Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival showing thru Sun May 12

(UPDATE 5/8/2013 12:53AM: It’s the premiere screening of MIDNIGHTS WITH ADAM tonight Wednesday and I’ve been told on good authority that only 10 tickets are left and you should look hot..so get your ticket NOW and dress up! More info at their Facebook event! Also, tickets are sold out for HAFU: THE MIXED-RACE EXPERIENCE IN JAPAN and there’s a standby line — I’ve seen it and it’s worth trying to get in to see this moving, powerful documentary!)
Because of site difficulties last week, I was unable to post about the 29th Annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival on time, which started last Thursday, May 2. But wow are there plenty of great films to see in the remaining 5 days and here are just some of them:

Jiseul (Korea, 2012) – Wed 5/8, Sun 5/12
As part of a brutal anticommunist purge of the island of Jeju in 1948, Korean troops hunt down the inhabitants of a village caught in the crossfire in this austere, beautifully composed, and deliberately paced requiem. JISEUL would win the World Cinema Award for Best Narrative Feature at the recently concluded Sundance Film Festival. Set during the 1948 Jeju Massacre in Korea, JISEUL tells the story of some 120 villagers who hid in a cave for 60 days from soldiers who were under shoot-to-kill orders. They suffer from severe cold and hunger but retain their sanity by making jokes and holding on to the hope that their wait is almost over. Eventually their endurance wanes, and fear begins to test the group’s mettle.

I’ve seen this powerfully moving documentary and it resonates deeply with its universal theme of what it means to be an outsider in a society…a must-see! HAFU is more than a mere documentary about mixed race Japanese, or so called Hafu. The film seeks to break with the “one nation, one culture, one race” paradigm which has shaped much of contemporary Japan’s self-image, and makes a compelling argument for the hybrid reality of Japanese identity today. At the same time, Megumi Nishikura and Lara Perez Takagi, both Hafu themselves, render visible the hardship of those subjects who do not comfortably fit into common categories of belonging, and offer them a platform to be heard. What happens if my looks do not match my nationality, or if my language does not reflect my home country? Who defines the compatibility of subjects and their identities in the first place?

RASKAL LOVE (US, 2012) – Wed 5/8, Sat 5/11
RASKAL LOVE is a Byron Q’s documentary follow-up to his electrifying feature debut, the cult gang crime-drama BANG BANG (Festival 2011). Focusing on Vanna Fut, aka ‘Lazy’ who played Bullet in director Q’s feature, RASKAL LOVE chronicles Fut’s life as he’s initiated into gang life in Pomona, CA, and follows him up the coast to the Pacific Northwest as his gangsta past catches up with him in Seattle. At turns honest and illuminating, the documentary highlights Fut’s path as a gangster turned popular b-boy with Massive Monkees, a dance crew that would later go on to fame with America’s Best Dance Crew (ABDC). Even as Fut seems to make positive changes to his life through his breakdancing, he is never quite able to shake his connections to the Tiny Raskal Gang. Fut’s passion for dance moves him away from the politics of the streets, yet when it seems like he’s able to catch a break, something seems to always pull him back in.

KEY OF LIFE (Japan, 2012) – Thu 5/9
The Film Festival is honored to close its 29th edition with an award-winning critical and commercial hit from Japan, Kenji Uchida’s KEY OF LIFE. The film premiered at the Shanghai International Film Festival, where it won the grand prize, and went on to premiere at Toronto and Hawaii Film Festivals, where it also garnered the grand prize for best narrative feature. Unemployed Sakurai (Masato Sakai) aspired to become an actor, but failed miserably. He decides to kill himself, but first he goes to purify himself at a public bathhouse. While at the bathhouse, he meets the prosperous Kondo (Teruyuki Kagawa) who suffers a fall by slipping on a bar of soap, which brings on amnesia. On a whim, Sakurai switches locker keys, steals the man’s belongings and decides to pass himself off as the wealthy Kondo. However, Sakurai does not know that Kondo runs an illegal business that brings him into contact with some angry yakuza gangsters. Meanwhile, Kondo has been convinced that he is actually the failed actor and he faces the dismal reality of that life with increasing bewilderment. Fortunately, at the hospital, he meets the lovely Kanae (Ryoko Hirosue) who, while yearning for marriage, goes out of her way to help Sakurai pull himself together. Finally the real Kondo comes to his senses, but before he can make a new life with Kanae, he has to solve the many problems caused by the man who assumed his identity.

