Anyone who shows up for the 11th Annual Asian Film Festival of Dallas, which begins Thursday and runs through July 19, expecting that it is just going to be a feast of Hong Kong action, Japanese anime or South Korean horror is in for an awakening. The 30-plus films showing at the Magnolia Theater cover the cinematic waterfront from drama to comedy, documentaries to science fiction.
"When I first went in Year 1, it was grittier. There was a lot of action and horror," recalls director of programming Steve Norwood. "The people programming knew those were popular. As the years went on, there's been more to choose from."
In fact, this year a highlight will be the showing of three classic Japanese films -- the 1962 swordplay masterpiece Harakiri, the 1968 horror-fantasy Kuroneko, and an Akira Kurosawa masterwork, Sanjuro.
Norwood says there is no theme for this year's fest beyond showcasing the range of filmmaking styles. "Last year, we had four or five Taiwanese films. We wanted to give a taste of what's been coming out of Taiwan," he says. "This year, we've got more films in competition. We have five documentaries and eight narrative features in competition. A lot of the films are by newer filmmakers who are passionate about their films being shown, so it's easier to get them to appear at the festival."
Some observers might note that Indian films are conspicuously absent. "India's product comes out so fast, and it's tough to get them before they're released theatrically or available through streaming," Norwood says. "We do look primarily at East Asian countries. The lion's share comes from Japan, Hong Kong, China and South Korea."
Still, the range of countries represented this year includes the Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Taiwan and the United States. "We're trying to bring a little bit of everything," Norwood says. "We just want to bring these to a local audience and hopefully open some eyes."
Here are some highlights from this year's festival. For the full lineup, go to 2012.asianfilmdallas.com:
China Heavyweight (Noon, Wednesday ): Renowned director Yung Chang (Up the Yangtze) crafts a documentary about young Chinese men who take up Western-style boxing.
Dangerously Excited (Noon, Friday): Here's something you don't expect from South Korea: a dark comedy about a middle-aged man who suddenly finds himself rooming with an indie-rock band.
Dragon (7 p.m. Friday ): Chinese star Donnie Yen (Ip Man) is a man who becomes the object of a police detective's investigation after taking out a couple of thugs.
Doomsday Book (7 p.m. July 19, closing-night film): Two of South Korea's most acclaimed filmmakers Kim Ji Woon (I Saw the Devil) and Yim Pil Sung (Hansel and Gretel) team up for this multistory science-fiction epic.
The Great Magician (6:30 p.m. Saturday; Noon, July 19): Hong Kong star Tony Leung (Hard-Boiled, In the Mood for Love, Hero) is at the center of an action-adventure about a magician going up against revolutionaries and businessmen in '20s-era China.
Nightfall (9:30 p.m. Friday ): This is a thriller from Hong Kong director Chow Hin Yeung Roy (Lust, Caution) about a detective and a murderer who square off over a young pianist.
Overheard 2 (4:30 p.m. Friday ): Co-directors Felix Chong and Alan Mak brought us the celebrated Infernal Affairs (the film on which The Departed is based), and this crime thriller is supposed to be equally thrilling.