Thursday, March 22, 2012

Jason goes to Asianfest--Closing Night

The real closing night in San Jose, not the one with the party in San Francisco. Anyway, I missed Saturday because I went up to the city and watched a kinda boring soccer double-header at AT&T Park. 1-0 Houston Dynamo over the San Jose Earthquakes, then 2-1 Mexico over Senegal...all goals on PKs. But my seat (just over the dugout) was pretty awesome, it was cool to see all my Quakes tailgating friends again, and I got really really really drunk. That was fun.

And then on to Sunday, and my last four movies of Asianfest.

I started the day with YES, WE'RE OPEN, the newest film from longtime festival favorite Richard Wong (COLMA: THE MUSICAL.) It's a comedy of sex, marriage, fidelity, and what it takes to be a good modern couple in San Francisco. My personal favorite moment comes early on, in a very awkward wedding toast when writer and frequent collaborator H.P. Mendoza is singled out as a gay man who unfairly can't get married. Later he confronts the guy who gave the toast and explains that he's not actually gay. That's a little inside joke, since he played a gay man in COLMA as well as FRUIT FLY, so he's gotten a bit typecast (at least, he's typecast by the audiences at Asianfest who've actually seen his work.) Anyway, the guy giving the toast is Luke (Parry Shen) who's in a committed relationship with Sylvia (Lynn Chen.) And they kind of look down on their friends for entering into the outdated institution of marriage. After all, they're a very modern couple. And then they meet an even more modern couple, Elena and Ronald (Sheetal Sheth and Kerry McCrohan) who prove to be (as per the festival theme) a disruptive influence. In particular, they challenge Luke and Sylvia's sexual boundaries and monogamy--even the notion that a "modern" couple should be monogamous. Vary funny, and also makes some interesting observations about monogamy and the personal politics of being liberal enough to be cool in San Francisco.

Unfortunately, I had to skip the Q&A because I had precious little time between that and my next show, a documentary double-bill which started with the short RING LAILA. Laila of the title refers to Laila Ali, an icon to women boxers the world over. Or at least an icon to the young women from the slums of Kolkata who have taken up boxing as a way to bring themselves out of poverty or at least give themselves a sense of purpose and confidence.

That was the lead-in to MRS. JUDO: BE STRONG, BE GENTLE, BE BEAUTIFUL. I never realized that Judo was a relatively new discipline. New enough, at least, that there is still one person alive who studied under its founder, Jigoro Kano. That person is a woman--Keiko Fukuda, who is about to turn 99 in April and is the highest ranking woman in the history of judo. She holds the rank of 9th dan by the Kodokan in Japan but the 10th dan by USA Judo. There's a bit of gender politics there, as she has always been moved up just after the three men above her were moved even higher (e.g., she couldn't be 9th dan until they were all 10th.) But regardless of the politics, she's a remarkable woman, a pioneer in bringing women to the sport and bringing the sport to America and all over the world. The movie is brief (just under an hour) but a pretty comprehensive look at her life and her teachings--the "Be Strong, Be Gentle [meaning be flexible], Be Beautiful" of the title is her motto. And she's just a very remarkable person. And she's local, and she was there at the screening. She's mostly confined to wheelchair now, and she's had a pretty tiring week with a previous screening up in San Francisco. So she didn't really talk much, but it was still pretty cool to just be in her presence.

Next up was VIETTE, a pretty shocking family/relationship drama from first time director Mye Hoang (who also starred and wrote the story based somewhat on her own life.) She's a young Vietnamese woman, living at home with her very strict parents (her father in particular is frightening.) She's terrified to tell them about her white boyfriend. And for good reason, she knows they would disown her. In fact (SPOILER ALERT) that's exactly what happens. And it turns out her boyfriend (who becomes her fiance) is not such a great provider, either. It's a fairly traumatic story, and you really feel for her plight. And it was also very well made (and bravely made.) The one quirk I could point out with the filmmaking is that the story takes place over several years (basically from her senior year of high school through college and beyond) but there's not the typical 'N years later' text to let you know. You just have to pick that up through bits of the conversations, and it can actually be a little tough to follow. But mostly, I'll just remember how freakin' scary her father was (Chi Pham, from ALL ABOUT DAD in Cinequest a few years back.)

And finally, I ended the festival with the Korean War drama, THE FRONTLINE. It's all about the final months of the war, and about an intelligence officer sent to the front line to investigate an incident. It seems that a North Korean soldier managed to get a letter into the South Korean military mail service. It was to his family in the south, and...well, it's unclear if there was any hidden message or if it was innocuous. In any case, Lieutenant Kang is sent to investigate, and when he's there he finds a strange world where death is commonplace and even the normal rules of war have no meaning. It seems that "alligator" company takes a certain strategic hill every week or so, then the North Koreans take it back, and they all go back and forth. And this absurd, repetitive back-and-forth has led to a sort of unofficial relationship between the opposing forces. What was most striking (if not exactly original) is how little the generals well behind the lines understand any of this. Somehow they don't see the absurdity of every week sending hundreds of men for their death to take a hill they will lose the next week. And they certainly don't see what the protracted war has done to their soldiers. Formerly timid men are now ruthless killers. One of their greatest leaders is a morphine addict. And there's something horrible in the past that haunts them all (even more than the present hell.) It's a pretty amazing movie, and I can see why it was Korea's official entry into the 2012 Academy Awards.

And that, finally, is the end of Asianfest 2012. I only finished writing it up about a week later.

Total Running Time: 394 minutes
My Total Minutes: 274,532

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