New York Asian Film Festival 2023

Table of Contents

For the third year in a row, the Heroic Purgatory podcast is covering the New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) which took place between March 10 and March 19. As usual, the podcast will present John's and Jason's favorite films of NYAFF 2023 (in addition to a general overview of the festival). Additional, this page includes short written reviews by John of the NYAFF movies he managed to see. 



  • Arrow releases Blu Ray of Ringu
  • Junk Head Blu ray release, August 15. Available on Amazon



This page will be updated as more reviews are added. 


Runtime: 120 min
Director: Daishi Matsunaga
Starring: Ryohei Suzuki, Hio Miyazawa

Egoist depicts the relationship between a photographer / magazine editor (Kosuke) and his personal trainer (Ryuta), who is a high school dropout and often strapped for cash. He tries to help Ryuta and his mother, but one tragedy after another prevents him from achieving the happiness he wants. 

There are many reasons to love Daichi Matsunuga’s new film: the acting, the chemistry, the naturalism, the humor, the charisma, or the remarkable profoundness with which it approaches this tragic story. Instead of succumbing to easy melodrama, “Egoist” takes what is perhaps a measured approach to the romantic drama focusing on the character’s personal struggles while also capturing the universality of their predicament. We see the glancing of the fingers, the stolen kisses, all done naturally to emphasize the repressive culture that the character’s live in. At the same time, their status as gay men is not all that defines them. As the title suggests, there is a deceptively tragic undertone to the otherwise conventional “happy” relationship between the two men, and that’s where the true substance of the film lies. Who is the titular egoist, and why? Kosuke is someone who wants control over every aspect of his life (often using money to achieve it), while Ryuta is someone willing to be used so he can take care of his mother. Yet neither of them is happy. In the end we see control being yanked out of Kosuke, forcing a radical (albeit slow) transformation. 

At its core, Egoist is a drama about control and letting go, told with exquisite subtlety and charm. No doubt, one of the best films in this year’s NYAFF.


The Effects of Lying

Runtime: 85min
Director: Isher Sahota
Starring: Ace Bhatti, Laila Rouass, Lauren Patel, Navin Chowdhry, Shaheen Khan, Bhasker Patel, Mark Williams, Adam Bregman, Deepal Parmar, Jon Tarcy

Naveen is doing everything he can to keep his family together, yet his life is very far from a happy one. His daughter is recovering from an eating disorder and wants out of the family as soon as possible. His wife is a sex addict whom he catches cheating on him with his brother. Once the tension balloons to the point of bursting, all the family secrets come out, leading to the ultimate breakdown of the life that Naveen fought so hard to keep intact. 

Somewhat reminiscent of Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies, The Effects of Lying is a film about a dysfunctional family coming to grips with their dysfunctions. A key scene in the film is the one where Naveen and his daughter ruminate about their happiness, and the nature of happiness in general. As the drama progresses, Naveen slowly realizes that what he considers happiness is simply a protective shell that he’s been hiding in his entire life. Even though the dialogue is somewhat telegraphing, the film does a good job at offering a thought provoking examination of family and identity, and how the two relate. In the end, everyone comes to a happy compromise and realizes their connection to each other runs deeper than their shared DNA. 

The dialogue is at times too awkward and the ending feels a bit too convenient to be satisfying. Nevertheless, The Effects of Lying is a worthwhile dramedy with a heartfelt message and more than a few cringeworthy interactions (if you’re into that kind of thing). 

What We Leave Behind

Runtime: 11 min
Director: Kang Nam-jin
Starring: Han Chang-hyun, Lee Chang-hoon, Seon U-young

A fairly unique and interesting approach to stop motion animation with still photographs, What We Leave Behind tells the story of a family through several decades, from the birth of their son until his adulthood when he has a family of his own. We never see the actors (with one exception), only the results of their actions around the house (e.g.  empty plates after dinner, unmade bed, etc.). There is an immediate familiarity that the viewer develops with this style as it reminds us of the deep emotional connections that we all have with our everyday objects. The photographs, the TV, the couch, the dinner table, all serve to carry the weight of the happiness and sadness that we go through in our lives. Viewed through the meticulously composed cinematic lens of director Kang Nam-ij, this simple connection makes for the perfect representation of the mundane, yet somehow poetic, everydayness of the human condition. 

Though a tad too melodramatic at times (in typical South Korean fashion), director Kang Nam-jin is able to present the entire life of a family in just 10 minutes of runtime, and does so with remarkable effectiveness. The end is heartbreaking, but also full of hope and optimism. Our paths are defined by the things we leave behind, accurate or not, they inevitably tell the story of our lives once nothing else is left. Perhaps that is the film's ultimate message: be mindful of what you leave behind.

All Your Fault, PD

Runtime: 16 min
Director: Kim Sun-yeun
Starring: Kim Ga-eun, Kang In-kwon, Oliver Jung

When the set of a student film is overtaken by Zombies, the ever resourceful producer must take charge and get them out of that sticky situation. Will she save the rest of the crew, who have been nothing but jerks to her? Or will they all die at the dawn of the zombie apocalypse? 

