screening Hearts Desire, (2001) India’s biggest box office hit of 2001.

While Japanese animation has a strong following in Australia, how many people are aware of animation in the rest of Asia? Or that Japan’s first feature length animation, Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors (1945) was inspired by the 1941 Chinese animated feature Princess Iron Fan. The Festival will present a rare screening of an archival gem from the Shanghai Animation Studios, the 1961/64 Uproar in Heaven which follows the adventures of the Chinese Monkey King hero across China. The Hong Kong animation My Life as Mc Dull (2001) experiments with just about every technique in animation in an hilarious creation of a porcine world in downtown Hong Kong. 

But why watch this stuff? Apart from the fun and entertainment - because Hollywood’s watching it and watching it closely. Columbia Tristar and Miramax have moved aggressively into the Asian market beginning with distributing Asian films but now setting up offices in Asia to invest in production. The rights to Shaolin Soccer, the opening film last year was bought by Miramax and will be released in Australia later in the year, and Chinese film Quitting from this year’s programme was bought by Columbia Tristar. Its no secret that Quentin Tarantino got his inspiration from Hong Kong action films.

Director John Woo and actor Jackie Chan are now mainstream in Hollywood. Dynamic local industries like Korea’s, where local product accounts for 40% of films on Korean screens are posing a real challenge to Hollywood hegemony. 

"an array of tantalising films"

Once a year the Sydney Asia Pacific Film Festival brings out an array of tantalising films to whet Australian appetites for more than just the McDonalds of cinema. Taste it and you’ll never look back.

Published August 8, 2002

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Congratulations to the winners of tickets to Hearts Desire:
Catherine Milne
Kerrie Lawson
Heather Wallace
Ladd Wheeler
Sixten Lynch
Tickets are being sent by mail

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My Life As McDull

The Year of Living Dangerously


*Juanita Kwok is co-director of the Sydney Asia Pacific Film Festival held at Dendy Martin Place from August 9-17. Cesar Montano, star of New Moon is a special guest of the Festival and will introduce the Saturday screening of his film. To find out when Tears of the Black Tiger, Hearts Desire, Uproar in Heaven, My Life as Mc Dull and the other 12 feature films, and 15 shorts are screening visit the WEBSITE

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