Inclusion has always been a part of the philosophy and the practice of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The 16th New York Asian Film Festival with Subway Cinema announced their lineup for films—June 30 to July 13 at the Film Society and July 14 to 16 at the SVA Theatre.

Considered North America’s leading festival of popular Asian cinema, this year it will showcase 57 feature films, including three international premieres, 21 North American premieres, four U.S. premieres and 15 films making their New York City debuts. To add to the excitement, the festival will feature in-person appearances by more than 20 international filmmakers and celebrity guests from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and Southeast Asia.

NYAFF knows how to throw an elegant party, and this year their three gala screenings are brilliant reinventions of the thriller genre. The opening gala will be the international premiere of Nattawut Poonpiriya’s “Bad Genius,” the first Southeast Asian film to open the festival, with the director and stars in attendance. In this exhilarating high-school thriller, straight-A students Lynn (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying) and Bank (Chanon Santinatornkul) stage a heist that will undermine the U.S. university entrance system after they lose their own scholarships.

The centerpiece gala of the festival will be the North American premiere of Mikhail Red’s “Birdshot,” a continuation of the festival programmers’ efforts to champion films from Southeast Asia, and the Philippines in particular. The closing gala is the U.S. premiere of Jung Byung-gil’s “The Villainess,” fresh from its midnight screening in Cannes. The adrenaline-soaked action film stars Kim Ok-vin as a ruthless female assassin trained in China, who starts a new life with South Korea’s National Intelligence Service.

New to NYAFF in 2017 is the Main Competition section, featuring seven diverse works by first- or second-time directors that are all having their North American premieres at the festival. Competing are “Bad Genius” (Thailand), “Birdshot” (Philippines), “A Double Life” (Japan), “The Gangster’s Daughter” (Taiwan), “Kfc “(Vietnam), “Jane” (South Korea) and “With Prisoners” (Hong Kong).

“We were seeking a range of original films from young, first-time directors, films that represent the diversity of filmmaking from Asia, stories that say something both very local and specific to their countries of origin and something very universal,” NYAFF Executive Director Samuel Jamier said. “We hope we achieved at least some of this with our inaugural competition selection, which includes films from seven countries/cities in the region in a broad variety of genres. It’s important for us to champion new filmmaking from Asia, and the diversity of film made there at a time when other festivals in North America seem to be reducing the size of their Asian lineups.”

More now than ever, Hong Kong cinema is at the core of the festival’s programming. Faithful to its Chinatown origins, this year’s edition celebrates the best filmmaking from the Special Administrative Region with a central Hong Kong Panorama section, commemorating the 20th anniversary of its establishment, with major support from the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in New York.

The core of the panorama will be a special (and first of its kind) focus on the exciting new generation of directors, titled “Young Blood Hong Kong.” As part of the 20th anniversary, the festival is looking to the future of Hong Kong cinema, rather than its past. These recent Hong Kong directors are working in various genres, tackling a range of social issues and paying homage to the film traditions they grew up with, from tenement dramas to vampire comedies.

The 2017 lineup also includes five LGBTQ-themed films: two dramas with transsexual protagonists, Naoko Ogigami’s “Close-Knit” from Japan, and Cho Hyun-hoon’s drama “Jane” from South Korea; two coming-of-age high-school youth dramas, Ahn Jung-min’s “Fantasy of the Girls” from South Korea, and Leste Chen’s 2006 “Eternal Summer” from Taiwan, which merits a second look a decade on; and Lee Sang-il’s wild and violent mystery thriller “Rage,” featuring Go Ayano (NYAFF 2016 Rising Star Asia awardee) as a homeless stranger invited into the home of a semi-closeted salaryman (Satoshi Tsumabuki) as his live-in-lover.

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