Far East Film Festival 14, Udine Italy, Report 1

Abe Hiroshi in Termae Romae
By Moira Sullivan 
The Korean drama Sunny was featured on the opening day of the Udine Far East Film Festival in Italy, which runs from April 20-28. A renowned and excellent extravaganza of popular films from Asia, this festival is now in its 14th edition.
The title of the film comes from the hit single "Sunny" (performed by Bonie M, and written by songwriter Bobby Hebb - 1966). The story is about a seven-member girl gang who meet years later when one from the group is hospitalized with a grave illness. The film revisits the first day of school for Na-Mi who hails from a small town in the Jeolla province and moves to the capital city Seoul
Na-Mi quickly makes friends with six other young women who come to her rescue from classmates who otherwise would have bullied her for her dialect. Na-Mi quickly fits in with the gang comprised of the excellent fighter Choon-Hwa, heavyset Jang-Mi, and Jin-Hee - skilled in the use of profane language, the literary Geum-Ok, future Ms Korea Bok-Hee, and arrogant and perceptive Su-Ji.
Being a teenager is often painful and girls are cruel at this age. The pressures from home, school and growing up are formidable. At school, they find reasons to pick on any kind of difference and often judge each other on appearances, class differences or perceived lifestyles that clash with their own. The heteronormative upbringing is often homophobic and requires conformity. Girl gangs are sometimes a necessity for survival. Director Hyeong-Cheol Kang is adept in bringing these conditions to film and was present at the festival.  
As if the first day wasn’t enough entertainment, on the second day Hong Kong producer Johnny To was in town to present his new film Romancing in Thin Air – a film about a woman who lives in a hotel in the mountains and loses her husband. Then, her long time idol arrives who is suffering form alcoholism. She nurses him to back to health but must come to term with her loss that takes precedence over her fan worship. Johnny To also presented his latest project of several years, Fresh Wave - a Hong Kong mentoring program for young filmmakers including a short film festival, which is now partnering up with other international festivals.
On Saturday night a wild film about bathhouses - Thermae Romae was screened by Japanese director Takeuchi Hideki and made at CinĂ©citta in Italy. It features ancient Rome renowned for its bathhouses, and modern Japan and it’s contributions to this area. 
A retrospective of Korean films from the 70s entitled “The Darkest Decade” is featured with some rare films on the Korean psyche during this period. 
Other films include The Front Line by Jang Hun about a final maneuver by the North and South Koreans before the armistice is signed in the 50’s.  In The Great Magician, Derek Yee from Hong Kong has created a mind-boggling extravaganza of color and fanfare starring Tony Leung as a magician who outmaneuvers a warlord and his seventh wife. And from Thailand comes a story of ladyboys, MTF transgenders who experience heartbreak for choosing their lifestyle, but still keep their spirit, directed by MTF helmer Tanwarin Sukkhapisit in It Gets Better.
Next week more from the Far East Film Festival!

© 2012 - Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 04/25/12
Movie Magazine International