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Asian American Showcase'

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The 11th annual Asian American Showcase, presented by the Foundation for Asian American Independent Media and the Gene Siskel Film Center, runs Friday,

March 30, through Thursday, April 12, 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 selected programs screening through Thursday, April 5; for a full festival schedule visit www.chicagoreader.com.

Baby Johnny Ching's velvety digital cinematography and an authoritative supporting performance by veteran character actor Tzi Ma (The Quiet American) distinguish this 2005 gangster drama set in east Los Angeles. A motherless Asian-American kid falls in with the hoodlums next door and kills their criminal rival; years later he's released from prison and heads straight back into trouble. As the protagonist, babyfaced David Huynh is annoyingly blank until the second half, when the pace quickens and he evolves into a hardened criminal. Juwan Chung directed, with more style than originality. In English and subtitled Mandarin and Cantonese. 99 min. (AG) a Sat 3/31, 7:45 PM.

RThe Cats of Mirikitani Linda Hattendorf, a longtime documentary editor, met a homeless, 80-year-old Japanese-American artist a block from her Soho apartment in early 2001, and after the World Trade Center attacks made living on the street impossible for him, she put him up, helped him find work and housing, and made him the subject of this impressive 2006 feature, her directorial debut. The fascinating narrative covers the artist's long stretch in a U.S. internment camp during World War II (ironically, he'd fled Japan to escape the rising tide of militarism) and his ensuing tangles with the government while simultaneously charting his reconciliation with his checkered past. The storytelling is so masterful that Hattendorf doesn't have to spell out the striking parallels between the persecution of Japanese after Pearl Harbor and the harassment of Muslims after 9/11. In English and Japanese with subtitles. 74 min. (JR) a Sun 4/1, 3 PM.

RColma: The Musical This hip little coming-of-age comedy marks the feature debuts of gifted director Richard Wong and actor-screenwriter-songwriter H.P. Mendoza. Set in dreary Colma, California ("home of cemeteries and car dealerships"), it follows three teenagers fresh out of high school--gay Rodel (Mendoza), straight Billy (Jake Moreno), and Maribel (L.A. Renigen), the gal pal both boys take for granted--as they slouch toward adulthood and face the dissolution of their tight unit. Packed with catchy pop melodies, humorously deadpan lyrics, and imaginative musical staging, the movie combines quirky irony with insights into adolescent angst. 119 min. (Albert Williams) a Sat 3/31, 3 PM.

ROwl and the Sparrow A precocious young Vietnamese orphan (the engaging Pham Thi Han), sick of toiling away at her abusive uncle's factory, runs away to Saigon, where she befriends a sympathetic airline hostess and a zookeeper who's recently been dumped by his fiancee. This debut feature by writer-director Stephane Gauger suffers from stretches of hackneyed dialogue, but it's redeemed by his fluid handheld camera work and the engaging sincerity of the three leads. Gauger's keen eye for the unrelenting bustle of Saigon reinforces the harshness of city life, but his trio's goodwill toward each other creates a kind of sanctuary. With Cat Ly and Le The Lu. In Vietnamese with subtitles. 99 min. (JK) a Sun 4/1, 4:45 PM, and Mon 4/2, 7:45 PM.

Second Moon The protagonist of this offbeat digital video (2006) belongs to a cryptic organization that espouses sexual liberation through free love and resistance to domestic cohabitation. He spends much of his time hustling people to join, but his own commitment is compromised after he gets involved with a ditzy Korean woman who seduces him with her culinary prowess and then moves in with him. Director Masahiro Sugano makes good use of Chicago locations, though eventually I grew more interested in the scenery than the story. With Andre Ing and Jennifer Shin. 119 min. (JK) a Wed 4/4, 7:45 PM.

Tie a Yellow Ribbon This uneven psychodrama focuses on three Asian-American women in Manhattan: an angry young photographer (Kim Jiang) who's in love with her white stepbrother; her roommate (Jane Kim), a university student burdened by parental expectations; and their neighbor (Theresa Ngo), a woman so self-effacing she's become the landlady's doormat. The photographer's story line is the best scripted; magnetic if not conventionally pretty, she prevails out of sheer perversity. The movie's chief weakness is a suicide sequence that's supposed to make a point about identity conflict but comes off more like a postmodern riff on Madame Butterfly. Joy Dietrich directed her own screenplay. 86 min. (AG) a Thu 4/5, 8:15 PM.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Colma: The Musical.

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