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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
Soh Yun-Huei
Dave Chua
Brandon Wee
Wong Lung Hsiang
Felix Cheong
Foong Ngai Hoe
Adrian Sim
Chris Khoo
O Thiam Chin
Lau Chee Nien
Ambient Noise
Sarhan Rashid
Ying Wuen
Ellery Ngiam
Toh Hai Leong
Toh Hai Leong, Auteur
Wong Kar Wai
The Seduction of Wong Kar Wai
Tsai Ming Liang
Lav Diaz
Mikio Naruse
Leslie Cheung
Jonathan Foo Interview
Chinese Ghosts
Assassins in Asian FIlms
Sex in Asian Cinema
Erotic Cinema of the Shaw Studios
Homosexuality in Chinese Films
My Left Eye Sees Creativity
Hollywood Remakes
Comic Book Superheroes
One League of Social Consciousness
Emerging Trends in East Asian Cinema
Postwar Korean Cinema
Decline of Hong Kong Cinema before 1997
Rise of Afghan Films
Singapore's Mini Cinema
Creating A Singapore Cinema
Why Cinema is Important to Singapore
Singapore Film Industry
Rites of Passage
Replying to Critics
Daniel Yun Interview
Singapore International Film Festival
Bangkok International Film Festival
Tokyo International Film Festival
Toronto International Film Festival
Writer's Block
All Tomorrow's Parties
And Also the Eclipse
Another Heaven
At Five in the Afternoon
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
Bangkok Haunted
Barking Dogs Never Bite
Batang West Side
Battle Royale
Bear Hug
Beautiful Boxer
Beijing Rocks
Bend It Like Beckham
Best of Times
Betelnut Beauty
Big Durian
Big Shot's Funeral
Bird Man Tale
Blissfully Yours
Blue Kite
Bounce Ko Gals
Brighter Summer Day, A
Cafe Lumiere
Cat Returns
Chinese Odyssey 2002
City of Glass
City Sharks
Color of the Truth
Color Blossoms
Confucian Confusion
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
Dark Water
Destination 9th Heaven
Divine Intervention
Double Vision
Dumlings: 3 Extremes
Enter the Phoenix
Era of Vampire, The
Eye, The
Eye 2, The
Eye 10, The
Fat Choy Spirit
Floating Weeds
Fog of War, The
Formula 17
Full Alert
Ghost in the Shell
God or Dog
Golden Chicken
Golden Chicken 2
Goodbye, Dragon Inn
Guru, The
Hana-Bi (Fireworks)
Harold and Kumar
Hidden Blade, The
House of Flying Daggers
House of Fury
House of Sand and Fog
Howl's Moving Castle
I Not Stupid
In the Mood for Love
Infernal Affairs
Infernal Affairs III
Innocence: Ghost in the Shell 2
Iron Ladies 2
Isle, The
Jan Dara
Jealousy is My Middle Name
Joint Security Area
Ju-On: The Grudge (2003)
July Rhapsody
Korban Fitnah
Kung Fu Hustle
Lan Yu
Last Life in the Universe
Last Samurai, The
Legend of Zu, The
Liang Po Po
Love Letter
Lucky Number
Marry a Rich Man
Me Thao
Medallion, The
Monrak Transistor
Moveable Feast, A
Munna Bhai M.B.B.S.
Musa the Warrior
My Left Eye Sees Ghosts
My Neighbors The Yamadas
My Sassy Girl
Naked Weapon
Name of a River, The
New Police Story
Nobody Knows
Nobody Knows How to be a Film Critic
One Leg Kicking
Perfect Blue
Phone, The
Ping Pong
Pirated Copy
Princess D
River, The
Road Home
Romance of Book and Sword
Runaway Pistol
S Diary
S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine
Scent of Green Papaya
Seoul Raiders
Seventeen Years
Shall We Dance?
Shanghai Knights
Shaolin Soccer
Singapore Gaga
Skywalk is Gone
So-Called Friends
So Close
Someone Special
Song of the Stork
Spider Forest
Spirited Away
Spring Summer Fall Winter Spring
Stories About Love
Storm Riders
Summer Holiday
Sumpah Pontianak
Super Size Me
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Swing Girls
Tale of Two Sisters, A
Tears of the Black Tiger
Teenage Textbook Movie
This Charming Girl
Three: Extremes
Tokyo Raiders
Touch, The
Tree, The
Truth or Dare
Twelve Storeys
Twenty-Four Eyes
Twins Effect
Twins Effect 2
Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors
Visitor Q
Volcano High
Warriors of Heaven and Earth
Way Home, The
Welcome Back Mr McDonald
Wesley's Mysterious File
When I Fall In Love With Both
Wishing Stairs
Wolves Cry Under the Moon
Woman is the Future of Man
Women's Private Parts
World Without Thieves, A
Zombie Dog
A Time to Live A Time to Die
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   Rise of Afghan Films  



