Editorials, Events, Festivals, News, Premieres, Releases, Screenings, Soapbox, UK

So that was 2012…?

The bit where we take a look back at the year, and what’s coming up next year…

I don’t know about you, but this year has seemed like something of a whirlwind, professionally and personally; no sooner than had I taken the Christmas tree down, I’ve been putting it up again. At least, that’s how it felt…

This is the point where we attempt to take a breath and try taking a look back on everything that’s happened these last 12 months. Often that’s led to gargantuan, sprawling editorials and awards, but this year I’m going to take it a little easier. (Well… I’ll try!)

It has, of course, been a wonderful year for Asian film fans in the UK; with great festivals like the London Korean Film Festival, China Image (which had been running for 4 years but we’d only just noticed!) and Terracotta joined by HK15, an impromptu festival celebrating 15 years since the handover of Hong Kong back to China, and, of course, the monthly Year Of The 12 Directors event, organised by the KCCUK.

I’ve been given a great opportunity to chat to many great directors this year, whether as part of the group interviews for the 12 Directors events above, talking to the lovely Roger Lee, (Andrew) Fung Chih Chiang and Tsang Tsui-Shan, or chatting with Denden, Satoshi Miki and Fuse Eri, Lee Myung-se, or that 10 minutes we had with Gareth Evans. Though we sadly missed out on the Jackie Chan email interview, and the chance of speaking to Lee Byung-hun in person.

It’s also been a great year for easternKicks.com. We celebrated our tenth year online, something I’m incredibly proud of. I’m prouder yet that several more contributors have joined me, both regular and occasional. Thank you so all much for being part of easternKicks! We’ve also made firm new friends – some of whom we’d crossed paths with before – as part fellow interviewers on those group interviews.

So come on, I hear you shouting, just get on with it man! So here goes…

The picks of the year…

Five favourite films

1. A Letter To Momo

Undoubtedly the one I’d really mark as ‘something special’, Hiroyuki Okiura’s first directorial effort since Jin-Roh is a magical film easily on a par with Studio Ghibli’s finest. (Even if the likelihood of it being released in the UK is scarce –apparently studio Production I.G. are asking too much for it, and distributors think – quite rightly – that they won’t be able to sell it to Anime fans. Here’s an idea – don’t just target them!?) More…

2. Lethal Hostage

There was no getting around the anticipation. Sure, I had high expectations for Cheng Er’s dark thriller, but nothing prepared me for what I got; a clever, bluntly poetic series of overlapping vignettes starring the superb Sun Honglei. This really needs a UK release. More…

3. Key Of Life

Maybe it was the tireless support of Third Window Films, or perhaps just the lack of too many distracting, low-budget ‘splatterpunk’ horrors, but this felt like a really solid year for Japanese film in the UK. Of all the great movies around, it was Kenji Uchida’s clever but very fun life swap comedy that really caught our eye. With sidesplittingly hilarious performances from Teruyuki Kagawa, Masato Sakai and Ryoko Hirosue, this was definitely one of the feel good films of the year. More…

4. The Raid

Welsh-born Gareth Evans was easy to target as an unlikely martial arts icon in 2012, but those of us who’d seen his first collaboration with lead Iko Uwais, 2009’s Merantau knew the pair had potential. Well, potential didn’t cover it! A stripped down, unpretentious plot, fantastic action choreography and many, many killings with doors… ahem – it doesn’t get any better than this. Are we looking forward to Berandal? You bet! More…

5. Masquerade

Not the best Korean film of the year, but it was hard to get past the spectacle surround the closing gala screening for the London Korean Film Festival. Lee Byung-hun, Ryoo Seung-yong, director Choo Chang-min and all Lee’s co-stars from Red 2. Sure, Masquerade was not the most imaginative or inventive film around by a long shot, but unlike some of the other South Korean crowd pleasers, such as The Thieves and Nameless Gangster, it made a great use of its cast and was well placed. And it must be said, seeing Lee play a mainly comic role was a real pleasure. More…

The one we really ought to mention:

Kotoko

Fellow pundit (and friend of easternKicks) Tom chose this as his film of the year, describing this as ‘frankly, the hardest film on this list to watch by a long way’. No kidding, Tom! (And his list also included Berberian Sound Studio.) Shinya Tsukamoto’s first feature since his English language take on his iconic Tetsuo series, Tetsuo: The Bullet Man was as raw, energetic and as powerful as his original Tetsuo (remastered and released on DVD and Blu-ray)  had been back in 1989. Not for everyone, co-writer and lead star Cocco’s performance was one of the best of the year. More…

Oh, and the one we already covered last year:

A Simple Life

I know, I know, but Ann Hui’s film based on Roger Lee’s experiences really was one of the best releases of the year! Watching it again in July as the opening of the HK15 Film Festival, I was struck by how fresh and modern Ann’s direction was, how poignant Deanie Ip and Andy Lau’s performances were. Well done to Arrow Films for putting faith in this release, I hope it’s a commitment that continues (though with releases of Hirozaku Kore-eda’s I Wish and Im Sang-soo’s The Taste Of Money next year, it looks like it might be…) More…