BEST FRIENDS FOREVER (US, 2013) – Fri 5/10
This isn’t your classic road trip, and pretty soon, it becomes shockingly apparent that we’re not watching some THELMA AND LOUISE re-tread: as Harriet and Reba put Los Angeles long in their rear-view mirror, a nuclear device obliterates the City of Angels, destroying everything and everyone they value and love. Making their way across the stark Southwest landscape, the two are confronted by the increasingly bizarre and aggressive action of all they encounter, from a menacing band of hipsters to a completely unhinged cowboy. By the time they pull into Austin, Harriet and Reba, unaware of the political and global forces swirling around them, find their friendship falling apart and sorely in need of repair. But it might already be too late: finally realizing the magnitude of the apocalypse now upon them, the two face some hard choices about their lives and their cherished friendship. And there isn’t a lot of time to patch things up…

DREAMS FOR SALE (Japan, 2012) – Sat 5/11
Celebrating the fifth anniversary of their small restaurant, Kanya (Sadao Abe) and Satoko (Takako Matsu) have their perfect night end in disaster when a grease fire burns the whole place down, almost taking Kanya with it. While Satoko tries to stay positive, taking a job at a mediocre noodle shop to pay the bills, Kanya sinks into depression, spending his days drinking and gambling. But everything changes when Kanya returns one night with a wad of cash and a far-fetched story of how he got it. Satoko soon finds out that Kanya got the cash from a woman he spent the night with. At first enraged, she soon recognizes the potential that Kanya’s impulsive grifting has revealed, and the couple concocts a scheme to re-open their restaurant by conning desperate women into falling in love with and marrying Kanya. With Satoko’s coaching, Kanya cuts a swathe through a series of spinsters, and the money starts rolling in — but the con game takes its toll on the couple as the deceptions begin to infect their own relationship.

HARANA (Philippines, US, 2012) – Sat 5/11
Florante Aguilar, 12 years removed from his native Philippines, is a classically trained guitarist equally adept performing pieces by Bach as he is performing rondalla music. It is Aguilar’s quest to not only preserve the lost art of Harana, but to also seek out some of its last remaining practitioners. In Benito Bautista’s HARANA, we follow Aguilar as he scours the provinces of Philippines and eventually finds three remarkable haranistas. These golden voiced men, plucked from the obscurity of their lives as a fisherman, a farmer and a tricycle driver, eventually join Aguilar to form The Harana Kings. They perform to sold out shows in the Philippines and eventually overseas, wowing audiences young and old and reviving a musical art form on the verge of extinction.

TOUCH OF THE LIGHT (Taiwan, 2012) – Sat 5/11
Played by real life blind piano prodigy Yu-Siang Huang, Siang has just been accepted to a prestigious music college. Unlike the others students, who find their way easily in and out of the class room, Siang depends on the support of his peers to get familiar with his new surroundings. And as the freshmen do not show much compassion for their visually impaired fellow at first, our protagonist struggles to feel comfortable and accepted. In fact, his body always seems to be a little out of place, lagging behind, hesitant to do the next move, and shy to speak out. The same can be said about Jie, the film’s second protagonist. Played by beautiful hapa actress Sandrine Pinna (YANG YANG), Jie works at a tea shop to make a living and support her broken family. Yet, she imagines a life that is very different from her own — without the annoying customers who cannot decide on the size of their tea cup and the level of sweetness they wish to order, and with someone else than the guy at her side who continues to go out with other girls. Jie dreams of returning to dance, the only way she seems to be able to open up and connect to the world.

TO WEAVE A NAME (E HAKU INOA) (US, 2012) – Sat 5/11
Because of the separation from her Mother, director Marquez didn’t get the chance to bond with her mother and absorb Hawaiian culture, leaving a void in her life. Ultimately, she makes the difficult decision to return to Hawai’I to reunite with her mother to fully understand the kaona – or hidden meanings in her name. From a first, strained reunion that results in her returning to California in utter defeat, to a second, longer stay in which mother and daughter experience a gradual, uneasy thaw in their relationship, director Marquez doesn’t necessarily leave with a clear understanding on her name. However, she comes away with a much better understanding of her mother and of the forces that induced her mental illness; and better still, with a renewed sense of confidence and a relationship with her Mother that she can cherish forever. In E HAKU INOA, there are deep-seeded stories being told: one of reclamation, another of family, and a third that voices the forgotten whispers of the American colonization of the Hawaiian Islands. What makes this documentary truly special is that it utilizes the native tropes of “talk story” in its storytelling. Narrating her journey from the islands to the mainland (and from childhood to adulthood), Marquez paints a picture of heartbreak and understanding, to stress the importance of the places we call home, and the power of the things we promise never to forget.

