East Asia has long been at the cutting edge of world cinema and at the edge of that edge are those recent Chinese indies that focus on China's economic transformation and ensuing social contradictions. Jia Zhang-ke is the key figure. As part of its weekend series On the Edge: New Independent Cinema from China, the Walter Reade is showing The World, Jia's 2004 portrait of globalization made material in a Beijing theme park, along with four other recent movies. These include two first featuresHan Jie's 2006 Rotterdam prizewinner Walking on the Wild Side, an autobiographical account of growing up in Shanxi province's economic wild west and Wanma Caidan's The Silent Holy Stones, a document of life in Tibet. Also featured are two fine movies that have enjoyed some local play. Wang Chao's The Orphan of Anyang is an understated, impeccably shot tale of a young prostitute who engages an unemployed factory worker to babysit her child. (There's a majestic vision of China implicit in these carefully composed images of makeshift brothels, ugly industrial buildings, dirty canals, outdoor food stands, and flophouse interiors.) More rough-hewn, Li Yang's Blind Shaft is a ferocious muckraker, depicting the brutal conditions and murderous scams of China's exploited miners. Anthology Film Archives is offering an apt follow-up next Wednesday (April 18) with a week-long run of Wang Bing's nine-hour epic documentary West of the Tracks, studying the human wreckage left by the collapse of the Shenyang state steel works. Walter Reade Theater, April 1315.
Also: Justly known for its genre antics, South Korean cinema boasts at least one first-rate director whose idea of action (and torture) has to do with the relations between men and women. Hong Sang-soo's melancholy comedies are not only deftly understated but characterized by considerable formal panache. BAM is showcasing the prolific director's latest features in Recent Films by Hong Sang-soo as part of their "Best of 2006" series. Screening Tuesday April 16, Woman is the Future of Man (2004) is a deadpan erotic farce both blunt and elliptical, in which a pair of thirtysomething urban intellectuals go off in search of the woman that they each loved and lost. Hong's newest, Tale of Cinema (2005) and Woman on the Beach (2006), are showing April 20 and 21. BAM, April 1621.
Set to open on the Thai New Year, a weekend of new features by and discussions with Thai and Thai-American filmmakers kicks off with the U.S. premiere of The Unseeable, the latest by Wisit Sasanatieng (whose beyond-camp-eastern-western Tears of the Black Tiger played Film Forum a few months back). Other shows in Thai Takes 3: Independent Film Festival include the documentary Innocence and Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's neo-noir Invisible Waves, shot by Chris Doyle. After a weekend in Queens, the fest relocates to Avenue A. Museum of the Moving Image, April 1315; Pioneer Theater, April 2122.
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