Sweatshop Dolls, an Egoist, and a Cat-fished Trans: The New York Asian Film Festival Returns (NYAFF)

Brandon Judell
6 min readJul 26, 2023
The “Egoist” vows, “I don’t know what love is.” The romancing of Ryohei Suzuki, winner of the Best New Actor Award at NYAFF, proves otherwise.

Fortunately, once again, in fact for the 22nd time, NYAFF is supplying a solid, cultural one-two punch to the jaw of rampant bigotry against Asians, American and otherwise.

With over 70 offerings, including eight world premieres, from 15 countries including Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia, voices seldom reaching our shores, except sporadically on Netflix or more often on Criterion, will now be heard . . . and what majestic voices they are, especially that of director Zhang Wei, whose past and present works are being showcased at the fest.

Zhang Wei is honored with a retrospective at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival.

Clearly, Wei’s Factory Boss (2014) supplies adequate proof of why he deserves such an honor with this unflinching view of capitalism gone awry. Here Yao Anlian portrays one of cinema’s more complex entrepreneurs, Lin Dalin, a role that’s won him numerous Best Actor accolades.

Boss opens with these context-setting lines: “The global financial storm hasn’t come to an end yet in 2010, resulting in bankruptcy of thousands of toy factories in China’s Guangdong province. Only several have survived.”

So be prepared for speedy assembly lines of dismembered doll parts getting readied for the States, an accurate visual metaphor for the workers at Lin’s factory. His laborers haven’t been paid for over two months. Additionally, their lunch breaks have been cut in half; they are forced to live in elfin dormitory rooms shoehorned with fellow toilers; and when paid, their salaries are below the designated minimum wage. Forget health concerns.

Yes, Lin refuses to have a broken ventilation system repaired causing his employees to breath in toxic fumes throughout their forced-overtime days. One elderly long-time employee even comes down with leukemia. No wonder a company truck is set on fire in protest. Then a strike: “Stop exploitation! Pay us!”

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Brandon Judell

For half a century, Brandon Judell has covered the LGBTQI scene and the arts. He currently lectures at The City College of New York.