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Asian American Showcase


The eighth annual Asian American Showcase, presented by the Foundation for Asian American Independent Media and the Gene Siskel Film Center, runs Friday, April 4, through Sunday, April 13. Screenings will be at the Film Center. Tickets are $8, $4 for Film Center members; for more information call 312-846-2600. Films marked with an * are highly recommended. Following is the schedule through April 10; a complete schedule is available on-line at


Love Asian American Style

Short works by Favian Hung-wen Yin, Akira Boch, Tristan Thai, James Hou, Arthur Gu, and Cynthia Liu. Hou will attend the screening. 86 min. (6:00)

* Robot Stories

A talented filmmaker known for his self-assured short works, Greg Pak wrote and directed this accomplished 2002 quartet of vignettes about artificial human life. Reminiscent of George Lucas's THX 1138, "Machine Love" stars Pak as an office android who endures ridicule from his human bosses but finds romance with a female android working in the next building. "Clay" is about an old sculptor (Sab Shimono) who relives happy times with a computer-generated hologram of his dead wife. An overachieving career woman (Tamlyn Tomita) tries to acquire mothering skills in the cautionary "My Robot Baby." Most poignant of the four is "The Robot Fixer," in which a grieving mother (Wai Ching Ho) works to revive her comatose son by repairing his broken mechanical toys. 85 min. (TS) Pak will attend the screening. (8:00)


Days of Our Lives

A program of seven short films, varying widely in tone, most of them impressive. Cooleyville (2002) by Stephen Bay and Tony Wang is a witty sitcom about a three-generation Chinese-American family that would fit right in on Fox: a dinner table quip at the expense of Asian manhood decrypts MSG as standing for "modestly sized genitalia." Far from humorous is Toy (2002), Abraham Lincoln Lim's realistic pseudodocumentary about Korean immigrant women working in an "Oriental massage parlor"--ubiquitous establishments rarely discussed even among Asian-Americans. The only English is spoken by the customers, and it's accompanied by the rhythmic groaning of rickety massage tables; the conversations among the young women who service the johns are left untranslated. 109 min. (Bill Stamets) Wang will attend the screening. (3:30)

Not a Day Goes By

Joe C.M. Chan directed this 1999 comedy about a guy in New York's Chinatown whose mother dies and whose girlfriend dumps him. 80 min. Also on the program: Julie Kwan's Three Sisters on Moon Lake (22 min.). Chan will attend the screening. (4:15)

Korean Life Then and Now

The first of these two documentaries, Sul Gi Kim's Stories Untold: Memories of Korean War Survivors (2001), describes the war's impact on once ordinary lives. A mother gave birth on the run only to see her infant die; a man fleeing on the roof of a train fell asleep and lost the child he was holding. But the presentation of these stories is indifferent or worse: soporific music smooths over descriptions of the war's shocking outbreak, and the archival footage is often gratuitous, as when shots of corpses are used to illustrate someone saying, "If I had stayed home, I would have been killed." Daesil Choi's The Title of Honor (2001) is better. A cinema verite camera follows three elderly Korean women in New York who share an apartment, capturing the rhythms of their daily lives and their ambivalent relationships with their families. In Korean with subtitles. 108 min. (FC) Choi will attend the screening. (6:00)

Guys Gone Wild!

A program of amiable shorts about farting, kung fu fighting, and other guy things. The best of the martial arts offerings--a 10-minute video called Three Card Studs (2002) by Roman Cortez, Chito Arellano, and Tracy Tubera--features low-budget light-saber combat. Gene Rhee's The Quest for Length (2001, 15 min.) is a laugh-out-loud funny DV pseudodocumentary about one man's odyssey through the realm of penis-lengthening therapies, in which the wry and likable Roger Fan consults a surgeon, a witch doctor, and an herbal practitioner. Eight more shorts complete the program. 77 min. (Jennifer Vanasco) Cortez will attend the screening. (6:15)

