By Jianne Soriano
July 09, 2021
The Cannes Film Festival boasts a stunning line-up with a number of remarkable Asian films taking the spotlight
After being cancelled last year due to the pandemic, the prestigious Cannes Film Festival makes a stunning return this year and puts the spotlight on Asian movies. Notable highlights include Apichatpong Weerasethakul, making his return to the festival and Hong Sang-soo, a frequent Cannes presence, makes his 11th entry into the festival.
Meanwhile, Wei Shujun’s movie is finally screening this year after last year’s cancellation, Abdullah Mohammad Saad’s film makes history as the first Bangladeshi movie to be selected for the festival while China boasts a number of entries this year.
Want to know which Asian movies you should put on your radar? Read on to find out more.
Memoria is the first Thai film in 11 years to be part of the Cannes line-up. Helmed by renowned Thai director, Apichatpong Weerasethakul who previously graced the Cannes stage when he won the prestigious Palme d’Or for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives in 2010.
His latest film is set in Bogota, Colombia and stars Tilda Swinton as Jessica, a woman from Scotland who’s travelling around the country. After being startled by a loud sound, she goes out of her way to find where the source came from. Memoria is an international co-production that includes over 10 production companies from Colombia, Thailand, China and more. The film marks the third time Weerasethakul is invited to Cannes after his 2015 film Cemetery of Splendour.
Ryusuke Hamaguchi has been a director steadily making in people’s list of “directors to watch out for”, following Asako I & II, which competed for the Palme d’Or in 2018. Wife of Spy also won the Silver Lion at the Venice International Film Festival and the Japanese director is trying his hand at adapting Haruki Murami’s short story of the same name in Drive My Car.
The three-hour-long movie adaptation follows Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), an ageing, widowed actor who needs a chauffeur. He asks his go-to mechanic for a recommendation and much to his surprise, recommends a 20-year-old girl to be his driver. Their first impressions weren’t pleasant but a special relationship develops between the two.
Mamoru Hosada is not a new name if you’re an anime fan but he’s often overshadowed by his peers. His latest animated feature, Belle marks his return to Cannes after Mirai in 2018. It’s also his first entry in the official selection. Belle is the third animation movie this year, in addition to Where is Anne Frank and The Summit of the Gods.
Belle is about an insecure teenager, Suzu who lives with her father in a small town near the mountains—in the real world. In the virtual world called U, Suzu lives as Belle, a musical icon that’s loved by more than five billion people. Hosada said that Belle is “the film that I’ve always dreamt to create” in an interview with Deadline.
A familiar face returns to Cannes. Hong Sang-soo makes his 11th entry in the film festival with his 26th movie, In Front Of Your Face. The new movie is about a former actress who harbours a secret. She returns to Seoul to live with her sister. There, she meets a director in the hope of returning to acting.
The veteran Korean auteur is one of the 10 filmmakers featured in the Cannes Premieres section, a newly created category decided to new films by established directors. Previously, Hong’s Hahaha took home the Prix Un Certain Regard in 2019.
See also: 10 Most Expensive Korean Dramas To Make
Cannes jury member Song Kang-ho’s movie, Emergency Declaration is one of the Out of Competition entries this year. The diaster-action film of the talented filmmaker boasts a star-studded cast led by Song, Jeon Do-yeon (who won Best Actress at Cannes for Secret Sunshine) and Lee Byung-hun (who has starred in various Hollywood movies).
Emergency Declaration is based on a real aviation disaster when an aeroplane had to do unconditional landing before reaching its destination when an unprecedented error happens mid-flight. The movie may raise some eyebrows as when compared to the usual slew of art-house movies in the festival, this one is more for those looking for an extra thrill.
Ripples of Life is the third Cannes appearance for Chinese director, Wei Shujun following his debut movie, Striding Into The Wind, which was in the official selection last year though it didn’t officially screen since the festival was cancelled due to the pandemic.
This Directors’ Fortnight entry centres around a film crew who’s shooting a movie in the remote town of Yongan. The production is hindered by an endless conflict between the director and writer. The star, who brought the crew to her remote hometown, tries to rediscover the place she grew up.
