The seventh annual Asian American Showcase, presented by the Foundation for Asian American Independent Media and the Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute, runs Friday, April 5, through Sunday, April 14. Screenings will be at the Film Center, 164 N. State. Tickets are $8, $4 for Film Center members; for more information call 312-846-2600. Films marked with an * are highly recommended.


Dim Sum

Various shorts, mostly student work. Kitao Sakurai’s slick Coda (2001) is an impressionistic mosaic of anger and violence among prep-school boys, eschewing dialogue in favor of music and the smooth juxtaposition of images. In Eric Hwang’s spotty White Rice (2001), East is West and West is East: a newlywed Caucasian woman values her husband’s Chinese heritage, but he’s an all-American boy. Van Phan’s animated Values (2000) considers the difficulty of living up to parents’ expectations, a cliched subject overcome by the film’s unusual silhouettes and papier-mache figures. On the same program, work by Eric Blyer and Ashley Chiang. 98 min. (TS) (6:15)

* Better Luck Tomorrow

See Critic’s Choice. (8:15)


* Peekaboo, I See You

Akira Boch’s sincere, well-crafted Finding Fire Under My Grandma’s Fingernails (2001) pays tribute to Boch’s Japanese-Hawaiian grandmother, who endured a harsh life on a Colorado farm to raise six kids and later helped rear all her grandchildren. In his heartfelt, poetical video Rest Area (2001), Alvin Tsang visits Hong Kong and equates his parents’ broken marriage with China’s takeover of the island; another trip to the Grand Canyon objectifies his loneliness and confusion after they split. John Neely talks to his brother about how schizophrenia has altered his life and how others treat him in the tender Curve Ball (2001). But Michael Corvin’s 01/24/01 (2001) takes the prize for its clever, succinct framing of images from Corvin’s apartment and his grandparents’ living room as isolated tableaux, accompanied on the sound track by the grandparents’ solicitous answering-machine wishing him a happy Chinese New Year. On the same program, works of Kathryn Xian, Rikei Kubo, and Carolynne Hew. 94 min. (TS) (4:15)

* Ke Kulana He Mahu: Remembering a Sense of Place

Our contemporary political struggle over gay marriage supplies the framework for this engrossing 2001 documentary about the acceptance of homosexuality in native Hawaiian culture. Directors Kathryn Xian and Brent Anbe piece together interviews with historians and gay and trans activists to show that the Hawaiians’ communal society included neither the nuclear family nor European sexual morality. In the 19th century tribal chieftains adopted Western law, a failed attempt to protect the country from colonization, but before that most children were raised in extended families and many chiefs had male lovers; the Hawaiian word for gay sex also means “safe sex,” because it precludes conception. 67 min. (FC) On the same program, which runs about 88 minutes, S. Leo Chiang’s Safe Journey (2000) and Punam Sawhney’s The Goddess Method (2001). (6:00)

Going Against the Grain

A grab bag of shorts by young filmmakers in the U.S. and India, none of them noticeably accomplished or original. Ann Kaneko’s 100% Human Hair (2001) is a campy, low-rent musical about a wig-shop owner who doesn’t want to retire. Jyothi Prakash’s Athman (2001) is fairly effective in showing a man’s paranoia as he eludes his pursuers in a crowded Indian city–but why he dons a tutu I’m not sure. Solid craftsmanship rescues two animations from faulty storytelling: in The Devil Made Me Do It (2001), Arthur Gu sketches a smug man who mouths the male fantasy of attracting slavishly devoted women but blames his philandering on someone else, and in Tokkapi (2001), Jang Gun-ho uses computer-game graphics to create a prolonged shoot-out between a boy and a battalion of robots. On the same program, works by Wes Kim, Neeru Paharia, Jimmy Ren, Mike Sakamoto, and Kang Shin. 99 min. (TS) (6:15)


Many of these shorts by young Asian-Americans bear the fingerprints of Wong Kar-wai (handheld camera, swish pans, alternating color with black and white) and John Woo by way of Quentin Tarantino (macho vulnerability, choreographed action). Cary Lin’s Ginseng Dreams (2000) consists mostly of sleek, hypnotic visuals in which brooding gangsters strike poses, the laconic dialogue and rock ballads on the sound track adding to the MTV feel. Roy Lee’s genre exercise Bad Guys (2001), about three bumbling punks who botch a kidnapping while aping their pop-culture heroes, is interesting to look at but tanks whenever the characters open their mouths. The standout is Victor Vu’s powerful Instant Karma (2001), about a young Vietnamese woman who spies her mother having an affair and reveals her knowledge to her elderly father and to the adulterous couple, with devastating consequences. On the same program, films and videos by Michael Idemoto, Richard Kim, and Jay Lee. 98 min. (TS) (8:15)

