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Claus Mueller

Claus Mueller is  Senior New York Correspondent

New York City based Claus Mueller reviews film festivals and related issues and serves as a  senior editor for Society and Diplomatic Review.

As a professor emeritus he covered at Hunter College / CUNY social and media research and is an accredited member of the US State Department's Foreign Press Center.



New York Asian Film Festival, 2023

Considered as the leading comprehensive and best curated North American international film festival focusing on Asian production, the 22nd edition of the New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) was held for 17 days at Film at Lincoln Center (FLC) and the New Jersey Barrymore Film Center under the aegis of the New York Asian Film Foundation and FLC from July 14-30, 2023. Samuel Jamier, President of the Foundation and Executive Director of NYAFF noted after the conclusion of NYAFF that “2023 marks a giant leap forward for the festival in terms of audience size with 35% increase in attendance, number of films and guests…a [new] major partnership with Netflix and a whole new expanded pool of donors”. Jamier predicts this growth “will definitely help [to] increase the visibility of Asian movies in America further”,

Compared to the 75 features in 2022 there were 77 films this year with the largest group coming from China (8) and Hong Kong (9) followed by 10 each from Japan and South Korea. From Taiwan 6 productions were selected and 3 each from Thailand and the Philippines. Other countries were Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Singapore, Vietnam, the UK, and the US.

The 2023 selection included eight world premieres, nine international premieres and 32 North American premieres showcasing with other films. The selected films covered a broad spectrum of themes and genres from action, comedies, drama, and thriller to art-house films. Many productions emphasized conflicts and issues rooted in ordinary everyday life, a welcome shift away from standard Hollywood fare.

Among the numerous special events of the 2023 edition were master classes and panels, the Opening Night market on July 14, the Monday Matsuri to Midnight on July 24 with live music and Asian food stalls, and the unique Uncaged Competition films screening. In these sections, 9 productions from 8 countries were screened. They were identified because of the filmmakers’ creative vision which should be presented internationally. The Uncaged Award is given to the best feature in that section and the winner this year was “Abang Asik” by Jin Ong from Malaysia. His directorial feature debut is a raw neorealistic drama about two immigrant brothers. The 2023 Audience Award went to “Marry My Dead Body” by Taiwan’s Cheng Wei-ha. This unique LGBTQ+ story depicts a macho cop getting magically married to the ghost of a gay man.

With Netflix as a major new NYAFF sponsor collaborating on Anthony Stacchi’s closing film “The Monkey King”, NYAFF’s incursion into commercial cinema, the large expansion of the narrative shorts showcase including 10 Animation and 10 Live Action shorts, and the festival expansion into New Jersey all reflect a significant new phase of NYAFF’s development.

The features reviewed here present perspectives on China and Hong Kong rarely seen on North American screens or streaming services ranging from the emancipation of a woman from factory worker to writer, the problems of migrants without papers living in Hong Kong, and the struggle of a factory owner to maintain the jobs of his workers.

A WOMAN, Wang Chao, China 2022 premiering in North America, is a feature which depicts the life of a factory worker, Kong Xiu, from her late teens to adulthood. Taking place during Mao’s China, it covers her home and work life and transition into becoming a writer reciting her stories. The film provides an appealing message of the emancipation of a blue collar semiskilled worker who overcomes several broken marriages, raising three children, and the oppression of her husbands. There is an unwavering attachment to her children, caring for one sick husband, and outlasting obstacles she has faced over decades. Her resilience sustains her despite living in a society pervaded by sexual oppression and male domination. However, she refuses to follow her in-law’s request to return to the village to help farming and insists remaining a factory worker. Set mostly during Mao’s rule, some of the images mirror his reign such as posters, the uniform like factory workers’ outfits, periodic political indoctrinations, and accelerated productions in the textile factory. But these elements are indispensable for any Mao period film and do not set the center of A WOMAN. Rather, her life reconciling work with raising a family as a single mother, and overcoming obstacles, remain the center of the story as is her self taught acquisition of literary skills and writing.

In his 2022 debut feature, THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, the Malaysian Hong Kong based director Lau Kok-rui addresses a theme frequently omitted from Hong Kong films, the life and survival in Hong Kong by refugees from South Asian countries who live there legally and of those have no recognized residential permits. Immigrants and their families who lack these papers live in an underground socioeconomic vacuum, unable to have predictable work and to access most services available to legal residences. Equally important, and well documented by Kau Kok-rui, is the discrimination they face from official agencies and the antagonism, if not contempt, by the legal Hong Kong residents. It is this context and not the geopolitical USA Hong Kong – China tensions which provide the matrix for the film. The director juxtaposes the encounter and car accident of taxi driver Yat who has a legal residence with a Pakistani refugee who has no papers but is constantly struggling to make a living for his wife and young son Hassan. Unless Hassan’s family secures residency, they all face deportation to their home country. Hassan dreams of joining relatives in Canada and Yat, a bad tempered driver, may help him. After the accident, Yat realizes the precarious life of Hassan’s family once Hassan’s father dies. Yat grows close to the orphan Hassan after realizing that having no legal residence will turn him into a criminal and sells his cab to facilitate Hassan’ s trip to Canada. Twists and turns follow, including Hassan’s theft of a police officer’s gun and dubious characters searching for the cash Hassan was holding from Yat’s sale transitioning the narrative of the SUNNY SIDE into a thriller.

FACTORY BOSS, Wei Zhang, China, 2014

In a special screening, NYAFF presented “Factory Boss” in its 2015 edition, a feature connecting factory labor issues to China’s shift towards a value added and service oriented economy.  It depicts the struggle of Lin Dalin, the owner of a traditional plastic toy factory, to preserve his company and the employment of his large labor force. Lin Dalin was forced to compete with lower labor cost countries, absorb rising costs of raw materials, meet the government mandated increase of the minimum wage, and confront negative reports about the sweat shop work conditions in his factory. Thus he is forced to agree to a contract with an American corporation realizing only a razor thin profit. Coping with the shifts of a rapidly changing global transnational economy and its impact on China had not been a theme of Chinese features when the director Wei Chang completed FACTORY BOSS in 2014 after seven years of research.

Complicating Lin Dalin’s struggle is the reluctance of his laborers to work overtime, a factory accident, failure to pass an international inspection, and a lawyer who instigates a lawsuit on behalf of workers, whom he had promised riches, suing Lin Dalin. When the contract is cancelled by the US corporation, Lin Dalin must declare bankruptcy and the only one to get recompense from the lawsuit is the attorney. As he argues in the court proceeding, he could have sold his factory but opted instead to keep the company to ensure employment of the workers. He articulates his concerns about what happens to the workers if all factories in China close.


Claus Mueller, New York







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