New York Asian Film Festival Review: Barbarian Invasion

Written by Taylor Baker


“Are we going to make a Hong Sang-soo film?” Moon played by Chui Mai Tan asks Pete Teo’s Roger Woo. The intended director and writer of her next film, and seemingly her long time collaborator, within the films world. It’s a fun remark that sets boundaries on time, the films reality, and it’s communicative self awareness to us–it’s audience. Chui Mai Tan is the director of the actual film we’re watching after all, and her inflection and finger prints add that little bit of styled delight when they’re clear and present.

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After an extended discussion deciding exactly what type of film Woo and Moon will make together–they land on a Bourne Identity riff–this requires Moon to begin martial arts training for preparation. It appears Woo may have had this film in mind all along. He asks Moon to imagine the public reaction to a film where she does all her own action scenes with no body double. This would do wonders for her image following a very public divorce from Julliard famed actor and father to her son. She nods her head, never quite agreeing to do it so much as ending up there. Meanwhile Moon is also looking after her son, which Woo’s assistant begins to take the task of during Moon’s busy days while training at the martial arts academy.

Eventually Moon does graduate after grueling and repetitive training for months. She then comes to a loggerhead with Woo on financing the film she’s been training so hard for, and when he threatens to accept 30 million dollars in budget to cast the role differently she decides to go home. On her way to pick up her son and fly home he’s kidnapped, and though Moon puts up a commendable chase she’s on foot and the kidnapper has a car.

What unfolds next would be a bit too overt spoiler to include here. Suffice to say that Barbarian Invasion is a unique film, one of transitions, in life, in self worth, in storytelling, in cinema, and in relationships. While it’s first half is undeniably stronger than it’s second, there are moments in the latter part of the film that are not only engrossing but moving. It leans a bit to far into trying to be intricate, but a slight dip in quality is well worth the artistic risks that brought us the whole piece. It’s one of the most refreshing films I’ve seen on the festival circuits this year and one with broad enough appeal that I think most cinephiles will enjoy. I know I did.

Barbarian Invasion Trailer

Barbarian Invasion will premiere at the New York Asian Film Festival on August 21st. You can buy a ticket to it here.

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