Recommended Films from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan at the New York Asian Film Festival


It’s a sure sign of summer the New York Asian Film Festival is underway.  Through July 13 at Film Society Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater and from July 14 – 16 at SVA Theatre in Chelsea, crowds will gather early for nearly five dozen feature films from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Audiences will also be eager to see 30 directors, actors, and screenwriters introduce their films and participate in post-screening discussions and Q&As.  This year, five actors and directors will be recognized for their achievements and contributions to cinema.  Among them are Duan Yihong (段奕宏), the first actor from China to be awarded the festival’s Star Asia Award, and ubiquitous Hong Kong legend star Eric Tsang (曾志偉) will be honored with the Star Hong Kong Lifetime Achievement Award.  Duan will receive his award at the screening of his film Extraordinary Mission 《非凡任务》on July 1, and Tsang will be bestowed with his at the screening of Mad World 《一念無明》 on July 12.

The complete list of films is required summer reading.  Knowing that most of the festival’s films will be hard to see elsewhere and that the curators know what represents the best of Asian cinema and what’s entertaining, it’s not easy to pick which films to see.  You might be intrigued by the second film on the list, then the fourth, and then the fifth.  Three films flagged, and there are fifty more films to read about.

We’re going through the same thing.  We’ve put the time researching the films by watching trailers and reading reviews.  Based on synopses and online reviews, below are the films from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan or have some connection to them we’re interested in seeing.  We’re sure you’ll want to see a few of them and probably a whole lot more at the festival.  Enjoy!

Update: We added Godspeed based on a recommendation from a trusted friend and realization of who the director is.


Duckweed乘风破浪》– After a close encounter with a fast-moving train in 2022, arrogant rally driver Tailang (Deng Cha) is transported back to 1998 and enlisted into the gang led by his own father Zhengtai (Eddie Peng). Boasting a rare 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes, multitalented Han Han’s sophomore production accelerated past the billion yuan ($150 million) milestone domestically.

Dir. Han Han
2017, China, 101 min.
Mandarin with English subtitles

Thursday, July 15, 12:30 PM
SVA Theatre

The Los Angeles Times says Duckweed has “a whimsical, magical realist sensibility, underscored by quirky musical montages and a penchant for American country songs”.  Though Variety finds the film predictable, it notes the film “reflect[s]…how China is moving ahead so fast that millennials are already glancing at the not-so-distant past and its values with jaded amusement and nostalgia.”


Extraordinary Mission 《非凡任务》– Uber-cop Lin Kai (Huang Xuan) goes deep cover to take down a vicious drug cartel. The stakes are raised to the next level when he is entwined with psychopathic head honcho Eagle, leading to a harrowing journey of forced drug addiction and time bomb pyrotechnics in China’s bionic update of classic hyperbolic HK genre films.

Actor Duan Yihong will be in attendance and will receive the NYAFF 2017 Star Asia Award

Dir. Alan Mak, Anthony Pun
2017, China, 120 minutes
Mandarin with English subtitles

Saturday, July 1, 7:30 PM
Walter Reade Theater


Someone to Talk To一句頂一萬句》Liu Yulin’s first feature is that rare beast, a truly honest and perceptive film about relationships. When cuckolded husband Aiguo sets out to catch his wife having an affair, he ends up destroying two marriages. Meanwhile his 39-year-old sister re-enters the dating game, desperately seeking someone of her own to talk to.

Dir. Liu Yulin
2016, China, 2017 min.
Mandarin with English subtitles

Sunday, July 9, 6 PM
Walter Reade Theater

Liu received her MFA from NYU where she made the short Door God, winner of a Narrative Silver Medal at the 2014 Student Academy Awards.  Someone to Talk To is adapted from her father, Liu Zhenyun’s, Mao Dun Prize-winning One Sentence Worth Ten Thousand.

The Hollywood Reporter notes a few missteps with the film, but says “has a good eye for making the banal seem earth-shattering” and that she is “one to watch” and a “much-needed female voice for the ‘disheartened with life’ sub-genre increasingly coming out of China.”


Election 《 黑社会》Johnnie To’s magnum opus details the cutthroat contest to become the new number one in Hong Kong’s biggest triad: Laconic Lam Lok (Simon Yam) versus arrogant and impulsive Big D (Tony Leung Ka-fai, in one of his best performances). One of the greatest gangster films ever.

