Monday, March 21, 2011

Phil attends the SFIAAFF - Day Three

Hello folks and welcome back to the third and final day of my trip to the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival at the Camera 12 Cinemas here in downtown San Jose! Brace yourselves, and here we go!

Hao Lie in Chung Mong-Hong's THE FOURTH PORTRAIT
My first film on this wet and rainy Sunday was THE FOURTH PORTRAIT, directed by Chung Mong-Hong. The film centers on a 10-year-old boy named Xiang, who goes to live with his mother and stepdad after his real father passes away. However all is not right with Xiang. Lonely and withdrawn from the kids at school and his parents, he takes to his art, by drawing to escape his problems. But things take a turn for the worse when he begins to dream of his missing older brother, which someone in his family knows the truth behind the mysterious disappearance.

From the director of PARKING, Hong follows up that film with this beautiful and painful exhibit of broken homes, escapism, isolation, and loneliness. Though only his second feature, Hong demonstrates how he has improved his directing style. He captures emotions like no other filmmaker does. Shots of Xiang playing on the slides at school all by himself, Hao Lie (who portrays his mother) is shown with regret and loss, an empty shell of the woman who she claims was once full of life. Though the film drags a bit here and there, the powerful emotional payoffs are all there, waiting for you to sympathize with Xiang and the rest of the characters.

Goh Nakamura in Dave Boyle's SURROGATE VALENTINE
The second film I saw was an amazing surprise! Director Dave Boyle's first film WHITE ON RICE was a break out hit at last year's film festival. Now Boyle, along with Bay Area indie musician Goh Nakamura teamed up to bring us the film SURROGATE VALENTINE, which was my second favorite film I saw at the festival. Goh is a shy, awkward, somewhat anti social, full time musician, who also teaches as well. A filmmaker friend of his has asked him to partake another job: teach guitar lessons to one pompous, arrogant, self delusional Hollywood actor Danny (whose claim to fame is being a famous TV doctor). Now "Goh" (who pretty much plays himself, but wonderfully though) must now contend to playing babysitter to Danny while he travels up and the west coast touring, and also trying to win the heart of his high school flame Rachel.

This was such a great film to watch and enjoy! Under Boyle's careful direction, the film feels and looks like an early 80's indie flick, complete with beautiful black and white photography. Think Jim Jamurch's STRANGER THE PARADISE, Spike Lee's SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT, as well as Kevin Smith's CLERKS. Even the fonts that Boyle uses for his credits were reminiscent of those early indie films as well. This is true local independent filmmaking that I love. Chadd Stoop's portrayal of Danny is hilarious and a send up of Hollywood actors who take themselves to seriously. Lynn Chen is wonderful as Rachel, and her on screen chemistry with Goh was perfect.

Before the film, the audience was treated to a quick performance by Goh himself. He played two songs, the last one was the theme song of the film. After the screening, Goh, Boyle, and Stoops participated in a rousingly fun Q&A. Two very big thumbs up!!

Phan Dang Di's BI, DON'T BE AFRAID
The third film I saw was BI, DON'T BE AFRAID, by director Phan Dang Di. The film's main character is Bi, a six year old boy who wonder about town unsupervised. He like to spend most of his time hanging out at the ice factory. His mother and his very attractive aunt are preoccupied, taking care of their sick grandfather, who has just arrived to live with them. His father spends his days away from his family, drinking beer with his friends at their regular hangout. Throughout the film Bi begins to explore his family and life, exposing the frank sexuality of his parents and his aunt, and of death.

While there are layers to the film, and metaphors abound about men, women, sex, death, some of its meaning fell flat for me. While the film itself was very well directed, and all of the actors were brilliant, it didn't resonate with me at all. I didn't really care about the characters, nor did I feel like Bi was the central protagonist, even though his name is in the title. This felt cold to me, and I wasn't too impressed with it.

Goldy Notay & Shabana Azmi in IT'S A WONDERFUL AFTERLIFE
The last film I saw at the festival was IT'S A WONDERFUL AFTERLIFE, the latest film by famed Indian director Gurinder Chadha. The film's about an Indian mother named Mrs. Sethi, who's only wish is to see her daughter Roopi married, but it's not easy. Those who have turned down Roopi and belittled her, Mrs. Sethi has murdered. However in a comedic twist, the victims' ghosts have been haunting Sethi, but only she can see them. The only way the ghosts can pass over is if she does too. But alas, poor Sethi cannot leave until her daughter is married and taken care of. So the ghosts help Sethi to get her daughter a husband. However the London police are on the trail, and so they all must act quickly before it's too late.

This, of couse, was my third favorite film of the festival. And what a film this was! Right from the beginning, you automatically know that you are about to have a good time while being entertained! I don't want to say to much, but this was a lot of fun to watch. Chanha has thrown in numerous film references in here, the most obvious was CARRIE. Another one was SEVEN, and even the title is a reference to that beloved holiday classic. Great acting, great directing, great story, great music, everything was great! A definite winner here!!

What a weekend I had! Nine films in two and a half days equals one fun weekend! Well folks there you have it. My first film festival blog is finally finished. Hope you enjoyed reading it, as much as I enjoyed watching and writing about all these amazing films! If you would like to know more about these and other films, about CAAM, and how to become a member, visit their website at 

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

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