Bringing Worlds Together – ‘New World (Shinsekai Story)’ and ‘Fly me to Minami’ by filmmaker Lim Kah Wai

Bringing Worlds Together – ‘New World (Shinsekai Story)’ and ‘Fly me to Minami’ by filmmaker Lim Kah Wai

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Over the last summer, I traveled to Osaka and discovered one of its raunchier neighborhoods: Shin Sekai (New World’). I took my time to talk to people and get a feel of the area. This is how I met Ming Ming, a young Chinese girl working in one of the many karaoke bars around. She told me she had come to Japan in hopes of getting a good education whilst making some money on the side. At only 22 years old, she often felt lonely, she said, since the Chinese and Japanese culture felt like they were worlds apart.

Producer and director Lim Kah Wai (Kuala Lumpur, 1973) is an expert in bringing these worlds together in his films. Having worked and lived in both Japan and China, his deep connection with these countries becomes apparent through his work. In New World <Shinsekai Story> (2011) we follow the story of Chinese Coco (played by Coco Shi), a young woman who seems bored and restless with her life in Beijing and her relationship with a rich businessman. When she decides to spend Christmas all by herself in metropolitan Osaka, she ends up staying around the Shin Sekai area and is confronted with a world full of mafia and shady bars. Coco meets the young Japanese man Masanobu (Ogawa Takeru), who once was a promising student but turned out jobless and aimless in Japan’s economic downwards spiral. She also runs into different Chinese immigrants and starts seeing her country from a different perspective. Coco’s holiday does not turn out to be the holiday she hoped for, but it might just turn out to be all she needed for Christmas…

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Lim Kah Wai has many stories to tell – this does not only hold true for New World but also for his latest film Fly Me to Minami (2013), where different story lines come together in a somewhat Love Actually-type of plot. Hong Kong fashion editor Serine (Sherine Wong), Korean stewardess Seol-Ah (Baek Seol-Ah) and Japanese aspiring photographer Tatsuya (Kenji Kohashi) find themselves at different crossroads in their lives. Faith brings their stories together in the center of the bustling city of Osaka, where they all spend New Year’s in different ways, yet closer to each other than they think.

New World and Fly me to Minami are not just contemporary dramas about romance, they are also about culture and about how changing economies influence people’s dreams, family ties and friendships. In New World we see how Japan’s rough economy has influenced family businesses and has triggered criminality, but also how China’s flourishing economy has brought forth a ‘nouveau riche’ that is crossing borders and does not always understand the other culture. Strained Sino-Japanese relations shimmer through the story. Coco is warned “not to belittle Japan” and her Chinese friend tells her that Japan will have “big problems” if trade relations with China make a turn for the worse. In Fly me to Minami the Korean Seol-Ah states that “whether it’s Korean or Japanese, if you look at the tag it’s all made in China”.

Although East Asian cross-cultural tensions are hinted at throughout these movies, they do not play an important role at the foreground. This is also where some viewers might find their problems with these movies: are we looking at a frivolous film or is there more beyond the seemingly superficial surface? It seems as if the director has not yet made the choice between creating an airy lovestory or a deeper cross-cultural narrative. In New World <Shinsekai Story> there is also some flaw in the congruence of the scenes, the overall plot and editing work. Although these points are improved on in Fly me to Minami, the critical viewer might still feel dissatisfied with the lack of deeper motives. The acting makes up for a lot; the main roles in both films are portrayed strongly and naturally by its Chinese, Japanese and Korean actors.

Apart from the acting, it is mainly the setting of both New World <Shinsekai Story> and Fly me to Minami that gives these movies their (cultural) flavor. Lim Kah Wai has carefully chosen urban sceneries that are appealing to the eye – Osaka in the early morning, Hong Kong warm afternoons, Seoul twinkling evenings and Beijing’s late nights – for this reason alone any East Asia lover will like these films. I also enjoy how Lim Kah Wai has chosen the backdrop of his scenes for personal reasons; the main part of both movies takes place in the center of Osaka, and seeing the many streets I once walked, or even one of the benches I once spent an entire afternoon on, I could not help but be overcome with nostalgia. The Chinese immigrants that Coco meets on her trip to Osaka reminded me of Ming Ming, and some scenes in New World <Shinsekai Story> portray a very realistic picture of Shin Sekai’s bar life: a bit raunchy, a bit romantic, and very much very Osaka.

There is much more to be expected from Lim Kah Wai. He has a unique talent for bringing worlds together and producing films with a strong East Asian ambiance and zesty cross-cultural flavour. Just add a bit more depth- and we have the perfect ingredients for many promising films to come.

Watch the trailer of New World <Shinsekai Story> here:

If you are interested in watching New World <Shinsekai Story> or Fly me to Minami: Fly Me To Minami will open theatrically in Japan next month (December 2013). You can expect it abroad halfway 2014 with English subtitles. New World (Shinsekai Story) will be released in Feb 2014 via DVD and VOD, including iTunes. Also keep an eye on the Tidepoint Pictures website for new releases of Asian films. 

For the journal entry about my travel to Japan and Shin Sekai, please click here: Japan State of Mind.

*Images provided by Tetsuki Ijichi, Tidepoint Pictures

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