Book of Rules

A likable mosaic of stories about dating set in the Bay Area, Sung H. Kim's 2002 debut feature traces the romantic entanglements of three Asian-American roommates--an ambitious, womanizing executive; a drugged-out slacker; and a coffeehouse barista--each of whom defies the stereotype of the geeky Asian male in a different way. Although the complications the men encounter are realistic, the dialogue is at times pretentious and sappy, and the endlessly digressive plot is a challenge to the attention span. As a visual stylist, Kim is wildly inconsistent, switching erratically between shaky digicam and steady long takes. 107 min. (TS) (8:00)

Fortune Cookies

Short works by Linus Lau, Kai-duc Luong, NaRhee Ahn, Chi-ho Lee, Joon Soo Ha, Gavin Wynn, Nguyen Tran Minh Chieu, and Eric Lin. 96 min. Ahn and Wynn will attend the screening. (8:15)

Sam's Wack Short Film Program

All nine shorts on this mediocre program try hard to be outrageous; the results range from mildly amusing to truly awful. A bright spot is Wes Kim's black-and-white video Why It's a Good Thing (2002, 5 min.), a comic exploration of what the world would be like if every Asian-American subjected to dumb racist comments were a martial arts expert. Also good (although the laugh track made me wince) is Dino Ignacio's video Maritess vs. the Superfriends (2002, 8 min.), an animated parody of the 1970s children's cartoon in which a Filipina maid reveals the dark side of working for superheroes--Superman, for example, uses his X-ray vision to ogle her through her clothes. 125 min. (Jennifer Vanasco) (10:00)


Homeland Insecurity

Gary T. Ono's Calling Tokyo: Japanese American Radio Broadcasters During World War II (2002) tells the ironic story of Japanese-Americans, including his father, who were sent to internment camps and later recruited to broadcast propagandistic news and commentary to Japan. Ono's storytelling is somewhat rambling, but his video is a gripping thriller compared to John Esaki's two 2002 essays on Japanese-American life, Words, Weavings & Songs and Crossroads: Boyle Heights. Both are disorganized home-movie-like melanges of reminiscences that have only anecdotal interest--for instance, one guy's Italian neighbor was a "wonderful cook." 115 min. (FC) Ono will attend the screening. (3:30)

Bollywood Hollywood

Dubious escapism. This 2002 musical fantasy mimics and sometimes mocks the norms of Indian and American commercial cinema as it tells a Cinderella story set in Toronto. Rahul (Rahul Khanna) is a wealthy scion who hires a prostitute (Lisa Ray) to pose as his Indian-born fiancee so his family will allow his younger, secretly pregnant sister to get married. Writer-director Deepa Mehta (Earth, Fire) references Pretty Woman and countless Bollywood concoctions as she slathers on the romanticism. Much of the comedy jabs gently at cultural, generational, and class differences, but it's all utterly predictable. Also on the program: Nick Sivakumaran's 16-minute Diwali, a well-crafted short about a college student reclaiming his Indian heritage to impress a girl from the subcontinent. 103 min. (TS) (3:45)

Family Ties

An uneven batch of shorts about intergenerational communication and conflict, of which the two best are distinguished by understatement. Set in a Chinese laundry, Neight Gee Tang's Bleach (2002, 9 min.) has no dialogue other than a cacophonic burst of instructions issued by a white customer dropping off a mustard-stained shirt. The proprietor hands the garment to a young coworker who is clearly having a bad day, then wordlessly puts things right with a considerate turn of the radio dial. In Exercise With Chin Yung, Wen-hwa Ts'ao supplements footage of her father's showy exercise regime with a series of wry titles describing his anxiety over her childlessness. Five other works complete this 97-minute program. (Bill Stamets) (6:00)


* Robot Stories

See listing for Friday, April 4. (6:00)

Korean Life Then and Now

See listing for Saturday, April 5. Filmmaker Daesil Choi will attend the screening. (6:15)

Second City Shorts

Short works by Cheryl Park, Wen-hwa Ts'ao, Sue-yeon Jung, Rikei Kubo, Ernest Woo, Ariani Darmawan, and Kai-duc Long. 111 min. (8:00)

Homeland Insecurity

See listing for Sunday, April 6. Filmmaker Gary T. Ono will attend the screening. (8:15)


