Monday, March 20, 2006

Asian American Film Festival report (and reviews)

Watching 6 series of movies in 3 days. I went to the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival and saw a bunch of different movies (features and shorts), all with varying themes.

One of the undercurrent themes going on this year is Asian American straight male identity in relationship to film, which frankly I'm really tired of. I'm sick of hearing straight (and some gay) Asian male assholes whining how they can't find Asian paratners just because they're Asian, and how they're not represented in mainstream American media, but I'll save that for another time.

First saw Memories of a Sudoku Superstar, a series of films that really didn't have an overlying theme, but many had to do with sex. The most surprising was the mockumentary, Dick Ho: Asian Male Porn Star, about a fictional 70s Asian male porn star. In the course of this film, it skewers the complaints that straight Asian men are never seen in straight porn by pointing the finger right back at those who are accusing them; that Asian men don't try out for these parts and so Asian men don't show up. It's a Catch-22 in this situation. Considering that there seem to be quite a number of gay Asian male porn stars (Brandon Lee, looking really haggard and no one seems to notice that he's actually hapa Filipino and Mexican and pretty hairy; and Van Darkholme, a Vietnamese porn star who I had the pleasure of being spanked by at Folsom Street Fair '04), it's interesting to see how we're (not surprisingly) completely ignored by the straight men.

Next were the queer shorts, which except for the excellent Balikbayan Confessions, a discussion of the reaction of progressive queer Pinay activists returning to the Philippines, sucked hard. The one that was really irritating was Porcelain, a whiny piece about how a potato queen can't get respect from the white men he dates. At the end of the movie, I wanted to scream, "Date a fucking guy of color!" and "Grow a backbone!" But that's another rant.

Then I saw The Crimson Kimono, a deliciously overacted detective B-movie about a Nisei detective and his white partner who fall in love with the primary witness, a white artist as part of the tribute to James Shigeta, a prominent JA actor in the 50s and 60s. Given the context of when it was released (1959), the themes of race not mattering when people fall in love, and the relatively accurate portrayal of the JA community in the 1950s (plus looking at how different LA's Little Tokyo was back then) was really ahead of its time. James Shigeta was pretty hot then too.

The Life Quixotic, a series of shorts on love, was surprisingly consistent and satisfying. Nothing queer here, but considering that shorts tend to have only one or two great films with a bunch of mediocre ones, this was a nice surprise. My favorite was Slip of the Tongue, a video interpretation of an actually good (!!!) spoken word piece about Asian women.

Most perplexing was My Prince, My Angel, a short about two people who fall in love by chance. What was most curious was the use of language, since the language used was pretty much gibberish and unintelligible, with sets and costumes that could be described best as Asia-lite, but the fact the entire cast and crew is Asian really made me think that this was ahead of its time. It pretty much turns the entire notion of exoticing Asia and Asian Americans on its head since it's the Asians who are doing it, and I spent most of the time scratching my head, and also thinking about authenticity and what does it mean for us as Asians to do something this blatantly unauthentic and have the balls to actually pull it off really well.

Sunday, I saw two programs. The first, Kieu, was done by my girl, Vu T. Thu-Ha, and taking the classic Vietnamese folk tale, Truyen Kieu, and placing Kieu as a massage worker. Somewhat slow in parts, but the cinematography was gorgeous and stunning, given what they had to work with. Since I've never read the story, I can't vouch for its relative accuracy, but the plot itself switches seamlessely back and forth between past and present as the main character tries to make sense of what life's given her and to make peace with a troubled past and an unknown future. Highly recommended. The other, Punchcards and Preoccupations, a series of movies about work. Consistently good, though my favorite was Stationery, an animation about an Asian woman who, in her attempt to play by the rules, realizes that life doesn't always follow them.

Last one I'll be seeing is Chinese Restaurants: Latin Passions, part of a series of stories of Chinese who run Chinese restaurants all over the world, this time focusing on South America. Review of that later.

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