New York Asian Film Festival 2016: Creepy, Inside Men, Twisted Justice

As the fifteenth edition of the New York Asian Festival descends on Manhattan from June 22 through July 9, here is a look at three films that have already generated considerable buzz:

“Creepy” (クリーピー, dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2016)

Although some have hailed “Creepy” (2016) as a return to form for horror master Kiyoshi Kurosawa, his latest still falls short of the brilliance of his past works such as “Cure” (1997). Former detective Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and his wife (Yuko Takeuchi) move outside the city to plant new roots, he as a professor who misses the meat and potatoes of investigative work, she as an eager-to-please neighbor in a community that isn’t what it seems.  Before long, Takakura decides to follow up on a cold case and is drawn into a web of some rather convenient coincidences that lead him closer to the answers he seeks.  Two areas sink what could have been a skin crawling work: the character of Takakura’s neighbor Nishino and the conclusion.  Although Teruyuki Tagawa as Nishino would probably be the first thumbnail image one would see for the word “creepy” in a dictionary, he plays it too well from the start, diluting any chance for prolonged suspense.  As for the ending, some will have to suspend belief to make the story work.  For others, doing so still won’t save the story.

“Creepy” made its Asian premiere at the Hong Kong International Film Festival.  It will screen at the New York Asian Film Festival on Wed., June 29, at 6 p.m.

“Inside Men” (내부자들, Woo Min-ho, 2015)

It is easy to see why “Inside Men” became the top grossing 18+ movie of all time in South Korea.  With a simultaneous takedown of three major institutions – the media, the government and the chaebol (business conglomerates in Korea, often owned by families) – the testosterone-fueled caper is packed with so many bad guys and so much sleaze that you actually find yourself rooting for who can devise the most vicious scheme to win.  In this case, it could be Lee Byung-Hun who as Ahn Sang-goo, the one-handed gangster seeking revenge on that seemingly insurmountable trio of institutions, has deservedly won the most plaudits (Best Actor at the 2016 Asian Film Awards and PaekSang Arts Awards). However, there are plenty of others in the cast who can compete for that top slot, notably Cho Seung-woo as a lowly prosecutor unable to move up the corporate ladder due to a lack of connections, Baek Yoon-sik as the chilling newspaper editor and Lee Kyoung-young as the slimy presidential candidate.  Although “Inside Men” clocks in at 130 minutes, it actually feels a bit short on character development given the complexity of the twists and turns in the plot.  Just one month after its domestic release in November 2015, a longer version titled “Inside Men: The Original” hit theaters in South Korea, adding 50 minutes and more ticket sales.  Available on DVD, perhaps the three-hour version – which will not be shown in New York – will connect some of the dots left isolated in the first cut.

The 130-minute version of “Inside Men” screens at the New York Asian Film Festival on Tues., July 5, at 8:30 p.m.  Actor Lee Byung-hun will receive a Star Asia Award and participate in a Q&A session at the screening.

“Twisted Justice” (日本で一番悪い奴ら, dir. Kazuya Shiraishi, 2016)

The lone world premiere at the New York Asian Film Festival is its opening film, “Twisted Justice.” A true story propels its plot: one of the biggest scandals in Japanese police history in which only a single cop was jailed (nine years for drugs and firearms possession).  While Go Ayano admirably portrays a young and later aging Morohoshi, the fictional doppelganger of Yoshiaki Inaba – that real-life cop in question – “Twisted Justice” comes across as a parody rather than an observation of a man’s professional and personal descent as a pawn of a corrupt system.  Early on, a subservient Morohoshi is shown the ropes by some unscrupulous superiors, but his switch from a naïve junior to a competitive colleague absorbed in debauchery is a bit too abrupt and at times more comical than it should be.  It’s a shame because much care was spent on other aspects – particularly the hazy cinematography matching the three decades it depicts – but the picture’s inability to escape exaggeration makes it difficult to take this story seriously.

“Twisted Justice” makes its world premiere at the New York Asian Film Festival on Wed., June 22 at 7 p.m.  Director Shiraishi and producer Yoshinori Chiba will attend.  The film screens again on Tues., June 28 at 6 p.m.  Ayano will attend that showing where he will receive a Screen International Rising Star Asia Award.