by Felix Cheong

They’re a force to be reckoned with. They take no prisoners and they’re on their way.

Brace yourself for an onslaught of films made in war-ravaged Afghanistan. They may not be Hollywood-slick, boasting marquee names and bloated budgets. But if Osama, this year’s Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film, is anything to go by, Afghan films will be the critics’ darling for a while yet.

Directed by 41-year-old Siddiq Barmak, Osama is not about the world’s most wanted terrorist but a true story based on the trials and alienation of an Afghan mother. With her husband and brother dead, she must work to survive but unfortunately she’s bound by a Taliban decree that forbids women to leave their homes without a male "legal companion." Out of desperation, she disguises her 12-year-old daughter as a boy.

At once a coming-of-age yarn that yanks at your heartstrings, Osama is also an eloquent allegory about the human spirit thriving under the most trying of circumstances. What has made critics sit up and take notice is that it’s the first film shot entirely in Afghanistan since the collapse of the Taliban regime. This in itself is newsworthy, but what’s remarkable is how director Barmak had put his work together despite the scarcity of resources.

For during its terrifying reign, the Taliban had all but destroyed the country’s film industry. In addition to banning film and television, it had ordered all equipment and stock of films - numbering more than 3,000 - at the Afghan Film Institute to be burnt. So Barmak, who used to head the institute but was forced into exile when the Taliban came to power, literally had to start from scratch.

Small wonder then he’s now being feted as a phoenix-like artist rising from the ashes of adversity. Last year, for instance, UNESCO awarded Barmak the Fellini Silver Medal for safeguarding Afghanistan’s cultural heritage.

Suddenly, all things Afghan are in vogue. Columbia Pictures is producing a war film, touted as a cross between Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Black Hawk Down (2002), about the battle for the city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Afghanistan’s most loved comedian, Haji Kamran, is starring in his first Hollywood motion picture, with independent filmmaker Wali Razaqi calling the shots. Even Bollywood has jumped onto the bandwagon with a co-production showcasing Afghan and Indian talents. Film critic Kent Jones has characterized these developments as "a mad urge among Westerners to purge ourselves of our carefree, pre-September 11 ignorance."

Reading between the lines of his comment, it’s clear that what pushes this wave of interest through is not just curiosity about a region once cut off from the rest of the world, but also a political agenda. This probably explains why just three days after Osama won the Golden Globe, the White House held a screening of the film specially for the First Lady, with the wife of the Afghan ambassador in attendance. Call it by any name but this is, at its heart, diplomacy by way of cinema.

Indeed, if you flip through the pages of film history, you’ll notice how critical attention of a country’s cinematic output often converges with its efforts to open up to the West.

In the 1950s, for instance, Japanese auteur Akira Kurosawa garnered international fame and fans against the backdrop of postwar Japan finding its feet under American dictates and direction. In the mid-1990s, critical acclaim of Vietnamese films, like The Scent of Green Papaya (1994) and Cyclo (1996), ran parallel with news the US was reestablishing diplomatic ties with its old enemy. And over the past six years, in the light of Iran holding its first democratic elections in 1997, Iranian films have stolen the limelight, with works like Taste of Cherry (1998) and Baran (2001) sweeping festival awards at Cannes, Montreal, Berlin and Venice.

It’s therefore no coincidence that Afghanistan, rebuilding itself under Western eyes, is in the viewfinder’s frame. With cinemas reopening in Kabul – so deprived were its citizens for entertainment that the first movie shown there apparently caused a riot – interest in filmmaking is picking up. And soon, coming to a theater near you, will be many stories, charged with honesty and pain, about the Afghan people that will move you as surely as Children of Heaven did in 1999.