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Asian American Showcase

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The eighth annual Asian American Showcase, presented by the Foundation for Asian American Independent Media and the Gene Siskel Film Center, runs Friday, April 2, through Wednesday, April 14. Screenings will be at the Film Center. Tickets are $9, $5 for Film Center members; for more information call 312-846-2600. Films marked with an * are highly recommended. Following is the schedule through April 8; a complete schedule is available online at www.chicagoreader.com.

FRIDAY, APRIL 2

Better Luck Tomorrow, Today and Yesterday

Five shorts by young Asian-American filmmakers, built around product placement of the Apple iPod. In Jeff Lee's Dream, Lover a young man catalogs the songs on his iPod so that each elicits a memory of a different woman; it's the only one that puts the gizmo at the center of the story. Vincent Tsu's Walking Between the Lines, about a young author wrestling with writer's block, includes some striking industrial landscapes but is generally pretentious. Jimmy Tsai's intermittently clever The Crossword Akumu depicts an encounter between a crossword-puzzle freak and a panda in a superhero costume who may be a hallucination induced by rancid milk. Also showing: Kuang Lee's Glowsticks & Drumsticks, Selena Chang and Todd Tutland's Jam, Jessica Yu's Sour Death Balls, and Justin Lin's Breezes. 70 min. (Joshua Katzman) (6:15)

First Morning

A 2003 drama about a Vietnamese refugee family who seek a better life in southern California but endure rape, robbery, and years of separation from one another. Writer-director Victor Vu narrowly rescues his characters from one-dimensional martyrdom by lending them an assortment of quirks and character flaws. In contrast to the cliched portrayals of Asian-American families as piously cohesive, the Nguyens are racked by dysfunction, infidelity, and, ultimately, estrangement. At times Vu stoops to made-for-TV gimmickry such as the use of slow motion and tight close-ups to punctuate key dramatic moments. But as details of the family's story are revealed, a credibly complex drama takes shape. With Kathleen Luong and Dang Hung Son. In English and subtitled Vietnamese. Preceded by a short by Adele Ray, El Paso Vietnam. 100 min. (Joshua Katzman) (8:00)

SATURDAY, APRIL 3

Athletic Feets

Three 2003 documentaries linked by athletic themes. Lisette Marie Flanary and Evann Siebens's American Aloha: Hula Beyond Hawai'i sets out to rescue hula dancing from the realm of kitsch; while focusing on three Hawaiian dancers living in California, the film provides a concise cultural history of the dance. Canadian Jari Osborne's Sleeping Tigers: The Asahi Baseball Story tells the story of a Japanese-Canadian baseball team that was the toast of Vancouver, BC, until Pearl Harbor, whereafter the players--like most Japanese in Canada--were interned in concentration camps. Surviving members recount how they used stealth and strategy to become five-time champions. Also on the program is Harry Yoon's 7000 Pianos, about a 75-year-old piano mover. 115 min. (Joshua Katzman) (3:00)

Who Am I?

Most of these ten shorts (2003) address issues of identity confronting Asian minorities in the U.S. or Canada. Of note are Samuel Chow's Banana Boy, about a gay Chinese man's coming-out in Toronto, May Chew's Chasing Chinese, which shows how some ostensibly assimilated Chinese-Canadians perpetuate their ancestral culture, and Kip Fulbeck's Lilo & Me, in which the filmmaker compares his ethnically ambiguous appearance to that of various Disney cartoon characters. The oddball of the program is Rohan Sen's elliptical So-So Types, which looks at Western perceptions of Indian cities, where sacred cows have the run of the streets and the dearth of public conveniences allows tourists some earthy photo ops. 123 min. (Andrea Gronvall) (5:30)

* See You Off to the Edge of Town

When their parents come to visit from Hong Kong, two Americanized sisters take them on a road trip to the Grand Canyon, but family harmony is tested when the car breaks down. Though mom regards the replacement vehicle--a souped-up hearse belonging to the younger sister's Indonesian fiance--as unlucky, it portends a spiritual rebirth for all. While the desert sun ignites tempers, encounters with eccentric locals provide comic relief as well as subtle clues about the underlying source of the generational conflicts. Writer-director Ching C. Ip's remarkably assured first feature (2002) is firmly grounded in human psychology but also takes wing in flights of poetry. In English and subtitled Mandarin. 87 min. (Andrea Gronvall) (8:15)

Score!

Codirected by sisters Cecilia Hyoun (who stars) and Sara Hyoun (who scripted), this anemic comedy (2002) strives to be bawdy but squanders every comic opportunity its threadbare premise affords. The young heroine sublimates her sexual energy into obsessive bowling while her randy pals--none of whom seems to have a job or any other interests--prowl the singles scene. Movies like There's Something About Mary and the entire Austin Powers franchise have goosed the market for low comedy and there's no reason why women filmmakers shouldn't join in the fun, but effective vulgar humor requires situations that build and performers who can act. The Farrellys have nothing to fear from the Hyouns. 80 min. (Andrea Gronvall) (10:00)

SUNDAY, APRIL 4

Bloodlines: A Medical Mission to Iloilo

Filmmakers James Espinas and Timothy Kiley follow a team of Filipino-American doctors and nurses doing a week of philanthropic medical work in the rural Philippines, treating people who have no other access to modern health care. Though inspiring, the film is often tough to watch, as the dispassionate camera does not shy away from massive goiters, severe eye infections, uncorrected harelips, cancers, etc. 50 min. (Hank Sartin) (3:00)

