Zinda Bhaag

Zinda Bhaag“Get out if you Can” is both the translation of the Zinda Bhaag and the credo its characters live by. Pakistan’s first official Oscar entry in 50 years is this surprisingly realistic slice-of-life depiction of life in Lahore. Three friends Khaldi, Chitta and Tambi literally beg, borrow, and steal to get by in their everyday lives while they look westward for something more than mere existence. The potential cost of this dream:  Financial servitude, legal minefields, and very real emotional and physical danger.

Zinda Bhagg operates on multiple levels. It is a discourse on a crucial global topic, illegal immigration and human trafficking. Yet it is also a breath of fresh air with funky costumes, exaggerated yet marvelous acting, and sparkling comic dialogue. The film features remarkable performances by its non-professional actors, who were plucked from the obscurity of the Lahore streets. The actors’ own lives and personalities are reflected in the characters and the plot depicted in the film. Co-directors Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi love of South Asian films of 1960s through the 1980s is made manifest in their use of music in building poetic atmosphere and expressing unspeakable feelings.

Zinda Bhaag is the first official Oscar entry from Pakistan in over fifty years. Speaking of the nomination, a member from the Pakistani Academy Selection Committee summed it up best, “Zinda Bhaag is funny, natural, hip, and casually audacious-A real step forward for contemporary Pakistani Cinema and a pleasure to watch.”

Why Don’t You Play In Hell?

Why Don't You Play in Hell

The ambitious, yet wildly untalented, amateur film-making crew known as The F**k Bombers might finally get their big break when they stumble into filming a gang war between rival Yakuza factions that’s been brewing for a decade. Gang boss Muto has suffered the dual humiliation of witnessing his wife’s imprisonment and seeing his princess daughter’s famous toothpaste commercial taken off the air. He’ll do anything to make his daughter a star and reunite with his wife, even if it means taking on the entire Kitagawa clan himself and hiring the F**k Bombers to finally make Mitsuko a leading lady. However, Mitsuko has other plans and aspirations to move beyond the life of a melodrama star into more explosive roles.

This action-packed romp is directed with manic energy as a love letter to filmmaking by cult favorite Sion Sono (Suicide Club, Love Exposure, Cold Fish). It’ll leave you gasping for air and falling in love with cinema all over again.


UnforgivenJubei Kamata (Ken Watanabe) brings swords to a gunfight as an aging samurai in this highly anticipated Japanese adaptation of Clint Eastwood’s 1992 Best Picture Winner Unforgiven. Living as a struggling farmer and widowed father in post-war Hokkaido, a visit from an old companion named Kingo (Akira Emoto) opens up an opportunity for Jubei to provide for his children. But in order to claim the reward secure a bright future for his children Jubei must confront personal demons from his own dark past.

After ten years in hiding, assassin Jubei’s ventures into a world he no longer knows and that has forgotten him. His reputation as “The Killer” no longer precedes him. Along their journey Goro (Yuya Yagira), a hotheaded young bounty hunter joins Jubei and Kamata, but tensions between generations threaten to derail the trio’s task before it has even begun. Their quest for justice and riches is further endangered by a sadistic sheriff (Koichi Sato). With danger around every corner and an enemy always waiting in the shadows, Jubei’s attempt at redemption for his violent past grows more difficult with each passing day, and time runs short when sheriff Oishi begins to flex his muscles.

While Hollywood is known for rebooting successful Japanese films (Infernal Affairs as The Departed, Seven Samurai as The Magnificent Seven, Ringu), director Lee Sang-il pulls a reversal by transporting Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven from Wyoming to the uncharted Northern area of Japan. The disgraced post-war cowboy is transposed to a disgraced post-war samurai.  The rich cast of characters and multitude of bravura performances in Lee Sang-il’s are reminiscent of the 1992 Western that was beloved by audiences in America. Still, to call the 2013 update of Unforgiven a simple remake would be unjust. Watanabe and Sang-il come together for a dramatic collaboration that builds towards an explosive final act.

Trap Street

Trap street

To call Trap Street a simple thriller is a disservice to a daring film that pulls together romance, mystery, drama, and faithful slice-of-life vignettes into an ingenious genre pastiche. Director Vivian Qu’s debut is superb. Li Quiming (Lu Yulai) is a young, impressionable teenager working for a digital mapping and surveying company. He has an auspicious encounter with the beautiful and fashionable Guan Lifen (He Wenchao). Initially disinterested, Guan eventually warms to the young man’s attempts to woo her with expensive gifts and thoughtful gestures.

During his initial attempts to reach out to Guan, Li tries to contact her at Laboratory 23 on Forest Lane, where she is employed. However the street is unable to be located by any of his firm’s mapping software. He asks his more experienced coworker for an explanation, but is given a mysterious, vague non-answer.  Soon Li digs deeper into the question of Guan’s employers and her job as a way to find her. Just as he begins to grow close to the answers, Li inexplicably finds himself in dire circumstances; he has become involved in matters far above his pay grade. For Li, things look bleak and go from bad to worse.  Is it too late to hope for a happy ending?

By definition, a “trap street” is a tool used by cartographers to pinpoint thieves infringing on their copyrights. While it is true that this understanding of the term is utilized in the film, more sinister implications begin to arise as Li becomes unwittingly tangled in the web of lies and deceit. What begins as a simple story of boy-meets-girl, Trap Street takes us into a rabbit hole. By the end of the film the façade obscuring Li’s understanding slowly begins to crumble. Sharp digital camerawork and a film noir aesthetic lend credence to the edgy political privacy issues in contemporary China explored in the film. Despite its deceptively lighthearted tone at times, Trap Street will not easily let viewers go after the final frame fades out.

Touch Of The Light

Touch of the LightTouch of the Light is based on a remarkable true story. Born visually impaired, Siang is a talented real-life pianist who has been accepted by a prestigious art college. Leaving his hometown for the first time, Siang arrives in Taipei to attend school. Although he lives in the dark, his heart is sensitive to the world around him. Siang instinctually grasps the deepest and subtlest emotions of those around him. For his own inner life, he expresses his passion, sorrow and dreams through his music- and its irresistible pull is felt by all of his audiences. Unlike his fellow students, Siang refuses to participate in any type of music competition. He knows how heartbreaking it is when people whisper that his success is due to judges’ sympathy.

Jie is a beautiful young girl who dreams of becoming a dancer. But the truth hurts. She works at a teashop to make a living because her family is broke and her mom is a shopaholic. Even worse, her boyfriend, a professional dancer, cares little about her and constantly goes out with other girls. Jie dreams of returning to dance, the only way in which she can live authentically. When Jie meets Siang, he becomes her sunshine and she becomes his eyes. On the journey towards dream, they find each other. Whether they succeed or not, they learn that their courage to try may be more valuable than their innate talents.

Based on blind pianist Huang Yu-Siang’s true story, this beautiful, life affirming film earned both commercial and critical success in Taiwan, as well as winning audience awards in Taipei and Busan film festivals. Impeccable performances are given throughout, especially by Huang Yu-Siang who stars himself in the film. Throughout, Siang’s soaring music is a reminder that courage and perseverance are indispensible to manifesting one’s dreams.