New York Asian Film Festival Review: Barbarian Invasion

Written by Taylor Baker

75/100

“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.

New York Asian Film Festival Review: Escape from Mogadishu

Written by Taylor Baker

55/100

We’ve grown accustomed to a certain type of spectacle propaganda film coming out of East and Southeast Asia in the last 10-15 years. Slowly the ante for such films from China has increased alongside it’s budgets. Films like The Wandering Earth and Operation Red Sea are reminiscent of Reagan-era Hollywood, big brash unadulterated wins for the home (country)team. South Korean Cinema has seemingly taken a different course. With recent Oscar wins for Bong Joon-ho, the international acclaim of Park Chan-wook, and perennial darling Hong Sang-soo the artisans the world best knows the country’s output for couldn’t seem further away from the macho brashness of the Chinese Tentpoles mentioned above. Ryoo Seung-wan, though less publicized than the three mentioned above, is nevertheless making distinctly South Korean films. His latest effort entitled Escape from Mogadishu is a spin on the classic propaganda flick, and therein lies it’s charm.

We begin Escape from Mogadishu with South Korea fighting for recognition at the U.N., which means no continent is as important as Africa. With the most countries per continent in the U.N. out of all the regions in the world. The film quickly settles into Somalia’s Capital, Mogadishu. Where Kim Yoon-seok’s South Korean ambassador is attempting to parlay a meeting with the President of Somalia and request he vote in favor of ratifying the nation to the U.N.. North Korea seemingly has other plans, after running the ambassador and his team off the road, they steal the gifts for the president, and shoot out the vehicle they were driving. Forcing the band of South Koreans to move forward on foot. When they finally arrive, out of breath, they’ve not only missed their meeting by fifteen minutes, but Heo Joon-ho’s North Korean Ambassador is being ushered along the upper halls to meet with the President. 

New York Asian Film Festival 2021

Now it would have been easy and crowd pleasing to lean into the idea of North Korea being the villains, and the deeper wells of “Politics by any means necessary.” Instead Writer/Director Ryoo Seung-wan eschews this convention in favor of a story of compassion and teamwork. Eventually Somalia begins to fall to rebels. They are demanding fairness and compassion, things easy to get behind, but they’re asking from behind guns shooting tons of heated lead, something that makes it a bit less easy to get behind. Both the North Koreans and South Koreans are stuck in Mogadishu with seemingly no way out. After an incursion from the aforementioned rebels into the North Korean Embassy, the North Koreans are forced to run for lives, and because the streets are filled with gun-toting rebels they won’t last long. After much deliberation they beg the South Koreans to hide in their embassy, after equal deliberation by the South Koreans they agree to allow them sanctuary inside their walls. The deciding factor seems to be the volume of women and children accompanying the men.

Now a lot of different things happen after this point in the film. Personal security for the South Korean Embassy is lost, members from both Korea’s fight, doors are affixed to cars for armor, there’s a lengthy car shootout sequence, and legions of CG dogs roam the streets. What I’m trying to say is it gets messy. But there’s a heart underneath the film, where rather than point the finger and attack North Korea Ryoo opts instead to show grace, kindness, and compassion. This seemingly by the book spectacle propaganda film is swapped instead for a larger than life film of individual reconciliation, trust, and understanding. It’s not a great film for the conventional reasons we’ve come to expect from cinema, it’s a mindful engagement from a nation that is neighbors and not too distant cousins with one of the saddest totalitarian regimes committing human rights atrocities today. And instead of condemning them, Ryoo holds out his hand.

Escape from Mogadishu Trailer

Escape from Mogadishu is screening as part of the New York Asian Film Festival and is now available in limited theatrical release with more locations to follow.

Episode 107: Most Anticipated Films of 2021

“In contradiction and paradox, you can find truth.”

Denis Villeneuve

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

On Episode 107 of Drink in the Movies Michael and Taylor discuss their Most Anticipated Films of 2021.

Forgot what the title of a film was that you might want to see too? Don’t worry you can view the links below for a full list of the titles discussed on Letterboxd.

Michael’s List on Letterboxd | Taylor’s List on Letterboxd

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Episode 76: Best of 2020 So Far

“When I finish a film, I feel like I have overcome a certain hurdle. It’s really good for me as a human being, and I hope that for some people, my films will do the same thing.”

Hong Sang-soo

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on the Podcast we discuss our 10 favorite films of 2020 so far, as well as hand out show awards for each of our Wounded Soldiers of the year, The Squanderies, Top Ensembles, Top Doc, Top 3 OST’s, Favorite Actor and Actress(Lead and Supporting), Top 3 Directorial Debuts, 3 Favorite Classic Discovery, and our Top Technically Beautiful Film.

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Episode 75: Da 5 Bloods / Babyteeth / Hill of Freedom

“Before shooting I try to observe as much as I can. I don’t want to work with my strong intention, because if you work with a strong intention I think what you do is you repeat what you’ve heard and what you’ve seen in the past. It’s not new. It’s not interesting. So what I try to do is observe and respond to what is given. What is given is more interesting than what I craft by my intentions. Intentions always dangerous for me, always stereotypical-not interesting at all. If I have to work in the line of intention, I will not work. It’s so boring. It would be like I’d be a construction worker, your whole design would be just like a railroad. I need something new, really unexpected things happen every day. Every day something new has to happen, that way I feel alive and want to work.”

Hong Sang-soo

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

On Episode 75 of the Podcast Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of: Palm Springs & Bill & Ted Face the Music and the Titles: Da 5 Bloods, Babyteeth, and Hill of Freedom.

Streaming links for titles this episode

Da 5 Bloods on Netflix

Babyteeth on Hulu

Hill of Freedom is currently available to rent from Grasshopper Films.

Drink in the Movies would like to thank PODGO for sponsoring this episode. You can explore sponsorship opportunities and start monetizing your podcast by signing up for an account here: https://podgo.co/apply If you do please let them know we sent you, it helps us out too!