* Better Luck Tomorrow

See Critic’s Choice. (10:15)


* Obachan’s Garden

Linda Ohama’s fascinating 2001 video documentary constructs a layered narrative about her centenarian grandmother, who left a privileged upbringing in Hiroshima to move to British Columbia in 1928. Asayo came to Canada as a picture bride but rejected her betrothed and married another man; her story touches on the plight of Japanese-Canadians during World War II, the incineration of her hometown, the fissures that crept into her marriage, and her work in the 70s and 80s cultivating a lavish garden that has since been named a historic site. During the shooting Ohama and the family discovered that her grandmother had left behind a husband and two daughters in Hiroshima (possibly out of shame for not having produced a son), and the video builds a considerable amount of suspense over their fate while poetically connecting images from the past and present. In English and subtitled Japanese. 95 min. (TS) (2:00)

My America

A rather disappointing program of shorts about mainstream perceptions of Asian-Americans. Most touching is S. Casper Wong’s Shirts and Skins (2001), about an ambitious young Chinese-American lawyer reluctant to talk about her childhood who meets a Chinese engineer at their company’s diversity workshop. Wong confronts the unpleasantness of ethnic stereotypes head-on, showing the lawyer’s discomfort with them as well as their pernicious hold; the effective score is by John Zorn. Wes Kim’s instructive Vision Test (2001) summarizes recent findings about the lingering prejudices and misconceptions of other ethnic groups toward Asian-Americans. And in Keiichi Kondoh’s enigmatic and surreal A Tourist (2000), a Japanese man has trouble communicating in sync with people he comes across–he could be a time traveler, but this mind teaser deliberately doesn’t say. On the same program, work by Ashley Chiang and Tuan Nguyen. 103 min. (TS) (4:15)

Daughters of the Cloth

Two generations of a Korean immigrant family talk about the apparel trade in this 2001 video documentary by Seung-hyun Yoo. The parents came to the U.S. in the 70s and opened a clothing factory in Los Angeles, working long hours at the expense of their personal lives. In contrast, their three daughters became retail entrepreneurs, several steps up the social and economic ladder from their mother and father. They’re savvier and more articulate, but Yoo, who supplied the dispassionate voice-over, lets them dwell too long on the logistics of labor law, capital flow, and the export business. This is more a business-school case study than a family portrait–and a dull one at that. 56 min. (TS) On the same program, Green Tea Ice Cream (2001, 13 min.) by Rita Pugusi. (6:00)

* Lunch With Charles

Winsome performances and a chaste, old-fashioned premise distinguish this likable cross-cultural comedy about two couples–one from Hong Kong, the other Canadian–trying to mend their frayed relationships as they drive along the scenic highway between Vancouver and Banff. A Canto-pop crooner (Sean Lau) flies in from Hong Kong to rendezvous with his ad-exec wife (Theresa Lee) at a bed-and-breakfast, but she’s left without him, and he follows after her with the woman singer of the Celtic band she promotes (Bif Naked); meanwhile the wife hooks up with the singer’s boyfriend (Nicholas Lea) as a travel companion, and the two couples compare notes. Director-writer Michael Parker expertly mines their misunderstandings and missed connections for laughs while poking fun at New Age foibles and the habits of young professionals, and Lau is wonderful as the morose husband. 109 min. (TS) (6:15)


* Obachan’s Garden

See listing for Sunday, April 7. (6:00)

America So Beautiful

As far as I know, this 2001 feature by Babak Shokrina is the only one to deal with the Iranian-American community in Los Angeles, which automatically gives it a certain interest. (The dialogue is split between English and subtitled Farsi, often in the same sentence.) Apart from a brief epilogue set at the time of Reagan’s first inauguration, the story takes place during the Iranian hostage crisis, and the period details, many involving the disco subculture, are pretty convincing. Unfortunately Shokrina’s sense of style periodically collapses, and the film falls prey to the worst kind of models; eventually it descends into melodramatic violence (complete with slow motion), and in one lovemaking sequence the music, lighting, and editing suggest a shampoo commercial. 91 min. (JR) (6:15)

