26 April/4 May 2019, Udine – Teatro Nuovo and Cinema Centrale.

Guests of honour of the 21st edition: Chinese super diva Yao Chen and Hong Kong superstar Anthony Wong (Golden Mulberry for Outstanding Achievement Award).

If cinema is the mirror of its times, the Far East Film Festival is the mirror of today. And the 21st edition, which once again sets off along the Silk Road, opens on Friday the 26th of April with a world festival premiere which symbolises that perfectly.

Five years ago the sinking of the Sewol ferry marked a “before” and an “after” in the history of South Korea. Now, the powerful Birthday bravely ties together the threads of the tragedy, focusing on the pain of two parents who have lost their son and a nation which has lost more than 300 of its children. It tells us about the today that, despite everything, becomes tomorrow. Always.

With Birthday, produced by Lee Chang-dong (Poetry, Burning) and directed by the young Lee Jong-un, the FEFF pays tribute to that terrible human, political and social disaster whose wounds are so slow to heal: it had already done so in 2014, when the 16th edition of the FEFF was dedicated to the victims of the Sewol, and it does so again now in the name of the powerful bond that exists between Udine and Asia. A friendship built up over two decades and a long series of “new beginnings” that continue to represent – through lasting relationships and the generational changeover of filmmakers and viewers – the real meaning of the Festival.

Anybody remember the very first FEFF, back in 1999? Someone who certainly does is one of this year’s superstar guests, who accompanied Gordon Chan and Dante Lam’s legendary Beast Cops to Udine that year and who is now returning with two more films: his now-distant debut, Angie Chan’s 1985 My Name Ain’t Suzie, and the magnificent Still Human by Oliver Siu Kuen Chan. We are talking of course about Anthony Wong, the legendary Hong Kong superstar who will be collecting his Golden Mulberry for
Outstanding Achievement Award and joining other giants including Jackie Chan, Joe Hisaishi and Brigitte Lin in the Udine hall of fame.

And as well as this extraordinary Hong Kong superstar, there’ll be an extraordinary Chinese icon – the beautiful Yao Chen. Cinema diva (the media loves comparing her to Angelina Jolie) and all-round legend (80 million followers), this superb actress and tireless activist will be taking the stage at the FEFF to present Lue Yue’s social thriller Lost, Found (produced by Feng Xiaogang). A vivid reflection on civil rights and the condition of women in contemporary China with Yao Chen as its “politically” perfect protagonist: because let’s not forget that Time Magazine included her among the 100 most influential people in the world. And until Saturday the 4th of May, the world will be gathering in Udine’s “Giovanni da Udine” Teatro Nuovo.

76 films from 12 countries. 51 titles in competition – 14 debut films

76 titles (of which 51 in competition) from 12 countries, a retrospective, a monograph, a tribute to new independent Korean cinema, 2 “strange couples”, the world-premier of a restored film and more than 100 themed events organized in the heart of Udine: never mind headline-grabbing simplifications, this is the Silk Road we were talking about at the beginning. This is the immense itinerary of which, from an artistic and cultural perspective, the FEFF is the most important European outpost.

A bona fide “cinematic island” where cinema is not just celebrated – with 3 world premieres, 12 international premieres and 18 European premieres – but also looks to the future: this year, 15 projects have been chosen for Focus Asia, the Festival’s market, and 10 for Ties That Bind, the international Asia/Europe workshop.

Over 200 industry professionals from 36 countries are expected in Udine, and there’ll be an important innovation: the Co-Production Day scheduled for Wednesday the 1st of May. A huge round-table table that will bring together European and Asian filmmakers and producers to analyse and develop the 2018 Italy/China co-production agreement.

Films from today and films “from tomorrow”. Films that speak the language of current affairs, often taking their cue directly from the news, starting with the ensemble piece Ten Years (whose narrative axis moves from Hong Kong to Japan and Thailand) and the 14 debut films included in the line-up (and in competition for the White Mulberry, where they will be judged by three jurors: Giovanna Fulvi, programmer of the Toronto Film Festival, Freddy Bozzo, historical founder of BIFFF – the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival, and Mattie Do, the first and only female director from Laos, who is much loved by FEFF audiences). Films that sometimes investigate the same theme from completely different points of view, like the three wonderful ones tackling senility: Only The Cat Knows by Syoutarou Kobayasi, Romang by Lee Chang-Geun, and Heaven’s Waiting by Dan Villegas – one Japanese, one Korean, one Filipino. How does the perception of reality change from country to country?

And this fascinating game of “spot the difference” doesn’t end here, nor even with the long-awaited Korean remake of Italy’s own Perfetti Sconosciuti (i.e. J.Q. Lee’s Intimate Strangers): FEFF 21 has built a special segment around it, The Odd Couples, curated by mister Roger Garcia. Two pairs of cinematographic twins where the East faces off against its western “double” and vice versa (Angie Chan’s My Name Ain’t Suzie/ Richard Quine’s The World of Suzie Wong and Ringo Lam’s City On Fire/Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, a tribute from the Festival to our dear and recently deceased dear Hong Kong friend).

Another special segment is 100 Years of Korean Cinema: I Choose Evil – Lawbreakers Under the Military Dictatorship. A retrospective (8 films) and a monograph developed by the FEFF 21 with the support of the KOFIC (Korean Film Council) and the collaboration of the KOFA (Korean Film Archive) which, with concepts of “freedom” and “censorship” in mind, celebrates the centenary of Korean cinema.

If the contemporary Korean cinema selected for the Festival ranges from epic action (Kim Kwang-Sik’s The Great Battle) and police comedy (Lee Byeong-heon’s irresistible Extreme Job) to the year’s funniest zombies (Lee Min-jae’s The Odd Family), Japan too – which, with the coronation of Naruhito, is about to enter the New Era of Reiwa – will be bouncing between genres: from Mirai Konishi’s unmissable documentary Kampai! Sake Sisters, in Udine for its world premiere, to Seiji Tanaka’s surprising Melancholic (one of the 14 debut features we have already mentioned) and Tatsushi Omori’s Every Day a Good Day, which we can consider Kirin Kiki’s beautiful swansong.

China will be represented as always by a very strong line-up of titles (including Wen Muye’s Dying to Survive, which turns the spotlight on the market of drugs for terminally ill patients, and Zhang Wei’s The Rib, a surprising transgender-themed family drama), while Hong Kong will be bringing all the creative energy of its “old school” action movies (Felix Chong’s Project Gutenberg) as well as all the subversive force of its independent scene (Fruit Chan’s Three Husbands), without forgetting the return of Herman Yau (A Home With a View).

And it has to be said, there’s no shortage of returns at FEFF 21: audiences will be particularly gratified by two on the Southeast Asian front, where genre cinema dominates (the various titles at Udine include the excellent Malaysian horror film Two Sisters): that of Chito Roño and that of Joyce Bernal, both dear friends of the Festival.

But then, that’s exactly what the FEFF is: a network of friends, old and new, scattered across the world. It is a magical portal that opens and closes, year after year. It is moving away from your own home, traveling, wandering, exploring, increasing your curiosity, and then returning home with something new inside your eyes: a precious new way of seeing.