Over just four days, Joey Leung hopes to dramatically change your perception of Asian cinema. With his specially selected program of 13 films from all over the Far East, Leung’s Terracotta Festival is an ambitious attempt at breaking the stereotype that Asian films are all just about extreme horror, guns and spooky ghosts.
One recognisable name in Terracotta’s program is Oxide Pang – the Hong Kong director responsible for The Eye (2002). But the film of his that is being screened isn’t yet another sequel to that notorious horror franchise. The Detective (2007) is a much more restrained film about a young gumshoe searching for a missing girl in Bangkok’s Chinatown and shows his strength as a director without having to rely on flashy visuals.
Similarly, Johnnie To is best known for his crime thrillers but Terracotta will give audiences the chance to see the director working on a different level in the light-hearted 60s-influenced crime caper Sparrow (2008): ‘Everyone keeps saying the end is like Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)’, says Leung, ‘It didn’t do well in Hong Kong but film fans can appreciate the stylistic and artistic picture he’s trying to paint. That’s the point of a festival – to unearth films that might not be commercial.’
As well as art-house ponderings – also showing are Kim Ki-duk’s surreal Dream (2008) from Korea and Taiwan’s Keeping Watch (2007) about the strange reconnection of two childhood friends – Leung is making sure that action fans are also provided for in his intriguing cross-section. The festival is set to open with a bang thanks to Korea’s heist thriller Eye for an Eye (2008), but Legendary Assassins (2008) should be the most entertaining film on offer: ‘Jacky Wu’s first film is a throwback to 80s Hong Kong B-movie action. Li Chung Chi from Jackie Chan’s stunt team co-directs.’
The Terracotta Festival will provide the one and only opportunity to see these films in the UK. In the case of High Kick Girl (2009) – the debut of real-life teenage karate champion Rina Takeda – it’s even showing before its release in Japan. ‘Terracotta is a big push for Asian titles’, Leung explains. ‘We’re getting together with distributors such as Manga and Third Window so we can pool our resources and target the market in one go – a shot in the arm to get Asian film to the forefront of people’s minds.’
Leung’s own Terracotta Distribution will release Singing Chen’s God Man Dog (2008), a drama examining the changing social classes of Taiwanese society. A much different, and much weirder, social statement can be seen in Malaysia’s Zombies from Banana Village (2007): a comedic insight into the country’s village life, ‘it has political overtones about Malaysia and it’s giving an insight into Islamic life and its strict hierarchies’.
Other comedies such as Thailand’s Me… Myself (2007) and Japan’s caper After School (2008) are also in the mix alongside the animé update Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (2008) and kick-boxing actioner Muay Thai Chaiya (2007). As Leung puts it, ‘I’m trying to tread a line between being commercial and putting on an event I’d like to go to’. Terracotta looks set to be a festival where film fans of all kinds will find something to enjoy.