PADDLE UP AND GO: The Asian American Film Festival looks at glory boys, comfort women and fortune cookies for three days in the South Bay
The Asian American Film Festival looks at glory boys, comfort women and fortune cookies for three days in the South Bay
By Richard von Busack
WHAT THE grandfather wishes to forget, the grandchild wishes to remember, Freud said. The 15 films and one program of shorts touching down in San Jose from the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival include a number of features about the recovery of lost memories—and, finally, the embrace of a once-reviled stereotypical cookie.
Among other matters, the weekend-long series includes a chance to see the locally made Glory Boy Days (March 22, 9:15pm), which just screened at Cinequest. Paul Encinas' film concerns a mixed group of downtown San Jose college-aged pals; it is a sort of San Jose Graffiti centered on Lando (Jared Mendiola), a confused young man from an abusive home. His 21st birthday is celebrated with a rudderless search for a party. Meanwhile, Lars (Riley Kempton) and his slightly unstable girlfriend Friday (Charisse Loriaux) try to patch up their relationship.
Three Days to Forever (March 23,2:15pm) follows similar driving around by a similar class of the college bound. It seems awfully like Y tu mamá también exported to Indonesia, though there is nothing wrong with that. Two younger members of the affluent class head out on a trans-Java car ride, bolstered with some good marijuana. Cousin Ambar (Adinia Wirasti) is an irrepressible flirt who wants to escape the certain fate of a traditional arranged marriage. She plans to leave the country for college. Her cousin Suf (Nicholas Saputra) is a virgin with his own longings. Indonesia is a hot country, and it doesn't get less temperate during the pair's three-day drive out to a big family wedding in Yogyakarta.
Riri Riza's intelligent, good-looking, open-ended road movie demonstrates that there is an overlay of American pop and slang in Indonesia, just as there is in the Philippines. It is not just the English-language Jawaiian-style pop on the soundtrack by the band Float. In this film's world, the useful American phrase "Don't be an asswipe" apparently needs no translation.
Happiness (March 22, 7pm) is a stylized South Korean melodrama that outstays its welcome a bit, but there are enough tears in it and classical Hollywood style to justify the popular Saturday-night slot. Hur Jin-ho (April Snow, Christmas in August) directs this The Magic Mountain–like tale of a rotter named Young-su (Hwang Jung-min), who fakes leaving Korea so that he can tend his seemingly terminal case of cirrhosis at a country spa.
At the spa, he meets an appealing young rural woman, Eun-hee (Lim Soo-jung), who is frail with an unnamed disease, possibly cystic fibrosis. As in Murnau's Sunrise, director Hur opposes complexity and simplicity, and the city and the country. Hwang, as the alcohol-ridden heel, conducts himself like Sinatra in a 1950s movie, and Lim also has something of the essential purity of silent-movie heroines.
A far darker story of Korea's history is the documentary Behind Forgotten Eyes (March 22, 4:45pm), Anthony Gilmore's study of the lives and afterlives of the Korean "comfort women" imprisoned by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II.
The good news is that Buddhist monks are tending some of these forcibly enslaved and gang-raped women today. Now elderly women, they are being led through art and physical therapy for what must be an unimaginable case of post-traumatic stress disorder. And weekly protests at the Japanese embassy in Seoul keep the matter of their suffering in the public eye.
There are deniers, of course; Gilmore interviews Nakamura Akura of the Showa History Institute in Japan. This academic takes the usual trail of an obfuscator, whether it is a Catholic revisionist downplaying the Inquisition or a historian trying to deny the Holocaust. Namely: it didn't happen; if it did happen, it happened to far fewer people than is claimed. The watercolor art of the victims, and less successfully, an animated re-enactment, try to help us understand the ordeal.
Former local filmmaker Jessica Yu, who started her documentary career with a short film shot in San Jose's Chinatown, gets into feature film with what she calls "a popcorn film with a sprinkling of social commentary." Ping Pong Playa (March 22, 2:15pm) follows a cocky nebbish (Jimmy Tsai) who longs to be an NBA great but finds himself in the realm of table tennis.
Derek Shimoda's beguiling The Killing of a Chinese Cookie (March 23, noon) conceals under its Cassavetesan title the history of the fortune cookie.
Reviled as a symbol of Asian American stereotyping, the enigmatic, clam-shaped confection is celebrated by Asian Americans from all corners, from the food industry to the erotic arts. (The raunchy side of the cookie—how any fortune can be improved with the suffix "in bed"—is duly mentioned and duly topped in a clip of Sarah Polley in the set-in–San Francisco film Guinevere.)
Daffy Duck, Homer Simpson, Batman and the Monkees are all seen endorsing the after-dinner cookie, whose origins the film traces to Japan circa 1600. Chinese entrepreneurs in America popularized this fragile yet inevitable treat. Stuff with homily, petrify, serve.
Almost a dozen other films turn up during this weekend, including the March 21 opening-night Indian film Amal.
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