The Far East Film Festival honored Lin Ching-hsia, of Chungking Express fame, last year. Photo: Courtesy of Chungking Express

Far East Film Festival | Udine, Italy | April 26 – May 4

Apparently, nothing quite says far east Asia like northern Italy at least not culturally. Nestled into the northeast corner of the country between the Adriatic Sea and the Alps, it is hard to find a more European locale than Udine. A 30-minute drive east takes you to Slovenia while navigating 90 minutes due north through mountainous terrain brings you into Austria.

Legend has it that Attila the Hun had his legions build a hill in the middle of the city way back in the year 452 just so he could see Aquileia, one of the largest cities of the Roman Empire, burn to the ground after he plundered it. Today, historic Udine Castle sits on that very same hill and is a civic focal point housing a gallery featuring some of the biggest names in Italian art.

But it’s not just the work of legendary Baroque artists like Caravaggio that brings people to Udine, it’s the work of Asian cinematic legends, such as Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia, as well.

The 21st edition of the Far East Film Festival (FEFF) will once again celebrate the works of filmmakers from Hong Kong, China, Japan, and Korea. However, as the festival has grown in stature and scope, it now encompasses Southeast Asia as well.

According to organizers, they have “transformed the small city of Udine into the European epicenter of Asian cinema,” and they have done it by knowing what would appeal to Italian and European cinephiles.

The action movies of Hong Kong have long held sway as well as horror movies from South Korea and Japan. However Filipino comedies have begun to strike a chord thanks to the shared commonality of both Italy and the Philippines being deeply Roman Catholic.

The overworked genre of Thai horror movies also appeals as do some of the new action movies coming out of Malaysia. It’s this cultural crossover that has seen the festival honor Chan, Hung and last year the “goddess of Taiwanese and Hong Kong cinema,” Lin Ching-hsia.

Revered in Asia for her diverse work in over 100 films, the radiant Lin is known globally for her portrayal as one of the protagonists in Wong Kar-wai’s legendary Chungking Express.  With her blond wig, sunglasses and raincoat, Lin moved dreamily through the seminal 1994 film creating a cult following both at home and abroad for what turned out to be her last film before marrying a Hong Kong tycoon and retiring.

Largely reclusive, her appearance to receive a Golden Mulberry Lifetime achievement award was quite a coup for FEFF and helped to attract a number of top Asian film executives. Of course, indulging in the bounteous local delicacies of the Friuli region, including some of Italy’s most underrated wine and dining options, is a fairly delectable incentive for attendees as well.

The Festival opens with the premiere of the South Korean film Birthday, featuring Cannes Festival best actress winner Jen Do-Yeon, and closes with Furie, a Vietnamese female martial arts film.

Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific golf championship | Ibaraki, Japan | April 25-28

This is a little more than a trend. The top five female golfers in the world are Asian, or of Asian descent, as are more than 60 of the top 100 ranked players.

When asked why Asian women are so dominant in world golf, South Korean star Inbee Park summed it up best after one of her seven Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) major championships when she said simply: “It’s in our blood.”

Those same bloodlines will be on display this coming week when the best young golfers in Asia gather at the Royal Golf Club in Ibaraki, Japan for the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific championships.

The winner will earn a place in two of the five women’s major tournaments, the Evian Championship and the Women’s British Open, as well as an invite to the 2020 Augusta National Women’s Amateur.

Last year’s inaugural championship was won by 15-year-old Thai teen phenom Atthaya Thitikul and if recent history is any guide, it’s a safe bet that this year’s champ will go on to become a force in women’s golf.

2019 Badminton Asia Championships | Wuhan, China | April 23-28

If there is any other sport where Asian athletes are similarly dominant globally like women’s golf, it has to be badminton, However, unlike golf, both men and women dominate the badminton scene with 18 of the top 20 men in the world hailing from Asia and 17 of the top 20 women.

Up to 255 players from 21 countries will be in a field that features some of the top names in the sport competing for US$400,000 in prize money at the Wuhan Sports Center Gymnasium.

The continental individual championships are sanctioned by Badminton Asia and hosted by the Chinese Badminton Association and will feature world No 1, Japan’s Kento Momota fresh off his victory at the Singapore Open. The top-seeded Momota will be tested by world No 2 Shi Yuqi of China and one of the deepest fields of the year seeking the $30,000 in first place winnings.

Golden Week | Japan | April 27 – May 6

If you are thinking of traveling to Japan over the next two weeks, here’s a tip: don’t. With the government’s decision to consolidate the annual golden week holiday into a special ten-day block incorporating the Imperial abdication of the current emperor and the enthronement of the next emperor, there will be virtually no space to breathe in the hyperactive country.

More than 25 million Japanese are expected to take to the roads during the holiday causing massive traffic jams. But it won’t be just the roads that are jammed as the normal retail madness of golden week, where prices are routinely slashed, will take on an entirely new dimension. With royal memorabilia and wedding bookings soaring, economists are predicting a boost of close to $5 billion to the Japanese economy thanks to the change in Imperial eras.

The transition from the Heisei era of Emperor Akihito to the upcoming Reiwa Era of his son, Crown Prince Naruhito, will afford Japan a rare opportunity to celebrate a joyous moment. In 1989, the country was officially in mourning following the passing of Emperor Hirohito while his son Emperor Akihito took over the following year.

In a country where the average worker gets no more than one week a year in paid holidays, the ten-day Golden Week break becomes an even more compelling reason for normally reserved Japan to unabashedly get its celebration on.

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