The journey to the Far East begins on the 20th of April with intense Korean spy thriller Steel Rain and Malaysian drama Crossroads: One Two Jaga, and concludes on the 28th of April with the Indonesian war thriller Night Bus and the latest film to undergo restoration by the FEFF:
Johnnie To's splendid Throw Down.
Twenty years ago. What is there to say that hasn't already been said? There've been songs, books, movies, even aphorisms. Nostalgia is always lurking around the corner, ready to ambush the unwary, and there's only one way to avoid it (or at least to mitigate its impact): turn "twenty years ago" into "in twenty years' time". And that's why - affecting a certain nonchalance in the face of that big number 20 in this year's logo - the Far East Film Festival has chosen to take a different direction. One that avoids self-celebration or playing the veteran and, without even the use of a crystal ball, heads off straight towards the future: what is cinema today and what will it be in twenty years' time?
The way today's film industry exploits film-products is necessarily changing the film-products themselves, and it goes without saying that audiences too are undergoing a rapid mutation which is determined in large part by on-demand platforms, primarily Netflix and Amazon. To speak to the 'new public', which is already the 'public of tomorrow', requires new languages (and it doesn't take a genius to realise that these include the grammar of TV series), new writers and new directors - maybe even the new writers and new directors who make up this year's packed FEFF line-up.
It's a truly impressive figure: 21 of the 55 titles in competition, out of a total of 81 films, are first or second films. A real treasure trove, and an authentic incubator for the Asian filmmakers of the future who've knocked themselves out to get to Udine, and who Udine has knocked itself out to bring on board!
It's a first in the long history of the Far East Film Festival, so – with one eye always on the future - the FEFF decided to submit the "Fab 21" not only to the examination of the spectators (who, let us never forget, are always the final judges), but also to that of a highly qualified international jury. Its three components: Hong Kong producer Albert Lee, American producer Peter Loehr and Italian screenwriter Massimo Gaudioso, famed writer of director Matteo Garrone's films.
In addition to the traditional audience awards for best film - the Golden Mulberry awarded by the public and the Black Mulberry awarded by Black Dragon pass holders - the FEFF has now added the White Mulberry for the best first or second film, which will be awarded by Lee, Loehr and Gaudioso. A small revolution containing within it something bigger: all the seedlings that the FEFF has planted, cared for and seen grow since 1999.
10+10. A grand total of events, experiences and journeys, but also (and perhaps above all) a grand total of geographical and cultural distances, which mathematics has delighted in bringing together: East and West, Europe and Asia, Udine and the world. Asymmetries which are actually a better fit than they might initially appear - twins who might not be identical but who are twins just the same.
And so here they are, the two twins, the two icons of similarity and difference that graphic designer Roberto Rosolin has translated into the official image of the Far East Film Festival 20. Two almost-naked bodies set against a blinding white background to tell, without frills, the story of a group of people and their shared passion. A meeting space. A grand total.
It will be down to goddess Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia to symbolically cut the ribbon of the eagerly-awaited twentieth edition in Udine from the 20th to the 28th of April, and for nine days, Udine will once again become the European epicentre of Asian cinema. Nine days of films and conferences at the Teatro Nuovo and the Visionario and nine days of events dotted around the heart of the city, to continue discovering the similarities in the differences and the differences in the similarities. To continue adding up a grand total of people and passion.
The passion of a truly memorable Opening Night which is unique in the world, featuring Korean spy thriller Steel Rain which has never been seen on the big screen and never will be again, because it lives inside the walls of Netflix (which you might remember us mentioning a couple of paragraphs earlier), and the Malaysian drama Crossroads: One Two Jaga.
The passion of an equally memorable, equally unique Closing Night which sums up the whole meaning of FEFF 20: its eyes looking towards the future with Indonesian war thriller Night Bus (a second film) and its heart faithful to the past with the restored version of Johnnie To's splendid Throw Down (the second film restored by the festival with Bologna's L’immagine Ritrovata after the FEFF's restored version of Made in Hong Kong, which was literally given a second lease of life last year – it's turned into something of a mission for us).
The passion of a lineup as intense as it is diverse, assembled over an entire year by working on multiple fronts: geographical (11 national cinematographies: China, South Korea, Philippines, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam), artistic (6 world premieres, 12 international premieres, 22 European premieres and 3 world premieres of restored films) and technical (and as regards the future, there are 14 titles selected for Focus Asia, the FEFF's project market, and 15 professionals selected for Ties That Bind, the international Asia-Europe workshop – more than 150 participants from 35 countries).
The passion of cinema lovers, then – and not just of Asian cinema. A passion that will also involve the Visionario cinema much more fully, with a specially designed programme created for pass-holders but also for the "regular" public. A journey to the East inside a journey to the East, you might almost say, providing a veritable treasure trove for festival-goers: from a retrospective on queen Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia to a brief monograph on Ryuichi Sakamoto, without forgetting the various shades of eroticism (because pink movies and the Pink Night are back!) and the flavours of the 'Far East', as - for the duration of the festival - the Visionario becomes the Udine branch of Casa Ramen, the famous Milanese restaurant of chef Luca Catalfamo!
Before being a festival, though, the FEFF has always been a party. A big cinema party that has never stopped bringing to the Friuli region living legends like Jackie Chan and Joe Hisaishi, cult directors like Johnnie To and Takashi Miike, divas and divas, professionals in the film industry and, of course, the devout tribe of FEFF fans: an incredible community of cinema-goers who have progressively carried the name of the Far East Film Festival around the world. And since long before the world was connected by social networks.
Asia might still be a long way away and the cinema of twenty years ago is already history - to find out what cinema will be in twenty years, viewers will have to keep following the FEFF for a long time to come. And who knows: maybe an Asian butterfly flapping its wings at the festival in Udine will end up causing an earthquake in cinemas around Europe!