We were fortunate to be invited to the recent inaugural London East Asia Film Festival! The Odeon Cinema in Leicester Square, home to glamorous blockbuster premieres, played host on Friday 23rd October to the gala opening of the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF). Billed as the “0th edition” this weekend long mini-film festival screened a sample of big films from Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong and East Asia as a pre-launch taster to be featured in a much more robustly packed event for 2016 and beyond.
The event opened with Korean director Ryoo Seung-wan’s “Veteran” a lavish action comedy smash hit currently taking the Asian box office by storm with its smooth blend of action, slapstick comedy and some jaw dropping martial arts. It concluded in similar fashion on Sunday 25th October with the highly anticipated “SPL 2 – A Time For Consequences” starring Tony Jaa.
Asian cinema is fast growing into a vibrant industry with record breaking domestic box office performances achieving high critical acclaim. Occasionally some do breakout onto the international scene, films such as Chan-wook Park’s visceral thriller “Old Boy”, and “The Raid” films wowing audiences and influencing film makers. Yet there are many other big titles that never quite garner the same sort of deserved attention, something which LEAFF festival director Hye-Jung Jeon attributes to a decline in imports. Hye-Jung worked with Chief programmer Chris Fujiwara, former artistic director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival to carefully select films reflecting the diversity and vibrancy of Asian cinema. To make this event happen LEAFF worked with various organisations that include the Odeon Cinema chain, Corinthia Hotels, and purveyor of Asian films, Terracotta Distribution.
Opening night saw the 1600 capacity screen of the Odeon Leicester Square packed with guests made up of ticket holders, film makers, festival personnel and members of the press in eager anticipation. Chris Fujiwara introduced the proceedings detailing the programme of the films to be screened (all UK premieres) and audience interactive Q&As with cast and crew that would follow. Hye-Jung Jeon stepped onto the stage to introduce the festival’s official trailer, a vivid montage of scenes from all the films featured to a thumping soundtrack.
Introducing the opening film “Veteran” was its director Ryoo Seung-wan and producer Kang Hye-jung. Through an interpreter Seung-wan expressed his honour at “Veteran” being chosen to open the festival, and that it was a film dealing with realities currently affecting his country’s society in a comical and suspenseful way. After pointing out the difficulties in comedy transitioning through different cultures he explained that if the audience felt a moment was intentionally funny then to just go ahead and laugh, and to finish any popcorn before the start as there’d be no time to eat! “Veteran” received rapturous applause from the audience and the half hour long Q&A chaired by Chris Fukiwara, with Seung-wan and Kang Hye-jung gave everyone the opportunity to explore the film further.
Over the course of the weekend there were premieres of the extraordinary Chinese film “Kaili Blues”, Japanese romantic ghost story “Journey to the Shore”, Filipino horror “Violator”, South Korean psychological thriller “Office”, and the mystical comedy “Chasuke’s Journey”.
LEAFF will officially launch in 2016 on a much larger scale with even more varied events and some very special guests! We’ll see a meatier programme featuring a wide range of films for general audiences as well as carefully selected, latest stylish hits in the horror and action genres . The films will be presented as UK, European and World premieres introducing a London audience to established and up and coming film makers with the interactive Q&A becoming a staple feature. At KFK we think it’s great when these sorts of films get the opportunity to be presented on the big screen for Western audiences.
The much anticipated highlight of the festival for our team was it’s closing film, the action thriller “SPL 2 – A Time for Consequences”, starring Jacky Wu Jing, Tony Jaa, Simon Yam, Zhang Jin and Louis Koo. A sequel in name only, it has been a smash hit in Asia, with only the blockbuster “Jurassic World” keeping it off the top spot when it was released. The general response of the audience was very positive, and it even drew a round of applause when the end credits rolled.
Stay tuned to Kung Fu Kingdom for the latest festival news and check out our review of “SPL 2 – A Time for Consequences” with “Veteran” coming soon so watch this space!