From South Korea and Japan to Taiwan and Hong Kong, we share our highlights from the 2022 lineup
As Korean pop culture takes over the V&A in London, hit films from the peninsula and other East Asian nations continue to light up Cannes, Berlin, Venice and the Academy Awards in 2022 – inspiring international critical acclaim and igniting foreign box offices. With works of drama, action, horror and romance inspiring all kinds of cinema-goers, one of the UK’s most vibrant film festivals now brings the cream of the crop from South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and more to the heart of the UK’s theatrical epicentre in Leicester Square.
London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF), now in its seventh year, is the event in question, and this October it combines headline events featuring celebrated special guests with new works from legendary directors and rarely-seen classics. Across two weeks and over 40 titles, the festival will combine strands focused on talents like Squid Game actor Lee Jung-jae and superstar cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-bing, while also hosting a prize for emerging filmmakers and new documentaries.
With an outstanding programme now on sale, Dazed took a closer look at the productions that could well end up being this year’s Parasite ahead of the festival’s Opening Gala on October 19.
The man of the moment in South Korea’s global pop culture ascendancy is undoubtedly actor Lee Jung-jae. Just a few weeks ago he became the first Asian male to be awarded an Emmy for Best Actor (for his leading role in Squid Game); now he’s been cast as the lead forthcoming Star Wars TV series The Acolyte. Somehow, amidst all this commotion, he’s finding time to make a trip to the UK, where LEAFF host the UK premiere of his directorial debut, Hunt.
The espionage thriller, in which Lee is also the lead actor, premiered at Cannes earlier this year to an enthusiastic reception. Set in the 80s, at the height of Korea’s military dictatorships, the film concerns the intelligence agency’s hunt to uncover a North Korean spy that has infiltrated their ranks. It also confronts real-life historical events such as the Gwangju uprising and the Aung San terrorist attack.
Director Lee will be present for the screening himself, providing an introduction and also sticking around for a live Q&A after the credits roll.
THE HOUSEMAID (IM SANG-SOO, 2010)
For many Westerners, Squid Game offered a dynamic introduction to the work of actor Lee Jung-jae and even Korean visual media as a whole. But just as the country’s film and television industries have thrived in the past two-and-a-half decades, so too has Lee, who already enjoyed a long and fruitful career on the screen prior to the Netflix death games smash.
LEAFF 2022 collates highlights from this career with a retrospective of Lee’s best screen roles, which include heroic and villainous characters across a series of critical and commercial successes. These include a complex role in the 2013 Godfather-esque crime epic New World (which also stars Oldboy lead Choi Min-sik), a turn as a vengeful and heavily tattooed mobster in Thailand-set Deliver Us From Evil (2022), and Lee’s screen debut as a 22-year-old in the 1994 drama The Young Man.
Arguably Lee’s most memorable role in this retrospective, though, comes via Im Sang-soo’s erotic 2010 remake of The Housemaid – the 1960 Korean psychological thriller that served as a partial inspiration for Parasite. Im’s remake shares many themes with Bong Joon-ho’s 2020 Best Picture winner, particularly in its exploration of the dynamics of Korea’s rich aristocracy and their relationships with the lower classes. In the midst of it all, Lee is outstanding as a despicable wealthy businessman, who seduces a young housemaid inside his opulent mansion home.
EMERGENCY DECLARATION (HAN JAE-RIM, 2021)
Speaking of Korean superstars, Emergency Declaration is full of them. The Cannes 2021 highlight, a tense thriller inspired by a real-life aviation disaster, stars Parasite lead Song Kang-ho opposite I Saw The Devil’s Lee Byung-hyun (another Squid Game alumni). The Housemaid’s Jeon Do-yeon is also among the cast, while Im Si-wan, who plays the terrorist villain of Emergency Declaration, will be present at the LEAFF screening for a post-screening Q&A.
The film currently ranks at number six in Korea’s top-grossing films of the year – just above Korea’s 2022 Academy Awards submission Decision To Leave (by Park Chan-wook). The aforementioned Hunt is another production inside the top 10 this year, while The Roundup, an action film led by Korean hardman Ma Dong-seok (Eternals; Train to Busan) that also screens at LEAFF, takes pole position.
On a year that Taiwanese foreign relations continue to attract speculation in the news, LEAFF responds by bringing works by the country’s greatest filmmaking talents to the UK. A three-film strand on legendary cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-bing, including the 2009 documentary Let the Wind Carry Me and the new, Mongolia-set environmental drama ANIMA, is among the highlights.
The Taiwanese master is arguably best known in the West for his work on Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai’s sumptuous classic In The Mood For Love, for which he was awarded the Technical Grand Prize at Cannes Film Festival in 2000 (shared with collaborators Christopher Doyle and William Chang). Lee’s longest-running creative collaboration, though, is actually with fellow countryman Hou Hsiao-hsien, one of the leading forces within the Taiwan New Wave of the 80s and 90s, and a recipient of the Best Director award at Cannes in 2015 for the Lee-shot The Assassin.