War in Remembrance

Four videos. Camilla Benolirao Griggers and Sari Raissa Lluch Dalena's Memories of a Forgotten War (2001, 61 min.) is a history of America's scorched-earth conquest of the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century. The compelling subject is trivialized by inept presentation: artsy reenactments of massacres and an overbearing, bathetic narrator (who likens the national devastation to her mother and grandmother's unhappy marriages to U.S. servicemen) conspire to deaden the very emotions they would evoke. The ideas and imagery in Robyn Takayama's 5 Song EP (2002, 14 min.) are equally banal: decorative imagery of an antiwar music tour accompanies a voice-over expressing a desire to "force love into a public dialogue to heal." 87 min. (FC) (6:15)

From the Margin to the Center

The longest and strongest of these three video documentaries, I Exist (2002, 54 min.), details the frightening bigotry experienced by gay and lesbian Middle Eastern-Americans. Directors Peter Babosa and Garrett Lenoir tightly orchestrate diverse voices to describe a culture in which the family is "a web where every action affects everyone"--and so a brother beats his sister for being a lesbian. The pressure to choose between their antigay families and their true selves drives some of the subjects to the brink of suicide; the parents suffer too, as demonstrated by a mother who starts smoking when she learns her daughter is gay. Romeo Candido's Dancers Pick Up Your Bamboos (2002, 26 min.) depicts a traditional Filipino dance troupe in Toronto, whose amazing performances would be easier to see without annoying mannerisms such as split screens and on-screen titles. 112 min. (FC) (8:00)


* Cambodia After the Killing Fields

Two Cambodian-Americans visit their homeland in these documentaries. Jocelyn Glatzer's wrenching The Flute Player focuses on Arn Chorn-Pond, who as a boy was forced to play propaganda songs for the Khmer Rouge and help them carry out murders. Chorn-Pond, who's haunted by guilt, seeks out others who suffered, and their varied stories remind us that there are no good choices in a time of mass murder, though one hopeful sign is Chorn-Pond's current work with Cambodian and Latino gangs. Spencer Nakasako's Refugee follows Mike Siv, a boy who came here with his mother when he was three. His disappointment over his father's self-serving explanation for the family breakup is affecting, but the storytelling style is reminiscent of a home-movie travelogue. In English and Cambodian with subtitles. 112 min. (FC) Glatzer, Chorn-Pond, and Siv will attend the screening. (6:00)

The B Movies

Three recent shorts that have the first letter of their titles in common. The longest entry is Evans Chan's Bauhinia, a video in which a film student from Hong Kong broods about her thesis project on birth control in rural China and about her spoiled boyfriend, unexpected pregnancy, and proximity to Ground Zero. The soap-opera situations are given an attractive Lower Manhattan edge, but the characters' self-absorption is annoying. Kevin Lee's uneven Banana is about the fear of assimilation: a Chinese student imagines his newborn as an oversize banana--yellow on the outside, white on the inside. In Ann Marie Fleming's lovingly rendered Blue Skies, an actor finds happiness wearing a Chinese opera getup and singing the title tune. 84 min. (TS) Lee will attend the screening. (6:15)

Guys Gone Wild!

See listing for Saturday, April 5. (8:15)

Bollywood Hollywood

See listing for Sunday, April 6. (8:30)


Book of Rules

See listing for Saturday, April 5. (6:00)


Bay Area filmmaker Jon Moritsugu (Fame Whore, Mod Fuck Explosion) is known for

his angry, manic energy, but the characters in this 2002 video, denizens of the San Francisco art fringe, seem like they're heavily sedated. The story cuts between an aspiring filmmaker (Kyp Malone) who's trying to launch a feature based on the car accident that killed his parents and a punk vocalist (Amy Davis) waiting for her big break. Both are pushing 30 and none too happy about it, but they're so lethargic a strong wind could tip them over. Apathy is the dominant tone: when a celebrated young director at a seminar (Moritsugu) is asked "What's it like to be an Asian-American filmmaker?" all he can do is shrug. With Moritsugu stock players Valerie Soe and Craig Baldwin. 80 min. (TS) (8:15)

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