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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, continues Friday through Wednesday, April 9 through 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.

FRIDAY, APRIL 9

Cats and Mice

Writer-director Samson Yi stars in this lowbrow comedy about a corporate drone haplessly chasing one beautiful woman after another, much to the consternation of his equally beautiful female roommates. As in Jerry Lewis's features, the story lurches from comic shtick to ham-fisted romantic goo, with Yi placing himself at the center of every plot development. But Lewis's pandering and egomania were always mitigated by his superior timing and virtuosic physical gags; lacking both of these, Yi resorts to shameless mugging, which makes for an interminable 84 minutes. Pat Morita pops up in a cameo, as do Night Court veteran Richard Moll and, inexplicably, porn star Ron Jeremy. (Joshua Katzman) (8:15)

What's Wrong With These People, Hah?

A mixed bag of nine shorts, only three of them noteworthy. Bampinay (2003), Matthew Abaya's atmospheric take on an Asian vampire legend, has a dreamlike, underground feel, its grainy and surreal images accompanied by poetic voice-over; the plot, such as it is, pays homage to Tony Scott's The Hunger. Noel Rustia's The Bootyguard (2003), crass animation in the vein of South Park, follows the efforts of former child star Gary Coleman to get a job, and though it skewers celebrities from Bill Clinton to Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, ultimately it expends too much energy on too small a target. The best entry by far is Doan La's light, knowing satire Dragon of Love (2003), a send-up of ethnic stereotypes and kinky bedroom fantasies; Randall Park and Angela Wiggins are both silly and sexy as an interracial couple. 116 min. (Andrea Gronvall) (10:15)

SATURDAY, APRIL 10

An Untold Triumph

During World War II, more than 7,000 Filipinos fought in the Pacific as U.S. soldiers, enduring some of the toughest combat of the war and contributing daring intelligence work to MacArthur's recapture of the Philippines. This documentary by Noel M. Izon (2002, 79 min.) celebrates their remarkable achievements, deftly balancing archival footage, still photographs, and interviews with veterans. Narrator Lou Diamond Phillips sometimes oversells the drama, but the story rises above this. Also on the program is Don Young's Second Class Veterans (2003, 30 min.), which picks up the story after the war, when Congress revoked the benefits of Filipino vets. Using interviews and photographs by Rick Rocamura, Young portrays the men's tragic and ongoing struggle to gain the recognition they clearly deserve. (Hank Sartin) (2:00)

Have You Eaten Yet?

These eight shorts about food are easy to digest, from Gavin Tachibana's appetizer-sized The Flavor (2002), a wry reflection on corn dogs, to Wook Steven Heo's more substantial Texas Doughnut Shop (2003), an insightful documentary about a Korean couple driven to succeed in a labor-intensive business that's disdained by many American entrepreneurs. Also notable are two Canadian entries: Nobu Adilman's Prix Fixe (2003) is a film-noir parody about check-skippers, and in Samuel Kiehoon Lee's affectionate How to Make Kimchi According to My Kun Umma (2002), the filmmaker's aunt lectures him about getting a wife and a real job as she demystifies Korean cooking. 93 min. (Andrea Gronvall) (6:30)

* The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam

This fascinating personal essay (2003) by Canadian filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming investigates the life of her great-grandfather, the Chinese vaudeville performer Long Tack Sam (1895-1961); though he's mainly forgotten today, he was one of the greatest magicians in the world, as well as an acrobat and a key mentor to Orson Welles. He circled the globe so many times and experienced so much that the story of his life becomes a history of the 20th century. Fleming, an animator and storyteller as well as a documentarian, draws extensively on her own varied talents to approach her elusive subject, and her speculations are often as interesting as her findings. Indeed, the way Sam keeps sliding out of her grasp, even though we may feel we know him, is part of this film's magic. 90 min. (JR) (8:15)

SUNDAY, APRIL 11

* Life, Twisted

Kai-duc Luong describes his Vacant as "texturalist," an adjective that might easily be applied to other shorts on this densely packed program. Four entries revel in the grain of tape or celluloid, with stimulating results: Sharon Dang's layered video Linus, Michael Velasquez's brief but beautiful Sentimental, Robert Chang and Chin Lin's witty Bon Voyage, and Doug Ing's Patient, a delicate Pixelvision recollection of his late mother. Greg Pak's snappy Ode to Margaret Cho, in which two siblings endlessly recite the comic's material, suggests a whole family dynamic in just four minutes. The longer narrative shorts on the program (Ham Tran's The Anniversary, Chris Tashima's Day of Independence, and Chris Eska's Doki Doki) are all solid work with high production values, the last of them a particular standout. 107 min. (Hank Sartin) (3:00)

* 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) (5:45)

Mars, Marriage, and Mass DistrAction

A collaborative multimedia event about current affairs presented by the Asian American Artists' Collective-Chicago. (7:30)

MONDAY, APRIL 12

* The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam

See listing for Saturday, April 10. (8:00)

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 14

Cats and Mice

See listing for Friday, April 9. (8:15)

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