The most impressive feature of All Your Fault, PD (PD stands for "Producer" here) is its production values, who far surpass those of a typical short film of this kind. The make up and special effects are simply excellent. The comedy is also spot-on, juxtaposing the typical ego-driven quibbles of a production crew with a seemingly catastrophic event. The ending is perhaps a bit too cynical, though one can certainly see the producers point of view. The build up, however, is grandiose and that alone makes this short a worthwhile watch. If anything, it's a film that leaves you wanting more. 

Bad Education

Runtime: 77 min
Director: Kai Ko
Starring: Berant Zhu, Kent Tsai, Edison Song, Leon Dai

On the night of their High School graduation, Wang, Han, and Chang go out drinking. To cement their friendship they decided to tell each other their darkest secret. When Wang can’t come up with one, he must agree to perform whatever challenge his friends task him with in order to restore the balance in their friendship. When Wang attacks a mobster, their night rapidly devolves into an adrenaline fueled fever dream that they’re barely able to escape with their lives.

Kai Ko’s directorial debut, Bad Education, has been firmly entrenched in this year’s cinematic chatter, for good reason. It’s a film guaranteed to keep you at the edge of your seat (literally) throughout its entire 77 minute runtime. Dialogue driven and structured partially like a play, I saw the film as an examination of youth, class, loyalty, and mortality among other things, all encoated in a deliciously suspenseful thriller that approaches near perfection. The neo-noir aesthetic (somewhat inspired by Japanese gangster films) maintains the constant dynamism of the film, even in the most dialogue heavy scenes (particularly in the third chapter). Chen Ta-pu’s cinematography is stunning, taking full advantage of the high-contrast neon-lit night streets that so often characterize the genre.

The chemistry between the three leads is excellent and their acting is spot on. Their friendship is believable, and so is their subtle resentment for each other. Ko’s background as an actor no doubt helped the actors find the proper mood and rhythm of their respective characters. The third act in particular is where their work really shines as it showcases the rapid change of emotions that they go through.

A remarkable film all around, Bad Education is hopefully the first of many for the novice director.


Vital Signs

Runtime: 100 min
Director: Cheuk Wan-chi
Starring: Louis Koo, Yau Hawk-sau, Angela Yuen

Louis Kou plays an EMT (or ambulanceer) in Hong Kong. He’s very good and passionate about his job, but doesn’t partake in the necessary “politicking” that is required to advance in his career. Meanwhile this all takes place in Hong Kong that is rapidly declining. So many people (including his family) have left, and even he is thinking of leaving. At the same time, he is paired with a much younger ambulanceer who appears to be the polar opposite of Kou – ambitious and wants to get promoted as fast as possible.

Vital Signs is as much a film about troubled EMTs as it is a film about Hong Kong. The semi-autonomous (in-name only) former British Colony has been dying for a while now, and its declining vital signs are at an all time low. People are leaving, and the ones that aren’t don’t see much hope left in the city. This is the predicament that the protagonist is stuck in, while also trying to do his best doing a job he loves despite the constant bureaucratic pressures. Kou’s acting is superb at portraying his dilemma, not only for himself, but as a representative for a whole generation of Hong Kongers. 

As a love letter to Hong Kong, Vital Signs ends on quite the bittersweet note. It offers some hope, but mostly as a matter of principle. The fate of the main characters is left ambiguous, with a few hints of personal growth for comfort. Perhaps that is also the fate of Hong Kong, as the filmmakers see it.

Kitty the Killer

Runtime: 123 min
Director: Lee Thongkham
Starring: Ploypailin Thangprapaporn, Vithaya Pansringarm, Denkhun Ngamnet

Dina is a fearless teenage assassin who is involved with an international crime organization known as The Agency. When their trainer and guardian, Grey Fox, is betrayed by the organization, Dina and her equally deadly colleagues partner with the seemingly incompetent Charlie, a simple office worker who was thrust unwillingly into the role of the new Grey Fox. They must now train Charlie and avenge the death of the previous guardian. 

Kitty the Killer is one of those films that feel as though they are only a small part of a larger story. This is both positive and negative, as it gives the illusion of a larger, lived-in world, but also gives the impression that something is missing. That is the operative term: missing. A superhero/comic book inspired flick, Kitty the Killer features plenty of adequately choreographed action scenes, conspiratorial secret societies, magic stones, quirky one-liners, etc… yet it somehow fails to deliver the level of excitement one expects from the genre. The seemingly arbitrary transition between live action and anime in certain scenes doesn’t quite resonate, instead appearing out-of-place and awkward. 

Denkhun Ngamnet as Charlie is the film’s one saving grace, as his natural charm and chemistry with the other “assassins” elevate the viewing experience from ordinary to genuinely fun. It doesn’t fix the plot holes or questionable action scenes, but the actor’s comedic chops help keep the movie afloat. 


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