Sunday, March 20, 2011

Phil attends the SFIAAFF - Day Two

Welcome back to Day Two of my trip to the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival!! Let's get started shall we?

While picking up my tickets at the Camera 12 in downtown San Jose, I met up with my film partner in crime Jason, who's film blog mentions mine and gave me praise for my write up of last night's opening gala. You are too kind Jason! FYI folks: he's blogs are fun to read and, personally, I liked his write up better.

The first film that I saw was THE PIANO IN A FACTORY, directed by Zhang Meng. The film focuses on Chen, who works at a deteriorating steel plant as well as a musician. Chen's life is starting to unravel. He's current wife is divorcing him and his lead singer in his musical group is in love with him but he's not sure of his feelings for her. However, he's too distracted because his ex wants their daughter to come live with her. In order to keep her, he wants to give her the ultimate present; a piano. With no money, he and his friends go to great lengths to achieve this present, including trying to steal one from a school. Then Chen comes up the idea in building one using material  found right there in the factory.

Director Meng uses the widescreen format to full use. Everything within the frame has a purpose. His directing styles reminds me of early Woody Allen films; comedic timing infused with dramatic seriousness. The story is strong with fully developed characters who, like us, are flawed, honest, and real. A really funny and dramatic film, and the perfect film to start off the day with.
Stephan Gauger's SAIGON ELECTRIC
The second film I saw was SAIGON ELECTRIC, a faced paced dance film that, believe it or not, has a real plot! Which, by the way, is a rarity nowadays. The film begins with Mai, a traditional ribbon dancer who comes to Saigon to audition for the prestigious National Dance Academy. When she fails her audition, she meets a young rebellious hip hop dancer named Kim, who introduces Mai to her dance crew, Saigon Fresh, and a new dance style. Their leader Do-Boy informs her that they are training to take on their rivals The North Killaz in the nationals dance off, upon winning they will be able to save their youth center from being demolished. Along the way Mai, Kim, and Do-Boy learn the meaning of love, friendship, and family while also displaying some amazing dance moves that must be seen to believe.

Unlike the STEP UP films here in the states, this Vietnamese film offers the audience something the other dance films lack, which is character development. Throughout the film, we see our three main characters grow, evolve, and change. Mai who is naive of her surroundings and unsure of her dancing talent, becomes a source of inspiration to her new friends and begins teaching children at the youth center. Kim, who is a tough street smart girl, meets a young man who shows her that love is possible, and Do-Boy, who is an orphan, learns that the friends in his life are his family.

Director Stephan Gauger made a splash with his first film THE OWL AND THE SPARROW, which was shown at the SFIAAFF back in 2007. Gauger keeps the film moving forward with strong characters and, with quick edits, showcases some of the best hip hop dance moves this reviewer has seen in years. Both Gauger and Executive Producer Anderson Lee were present and participated in a Q&A session after the screening of their film.

Bertha Bay-Sa Pan's ALMOST PERFECT
Third film of the night for me was ALMOST PERFECT, a romantic comedy starring Kelly Hu, who finds her "almost perfect" love of her life, but has to contend with her very dysfunctional family and her doubts about marriage. The film features an all star cast, including Ivan Shaw, Christina Chang, Tina Chen, with Edison Chen and Roger Rees. This film was my favorite film of the day. It contained all of my requirements that I look for in a film: a solid script, believable characters, fantastic acting, great directing and editing, and a relatable topic which I hold very close to me; finding love despite your shortcomings.

Director Bertha Bay-Sa Pan was in attendance and participated in a Q&A session after the screening. I was able to introduce myself and informed her how this film radiated with me. I told her that even though the lead was a Asian American female living in New York, I can relate to her because of the subject matter of the film. We all want to find love, and when we have it, we are unsure of ourselves sometimes. Letting thoughts of doubts and our fears interfere with something that we treasure so much. Love is a very powerful emotion, one that we cannot live without. This film touched me in a way that won't be leaving me for quite sometime. Highly recommended!!

Chito S. Rono's EMIR
The fourth and final film that I saw was Chito S. Rono's EMIR, a very entertaining musical that surprised me a lot. The film is about a Filipino girl named Amelia, who decides to help out her family by working as a nanny to a royal family in Morocco. According to the director, this was the biggest musical ever made in the Philippines, and it shows! This was a spectacular musical, shot in exotic locations, numerous dance musicals, fantastic singing from the entire cast, and once again, a film that you can relate to; helping out your family in tough times, sacrifices of love and happiness, finding a new family to call your own, being asked to rise in extreme circumstances, and finding your place in the world. Another great film that I thoroughly enjoyed!

Today was a great day of film watching! Five films in two days, with another four more left to see on Sunday. Tickets are still available for the Sunday screenings. To purchase yours online visit or visit the boxoffice at the Camera 12 Theatre.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

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