Asian American Showcase

The fifth annual Asian American Showcase, presented by the Foundation for Asian American Independent Media and the Film Center of the School of the Art Institute, runs Saturday, April 1, through Saturday, April 8. Screenings will be at the Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson. Tickets are $7, $3 for Film Center members; for more information call 773-871-1977.


When You’re Smiling

Janice D. Tanaka’s hour-long 1999 video recounts her family’s assimilation to mainstream America, from her Japanese grandparents’ settlement in South Central Los Angeles to her parents’ internment during World War II to her siblings’ “model minority” phase. Her interviews with relatives and with friends from similar backgrounds mostly confirm the usual cliches: the old-world father who wants his kids to be “110 percent super-Americans,” elders who choose to forget discrimination, boomers who resent their conformist upbringing. Tanaka’s matter-of-fact narration produces some heart-tugging moments, and the confessions of alcoholism and attempted suicide are touching, but this garden-variety memoir belongs in a family archive. On the same program: Kimi Takesue’s Rosewater (1999), an experimental short about a meek, bespectacled man attempting to preserve a desert rose. A gorgeous visual poem (in black and white), it connects seemingly random images of a junkyard, dripping water, and an Eve who disgorges apples from her mouth. (TS) (1:00)

Avenue of the Asian Americas

A strong program of short films and videos by up-and-coming Asian-American artists. In James T. Hong’s pungent, alienated Behold the Asian: How One Becomes What One Is a weary narrator recites a potent, beat-inspired rant against conformity and materialism over shots of cattle, Chinese peasants, San Francisco streets, and a man in a coolie hat walking through the harsh, lonely expanse of Death Valley. Fog in a Can by Chicago’s Masahiro Sugano is a playfully inventive melange of visual non sequiturs such as two fingers marching like a pair of legs through household objects; its sound track of amplified noises could stand on its own as a Cagean homage. On the sound track of Tuan Nguyen and Lydia Chung’s Let It Ride two couples agonize over relationships and lady luck while images of a Vegas casino and hotel room heighten the sense of existential angst. In A Seeker, a superb montage of haunting images, Chinese ideograms, and English words, Kian Kuan muses about his migration from rigid, traditional China to the liberal, chaotic U.S., which allows him to explore his sexuality but brands him an outsider. And in Michael Kang’s amusing Japanese Cowboy an Asian man in a cowboy getup hustles on Times Square, Texas accent and all. (TS) On the same program, shorts by Mark Arbitrario, Brian Tsukamoto, Kevin Feng Ke, Yunah Hong, Stephen Bai, Rea Tajiri, Donna Ayako Tsufura, Takeo Hori, Woody Han, Thomas Moon, Greg Pak, Grace Lee, Jane Kim, and Justin Dorazio. (3:30)

Passing Through

Korean-born Nathan Adolfson was given up for adoption as a child and raised by a Minnesota family, and his 1999 short video documents his trip to Inchon, South Korea, to be reunited with his siblings. When he arrives in Inchon with his video crew, he’s greeted by his older sister and brothers–and by another video crew from a Korean TV network, shooting footage for an Oprah-like talk show on which he later appears. Adolfson was a film student at UCLA when he made the video, but he seems more like a flippant teenager, and the finished product capitalizes on his likeable personality at the expense of insight and genuine emotion. On the same program, Justin Lin’s short video Crossover (1999) explores the history of the Japanese-American basketball leagues in California and the current debate over whether to open them to non-Asians; Lin jazzes up the talking-head format with graphics and fast-paced editing. And Mike Sakamoto’s Secret Asian Man takes an amusing look at musician Arthur Nakane, a one-man band who does spot-on imitations of rock legends. (TS) Adolfson and Lin will attend the screening. (6:00)

Post Concussion

It must have been therapeutic for former management consultant Danny Yoon to throw caution to the wind and make this amateur 1999 comedy feature about his struggle to recuperate from a serious head injury–a production in which he functions as writer, producer, director, cinematographer, editor, and lead actor. It might even be edifying for other people recovering from serious head injuries to laugh at Yoon’s jokes, including his satirical segments about New Age therapies. But what about the rest of us? This is good-natured and likable as a serious form of fooling around, but I can’t say I found it very entertaining or interesting. The unvarnished acting charms initially through its brazen lack of pretense, then gets dull and duller. Extended clips from Plan 9 From Outer Space suggest that Yoon knows how bad this is, but that doesn’t make it any better. (JR) Yoon will attend the screening. On the same program, two shorts: Vivian Nana Umino’s Ill Repair (1998) and Ham Tran’s The Prescription (1999). (8:00)


Pure Chutney

In this 1998 video documentary by Sanjeev Chatterjee, U.S.-based writer and photographer Amitava Kumar visits Trinidad to interview people descended from the slaves and merchants who migrated there from India during the colonial era. Most of them have Spanish surnames, but vestiges of the old culture survive in their customs, their ceremonies, and their fond preoccupation with the motherland. Kumar uses the spectrum of influences on the island as a point of departure for his own views on colonialism, diversity, and the ancient antagonism between Hindus and Muslims, some of them trenchant, others academic; Chatterjee, recording the people’s faces and gestures, reveals more about the obscure community than his writer and narrator. On the same program: Lee Chatametikool’s short film Miami Strips, Hollywood Dream (1999), a head scratcher that intercuts amorous scenes from old Thai and American movies with shots of two enigmatic lovers in 1970s Bangkok, and Square-Shaped Fingernails (1999), in which School of the Art Institute grad Balvinder D. Mudan pairs video from trips to Punjab with a chatty, meandering voice-over. (TS) (2:00)

First Person Plural

See Critic’s Choice. (6:00)


There’s an undeniable novelty to this 1999 dramatic feature by writer-director-actor Sujit Saraf about Indian engineers living and working in Silicon Valley, but there’s also an undeniable tedium in the insularity it not only describes but embodies. The all-male group of friends and coworkers are plainly bored and alienated, a problem expressed with craft and taste but little urgency. The film’s publicity states that “it has been made by, for, and about Silicon Valley engineers. It should also have a wider appeal among expatriate Indians and Indians in the urban centers of India.” Anyone who fits one of these categories can probably find his or her own way to this; the rest of us have to relate to it rather voyeuristically. (JR) On the same program, two 1999 short films: Nancy M. Kwon’s The Question and Allison Lee’s Trick or Treat. (8:00)