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[whitespace] A teen's documentary steals the show in an Asian film anthology

By Richard von Busack

'YOUNG AND DANGEROUS" IS AN ANTHOLOGY of films in what's described as "Nouveau Asian Cinema." The prize in this package isn't--as could be expected--the new film by Quentin Lee. Instead, it's a 3-year-old documentary which has already hit the festival circuit and is making its local theatrical debut. Let's talk about Lee's film first. The director of the highly recommended Shopping for Fangs has, in his new film, Flow, taken the tactic of Soderbergh's Schizopolis. He's discarded narrative for a fragmented story, tied together by a video interview with a pampered filmmaker. Here's a moment of well-staged satire, regarding the cinematic language of hackneyed adult thrillers, particularly Primal Fear. But Flow may just count as something the director had to get out of his system. Lee's pleading for freedom of sexual expression reminded me of what the novelist Arnold Bennett once said about a play he'd seen: "an extremely good sermon and an extremely bad play."

Flow looks all the more trifling when included in the same program with the superb a.k.a. Don Bonus, an autobiographical film by the teenage Cambodian-American Sokly Ny, edited by producer Spencer Nakasako, bracketed here in the program "American Dreams" with Kelly Loves Tony, a less dramatic video diary about a young Asian East Bay mother. Ny, who calls himself "Don," lives in the blighted Sunnydale projects of San Francisco, which even the police avoid. His father was killed by the Khmer Rouge. Two of his brothers are still in the picture. His elder brother is scrabbling out of poverty, living in the suburbs, married, raising a baby, working and going to school. The other brother is a runaway who ends up facing an attempted murder charge. By his own account, Ny was dropped by his mom in favor of her new husband, so he comes back to this locked-up project apartment alone every night and keeps his head down. Everything is burglarized, even the couch.

By day, Ny takes a two-hour-long round-trip commute to Galileo High School. While Ny and Nakasako never overdo it, they do give you a glimpse of what a shy student would face in a crowded urban school. Ny interviews his own English teacher, who casually tells her pupil, "You were a vegetable ... always looking out the window." When she receives Ny's student essay titled "Surviving in the Jungle," she greets it with numb sarcasm: "Wow. 'Surviving in the Jungle.' Didya get a machete?" The low point for the boy is the scene of a Cambodian New Year's celebration where he breaks down, sitting in his affluent brother's car at night to cry. During this scene, we hear his voice telling of his loneliness, but the camera is fixed on a long shot of Eddy Street in the Tenderloin at night, seen in rainbow spectrum in this video camera: chlorine-green bursts of streetlights, a sickly blue night sky, fire-red traffic lights.

'Young and Dangerous' plays in San Jose at the Towne Theater. Programs vary throughout the week. For showtimes and descriptions of some of the other films on the program, call 408/287-1433.

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From the August 19-25, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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