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Chan Is Missing

asian film
Watsonville Ways: A scene from Eric Nakamura and Michael Idemoto's "Sunsets"

Asian American Film Festival dispenses images and information overlooked by Hollywood's eye.

By Todd S. Inoue

What better evidence to show that Asians have "made it" in Hollywood than the success of Jackie Chan. The action man has high-kicked into our hearts with his distinct personality and death-defying stunts. He's even owns part of Planet Hollywood and has a star on the Walk of Fame. Go, Jackie!

Chan's success is a signal that Asian Americans have "arrived," right? Let's see ...

  • There was an Asian guy among the special forces who boarded the hijacked 747 in Executive Decision.
  • There was another Asian guy among the scientists in the volcano movie Dante's Peak.
  • A dragon lady-like temptress tries to smoke Ice Cube at the end of Dangerous Ground.
  • Gedde Watanabe, a.k.a. Long Duc Dong, plays an over-the-top gay Chinese waiter in Booty Call. There's also another scene including two East Indian convenience-store owners.

Arrived? Asians are still trying to parallel park.

Am I missing something, or are stereotypical and demeaning roles getting more popular? The San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival seeks to counter that trend. The 15th annual installment prides itself on presenting the best in Asian and Asian American films. Vintage, debuts, documentaries, cutting-edge, independent, queer, kids, shorts--you name it; it's here for only a week (March 6-13).

The festival this year is bookended by two extraordinary finds. The first, Love and Duty, is a 1931 silent Chinese classic set in '30s Shanghai. A nine-piece orchestra will accompany this tale of a fateful romance between legendary actress Ruan Lingyu and Jin Yan. (March 6, 7pm.)

asian film
Burning Issues: Shabana Azmi (left) and Nandita Das star in Deepa Metha's "Fire."

The closing-night film is Deepa Mehta's Fire, a boldly feminist tale set in modern-day New Delhi. Fire tells the tale of Sita (Nandita Das), locked in a loveless arranged marriage, who finds companionship, and more, in the arms of her sister-in-law (national treasure Shabana Azmi). Fire is a daring film that exposes India's artistic and sexual freedom and articulately criticizes patriarchy. (March 13, 7pm.)

The big three I'm most excited to see are by independent directors.

Yellow is a '90s American Graffiti for young Los Angeles Korean-Americans: a night-in-the-life with music by locals the Bruce Lee Band and 10Bass T. (March 8, 8pm)

Strawberry Fields is a twisted on-the-road and coming-of-age feature film by Rea Tajiri (with musical score by Seam's Sooyoung Park and Tortoise's Bundy Brown). (March 9, 8:30pm)

Sunsets shows three friends enduring their last days of high school freedom in the bland backdrop of Watsonville. The movie is the directorial, feature-length debut of by Michael Idemoto and Eric Nakamura (of Giant Robot fame). (March 9, 9:30pm)

asian film
Asian American Graffiti: John Cho (from left), Burt Bulos and Jason Tobin in Chris Chan Lee's "Yellow."

Positive Images

The festival is also loaded with special premieres: a Sessue Hayakawa retrospective; a special block highlighting Korean and Hong Kong cinema; and the annual late-night collection of bizarre shorts, Asians From Uranus, sponsored by Giant Robot magazine. Many of the directors and stars will make appearances throughout the week, talking about their films.

When there are more aliens than Asians on TV, it's a telling reminder that the organizers' efforts are necessary and vital. For 15 years, the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival has offered strong proof that there is a market for strong, positive Asian images. And in this year's batch, there's plenty to like.


The San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival plays March 6-13 at the Kabuki Theatres in San Francisco. Tickets are available at BASS or at the AMC Kabuki Box Office.

For the latest information on tickets, films, venues and a complete schedule, tap into the film festival Web site.



Web exclusive to the March 6-12, 1997 issue of Metro

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