Asian American Showcase
The fourth annual Asian American Showcase, presented by the Foundation for Asian American Independent Media and the Film Center of the School of the Art Institute, runs Saturday, April 3, through Sunday, April 11. Screenings will be at the Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson. Tickets are $7, $3 for Film Center members; for more information call 773-871-1977 or 312-443-3737.
SATURDAY, APRIL 3
Rabbit in the Moon
See Critic's Choice. (4:00)
Bombay-born Darshan Bhagat directed, cowrote, coproduced, and stars in this 1998 debut feature about a New York subway vendor unwittingly drawn into a gangster's perverse and dangerous game. It's very much the handiwork of a recent film-school grad, enthusiastic and inventive but lacking in story sense; Bhagat lets most of his actors ham it up, though he himself is thoroughly believable as the befuddled, harassed innocent trying to cope with a big bad city. Emory Van Cleve's gritty, detailed cinematography, jazzed up occasionally with optical effects, pays homage to Scorsese's Mean Streets, a film whose narrative drive largely eludes Bhagat. (TS) (6:00)
Jule Gilfillan's 1998 romantic comedy plays like a picturesque travelogue as it follows two couples around Beijing. In one story, a Chinese-American surfer boy (David Wu) falls for a Beijing girl; like Peter Wang's A Great Wall it mines the rich comic vein of an overseas Chinese humbled and civilized by the homeland. The other story, about an American expatriate (Catherine Kellner) becoming infatuated with a Chinese Go master, is more somber; like Frank Capra's The Bitter Tea of General Yen it captures the regret of a naive American enveloped, overwhelmed, and defeated by a foreign culture. Yet Gilfillan, an American who's studied at the Beijing Film Academy, jumps from one plot point to the next like a giddy tour guide, opting for an easygoing charm instead of delving into the characters' motives and feelings. The real drama is the city itself, steeped in history yet undergoing a Western face-lift. (TS) (8:00)
SUNDAY, APRIL 4
Pardon Us for Doubly Ghetto-izing You
Seven film and video shorts by Asian-American women, the best of them stylish and macabre, the worst of them trite or simply opaque. Susan Tuan's Omnibus is a bravura sequence in pantomime, reminiscent of Tati, involving passengers on a sweltering bus, a groper, and a young woman who chews hot peppers (Jacqueline Kim). In Yau Ching's I'm Starving, an elliptical tale of lesbian passion gone awry, minute gestures and helter-skelter camera angles articulate the dynamics of an ambiguous relationship; the film's feminist, avant-garde poetics are worthy of Maya Deren. She Was in Love Once, by Columbia College graduate Sree Nalamothu, is a touching and well-crafted reverie on the bond between a young Indian woman and her grandmother, both of them disillusioned by their husbands and uncertain of the future. In Lindsey Jang's Flames in the Heart, a widowed mother seeks her daughter's approval to marry again; the familial tensions and dilemmas are straight out of The Joy Luck Club, but they're blunted by Jang's pedestrian direction. Lily Ng's documentary Balancing Act, in which Asian-American coeds talk about beauty and cultural conformity, is weighed down by Ng's jargon and earnest pedantry. In the rambling Living in Half-tones, Me-K Ando (currently known as Me-K Ahn) presents home-movie images of Korean orphanages and a voice-over by an American woman who adopted a Korean child. Ann Marie Fleming's one-minute cartoon Great Expectations, about a girl animator dreaming of an Oscar, wins the prize for brevity and impish humor.
Too Tired to Die
Set in New York's trendy SoHo district, this earnestly charming 1998 black comedy, written and directed by Korean-born Wonsuk Chin, posits several interesting metaphysical questions that offset the occasionally pretentious and ironic tone. As a take on the overexposed downtown Manhattan scene, it's remarkably fresh and mature, reminding one of the old adage that a foreigner's perspective is often the most successful in candidly portraying a specific milieu. Stunningly shot by Jim Denault, and aided by a sterling cast that includes Hong Kong-Taiwanese acting and singing superstar Takeshi Kaneshiro, Mira Sorvino, and Ben Gazzara, the film follows the final two days in the life of Kenji (Kaneshiro), a Japanese slacker who, soon after having a strange dream (beautifully rendered as a silent-movie tableau), is visited by Death (Sorvino) and told he has just 12 hours to live. Kenji, jobless and unambitious, struggles to figure out what he should do with his remaining time on earth. Vaguely aware that he should be having a good time, he decides to pursue a beautiful German woman (Geno Lechner) he's just met at a cafe. The film's conclusion is touching yet oddly unresolved. (Joshua Katzman) (6:00)
Can Cremated Ancestors Spin in Their Graves?
The showcase organizers are billing this as a program of "weird shorts," but some of these films and videos are so cheesy that they barely rise to the level of camp. Dayne Tanioka's Super-cute Japanese Tourist Bounty Hunters and Not Alone mimic Japan's terminally schmaltzy music videos, but the originals are far more fascinating examples of postmodern pop. Michael Kang's John Woo parody A Waiter Tomorrow includes glib, fake-blood shoot-'em-ups, and V. Kay Dumlao, Erica Lee, and May Ly Mona's Cooking Impossible spoofs our global pop-culture franchises. In Snake-Byte, Shashwati Talukdar and Dina Mendros poke fun at tabloid shows like Inside Edition, though the tone is so uncertain they might simply be imitating them. Ray Yoshimoto's enigmatic Lost Dog follows a boy as he searches for a lost pet. Sunny Lee's Chinese Food & Donuts, a deft vignette about a waitress looking for Mr. Right, generates humor and pathos without a line of dialogue. Judy Weng's Steel and Apartment 8 are the wickedest, most polished shorts on the program: the first is a one-minute montage showing how metal plays a part in our lives from birth to death, and the second features an elderly Chinese woman who manipulates the tenants in her apartment complex like a puppeteer. (TS) (8:00)