Terracotta Far East Film Festival opened last night with Korean war epic My Way at the Prince Charles Cinema in Chinatown. A pan-Asian production with a star-studded cast from China, Japan and Korea, it was the perfect start to the festival.
Now in its fourth year, Terracotta is showing 16 films over four days, which festival director Joey Leung said were chosen from a longlist of 403.
"The main purpose of the festival is to bring quality Asian cinema to the UK. We made sure we could represent a broad range of countries and genres to represent the best of this year's vintage of Asian cinema. All of the films we are showing are premieres and almost all the films will not be shown here again."
This year's festival shines a spotlight on Taiwan. The small island nation produced some of the best independent Asian directors of the 80s and early 90s, such as Hou Hsiao-hsien, Edward Yang and Tsai Ming-liang, as well as Oscar winner Ang Lee, but this year, Terracotta is introducing its new generation to UK audiences.
Seediq Bale, Taiwan's answer to Braveheart and The Last of the Mohicans, premieres tomorrow. Joey said it was about "300 Taiwanese aborigines who waged guerrilla warfare against the Japanese colonisers" and documented an important part of Taiwan's history.
Other Taiwanese films include Return to Burma, which "uncovers everyday life in Burma through the eyes of ethnic Chinese people returning from labouring in Taiwan", and Chinese co-production One Mile Above, which "features beautiful landscapes as it follows a lone cyclist fulfilling his dead brother's ambition to ride from Yunnan to Lhasa".
Seediq Bale star and aborigine hunter Da Ching is in London for the festival, as is Japanese actor Denden, director Toshiaki Toyoda and London-based Chinese author and filmmaker Guo Xiaolu. They are holding Q&A sessions and a series of acting, directing and writing masterclasses.
Joey said, "The audiences really love it when we have actors and directors here at the festival to introduce the film, it really gives both parties a chance to connect with each other. Actors are always on film sets and at press conferences and very rarely get a chance to talk to genuine film lovers."
This year's festival falls on Friday the 13th, giving the perfect excuse for a horror triple bill: Japanese "death stench" anime Gyo, modern classic The Grudge and Taiwan's first zombie film, Zombie 108.
Other festival highlights include documentary Arirang, which marks Korean director Kim Ki-duk's return after an actress narrowly escaped death while filming a suicide scene in his last film, and black comedy Inseparable, the first Chinese film with a Hollywood lead. Kevin Spacey plays an American expat who stops his Chinese neighbour (Daniel Wu) from committing suicide.
Joey said, "The UK cinema circuit is cluttered with Hollywood films and the independent cinemas have many subtitled films from Europe and Latin America, but very few Asian films get shown. Asian film is still a niche area, just as any segment of film will have its niche. Our job is to help grow that niche and the more people watch the films, the more accepting they are of seeing Asian faces on the screen, not hearing English on the screen, getting used to reading subtitles and slowly becoming familiar with the names of actors and directors. It's a slow process!"