THE HAUMĀNA (Hawai’i, US, 2012) – Sat 5/11
In the hula tradition, haumana is the Hawaiian term for students and a kumu is the master teacher. THE HAUMĀNA, Hawaiian-born artist Keo Woolford’s directorial debut, chronicles the challenges of an unlikely candidate appointed as the new kumu of a high school boys’ hula class.  THE HAUMĀNA features a wonderful ensemble cast comprised of local actors/hula dancers. A bonus treat for Asian American film fans is the lovely Kelly Hu, who counsels the down-and-out Keoloha as his bartender-tough love therapist. The musical score composed by George “Geebz” Del Barrio adds depth to the stunning visuals. Hawaiian music aficionados will be pleased with the soundtrack that includes the likes of Robert Cazimero, vocalist Lehua Kalima (of Na Leo), and guitarist Shawn Pimental. “In hula, we use all our senses to tell the story when we’re dancing,” says Auntie Margaret to her young protégé. In THE HAUMĀNA, Woolford seems to summon the beauty of Hawai’I — the lush forests of Oahu, the sound and flow of the ocean’s turquoise waves, and classic style Hawaiian mele (songs) and rhythmic chants — to stimulate the viewer’s senses and make THE HAUMĀNA a visual and melodic pleasure.

TONGUES OF HEAVEN (Taiwan, 2012) – Sat 5/11
Set in Taiwan and Hawai’i, territories where languages of the Austronesian family are spoken, this experimental documentary focuses on the questions, desires and challenges of young indigenous peoples to learn the languages of their forebears — languages that are facing extinction. Using digital video as the primary medium of expression, four young indigenous women from divergent backgrounds together collaborate and exchange ideas to consider the impact of language on identity and culture. With 96% of the world’s population speaking only 4% of the world’s languages, the young filmmakers ask, what does it mean to speak your mother tongue in this age of language homogenization? To put it another way, what do you lose when you lose your native language? These are just some of the questions that these women, with camera in hand, ask themselves, their families and peers.

There are also great short films playing!

MIDNIGHTS WITH ADAM (US, 2013) – Wed 5/8
Over the course of one night, Harper, a newly out-of-the-closet young man, struggles to hold back his feelings for his straight best friend while dealing with the problems and complications of being different in a hetero-normative world.

PYRO & KLEPTO (US, 2012) – Wed 5/8
When Wyatt James, a lonely kleptomaniac, meets Mindy Michaels, a troubled and outspoken, pyromaniac, they begin an adventure of stealing and burning in pursuit of her dream of going to Alaska. However, when Mindy’s antics escalate to the point of recklessness, and their relationship is called into question, will they be able to look within themselves and their past, for answers?

KEYE LUKE (US, 2012) – Sun 5/12
KEYE LUKE (an expanded version of director Timothy Tau’s Armed With a Camera short) tells the story of Keye Luke, a pioneering Asian American actor most known for being the original Kato in the 1940s feature THE GREEN HORNET and the “Number One Son,” Lee Chan, in the Charlie Chan films. With credits in over 100 film and television roles, Keye Luke’s story has largely been untold. Using dramatic enactments and a staged monologue delivered by actor Feo Chin, KEYE LUKE tells the story of this acting pioneer’s early life and work.

LIL TOKYO REPORTER (US, 2012) – Sun 5/12
While the country struggles through the Great Depression, the Japanese American community unites for survival. Sei Fujii (Chris Tashima), intrepid newspaperman, promotes the positive images of Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo in preparation for his larger mission to acquire equal rights for all minorities. His law partner and former classmate, J. Marion Wright, uncovers the ill intentions of a local businessman bent on taking advantage of and corrupting the people of the very community that Fujii and his newspaper, the Los Angeles Daily News, serves. Confronted with such dire circumstances, Fujii must make a decision between “saving face” and compromising his values or confronting the corrupting elements of his community head-on.


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