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Asia Extreme: Thirteen Cool Movies for a Hot August


Scene from TRIAD ELECTION

Just in time for the dog days of summer, Sundance Channel is gearing up to launch the sixth season of Asia Extreme, which features thirteen incredibly cool films to dive into beginning August 1 free on demand. Just as past seasons brought an eclectic mix of cutting edge Asian cinema from visionary directors breathing new life into (and in some cases subverting) such genres as horror (ONE MISSED CALL), thriller (A BITTERSWEET LIFE), action (SAVE THE GREEN PLANET), or science-fiction (NATURAL CITY), so too does the new lineup offer fresh takes on familiar forms.

Fans of gangster dramas and good old fashioned policiers will have much to look forward to, owing to the inclusion of two films from auteur Johnnie To, without question the hardest working man in Hong Kong cinema. His ELECTION, and its sequel, TRIAD ELECTION offer a truly unique spin on the overplayed Triad genre, giving us not a ballet of bullets, but rather an opera of intrigue, power-plays and double and triple crosses set during the election of a new Triad boss. These are dark, brooding stories that make more than a passing reference to Coppola’s Godfather saga, and are as equally compelling and complex.

South Korea’s BLOODY TIES (Ho Choi) and Hong Kong’s DIVERGENCE (Benny Chan) are both gritty but stylish cop thrillers that attempt to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by such recent smash hits as A BITTERSWEET LIFE and the Infernal Affairs trilogy. In BLOODY TIES, a low-life drug dealer reluctantly joins forces with an amoral cop to take down a drug lord, while DIVERGENCE is a slick, smart, multi-threaded narrative built around the unexpected link between a psychologically damaged cop, a lawyer with a guilty conscience, and a professional hit man who takes too much of an interest in his work.

Of course the genre most associated with Asia Extreme cinema is horror, and this season’s batch runs the gamut from the eerily psychological to the shockingly visceral. Both PREMONITION (Norio Tsurita) and DORM (Songyos Sugmakanan) add a heavy dose of genuine drama to their supernatural tales, going as just must for the heart as they are for the spine. While on the surface PREMONITION seems to be yet another bog-standard J-Horror flick (newspapers that mysteriously foretell of death and disaster), the film is also a surprisingly moving study of grief and loss. Thailand’s DORM, from newcomer Sugmakanan is a traditional ghost story wrapped around an emotional coming-of-age tale set in a strict boarding school.

For those looking for a bit (or rather, a lot) more blood, gore and torture, Lim Dae-wung’s BLOODY REUNION (whose original title is, amusingly enough, To Sir With Love) comes off like South Korea’s answer to 2003’s High Tension, with a touch of Friday the 13th thrown in for good measure. Home in the middle of nowhere? Check. Group of students getting picked off by unknown killer? Check. Clever, unforeseen twists that don’t seem like cheap contrivances? And how! This is a stylish and disturbing film that also features the creepiest rabbit mask since Donnie Darko.

Along with a few not-easily classifiable titles, such as the effects-heavy sci-fi/fantasy/horror/sword and sorcery near-epic DORORO (Akihiko Shiota), or the Andy Lau grifter-with- a-karmic-conscience drama WORLD WITHOUT THIEVES (Xiaogang Feng), this season also sees the return of Park Chan-wook’s revenge masterpiece OLDBOY, and the darkly comic 6IXTYNIN9 from Pen-Ek Ratanaruang. Check out the revamped Asia Extreme site as well as the complete Video on Demand schedule for further info. And watch SUNfiltered for in-depth features on a selection of these films, their directors and more in the coming weeks.