Chicago Asian American Film Festival

Documentaries by Asian adoptees searching for their roots have become a genre unto themselves, but Kim-Chi Tyler's Chac (2000, 72 min.) is one of the best I've ever seen. Utterly frank, Tyler confronts her bedridden American stepfather with questions about her Vietnamese mother, and after returning to the village she and her mother left in the early 1970s, she interrogates various relatives about her mother's divorce from her biological father, still a source of rancor between the families. At the center of the mystery lies a missing child: one side insists that the marriage produced three children (including Kim-Chi and her brother, who eventually immigrated to the U.S. with their mother and their elderly stepfather), while the other family claims there were four. The story itself is totally absorbing, a heart-wrenching footnote to the tangled history of the Vietnam war, but what sets the film apart from others like it is the unflinching self-portrait of a woman bullying her way toward a secret better left concealed. The short films on this program are less impressive: In Kit Hui's Tofu (16 min.) a Cantonese woman tries to win her grandson's affection with a plate of the title food—a baffling conceit, though the film does manage to convey an old-world insularity that's alien to the boy. Jia Hong's Being Different (27 min.) is basically an infomercial for Camp Sejong, a summer retreat for Korean adoptees that was formed after the LA riots. And Jennifer Thuy Lan Phang's Love, Ltd. (1999, 24 min.) is about a middle-class family whose children reveal they're gay, to the mother's consternation. It's supposed to be a comedy about reticence and taboo breaking, but it's too coy to be funny. Also showing: Selena Chang's Three Exits (11 min.).

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