(Reviews of: Jet Li and Andy Lau in The Warlords; Donnie Yen as Bruce Lee’s teacher in Ip Man; Sion Sono’s indescribable Love Exposure; the spectacular K-20: Legend of the Mask; the new shocker from Joko Anwar; and more…)

I haven’t seen everything that’s screening at the New York Asian Film Festival this year, not even close. In fact, as if in defiance of the recession, NYAFF is featuring more films, more guests, more events than ever before. Below, however, are some of the titles it’s presenting that rocked me in one way or another. For more detailed synopses, showtimes, and links to purchase tickets, follow the link on each title to its page on the Subway Cinema site. (Also, please note that this festival overlaps with Japan Cuts: Festival of New Japanese Film, which I’ll be covering separately.)

The Forbidden Door (Indonesia, 2009)
With this film Joko Anwar fully enters Park Chan-Wook territory: unafraid to explore any psychological or generic area, no matter how shadowy or transgressive, but remaining strangely humanistic throughout and backing it all up with impeccable technique. This follow-up to Kala, which perfectly blended horror, fantasy, and noir, again finds Anwar opportunistic in terms of genre. While an unforgettable Grand Guignol scene effectively caps the action and leaves the flavor of revenge-horror most strongly in one’s mouth, one of the charms (right word?) of The Forbidden Door is the way it shifts direction every few minutes, from dark domestic drama to paranoid thriller and all shades in between, keeping the audience off-balance in countless pleasurable ways.
While the protagonist (Fachri Albar) is the kind of “crazed artist” archetype that often serves a surrogate for the filmmaker, The Forbidden Door isn’t just a more upscale version of H.G. Lewis’s Color Me Blood Red, but also seems to echo sources as diverse as Lovecraft, Macbeth, and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom.   

At the climax we get the rationale for why the plot has veered all over the place and, although no doubt following closely the novel it was based on, to me this ending was unnecessary (others may actually find it a cop-out). That’s because The Forbidden Door is consistently convincing in the moment—not always logical or adhering to familiar genre structures, but persuasive through its sheer artistry. Not to say that it’s an outright masterwork, though. The David Lynch influence is felt a little too strongly, from an over-reliance on ironic pop music to a shot of a white picket fence à la Blue Velvet, and such touches undercut the film’s originality. Anwar can also tend to stay cerebral even when he thinks he’s being emotional—nothing wrong with that, of course, but he hasn’t quite mastered the majestic coldness of a Hitchcock that would allow him to pull this off. Still, I know I won’t enjoy most U.S. genre releases this year half as much as I did The Forbidden Door, and, if you’re a fan of international horror, it’s pretty much a must-see.