The Asian Films Screening at the 80th Venice Film Festival

By: Heather Ngo
09/06/2023
en
Thumbnail courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia.

The 80th Venice International Film Festival is set to take place from August 30 to September 9, 2023. The prestigious film festival boasts a strong lineup of major studio films, indie projects, and short films to be showcased. This year, the only Asian film in the running for the official main competition of the festival, Venezia 80, is director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Evil Does Not Exist (2023).

Among the list of screenings, nonetheless, there is a large Asian presence, with many films being featured hailing from various Asian countries. The increased attention towards Asian cinema makes sense due to the recent multiple successes of the Asian community in the industry with films like, Parasite (2019), Drive My Car (2021), or Academy Award-winning actress Michelle Yeoh. Moreover, Hong Kong actor Tony Leung is receiving the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement award, the highest honor in cinema for artists. Check out the wide variety of films from Asia that will be screening in the days to come, below.

Aku Wa Sonzai Shinai (Evil Does Not Exist) (2023) 

  • Competing in: Venezia 80 
  • Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi 
  • Cast: Hitoshi Omika, Ryo Nishikawa, Ryuji Kosaka, Ayaka Shibutani, Hazuki Kikuchi, Hiroyuki Miura
  • Country: Japan 

Director Hamaguchi’s vision of nature is beautifully woven together with the musical score of composer Eiko Ishibashi. The movie centers on life in Mizubiki village, which for Takumi and his daughter Hana may be a simple way of living but it’s all anyone in this small country town has ever known. Their mundane lives are quickly interrupted with rumors spreading of a fancy glamping site being built in their area as a means of “escape” for the fast paced city folks of Tokyo. The villagers begin to worry that this new construction project may bring more harm than good, as it poses a threat to their ecosystem and daily lives. 

Hokage (Shadow of Fire) (2023)

  • Competing in: Orizzonti 
  • Director: Shinya Tsukamoto 
  • Cast: Shuri, Oga Tsukao, Hiroki Kono, Mirai Moriyama
  • Country: Japan 

Focused on the effects of post World War II and how the black market operates around it, this historical drama follows three central characters who have lost everything to the war: a woman who has resorted to selling her body in order to survive, a young orphan child who steals, and a soldier who suffers from PTSD. The unlikely trio end up living together, but their tranquil lifestyle is quickly thwarted by horrifying battles of the mind, and the other residents of their town who also struggle to recover.  

Sèr Sèr Salhi (City of Wind) (2023) 

  • Competing in: Orizzonti
  • Director: Lkhagvadulam Purev-Ochir
  • Cast: Tergel Bold-Erdene, Nomin-Erdene Ariunbyamba, Bulgan Chuluunbat, Ganzorig Tsetsgee, Tsend-Ayush Nyamsuren
  • Country: France, Mongolia, Portugal, Netherlands, Germany, Qatar

Set in Mongolia, Ze is a teenaged shaman who juggles the everyday hardships of school and aids those in his community through his spirituality. Although he’s at the top of his class, the uncertain future has him contemplating his life. The timid 17-year-old’s world begins to change when he meets Maralaa. He begins a journey of self-discovery both physically and emotionally. 

Duan Pian Gushi (Short Story) (2023) 

  • Competing in: Orizzonti (Shorts) 
  • Director: Wu Lang
  • Cast: Huang Jue, Li Meng 
  • Country: China

This short film follows actor Huang Jue’s character who is haunted by dreams of his wife, played by actress Li Meng leaving him. He makes several desperate attempts at saving their failing marriage, but when he wakes up, the line between reality and dreams blur together. He begins to question whether his consciousness is warning him of his reality or he’s still simply dreaming. Director Wu further explains of the universal feeling he wanted to convey through this film; “Sometimes, life feels like a dream. We’re aware that we’re dreaming, but we don’t want to wake up.” 

Cross My Heart and Hope to Die (2023)

  • Competing in: Orizzonti (Shorts) 
  • Director: Sam Manacsa
  • Cast:Jorrybell Agoto, Ann Janielle Candelaria, Vincent Pajara, Rexon Anyayahan, Carla Zarcal
  • Country: Philippines 

The movie explores the life of Mila played by Jorrybell Agoto, a woman who has had her fair share of struggles from late paychecks and depression. Her only comfort in her day-to-day life comes from the constant phone calls of her “lover.” From fear of her grasp slipping on this glimmer of happiness, she begins to take desperate measures to hold onto anything that will give her hope. 

