19 March 2009

I seen, I saw

During the past week, I saw six movies in six days. It was the Asian American Film Festival and there's nothing better I like to do than watch a ton of movies. They were offering six movies for the price of five, a deal I couldn't resist. The problem was, what to watch? I couldn't make heads or heels of most of the films so relied on the handy dandy guide that highlighted the feature films. I wish I could have seen some of the shorts or picked a random film or two but there was just too much to see.

While it's hard to pin down exactly what constitutes an Asian American film (something made by Asians? a film about Asians? anything set in Asia?), I definitely love that SF is such a hotbed of Asian American culture and activism. To not take advantage of these events would be criminal. So I picked out a few films, set off for a week of wonderful viewing, and had enough popcorn for a lifetime. Actually, that's a lie. I could probably eat popcorn every day of my life and still not have enough. Extra butter, in the middle and on top please!

A neat phenomenon of watching all these movies was that I didn't have any preconceptions of what I was about to see and few expectations. I didn't watch any of the trailers, didn't know most of the directors, and relied solely on a few lines of description to choose which movie to watch. It was exciting to sit there as a film opened, with no real idea of what might happen or what it was actually about. I know that's also dangerous, because you could walk into a two hour waste of your life, but aside from one exception, every film I saw was worth the time and I'd definitely recommend watching as many films as possible next year. I know I will be.

I doubt many of these movies will be available here, or even on Netflix, but I wanted to share short reviews of the stuff I saw anyway. In order of descending awesomeness.

(1) Dirty Hands (Harry Kim) - Subtitled "The Art and Crimes of David Choe" and the one film I really wanted to see at the festival. It didn't disappoint, not one bit. Choe is an amazingly versatile artist; a charismatic, crazy, and troubled soul; and this documentary captures and reveals all of it. Heck, I could watch the unedited footage of this stuff and probably totally love it. [Trailer]

(2) The Panda Candy (Peng Lei) - A gentle surprise. The Panda Candy, about two hipster lesbians (sort of) looking for love, reminded me a little bit of Lost in Translation in mood and sentiment. Unexpected moments abound, whether they be humorous, beautiful, or poignant. I'd be curious to watch it again to see how I feel after a repeat viewing. I loved the way the film was shot and composed. [Trailer]

(3) Lust, Caution (Ang Lee) - This much discussed and controversial movie from Ang Lee is probably the only one readily available Stateside. It wasn't in theaters very long, and did quite poorly here, but that doesn't mean it's not worth watching. I have a ton to say about the movie, both good and bad, but I'll leave it alone. One helpful thing to note is that Eileen Chang's translation of her short story title was actually "The Spy Ring," which is a useful tidbit. A friend let me borrow Chang's Love in a Fallen City and I highly recommend her writing. It's beautiful, simply put. [Trailer]

(4) High Noon (Heiward Mak) - A stylish movie about seven Hong Kong youths growing up without direction or conscience. The director was only twenty four when she made the movie and I was really impressed with her grasp of male relationships and her visual flair -- even if it was a bit overdone in spots. The film did drag a bit and I had a few quibbles with the last quarter of the movie but overall it was pretty good. [Trailer]

(5) Whatever It Takes (Christopher Wong) - Edward Tom is the first year principal of a high school in the South Bronx. He's passionate, involved, and extremely hard working. The school challenges its students to rise above their environment and circumstances in pursuit of higher education. The setup sounds intriguing but the documentary plays out more like a feel good story than anything that truly illuminates the struggles of a school serving an underprivileged area. The decision to focus on one particular student lent too narrow of a view to the story and I wish we had been able to follow more the students' stories. [Trailer]

(6) 24 City (Jia Zhangke) - This was highly anticipated but ultimately majorly disappointing. A mixture of documentary and staged monologues, the entire movie was just too slow moving and impossible to get into without knowing what was actually true. While I was really interested about the topic at hand -- a Chinese factory being torn down to be replaced by commercial high rises -- the documentary provided no insight or entertainment. [Trailer]