Gold Mountain: Dreams of a Better Life

Two of these 2003 shorts address the same subject from different angles and with unequal success: Corey Fortune's Employee Dang is a passable fictional melodrama about the conflict between a Vietnamese immigrant and his defiant, assimilated granddaughter. Koji Hayasaki's Leang's Journey is a riveting documentary about parallel tensions between a Cambodian refugee and his daughter. Both films highlight an ironic new product of the American melting pot: second-generation Asian-Americans who reject their heritage in favor of rap music, gangsta poses, and hip-hop styles. Also showing: Wonsuk Lee's overly cute fable Tree and Romeo Candido's Kuya Medley, essentially a promotional video for a boy band of the same name. 85 min. (Hank Sartin) (5:15)

MONDAY, APRIL 5

First Morning

See listing for Friday, April 2. (6:00)

Colorblind

Something clicks when a young artist meets the girlfriend of his business-oriented pal, and the two drift slowly into an illicit affair. Everyone speaks in monotones and looks as if they just woke from a nap. They stare pensively out of windows and say things like "What color is God?" and "For all I care, the past doesn't exist." Director Wayde Nishimura parrots the cinematic vocabulary of Berman and Antonioni but replicates none of their tension and depth. In black and white (2003). 74 min. (Hank Sartin) To be projected from Beta SP video. (8:15)

TUESDAY, APRIL 6

* See You Off to the Edge of Town

See listing for Saturday, April 3. (6:00)

* Sumo East and West

While its popularity declines in Japan, sumo wrestling is gaining a higher profile in the rest of the world. Director Ferne Pearlstein uses retired Hawaiian wrestler Wayne Vierra as a starting point for her study of the changing face of the sport. Unfortunately, her approach is scattershot: for want of a strong central thesis she moves randomly from the Japanese fear of cultural dilution to the hazing rituals of sumo training to the sexist nature of sumo culture. The best moments of this 2003 documentary are Vierra's reflections on his sport and life. 85 min. (Hank Sartin) To be projected from Beta SP video. (6:15)

Score!

See listing for Saturday, April 3. (8:00)

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 7

* Beyond Propaganda

Two 2003 documentaries about North Korea and Taiwan, respectively. J.T. Takagi and Hye Jung Park's North Korea: Beyond the DMZ (60 min.) follows a young Korean-American woman from Brooklyn to Pyongyang, where she has close kin she's never met. The filmmakers visit another family whose commitment to hard work and self-improvement is inspiring, and who betray little sign of the brainwashing outsiders are told to anticipate. A historical overview makes the case that the U.S. is partly responsible for North Korea's isolationism. Dovar Chen's Into Air (45 min.) is a sumptuously photographed, poetically edited group portrait of Taiwanese farmers teetering on the brink of ruin thanks to the glut of agricultural imports that followed Taiwan's entry into the World Trade Organization. (Joshua Katzman) (6:00)

Better Luck Tomorrow, Today, and Yesterday

See listing for Friday, April 2. (6:15)

Take Out

It's not often that the lives of service-sector proles are depicted on the wide screen; Sean Baker and Shih-Ching Tsou help redress the imbalance with this economical indie drama about a New York Chinese food-delivery guy (Charles Jang) under pressure to pay off some loan sharks by nightfall. His bike trips across the city are rendered Sisyphean by bad weather; his personality is cumulatively revealed through fleeting exchanges with customers and coworkers. The film's power, like its protagonist, is quiet; the myriad kitchen scenes are a reminder that the American melting pot is fueled by cash. In English and subtitled Mandarin. 91 min. (Andrea Gronvall) (8:00)

THURSDAY, APRIL 8

* Invisible Light

Gina Kim's first feature (2003) is a sensitive study of a love triangle among Koreans in California. Gah-in is having an affair with Do-hee's husband, but the futility of the liaison pushes her into isolation, depression, and anorexia. Estranged from her unfaithful mate and pregnant with another man's child, Do-hee returns from South Korea to visit her elderly grandmother. Combining a minimum of dialogue with a subtly articulated range of sounds--the chewing of food, the rustling of bedsheets, the whir of a refrigerator--Kim quietly evokes intense, solitary suffering. The lead actresses, Yoon-sun Choi and Sun-jin Lee, are both first-rate. In English and subtitled Korean. 78 min. (Joshua Katzman) (6:15)

History Recorded, History Repeated

A mixed program of 2003 shorts. John Esaki's Eyewitness: Stan Honda looks at 9/11 through the eyes of a noted news photographer who was on the scene when the towers fell. Esaki persuasively draws parallels between the maltreatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and the current climate of discrimination against Muslims. Jason DeSilva's Lest We Forget covers similar ground, detailing the demonization and unjust detention of men from third-world countries, though its didactic tone blunts its effectiveness. Written and shot in one day, X. Dean Lim's The Yellow Truth is a breezy look at Hollywood's treatment of Asians. 97 min. (Hank Sartin) The screenings will be followed by a panel discussion on subjectivity in news reporting, moderated by columnist Ray Hanania. (7:45)

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