Friday, March 26, 2010

Jason goes to Asianfest--Day 10

A full Saturday of movies, I'm only about a week late writing them up, let's go:

First up, a comedy/melodrama from Japan, DEAR DOCTOR. Told in flashbacks, after the cops show up at a small town to investigate a death and a missing doctor. The story comes from the brash young intern who shows up in town and immediately becomes the Doctor Ino's protege. Although the intern has plenty of book learning, the doctor has the pulse of the whole town, knows everyone by name and knows how to take care of them in the way that best suits them. And for that, he is celebrated as a hero, even when he doesn't do much. He "saves" one old man who comes back to life after coughing out a bit of sushi he was choking on--throw a party for the doctor! Cracks start to show in the facade, as it becomes clear he relies on his head nurse (who used to work in an emergency room) more than he probably should. And things really get dicey when he an an old woman agree to keep her illness a secret from her family, even though her daughter is a doctor in the city. The cops' investigation uncovers secrets that raise questions about his place in the community, but ultimately, even when he's gone the village rallies around his memory. (spoiler: He's not really a doctor, he was a medical device salesman who just spent so much time in hospitals he picked up the basics of medicine)

Next up was a documentary about a fairly interesting subject, but it just wasn't executed well. AOKI is about Richard Aoki, a Japanese American activist and famously the Asian guy who was one of the founders of the Black Panthers. He died last year, and the movie is a combination of archival footage with footage from the last 5 years of his life. It's an interesting story, starting with his first time incarcerated as a political prisoner--he was 2 and shipped off to the Japanese-American internment camps during WWII. His youth in West Oakland clearly paved the way for both his gangster temperament and his political activism. And then the movie goes over his Black Panther years (including footage of a recent reunion) and ultimately his time afterward when he became a professor and a mentor to a new generation of activists. So what frustrated me about the movie? First, the editing was badly choppy, to the point that after a question is posed the answer will be cut from multiple interviews, often less than a full sentence from each one. It's jarring. Second, they spent way too long on his Black Panther years, and it was repetitive as hell. Rookie mistake, having a half-dozen interview subjects say the same thing about him. They could have cut out about half and had a fine short documentary. Third (especially if you want to keep it feature length), there wasn't enough on his post-Panther years. I thought his childhood was really the most interesting part--'How do you become a militant activist (as opposed to a peaceful activist)?' Conversely, the question of 'How do you go from a militant activist to a college professor?' is equally interesting, and totally missed. Compared to those two questions, 'What is it like to be a militant activist?' isn't really that interesting. Anyway, fascinating subject, missed opportunity.

So moving along from militant activism to a sex farce with THE PEOPLE I'VE SLEPT WITH. I grudgingly admit this was laugh out loud funny most of the time, despite having plenty of points that I thought were way too cheesy. Angela Yang is proud to admit she's a slut--that is, once she realized that "a slut is just a woman who thinks like a man" (side note: I would like to disagree with that and say men don't think about sex nearly as much as she does, but the creepy ex-con I met on the light rail heading home at the end of the night proved me wrong). She keeps pictures of all her lovers with some note to remember them, a huge stack of what she calls her 'postcards.' Problem, she's pregnant. And so she's off on a series of wacky adventures commiserating with her flamingly gay best friend and tracking down the 4 guys she had unprotected sex with in the possible time window. It's down to either the super-fast Latino guy, the Mr. Hottie who likes getting reamed up the butt with a dildo while he masturbates, the Nice-But-Boring guy (who goes way over the top when he finds out he might be a dad. Another one of the points I thought was just a little off), and the Mystery Man who won't say what he does for a living. Turns out, Mystery Man is the most interesting. His real name is Jefferson, and his secret is that he's a politician. And he might just be the guy she can settle down with and marry. 75% hilarious, 25% cheesy or just tonally inconsistent.

Then I saw a good old psychological (and perhaps supernatural) horror film about shamans and new American immigrants, MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME. Sookhy is the daughter of a powerful Korean shaman, but that is not her path (even though superstition has it that she who has the shaman's gift and doesn't use it will see all her loved ones suffer and die). Instead, she marries a Korean-American and moves to America. There she lives in the suburbs with her husband and domineering mother-in-law. And the neighbors, John and Julie. She becomes a little enamored with Julie--so much so that she takes Julie as her American name. And then the deaths start. And she becomes oddly manipulative and possibly downright evil. Or maybe she's just a very friendly neighbor. It's a very odd movie, with familiar horror tropes but an odd tone I can't quite put my finger on. And the ending is either supernatural or a psychological break with reality.

And finally, I ended the night with a movie about early postwar Taiwan, PRINCE OF TEARS. In the early years after Mao forced Chiang Kai-shek and his followers onto the island, they counted themselves as almost like royalty in paradise. They being Little Zhou and her big sister Li, happily playing and going to school. But there are forbidden parts of the island, especially the coast, where just being there will get you targeted as a communist spy and executed. Just what happens to their kind, caring, and handsome art teacher early on. Life goes on, and although they've seen death now, they still live with their handsome air force pilot father and their beautiful mother. And their parents' best friend, uncle Ding. Ding has a badly scarred face, but is kind and their father reminds them not to judge him based on his looks. See, he was scarred in an act of great heroism. But what invades their fairy tale life is the increasing number of anti-communist purges. The purges eventually even sweep up their father. It seems despite being a decorated officer he also went on an unexplained trip to the mainland many years ago. It's a pretty good story, lushly photographed from a child's perspective where reality and imagination clash.

Total Running Time: 533
My Total Minutes: 178,986
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