* My Kind of Town

An excellent collection of shorts, many experimental, by filmmakers affiliated with Chicago. In Against Filial Piety (2001), Wenhwa Ts’ao creates a rapid montage of text and imagery–photos of fetuses, clinical definitions of terms like sterility in various languages–to communicate the Chinese imperative of perpetuating one’s bloodline. In Unfinished Symphony (2001), Yi-wei Loo offers fleeting but eerily vivid impressions of her childhood in Singapore, emphasizing the abstract patterns created by the sights and sounds. Hometown Return (2000) by Young-sung Chung is a well-photographed expressionist tale of a Korean man attending the funeral of a schoolmate and then imagining how his old friend killed himself. Japanese minimalism informs Rikei Kubo’s video Shira-Tama (2001), in which a husband haunted by his parents’ divorce comes to terms with his own bland marriage, though the sterile ambience of the couple’s life is a bit forced. And in Sami and Binx (2001), Yi-jin Woo and Kai-duc Luong try to blend the French romanticism of Jacques Demy and Leos Carax with the mystical realism of Krzysztof Kieslowski, as a man and a woman yearn to meet each other after several E-mail encounters but can’t seem to hook up. The female lead is monochromatic, but the score is terrific, and the filmmakers manage to turn Bucktown into the Left Bank. 127 min. (TS) (8:00)


Family Project: House of Father

To show how a typical Korean father behaves, Yunkyung Jo trained the Betacam on her own, much to her family’s annoyance. Her documentary (2001, 61 min.) offers an unflinching look at a nuclear family in which the patriarch rules supreme but constantly spars with his wife and an extended family whose relationships reflect the imbalance of power between Korean men and women. The frustration, disappointment, and recrimination are all on display, underscored by Jo’s frank voice-over; in one potent shot Jo’s mother, who sacrificed a career in TV journalism to marry, dances with a phantom partner. On the same program, Jisu Kim’s Wave After Wave: Domestic Violence (2000, 45 min.) presents a half dozen Korean-American women whose husbands subjected them to excruciating physical and mental abuse. Aside from their Korean sense of shame and their vulnerability as housebound immigrants, they aren’t much different from other victims of domestic abuse, and Kim’s pedestrian editing exacerbates the monotony of their painful litany. (TS) (6:15)

* Lunch With Charles

See listing for Sunday, April 7. (8:15)


Mai’s America

An exchange student from Hanoi completes her senior year at a Mississippi high school and her freshman year at Tulane University in this documentary by Marlo Poras. Mai, daughter of a hotel manager, is cheerful, talkative, inquisitive, and fearless, and she adapts quickly, moving from a host family in a trailer park to the home of a young black couple and befriending a gay transvestite. Poras seems to have staged many scenes, apparently in hopes of documenting racial tolerance in the south, and her disingenuousness becomes as grating as Mai’s perpetual smile. Yet the girl’s lucky break and the pressure from her parents to finish college in the U.S. make for a compelling story. 72 min. (TS) On the same program, Pomegranate (2001, 14 min.) by Ham Tran. (6:00)

America So Beautiful

See listing for Monday, April 8. (8:30)


Daughter From Danang

In 1975, Operation Babylift put about 2,000 Amerasian children up for adoption in the U.S.; this 2001 documentary by Gail Dolgin and Vincente Franco follows one of them, Heidi, as she returns to Danang 22 years later to visit her mother and family. Overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of rural Vietnam, she eagerly seeks the embrace of her birth mother, who showers her with the sort of attention never provided by her single adoptive mother in Tennessee. Dolgin and Franco record the tearful airport reunion, the warm family dinners, and the misty-eyed recollections, but to their credit they keep the cameras rolling after Heidi’s Vietnamese family asks her for financial support and she begins to seem naive, petulant, and spoiled. The unexpected conflict adds a bitter taste to this poignant if familiar story of a young person suspended between two cultures. 81 min. (TS) (6:15)

Our Nation

Korean punk rock is the subject of this documentary (2001, 40 min.) by Stephen J. Epstein and Timothy R. Tangherlini, and of Decades Past (28 min.) by Tatsu Aoki. On the same program, Aoki and Charles Kim will provide live musical accompaniment for Eun-Ah Lee’s film Hanaya (2001, 28 min.). (8:15)