The Fable: The Killer Who Doesn’t Kill is a sequel to, as you may have guessed, 2019′s The Fable, which was part of NYAFF 2019. A film that I tried to watch but couldn’t get past the first 15 or so minutes; I simply found it too boring. But while in Tokyo later that year, I noticed the sizable presence its home video release had and began to wonder if I should give it another shot. An idea that, truth be told, escaped my mind… but along comes the sequel, which this year’s program states is a standalone affair, so I figured why the hell not?

For starters: I did finish the whole film, as you may have also guessed; Sato, aka The Fable, is a rather quirky assassin that’s legendary lethal and also trying to keep a low profile, by maintaining a 9-5 jobby job as a delivery person at a graphic design firm (I think; am assuming it’s clearer if you saw the first movie). He also has a sister, or at least that’s her cover, cuz she appears to be another mercenary trying to stay out of sight (again, this isn’t really explained, so I do believe knowledge of Fable 1 is somewhat necessary). The conflict comes in the form of Utsubo, a master manipulator whose cover is a non-profit to help children, but it’s a front for extorting money from parents of the wayward. The group includes Hinako, a young wheelchair bound woman that essentially serves as said shady org’s mascot, though she’s largely unaware of how vile Utsubo truly is. Anyhow, Sato comes across Hinako in the park, trying to regain the ability to walk; he tries to offer moral support, without interrupting her training; Hinako mostly finds him kinda annoying, even a tad bit stalker-ish, and even though Sato means well, she’s not wrong either.

As it turns out, Utsubo is the only target of The Fable from years ago that got away, but the even crazier coincidence is how the reason behind Hinako’s disability is because she became injured in the middle of Sato murdering her pimp. Eventually Etsuji, one of Sato’s co-worker at the design firm, gets caught up in one of Utsubo’s schemes, so it’s up to The Fable to not only rescue him but Hinako as well. One of the things I discovered while doing research (aside from how Etsuji’s antics, which results him in becoming a target of Utsubo’s, is yet another thing established in Fable 1, so once more this is hardly a standalone film) is how the previous tale was more about a fish out of water and this one has more of an emphasis on the action. And while there’s not a ton of it, it was enough to keep me interested, because when there is action on screen, it’s pretty damn amazing. Though The Fable: The Killer Who Doesn’t Kill also waves a massive red flag for me, in its portrayal of the disabled. For the record, it’s an aspect that no other review, far as I’ve seen, has touched upon.

As the married partner of someone with mobility issues IRL, it’s hard for me to recommend this movie, even if the action set piece near the end is one of the most impressive spectacles in recent memory. It’s legitimately a bar setting achievement. Yet it’s also difficult recommending this sequel to those who haven’t seen its predecessor. At the same time, I will admit to finding various aspects, primarily Junichi Okada’s portrayal of The Fable himself, quite endearing. Enough to finally motivate me to give the first movie a second chance; as you can tell, I’m conflicted about this one. At any rate, The Fable: The Killer Who Doesn’t Kill is being screened on Sunday August 15, 3:00pm, at the SVA Theatre; you can find the link to purchase a ticket here

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Review: Sensei, Would You Sit Beside Me? (NYAFF 2021)

by Matthew Edward Hawkins

You can’t have a summer blockbuster season, even in the midst of COVID (yes, I am going to mention the pandemic in basically every single review, you’re all just going to have to deal with it) without a comic movie, so courtesy of New York Asian Film Festival 2021 comes Sensei, Would You Sit Beside Me? Based upon a manga, as noted, the film centers upon Sawako, who happens to produce manga. She’s aided by her assistant Toshio, himself a manga-ka as well, though he hasn’t Plus he’s also having an affair with Sawako’s editor, something his wife discovers very early on.

When an accident befalls her mother, Sawako must head back home, with cheating husband in tow, out of pure necessity; since mom lives outside of Tokyo, the only way to get around is via car, and only Toshio knows how to drive. So on top of dealing with her mother’s recovery and her husband’s infidelity and getting to work on a brand new manga, Sawako must also obtain a license, which ends up being the biggest challenge of them all. Another struggle is how Sawako’s editor (again, whom Toshio is cheating with) is less than impressed with the pitch for the next story, which is something fantasy driven. Hence the decision to pivot towards something autobiographical, that being the anxieties that come with learning how to drive. Oh, and she also includes something many others can also related with: a cheating partner. Inevitably, Toshio helps himself to a sneak peak of the first few pages of his wife’s new story and freaks out, because he assumed his affair was successfully on the down-low. Even worse is the revelation is that Sawako’s driving instructor is a hot young dude.