Dir. Johnnie To
2005, Hong Kong, 101 min.
Cantonese with English subtitles

Friday, July 7, 8:30 PM
Walter Reade Theater

Variety notes the movie is the “only Triad movie in memory without a bullet or even a gun on display”, and it was a New York Times Critic’s Pick.


Mad World 《一念無明》- Released from rehabilitation, a former investment banker struggles with mental illness as he rekindles a relationship with his estranged father in the relentlessly upwardly mobile city. This dramatic, heartfelt directorial debut reinvents the tenement drama genre; Wong Chun stands at the vanguard of a wave of directors transforming Hong Kong cinema.

New York Premiere.

Followed by Q&A with director Wong Chun, screenwriter Florence Chan, and actor Eric Tsang, who will receive the NYAFF 2017 Star Hong Kong Lifetime Achievement Award

Dir. Wong Chun
2016, Hong Kong, 101 min.
Cantonese with English subtitles
Wednesday, July 12, 9 PM
Walter Reade Theater
The South China Morning Post says the film, which won two Golden Horse Awards and three prizes at the Hong Kong Film Awards is “brave” a rare humanist drama from a Hong Kong film industry that is increasingly genre-oriented”.


Soul Mate  《七月与安生》– With this one-of-a-kind romantic drama, Derek Tsang sinks us deep into the tale of two young women, whose friendship burns as strong as an amorous passion. Compassionate, honest and intelligent, it demonstrates again how Chinese-language cinema is at the vanguard of exploring the modern human condition.

Dir. Derek Tsang
2016, Hong Kong/China, 108 min.
Mandarin with English substitles

Friday, July 7, 6PM
Walter Reade Theater

Among its many nominations, the film received 7 at the 2016 Golden Horse Film Festival and made history with a joint Best Actress win.

The South China Morning Post praises the film as a “minor masterpiece” that “transcend[s] its potential cloying premise”.


Vampire Cleanup Department 《 救殭清道夫》 – In this tongue-in-cheek throwback to old-school Hong Kong comedies, the titular governmental department gets a new recruit in a vampire-immune virgin only for him to fall hopelessly in love with a beautiful nightwalker. Now he wants to train her to be human.

Dir. Yan Pak-wing, Chiu Sin-hang
2017, Hong Kong, 94 min.
Cantonese with English subtitles

Saturday, July 15, 10 PM
SVA Theatre

The South China Morning Post says “[t]his frothy but genuinely likeable movie may have a predictable plot but it’s filled with so many witty little jokes it would be churlish to complain”.


A Quiet Dream – A slice of life following three misfits and their beloved muse (Han Ye-ri, in a typically unorthodox performance), a young Chinese-Korean immigrant who cares for her paralyzed father while running a bar. In a creative twist, each of the three male protagonists is played by a well-known Korean actor-director, embodying personas from their own debut films: a former small-time gangster played by Yang Ik-june (Breathless), an introverted North Korean defector played by Park Jung-bum (The Journals of Musan), and a milk-drinking, epileptic played by Yoon Jong-bin (The Unforgiven). In the guise of a quietly suburban comedy, the film addresses the hard-hitting issue of how people react to the trauma of geographical and social displacement, a subject close to home for Chinese-Korean director Zhang Lu. What makes the indie A Quiet Dream such a breath of fresh air is that it always remains hilarious and heartfelt, and maintains its poetry within an impoverished suburban milieu.

We’re interested in this “quirky urban comedy”, as Variety calls it, in part because of its Chinese-Korean DNA.

Dir. Zhang Lu
2016, South Korea, 115 minutes
Korean, Mandarin with English subtitles

Wednesday, July 12, 6:30 PM
Walter Reade Theater


Eternal Summer盛夏光年》  – Leste Chen’s final Taiwan production is an emotionally searing drama about friendship and longing, with a resonance only glimpsed at in his recent Mainland China-produced high concept thrillers and rom-com remakes. Straight-A student Jonathan (Bryant Chang) is forced by his junior high-school teacher to befriend rebellious underachiever Shane (Joseph Chang Hsiao-chuan). But instead of raising Shane’s scores, Jonathan sees his own academic achievements tumble. Ten years later, their friendship is tested by the return of former classmate Carrie (Kate Yeung). This deftly told love triangle courses on waves of sexual confusion and self-destruction, bursting with moments of devastatingly brutal honesty.