Streetwise is also known as Gaey Wa’r is Na Jiazuo’s debut feature, following a series of short films. Set in the early 200s, the film looks at the lives and struggles of young people in China who chose to stay in the less developed cities of the country. Putting the focus on 21-year-old Dongzi, who in order to pay off his father’s medical bills, becomes the errand boy of a debt collector.
Director Na Jiazuo said of the film, “Life on the streets may be tough. But it can also be a springboard to the universe”. The movie is also expected to contrast cityscapes with lush green hills and rivers.
I’m So Sorry by multimedia artist Zhao Liang is a powerful documentary that shows the risks of nuclear power. Zhao already has a portfolio of award-winning documentaries such as Behemoth and Crime and Punishment while Petition appeared at Cannes 12 years ago.
The documentary will be part of Cannes’ Cinema for the Climate, a special section of films that has an environmental theme. This also marks Zhao’s first international project as we see him visiting nuclear power stations in Japan, Ukraine, Germany and many others.
A cross-production movie between Austria, France, Belgium and Taiwan, Moneyboys is writer-director, C.B. Yi’s first feature film. It follows Fei (Kai Ko) who makes a living as a “Moneyboy” or a street hustler, in order to support his family. He soon realises that his family will accept his money—even if gained through illegal means—but not his homosexuality. He forms a bond with Long and finds a new life until his first love, Xiaolai appears and brings up the demons of his past.
For his debut film, Yi joined forces with cinematographer Jean-Louis Vialard who worked on Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady (2004). Moneyboys is part of the Un Certain Regard section of the festival.
Another debut feature that will grace the Cannes stage this year is Wen Shipei’s Are You Lonesome Tonight. This mesmerising thriller revolves around Xueming, who flees the scene when his car hits a pedestrian. Unable to shake away the feelings of guilt, he decides to meet the dead man’s wife, Mr Liang.
But when the body is discovered, it’s covered in bullets so the detective in charge becomes obsessed with the case. The three of them become entangled in a web of memories and lies while searching for the truth.
Two-time Academy Award-winning director Asghar Farhadi returns to Cannes with A Hero. The critically acclaimed Iranian director’s work has been praised for its intimate portrayal of family conflicts and A Hero follows this legacy. The movie is about Rahim, a man in prison because he wasn’t able to pay a debt. During his two-day leave, he tries to convince his creditor to withdraw the complaint. But things didn’t go as Rahim had hoped.
Farhadi’s 2016 film, The Salesman took home the Palme d’Or and Best Screenplay. He’s one of the few directors worldwide to have won Best Foreign Language Film (now renamed to Best International Film) twice—for A Separation (2011) and The Salesman.
See also: Oscars 2021: 7 Asians That Made History
Panah Panahi, the son of renowned Iranian director Jafar Panahi—a frequent presence at Cannes—and his debut feature, Hit The Road is part of Cannes Directors’ Fortnight line-up. The Farsi-language movie is about an Iranian family who’s preparing to go their separate ways.
They go on a road trip across a rugged landscape: the father with his broken leg, the mother trying to hold back tears and the kid singing but everyone fussing over their sick dog. Among all the chaos, the mysterious older brother is quiet. Jafar Panahi’s anthology film The Year of the Everlasting Storm, which he directed a part of, will also be part of this year’s line-up.
This 70-minute documentary marks Rahul Jain’s Cannes debut as part of the Cinema for Climate section. Invisible Demons looks at the impact of climate change, global warming and pollution on the lives of New Delhi residents. The movie was researched and written within 100 days in 2018 and was also shot over 100 days the following year.
This Cannes debut also marks the first time that the rising filmmaker is part of an international festival. He’s definitely one to keep an eye out for.
See also: Tatler Guide To Combating Climate Change
Rehana Maryam Noor is already making history—it’s the first film from Bangladesh to be part of the prestigious film festival. A psychological thriller, it follows Rehana (Azmeri Haque Badhon), an assistant professor in a medical school. She tries to balance work and life as a single parent while looking after her brother and sick mother. She later learns that a professor assaulted one of the students in her university and tries to find justice.
Director Abdullah Mohammad Saad’s powerful movie depicts how sexism is rife and blatant in the medical university Rehana works at.