The Palme d’Or-nominated Flowers of Shanghai is one of the great highlights of Lee and Hou’s work. An oozing exploration of the relationships between workers and patrons inside several upscale 1884 Shanghai brothels, it stars the infallible Tony Leung (In The Mood For Love, Infernal Affairs) as a wealthy courtesan in an elegant and opium-smoke-drenched tale of secrets and romances.
A CONFUCIAN CONFUSION (EDWARD YANG, 1996)
Another major figure of the Taiwanese New Wave was Edward Yang, who was also a recipient of the Best Director prize at Cannes back in 2000, for his family drama Yi Yi. The latter is a masterpiece that, along with 1991’s A Brighter Summer Day, forms a duology of Yang films that made Sight & Sound’s highly-regarded once-a-decade poll of the 100 greatest films in 2012. This esteem remains untarnished a decade later: on the cinephile social network and ratings aggregator site Letterboxd in 2022, the two films currently rank among the top 20 of all-time, with an average rating of five stars apiece collated from tens of thousands of user ratings.
Yang would sadly never make another film after Yi Yi; he passed away from cancer at the age of 59 just a few years after it was completed. What remains confounding, then, is that the majority of his works have remained widely unavailable in the West until relatively recently. Cause for celebration, then: after screening the 1985 drama Taipei Story last year, LEAFF now presents a long-awaited UK premiere of Yang’s highly-regarded, Palme d’Or-nominated 1994 satire A Confucian Confusion in a brand new restoration.
GODDAMNED ASURA (LOU YI-AN, 2019)
In the Academy Awards category of Best International Feature Film, each country can submit one production for consideration – and in 2022, LEAFF continues an impressive trend of securing work determined as a nation’s single best of the year for a UK cinematic premiere.
After Hong Kong youth drama Better Days (Derek Tsang, 2019), Japan’s True Mothers (Naomi Kawase, 2020), and Taiwan’s The Falls (Chung Mong-hong, 2021) appeared across LEAFF’s 2020 and 2021 editions, this year’s festival brings the Taiwanese entry for next year’s Oscars in the form of Goddamned Asura. A psychological crime drama featuring an ensemble cast, the film is based on newspaper reports that covered a spate of random killings committed on the Taipei Metro in 2014. The film already received three nominations for the 2021 Golden Horse awards (Taiwan’s Oscars), with Wang Yu-xuan winning the Best Supporting Actress award.
Daigo Matsui’s offering at LEAFF 2022 is partly inspired by the Jim Jarmusch film Night on Earth, which, in 1991, starred Winona Ryder and Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad), among others, in a series of vignettes exploring the relationships between taxi drivers and their passengers.
It’s Ryder’s story in the American indie classic that takes the most precedent here. Sairo Ito plays a taxi driver who openly professes her fandom for the latter while driving a dancer-turned-lighting-technician (Sosuke Ikematsu, of 2018 Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters) around in her cab. The film concerns the romantic relationship that blossoms between them, which is told in reverse chronology over six years.
It’s a nice touch that Masatoshi Nagase – who starred in Jim Jarmusch’s cult classic Mystery Train (1989) and Adam Driver-led bus driver drama Paterson (2016) – is also among the cast. This is not the only film he appears in at LEAFF 2022 – he also pops up in the highly-rated dementia drama A Hundred Flowers, the live-action directorial debut of anime producer Genki Kawamura (Your Name, Belle).
MISSING (SHINZÔ KATAYAMA, 2021)
This serial killer thriller concerns a debt-ridden widower who seeks the bounty of a wanted criminal. After he ends up disappearing himself, his daughter is left to track him down with the help of a teacher and a classmate. It’s a narrative full of twists and turns, as well as elements of humour and horror.
Director Shinzô Katayama already made a splash with his debut feature Siblings of the Cape, but he’s also notable for his work as an assistant director on the Bong Joon-ho (Parasite) film Mother in 2009. Incidentally, Missing – which is actually a Japanese-Korean co-production – features a few nods to Memories of Murder, Bong’s 2003 breakthrough crime classic.
Ann Hui is an institution in Hong Kong cinema. A fiercely independent proponent within the Hong Kong New Wave of the 80s, her accolades include a Berlin Jury Prize, three Golden Horse Best Director prizes, and six Hong Kong Film Awards Best Director prizes (plus Best Picture wins for 1995’s Summer Snow and 1999’s Ordinary Heroes). In 2020, the Venice Film Festival awarded Hui a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement – the same year that Love After Love premiered at the esteemed event.
The erotic romantic drama follows a young girl who travels from Shanghai to Hong Kong shortly before the Second World War in search of education; instead, she ends up working as a seductress to rich and powerful men.
The film is frankly overflowing with talent: decorated cinematographer Christopher Doyle (In The Mood For Love) is behind the camera; Oscar and BAFTA-winning Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto (Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence; The Revenant) pens the score, and Oscar-winning costume designer Emi Wada (Ran; House of Flying Daggers), who died last year, was responsible for the costume and make-up design. All three were nominated for Hong Kong Film Awards this year alongside Art Director Zhou Hai, with Sakamoto taking home the award for Best Original Score.