The year according to Fausto

I love how I hated 2012. I was so tired to hear people wondering how we’re all going to die or how Earth would have been destroyed, but then something happened, someone decided it was time to stop giving answers: Sogo Ishii came back from the dead together with Shiro Maeda and decided to ask something different, Isn’t anyone alive? Does anyone understand that it’s time to seek for something to share, even our last breath, without losing ourselves in useless questions? And that’s why I loved 2012, because it gave me that movie, it taught me how to break distances with Okita’s The Woodsman and the Rain, that fairy tales still exists with Ogigami’s Rent-a-cat, and the power of great acting with Choi Min-sik in Nameless Gangster. Isn’t anyone willing to keep lovin’ things instead of blabbering about how all of them will be erased from the universe? This year is now gone, but not as any other, because one single movie, Isn’t anyone alive? prepared me for another amazing year of asian releases.”

Favourite distributor

Masters Of Cinema

Though we love labels like Third Window and Terracotta and their dedication to Asian Cinema, we can hardly ignore all the great work by Eureka label Masters Of Cinema. Particularly with Japanese classics including Kinugasa’s Gate Of Hell, Ozu’s Floating Weeds, Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu Monogatari and Sansho Dayu.

(And if your interest goes a little wider than Asian film, then cracking editions of Dreyer’s Passion Of Joan Of Arc, Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, Wilder’s The Lost Weekend or even Cox’s Repo Man can only underline my point.)

Now… all we need is to get them interested in King Hu?

Favourite DVD/Blu-Ray release

Of course, you’d expect us to mention Third Window’s beautifully restored Tetsuo double-pack, but this year I think it has to go to…

Lady Snowblood

Beautifully restored as a double-film package with the sequel Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance. Perhaps a little light on extras, but it was a fab way to enjoy these cult movies that are (particularly in the case of the original) far better then they deserve to be. More…

The year according to ThingsFallApart

“In what has not been a golden year for Asian Cinema in my opinion, the actual gems have been few and far between. But what I can say is that I was very lucky this year to catch a few festival screenings, mostly of films that I have already seen, but one new screening stood out for me. I was determined to see Choi Dong-hoon’s The Thieves the moment I saw it was getting a reasonably big Leicester Square Premiere as part of The London Korean Film Festival.  The film itself was excellent, surpassing my hopes, as well as some rather middling reviews I had read of it (even if it had done amazingly Box Office numbers locally). I finally got to see Jeon Ji-hyun on the big screen, which was the priority, but even better was the fact the film was simply really good. Great action and seriously funny. What really made it was that experience us Western Asian Film fans can only rarely experience… a packed Cinema full of a mix of both Asian Film Fans and seriously interested ex-pats.  The whole night was just incredible fun, and will be my over-riding memory of a 2012 that so often failed to hit the heights for me.”

Doom and gloom?

Of course, though the year never did come to an end as prophesied by the Mayan, it’s been impossible to avoid that it’s been another risky year for distributors. Third Window suspended theatrical releases, and more recently Cine-Asia, part of the Showbox Media Group, being the latest distributor to face tough times as they go into administration – ironically as they released the highest grossing Chinese-made film of the year (albeit under a different title). Last years Sony Distribution warehouse fire is still having on knock-on effect, and rising costs for licensing, BBFC costs and bigger distribution labels starting to show an interest in the niche Asian market (such as Universal’s release of My Way) are only making it more difficult for plucky, smaller labels to survive.

But unlike the bigger names getting involved, companies like Terracotta and Third Window are dedicated to creating the best product they can, with great transfers and extras. And that’s the only way they can survive, by differentiating UK product from global releases. Sadly the digital download model seems to a step away from many, quite possibly due to all the extra complications and licensing issues, but let’s hope they get it sorted out – I believe it’s the best way to ensure their survival (even though I’d still rather have the DVD or Blu-Ray edition, but I’m rather old…)

We sincerely wish the best for all our friends in distributors around the UK for next year…

And so to 2013…

So that’s it, our rundown for 2012. Hell, there’s bound to be loads we’ve missed, so let us know in the comments section below what YOUR favourites were for last year.

Into next year, we’re already looking forward to next years’ Terracotta Far East Film Festival (now in June!), LKFF and everything in-between!

And for easternKicks, well, it’s already looking like it’s going to be another incredible year… and it all starts with a screening we’ll be guest-presenting on 21 January at the Roxy Bar and Screen, London. To get involved, join the Meetup group. Hope to see you all there! :)

About the author

Andy H
Founder of easternKicks.com, which he's been running since 2002. And it's all thanks to Monkey, Water Margin and those damn fantastic 80s Hong Kong action movies! Andy works as a graphic designer in London... More »
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One thought on “So that was 2012…?

  1. Pingback: A Letter To Momo to get UK cinema release! | easternkicks.com

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