Presented with the support of the Taipei Cultural Center of TECO in New York.

Dir. Leste Chen
2006, Taiwan, 95 minutes
Mandarin with English subtitles

Sunday, July 2, 12:30 PM
Walter Reade Theater


The Gangster’s Daughter 《林北小舞》– Shaowu, a seemingly typical teenage girl living on Taiwan’s remote Kinmen Island, is briefly reunited with her estranged gangster father, Keiko (Jack Kao), at her mother’s funeral. Soon after, Shaowu gets in trouble with a school bully and is sent to Taipei to live with Keiko. Shaowu’s trials and tribulations negotiating adolescence against her new urban surroundings are paralleled with her father’s own personal conflict: trying to go straight for his daughter’s sake and start life anew. However, when his old school underground codes of honor are compromised by his cohorts’ corruption and misdeeds, Keiko has no choice but to take things into his own hands and settle debts once and for all. The Gangster’s Daughter blends tropes of noir and the gangster film into a bittersweet yet gritty coming-of-age drama that is thrilling, dark, and moving. 

North American Premiere. Director Chen Mei-juin in attendance.

Presented with the support of the Taipei Cultural Center of TECO in New York

Dir. Chen Mei-juin
2017, Taiwan, 104 minutes
Mandarin and Taiwanese with English subtitles

Saturday, July 1, 5 PM
Walter Reade Theater

The Hollywood Reporter calls it a “lovely little film” but fears it may not resonate elsewhere.


The Road to Mandalay 《再見瓦城》– This sober, subtly told tale paints an exquisite, heart-wrenching portrait of vulnerable and marginalized characters, at odds with their surroundings and even each other as they strive to succeed. Lianqing and Guo (Kai Ko, You Are the Apple of My Eye) meet on the small truck that smuggles them over the Burmese border into Thailand. A romance quietly develops in Bangkok, where they struggle to survive as illegal refugees. Lianqing is determined to start life anew while still sending money back home, but Guo makes overtures of returning to Burma and getting married. Desperate to get the papers she needs to work legally and avoid the threat of deportation, or worse, Lianqing makes a decision that may seal her fate. The striking poetry of his mise en scène brings a masterful contrast to the film’s stark realist milieu, marking director Midi Z in this fourth feature as a major talent.

Presented with the support of the Taipei Cultural Center of TECO in New York

Dir. Midi Z
2016, Taiwan/Myanmar/France/Germany, 108 minutes
Chinese, Thai, and Burmese with English subtitles

Great reviews from Variety, Hollywood Reporter, and South China Morning Post


Godspeed 《一路順風》– Writer, director, and screenwriter Chung Mong-hong delivers a wry comedy of manners in the guise of a gangster noir. A sadsack slacker and small-time crook (Na Dow) is tasked by a taciturn mob boss to traffic a package down south; unable to find a proper means of transport, he is practically forced by old cabbie Lao Xu (Hong Kong comedy legend Michael Hui) to be his fare for the cross-country journey. What ensues is a postmodern reinvention of the comedic double act as the pair of unsuspecting drug mules incessantly bicker over money, share strange anecdotes about the meaning of life, and suffer an endless run of bad luck largely due to Lao Xu’s chronically poor decision-making. Meanwhile, the southern gangsters they are driving toward are having an existential crisis of their own, in a bloody maelstrom of plastic-wrapped furniture, chainsaw-unfriendly motorbike helmets, and vicious dog-eat-dog betrayal.

Presented with the support of the Taipei Cultural Center of TECO in New York

Dir. Chung Mong-hong
2016, Taiwan, 111 minutes
Mandarin, Taiwanese, Thai with English subtitles

Sunday, July 16, 1 PM
SVA Theatre

We’re fans of Chung Mong-hong since we saw his unsettling Soul at the NYAFF a few years ago.  South China Morning Post called the film an “unclassifiable gem”.

Lead image from The Gangster’s Daughter  © 2017 Wild Dog Productions, courtesy of the New York Asian Film Festival