The usage of manga pages within the narrative, to illustrate off screen events as well as inform characters that were not present, is superbly executed; there’s nothing like the commonly found trope in Japanese cinema of a character exuding pathos, wanting to say something but won’t allow themselves to, but in this instance the cause for confrontation is not pages from a diary that were sneakily read but WIP manga panels that said individual may have to realize to completion because that’s literally his job. Also, seeing the new boy toy, as interpreted via her line work, also adds a whole new dimension to the drama, which is further enhanced by the exceptionally strong performances. Even if the summer box office this year was business as usual, meaning there were a ton of Marvel movies to contend with, I would still state in full confidence that Sensei, Would You Sit Beside Me? was the best comic book movie this season. At the very least, it’s my pick thus far for film of NYAFF 2021.

Sensei, Would You Sit Beside Me? is being screened on Sunday August 15, 7:00pm, at the SVA Theatre; you can find the link to purchase a ticket here.

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Review: Raging Fire (NYAFF 2021)

by Matthew Edward Hawkins

Each and every year the NYAFF strives to offer a diverse assortment of motions pictures that truly represents the massive content of Asia. Long gone are the days in which only the big three, aka Hong Kong, Japanese, and Korean films, receive the majority of the spotlight; in addition to being introduced to movies from mainland China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, and Pakistan, the New York Asian Film Festival is how I discovered that the on Filipino cinema scene is currently on fire, and am confident that most Americans can site the same exact source. Yet, in the end, my heart belongs to HK so I naturally jumped at the chance to check out the latest from Donnie Yen.

If you guessed by the title and its star alone that Raging Fire is a crime drama, then you would be correct; Yen plays Bong, a hard-boiled detective (naturally) who actually follows the rules, and such rigid righteousness is ultimately the source of all his problems. Very early on, after refusing to let the kid of a very powerful person off the hook for a crime he should totally pay the price for, Bong is punished by not being allowed to take part in a sting operation he spent years orchestrating. Though it ends up being for the best, because it ultimately ends in disaster, with both the target being taken out and all of Bong’s colleagues. The culprit is none other than Ngo, portrayed by Nicholas Tse, the leader of a pack of bitter ex cops that recently served time for excessive force. Turns out, not only was Ngo Bong’s protege, said usage of excessive force was orders from above (kinda/sorta). Anyhow, it was Bong’s testimony that sent Ngo and his crew to jail, so naturally a ghost from the past leads to an action-packed game of cat & mouse, you know the deal.

At its core, Raging Fire is about as basic and by the numbers a Hong Kong action flick can get. Though some might come to its defense by deeming it a “throwback” or “old school”, myself included; it’s been amusing to witness individuals bemoan the lack of the theater going experience during the pandemic, and then them rushing towards the crap that AMC had on re-opening day. And while I was more than happy to see this movie on my TV at home, and have enjoyed a mind-numbing number of older movies via cable access 2.0 throughout lockdown, I nonetheless understand the underlying emotions of the aforementioned individuals. Then again, I’d have enjoyed Raging Fire no matter what, not just because I was indeed dying for a first run HK action spectacular, but due to such films being so utterly watchable, regardless of circumstances. The acting was, as expected, super engaging; if you’re a Donnie Yen stan, you will not be disappointed, though what took me off guard was how captivating Nicholas Tse is, especially his decision to evoke pro wrestling star Kenny Omega when he was a heel while in NJPW’s Bullet Club faction. The action was, as also expected, simply phenomenal; the car chases are spectacular, though the usage of CGI was in certain shots rather ingenious, while in others pretty silly. As for hand-to-hand combat, Yen was once again the fight choreographer, which meant more of the traditional martial arts with modern MMA moves sprinkled that we first saw in Sha Po Lang (aka Kill Zone).

My only real issue was with the story. I can’t really say why without giving away a MASSIVE spoiler, so I’ll simply state this: as with All U Need Is Love, I’m giving Raging Fire a free pass. And that’s because it was the final film by writer/director Benny Chan (recipient of NYAFF’s Daniel A. Craft Award for Excellence in Action Cinema in 2014), who became ill during filming and ultimately died of cancer in midst of post-production. I’d like to think that, if Chan had been able to oversee the film in its entirety, certain flaws would not gone uncorrected. It nevertheless never got in the way of my enjoyment of the movie. Alas, the bigger issue that I feel others will be less forgiving about is its sermonizing of the role of the police. Whereas All U Need Is Love was a reminder of the initial fear & anxiety that surrounded COVID’s arrival, which was the point of that movie, in Raging Fire‘s case I couldn’t help but be reminded of something else from last year, that being BLM and associated protests against law enforcement.

Raging Fire is being screened in-person, on Monday August 8, 7:00pm, at the SVA Theatre; you can find the link to purchase a ticket here. Them on the Friday after that, it enters wide release, so it might be playing at an AMC near you?

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