Stolen (2023)

  • Competing in: Orizzonti Extra 
  • Director: Karan Tejpal 
  • Cast: Abhishek Banerjee, Shubham, Mia Maelzer, Harish Khanna, Sahidur Rahaman
  • Country: India 

Raman Bansal, a photographer, witnesses the kidnapping of Jhumpa Mahato’s five-month-old baby as they are ripped from her hands. Raman’s older brother Guatam, who has come to pick him up, urges him not to get involved despite what he’s seen. Inspired by Jhumpa’s unwavering determination, Raman resolves to join her in finding the perpetrators, dragging along an unwilling Guatam to aid. The trio end up on a tumultuous, action-packed journey in their search. Director Karan especially notes that this film is to shed light on an ever growing problem; “In India, every ten minutes a child ‘disappears,’ with only a fortunate few ever being found.” 

Love is a Gun (Ai Shi Yi Ba Qiang) (2023)

  • Competing in: 38. Settimana Internazionale della Critica
  • Director: Lee Hong-chi 
  • Cast: Lee Hong-chi, Lin Ying Wei, Zheng Qing Yu, Lin Ke Ren, Lee Yu Yao, Edison Song
  • Country: Hong Kong, Taiwan

Sweet Potato is a small business owner who now lives a modest life after serving time in prison. Unfortunately, his demons come back to haunt him with the reappearance of his mother who left all her debts for him to pay, his old “boss,” and his childhood friend Maozi. Although Sweet Potato tries his best to leave his past behind, the constant presence of his unsavory visitors drags him back into the dark underbelly of society he thought he’d finally escaped. 

Wu Yue Xue (Snow in Midsummer) (2023)

  • Competing in: Giornate degli Autori
  • Director: Chong Keat Aun 
  • Cast: Wan Fang, Pearlly Chua, Rexen Cheng, Pauline Tan, Peter Yu, Alvin Wong 
  • Country: Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore 

On May 13, 1969 Su-mei and her husband Ah Kooi attended a Cantonese opera at the Majestic Theatre, with their two children Ah Eng and Ah Yeok. In the middle of the show, a gruesome riot erupted due to post-election tensions. Su-mei and her daughter Ah Eng quickly took shelter, but her husband and son were killed in the chaos. In the aftermath, all of the victims who died mysteriously vanished as if the incident never happened. This begins the mother-daughter duo’s long search for their family’s bodies. 49 years pass before Ah Eng strikes a lead when she reads a news article about a cemetery dubbed “513” which is to be demolished soon.

Kanata no Uta (Following the Sound) (2023) 

  • Competing in: Giornate degli Autori
  • Director: Kyoshi Sugita
  • Cast: Ogawa An, Nakamura Yuko, Mashima Hidekazu 
  • Country: Japan 

Haru is a bookstore clerk who finds herself meddling with a young couple, Yukiko and Tsuyoshi, who have just broken up. Her desire to help them grows as she continues observing their emotional struggles. Haru blames herself for her mother’s suicide in middle school due to her lack of initiative, despite knowing her mother was depressed. Ever since, Haru has become determined to aid people through their feelings. Her relationship with each individual begins to blur as she works through her own emotions of grief for her late mother. 

Xue Bao (Snow Leopard) (2023) 

  • Out of Competition
  • Director: Pema Tseden 
  • Cast: Jinpa, Xiong Ziqi, Tseten Tashi, Losang Choepel, Genden Phuntsok, Kunde, Dang Haoyu, Jikba, Gatu Tashi, Dechen Yangdzom, Chungchen
  • Country: China

The late director Tseden’s final film before his passing questions morality and the cohabitation of wild animals and humans. One day, a snow leopard breaks into the home of a nomad father and son, killing nine sheep. The son, played by actor Ziqi Xiong, is furious, setting out to capture the creature with the intent to kill it. The father, played by Jinpa, however is at odds with the son and argues against this decision, believing they should release it. 

Ryuichi Sakamoto | OPUS (2023) 

  • Out of Competition 
  • Director: Neo Sora 
  • Cast: Ryuichi Sakamoto
  • Country: Japan 

This concert film honors the last live performance of Japanese pianist and maestro Ryuichi Sakamoto who passed away in early 2023, after a long, arduous battle with cancer. Given his declining health in the years leading up to his death, he could no longer perform live because of his weakened stamina. As a parting gift, he gathered his energy for a final performance spanning twenty beautiful songs that underscore his life as a musician. 

Want More ACT!ON content? Check out our coverage of Netflix’s 2023 TUDUM Event here!