Saturday, March 27, 2010

Jason goes to Asianfest--Day 11

And the final day of SFIAFF 2010, and the final day of Chi-hui Yang being the man in charge. Looking forward to seeing him as a fan next year, and I'm curious who will step in and how the festival will hold up going forward. Anyway, I'm only about a week and a half late with this, so here's the last five movies:

First up, the shorts program Wandering, Wondering. Shorts about loneliness and connections (often with cell phones):
JUST A LITTLE RUN: A couple of children run away in Taipei. If only they knew the bus system better.
ONE DAY: From Korea, a woman follows her husband to a love hotel. Bad man!
LOVERS: Also from Korea, a gay story of a love and disappearance when and old man's much younger lover goes missing.
TALL ENOUGH: A black woman and an Asia-American man form a cute couple in Brooklyn. Yes, she assures here mother on the phone, he's tall enough.
YES, YESTERDAY: Yesterday really meaning "many years ago" in this story of old lovers reunited in New York's Chinatown on the Fourth of July. Fireworks will ensue?
WORKS OF ART: Art is a Korean-American actor. Art has trouble getting work. Art's best friend gives him a gig--playing him on an arranged date.

Next up was a TALENTIME. It was a sweet little teenage comedy/drama from Malaysia. The local school is holding a Talentime (Talent Show) for the students. And there are some talented students (and some goofy teachers, but their drag act is ultimately cancelled). Melur is a English/Malaysian girl with a beautiful voice and who writes her own very short poems. Like all competing students, she is assigned a chauffeur--a fellow student with a motorbike to transport her to and from practice and the final competition. Her chauffeur is Mahesh, who is quite handsome and might be her new boyfriend. Too bad he's so rude--he never speaks or reacts to anything she says. It's almost as if he's deaf. Oh, wait, he is deaf. Meanwhile Hafiz is the main competition, both in the Talentime and for her affections. He's the ultimate good guy, splitting time between the competition (where he's a virtuoso at the guitar) and taking care of his dying mother, while still maintaining high marks at school. And he's even a gentleman in his love of Melur, simply pining for her from afar. I believe he was actually the one who told her Mahesh was deaf. The end result was an ultimately sweet but multi-layered complex story of teenage love, family, and talent.

Then the first of an accidental (maybe?) double feature on identity (they were separate programs, but worked so perfectly together). FOG is a drama from Hong Kong about amnesia. Wai (Terence Yin) is an amnesiac recently released from the hospital and trying to piece together the pieces of his life against the backdrop of the 10th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to China. He goes out with friends who tell him stories of himself that he doesn't remember. He gets drunk a lot, he wanders through his old school recognizing nothing. But gradually he picks up pieces of himself. Especially about an old girlfriend, and eventually the huge shock that he has a daughter who doesn't know him (for some unspecified reason they broke up either before she was born or when she was too young to remember). The reunion is more than a little uncomfortable, as his ex is still angry about something he can't remember. But to their daughter, he's cool uncle Wai. It's an interesting day-in-the-life snapshot of a man who literally lives in the present--because he knows nothing about his past or his future.

Then the second movie on identity was an amazing documentary, IN THE MATTER OF CHA JUNG HEE. I missed Deann Borshay Liem's previous documentary, FIRST PERSON PLURAL, although it will play on PBS's POV series paired with this follow-up. Deann is a Korean-American adoptee. A war orphan originally named Cha Jung Hee. Problem is, she was never Cha Jung Hee. Jung Hee was an orphan, and the Borshay's (her adoptive parents) corresponded with the Korean orphanage and arranged to adopt Cha Jung Hee. Problem is, Jung Hee's family had already come to claim her, so the orphanage passed off a different girl (Kang Ok Jin) as Cha Jung Hee and she flew to America, was adopted, and became Deann Borshay. Apparently in FIRST PERSON PLURAL Deann Borshay/Cha Jung Hee/Kang Ok Jin learned this and uncovered her past. 10 years later, this muddled identity is still haunting her, so she goes to Korea to find Cha Jung Hee--the real Cha Jung Hee. Armed with a name, a picture from 1964, and very little else (the name and location of the orphanage), she sets out on her quest. She meets several Cha Jung Hees, including on that might (she decides is) the real one. But she also uncovers more secrets (a third Cha Jung Hee?) as well as a perspective of what her life would've been life if she stayed in Korea (different, but likely not that bad) and some startling statistics on adoption (despite having grown to a modern, technologically advanced nation, South Korea still adopts out many children overseas--a holdover from the postwar period). Excellent film.

And finally, SFIAAFF has a strong tradition of ending the San Jose weekend with a strong, energetic, blockbuster (last year it was THE CHASER, a few years back it was Chan Wook Park's OLDBOY) and this year was no exception with THE MESSAGE. A cool, stylized suspense thriller of China during the Japanese occupation of WWII. There's a puppet Chinese collaborationist government set up by the invading Japanese. But there's also a wave of assassinations from the underground resistance. After torturing a prisoner (there's a lot of rather inventive torture in the movie) they learn how messages are transported through codes, and learn that the messages are coming from within the puppet regime from a source codenamed Phantom. Through a message about a fake meeting, they narrow down the suspects, and then invite them all to a top-secret meeting in an isolated castle, where the fun begins. They're all under suspicion, they're all bugged, and whoever the Phantom is now knows that the fake meeting is really a trap to catch the leader of the resistance, and they must get a message out. Mistrust escalates, everyone fights with everyone else and accusations fly. It's thrilling, but complicated enough that I'd have to see it again to give anything like a coherent plot description.

And how Asianfest 2010 ended.

Total Running Time: 480 minutes
My Total Minutes: 179,466

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