What to See at the 40th Asian American International Film Festival

Corallin Cao in ‘Taxi Stories.’ Photo: Courtesy of Avalon Films

Summer is a great season for Asian cinema fans in New York. If you didn’t get your fill of Asian film at the New York Asian Film Festival, the 40th Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF), which kicks off July 26, offers another dose of authentic Asian stories to fix your craving.

The festival was founded in the 1970s by a group of pioneering Asian filmmakers including Tsui Hark (Journey To The West: The Demons Strike Back), Christine Choy (Who Killed Vincent Chin?), and Thomas Tam, with a mission to promote Asian and Asian American film and video. AAIFF is the place where Ang Lee and Joan Chen‘s early works were first introduced to U.S. audiences.

The 40th Asian American International Film Festival, presented by Asian CineVision in association with Asia Society, will run through August 5 at various locations in Manhattan. As the nation’s first and longest running Asian interest film festival, AAIFF40 will present over 80 films, including 8 feature films from the Greater China region.

Here are CFI’s picks for films to check out during the festival:


Absurd Accident (Dir. Li Yuhe)
Bouncing with nail-biting suspense and ingenious humor, young Chinese filmmaker Li Yuhe’s feature debut portrays a puzzling crime that happens in a rural small town, where greed, lust and wit, battle it out in one night with a sexually impotent motel owner, a hitman, a cheating wife, two blind daters, a robber, a policeman…and a strange dead body. Absurd Accident will screen on Thursday, August 3 at 7:00 pm at Asia Society. —AAIFF

Taxi Stories (Dir. Doris Yeung)
In an increasingly economically polarized and virtually connected 24 hour Asia, a poor Beijing taxi driver, a pregnant Hong Kong trophy wife and a Jakarta slum kid struggle to connect despite the constraints of their social class. Taxi Stories will screen on Friday, August 4, 2017 at 7:00PM at Village Cinema East with director Doris Yeung in attendance. —AAIFF

Shopping for Fang. Photo: Courtesy of AAIFF40

Class of 97: Shopping for Fangs (Dir. Quentin Lee and Justin Lin)
AAIFF40 is screening CLASS OF 97, a program of four films by four talented Asian-American filmmakers, considered by cinema and Asian American studies scholars to be the Asian American New Wave. Before Justin Lin took his turn directing The Fast & the Furious, he co-directed Shopping for Fangs, a hip and funny thriller that centers on four very different Asian-Americans in their 20s whose lives unexpectedly intertwine. Phil is a payroll clerk who believes that he is turning into a werewolf because he has an unusual amount of body hair. Clarence is a homosexual student who spends most his time studying in the diner where the feisty, blond-wig wearing lesbian Trinh works. Katherine is married to a real meathead. She is terrified of lovemaking and is very forgetful due to occasional blackouts. Shopping for Fangs will screen on August 4, 2017 at 6:30 pm at the Asia Society. —AAIFF


Free and Easy (Dir. Geng Jun)
Free and Easy, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, tells the story of a traveling soap salesman arriving in a desolate Chinese town. When a crime occurs, the strange residents turn against each other with tragicomic results. In this absurdist comedy directed by Geng Jun, “it’s not your mouth but your mind that risks getting washed out by soap.” Free and Easy will close the 40th AAIFF on Saturday, August 5 at 7:00pm at Asia Society.  —AAIFF


Made in Hong Kong-4K Restored Version (Dir. Fruit Chan)
Fruit Chan’s Made in Hong Kong was a film made at the time of the changeover in Hong Kong; the depiction of low-level triads attempting to carry out various small scale activities could be seen as a portrait of the ways in which so many business ventures tried to continue under the radar of governmental oversight which was expected to overtake Hong Kong. Yet the escalating explosions of violence provide the kind of visceral excitement which was a hallmark of Hong Kong cinema. Made in Hong Kong will screen on Friday, July 28, 2017 at 8:00PM at Asia Society. —AAIFF


Photo: Courtesy AAIFF40

Shorts: Still Here, Not Going Away—Perspectives on Identity (Various)
Ever since right-wing ethnonationalism broke into mainstream politics, the Western media landscape has been overrun by sympathetic stories of white citizens and all the reasons they were driven to support people like Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen. Absent from this narrative is the millions of people of color negatively affected by the racist political agendas spreading across the Western world. This absence is exactly what makes the following films so essential. They are all unique explorations of Asian identity in white Western society, providing an array of perspectives on what it means to be the minority. Shorts: Still Here, Not Going Away—Perspectives on Identity will screen at the Asia Society on July 30, 2017 at 2:00 pm.—AAIFF


Small Talk (Dir. Hui-chen Huang)
2017 Berlinale Teddy Jury Award winner for Best Documentary, Small Talk, is directed by Taiwanese filmmaker, Hui-chen Huang. Hui-chen and her lesbian mother live like strangers under one roof for decades, and never talk to each other. One day Hui-chen finally summons up the courage to sit down with her mother and make conversation. But is she ready to hear what she has to say? Small Talk will screen on Saturday, July 29th at 7:00pm at Asia Society with director Hui-chen Huang in attendance. —AAIFF

Recommended ReadingFilm Review: Plastic ChinaBy Jonathan Landreth

Plastic China (Dir. Wang Jiuliang)
China is by far the world’s greatest plastic importer. Every year, developed countries from around the world send China ten million tons of plastic waste, and it’s only getting worse. Chinese filmmaker Wang Jiuliang tells the troubling tale of the working people whose lives revolve around this waste. See our review of Plastic China herePlastic China will screen on Saturday, August 5 at 4:30 pm at Asia Society with producer and award-winning editor Jean Tsien in attendance. —AAIFF

For tickets and more information, visit the site here.