The tenth annual Asian American Showcase, presented by the Foundation for Asian American Independent Media and the Gene Siskel Film Center, runs Friday, March 31, through Thursday, April 13, with screenings at the Film Center. Tickets are $9, $7 for students, and $5 for Film Center members; for more information call 312-846-2600. Following are works screening through Thursday, April 6; for a full festival schedule visit www.chicagoreader.com.
Adapted from Shawn Wong's 1995 novel American Knees, this intriguing, well-acted feature by writer-director Eric Byler (Charlotte Sometimes) has the merit of not fully explaining its multilayered characters and asking viewers to take the initiative in figuring them out. A middle-aged Chinese-American professor (Chris Tashima) in southern California, still adjusting to his recent separation from a much younger woman (Allison Sie), gets involved with another teacher (Joan Chen), a traumatized Vietnamese refugee, and no one behaves according to expectations. 107 min. (JR) Byler and Tashima will attend the screening. (8:00)
R What's Wrong With Frank Chin?
There's much more right with Frank Chin, the outspoken Chinese-American novelist, playwright, and intellectual: in the 1970s his pioneering media studies skewered pop-culture stereotypes like Charlie Chan, and by spearheading the first-ever Asian American writers' conference he opened doors for an entire generation of authors. This stimulating 2005 video documentary by Curtis Choy reveals how Chin's showmanship pervades his every undertaking, from the Asian American Theatre Workshop to the first Remembrance Day protesting U.S. internment camps during World War II. Loud, cranky, and dismissive, Chin may not be at his most attractive when butting heads with rivals (notably Maxine Hong Kingston), but he's never less than inspirational. 97 min. (AG) Chin will attend the screening. (3:00)
The Grass Is Greener . . .
Local artists Jonathan Moy and Brian Cho will attend this program of short works, which includes Moy's Girlfriend Remix and Cho's The Road Not Taken. (5:15)
A quirky bunch of slackers and young professionals sharing an apartment find their relationships put to the test when their landlord threatens to evict them. Among the characters are an oblivious stoner, an Internet porn addict, a romantically insecure office worker, her sexpot best friend, and an aspiring novelist who writes fortune cookie inserts. Fights erupt, new friendships develop, romance blooms, and valuable life lessons are learned. Director Abraham Lim is technically accomplished, but his skills are put in the service of well-worn material, a deadly combination. Based on a play by Michael Golamco, who cowrote the script with Lim. 106 min. (Reece Pendleton) Lim will attend the screening. (7:45)
Asian Stories (Book III)
Ron Oda and Kris Chin make their feature debut with this buddy flick about a financial broker (James Kyson Lee) who falls into a serious funk when his fiancee dumps him days before their lavish wedding. His childhood friend (Kirt Kishita), a cocky hit man, agrees to kill him, but not before taking him on a California road trip, during which the two live it up and the broker finds happiness with a soulful waitress. Despite its obvious similarity to Sideways, the festival program calls this a "story unlike any other." Most of the humor revolves around whites who are clueless, bigoted, or retarded--sometimes all three at once. 99 min. (Reece Pendleton) (10:00)
R Only the Brave
Writer-director Lane Nishikawa dramatizes the events of October 30, 1944, when a U.S. battalion of Japanese-American soldiers rescued 211 Texas National Guardsmen who'd spent a week pinned down by German forces in the mountains near Bruyeres, France. Essentially a protracted battle scene with interspersed flashbacks and flash-forwards, this 2005 feature mostly sticks to the perspective of a fictional sergeant (Nishikawa), with occasional shifts to record the demise of other soldiers. Nishikawa alludes only briefly to the racism that enforced segregated units, focusing instead on the soldiers' unflagging courage in driving back the enemy and the awful human toll of the engagement. With Jason Scott Lee, Mark Dacascos, and Yuji Okumoto. 97 min. (JK) Nishikawa and executive producer Eric Hayashi will attend the screening. (3:00)
No less moving for its quiet understatement, this video dramatizes how guilt and grief turn a Vietnamese immigrant in San Francisco (Kathy Nguyen) into a sex worker. When her family back home writes of her father's illness, the head-turning young woman realizes her restaurant pay won't cover his hospital bills, and a classified ad leads her to a new job in a massage parlor. Voyeurs will be disappointed: director Vu T. Thu Ka focuses on the trade's tedium and banality, and the key scenes involve the woman's relationship with a lonely grocer--like her, a boat person marked by tragedy. The video's poetic sensibility and restrained use of color make up for its oblique editing. In English and Vietnamese, each subtitled in the other language. 76 min. (AG) (5:45)
Behind Closed Doors
Short works about outsiders, screening in various formats and subtitled languages. 89 min. (6:00)
R American Fusion
Taiwanese actress Sylvia Chang plays a lonely Chinese-American woman who's pushing 50 but still tied to her insufferable, iron-willed mother. Working for a two-bit Chinese-language newspaper, she's assigned to profile a Mexican-American dentist (Esai Morales); sparks fly, but family issues intervene as Chang's mother faces a painful surgery. First-time director Frank Lin has problems with pacing, though a solid cast sustains this spirited 2005 comedy (including the late Pat Morita as Chang's boss). In English and subtitled Mandarin. 100 min. (JK) (8:00)
The centrality of religion to a close-knit Korean-American community permeates this 2005 video by writer-director NaRhee Ahn. A preacher's daughter (Susane E. Lee) tries to help her widowed dad keep it together, throwing herself into cooking and housework; her absence from school and church ignites gossip among her father's congregants and draws the unwelcome attentions of the youth minister (well played by Leonard Wu). When the young woman renews contact with a scandal-tainted friend (Derek Mio), the story becomes overwrought, challenging the skills of the attractive cast. 100 min. (AG) Ahn will attend the screening. (6:00)
R They Chose China
Shui-Bo Wang's riveting Canadian documentary (2005, 52 min.) tells the story of 21 American soldiers captured during the Korean war who were released in 1954 but emigrated to the People's Republic of China instead of returning home. Archival footage shows them citing the intolerance and paranoia of the McCarthy era as they renounce their allegiance to America. Wang focuses on those who stayed in China the longest, including the lone holdout, the late James Veneris; others returned to the U.S. to face court-martial and national opprobrium. Also screening is Curtis Choy's documentary Wendy . . . Uh . . . What's Her Name (2005, 31 min.), about Wendy Yoshimura, a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army who was apprehended along with Patty Hearst in 1974. (JK) (8:15)
Romance blooms at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York, as a Texas delegate (Matthew Mabe) launches an affair with an old college pal (Woodwyn Koons) who's now a left-wing protester. As contrived as this premise may sound (and it isn't much better on-screen), writer-director Mora Stephens manages to push the odd-couple story in some interesting directions. Both the man and the woman are unhappy with their long-term partners' political apathy, and their sexual fling is fueled by a common passion even though their ideals are directly opposed. This was made by students at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, but there isn't a hint of youthful idealism; the movie's downbeat view of American political discourse culminates in a nervy, remarkably nasty ending. 95 min. (JJ) (8:15)