Asian American Showcase

The fourth annual Asian American Showcase, presented by the Foundation for Asian American Independent Media and the Film Center, concludes Saturday and Sunday, April 10 and 11. Screenings are 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 or 312-443-3737.


Shadow Histories–Does That Actually Mean Anything?

A collection of eight film or video shorts, most of them film-school projects. Greg Pak’s Fighting Grandpa is a cut above the rest, a compact but emotionally complex portrait of a Korean immigrant family whose harsh, selfish, and elusive patriarch put his wife through hardship and barely tolerated his children. Ronald Eltenal’s A Good Lie is a slick, clever, but unnecessarily convoluted joke about a hit man haunted by the ghost of one of his victims–watch for references to John Woo action flicks and Hong Kong ghost comedies. In his Yellow Fever, Raymond Yeung captures the pathos of a young, gay Londoner who eventually chooses a fellow Asian for a lover. Richard Kim’s Kung Pao Chicken is a cute, slight, almost wry fable about the invention of the diagram showing how to use chopsticks. In The Ballad of Papaya Unguinea, Matias Aguilar flashes through images of cultural icons, from Douglas MacArthur to Muhammad Ali, while a voice-over delivers a funky but barely comprehensible rap on colonialism and Filipino culture. In Carl Lee’s Secret Museum, cryptic narration accompanies lingering and hypnotic images of fetuses, skulls, and skeletons. On the same program, Ted Vadakan’s Untitled and Carolynne Hew’s Swell. (TS) (4:00)


Vivek Bald’s video documentary profiles young Anglo-Asians who are making waves in the London rock scene and examines the socioeconomic forces behind the phenomenon. Most of those interviewed (including Tjinder Singh of Cornershop and members of Asian Dub Foundation) have parents who emigrated to England in the 60s dreaming of a better life but ended up with menial jobs, and the musicians are variously bemused or angry in recalling the racism they encountered growing up. Drummer Talvin Singh gives a particularly insightful explanation of how traditional Indian music and the sounds of Indian emigrants to the Caribbean influenced the Anglo-Asian music scene. The video being screened is a work in progress. Two shorts round out the program: Byron Shah (who’s made videos for Beck and Smashing Pumpkins) directed The Mischievous Ravi, a sweet, beguiling film about a teenager who works in his father’s convenience store but longs to escape the dull immigrant ghetto; Amitav Kaul’s music video USTRA is a montage of time-lapse urban landscapes and nifty computer graphics, set to music by Karsh Kale. (TS) Bald will attend the screening. (6:00)

Citizen Hong Kong

Much of this feature-length video was shot during the summer of ’97, when San Francisco film editor Ruby Yang journeyed to her native Hong Kong to document the end of British rule. Her reflections on the island’s stormy colonial past and her own childhood–voiced over vintage photos–are juxtaposed with present-day scenes shot by five young working-class locals with camcorders. Unlike Wayne Wang’s contrived Chinese Box, which views the handover as a fatal breakdown of order, Yang’s film shows the continuity in the lives of most citizens. Speaking freely of their fears and aspirations, they cling to the idea of Hong Kong as a harbor of hope; Qi Ke Jia, a teenager who moved from the mainland with her mother for a better education, echoes Yang’s ambitions of two decades past. Unflinching in its honesty, vivid in its kaleidoscopic imagery, the film affirms the stubborn individualism that is every Hong Kong citizen’s birthright. (TS) Yang will attend the screening. (8:00)


Children of the Camps

A group of Japanese-Americans in their 50s and 60s take part in a therapy session to purge traumatic memories of internment during World War II. Stephen Holsapple’s 55-minute video gets off to a promising start, but the litany of accusations against white America becomes monotonous after a while. The therapist, Dr. Satsuki Ina, was born in one of the camps and seems eager to exorcise the old demons with other prosperous-looking Californians; a soft-spoken master of psychobabble, she exhorts her clients to get in touch with their inner child while a godly voice-over points out the benefits of her clinical workshop. The whole thing comes uneasily close to being an infomercial–or one of those healing moments on Oprah. On the same program: Dexter Kim’s 20-minute drama, Prodigal Son, an earnest, obvious history lesson that cuts between past and present as a family deals with the decision one of the sons made in an internment camp. (TS) Satsuki Ina will attend the screening. (2:00)

Manuel Ocampo: God Is My Copilot

See Critic’s Choice. (4:00)

Some Divine Wind

In this 1991 debut feature Roddy Bogawa ruminates on ethnic identity, cultural memory, the fragility of relationships, and the inescapable horrors of Hiroshima. The film’s discourse, realized on the sound track as a quizzical dialogue between a young Japanese-American and his Caucasian girlfriend, occasionally digresses but always returns to their uneasy bond, while the images (domestic scenes, the young man cruising down the San Diego Freeway on a bicycle, found footage of atrocities) are a jumble of fragments that make sense only through repetition. The film’s narrative strategy suggests Jean-Luc Godard’s wide-ranging essays without the intellectual guile, while its poetic evocation of futile communication recalls Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima, mon amour, another story of a doomed liaison between East and West. (TS) Bogawa will attend the screening. (6:00)

Too Tired to Die

Set in New York’s trendy SoHo district, this earnestly charming 1998 black comedy, written and directed by Korean-born Wonsuk Chin, posits several interesting metaphysical questions that offset the occasionally pretentious and ironic tone. As a take on the overexposed downtown Manhattan scene, it’s remarkably fresh and mature, reminding one of the old adage that a foreigner’s perspective is often the most successful in candidly portraying a specific milieu. Stunningly shot by Jim Denault and aided by a sterling cast that includes Hong Kong-Taiwanese acting and singing superstar Takeshi Kaneshiro, Mira Sorvino, and Ben Gazzara, the film follows the final two days in the life of Kenji (Kaneshiro), a Japanese slacker who, soon after having a strange dream, (beautifully rendered as a silent-movie tableau), is visited by Death (Sorvino) and told he has just 12 hours to live. Kenji, jobless and unambitious, struggles to figure out what he should do with his remaining time on earth. Vaguely aware that he should be having a good time, he decides to pursue a beautiful German woman (Geno Lechner) he’s just met at a cafe. The film’s conclusion is touching yet oddly unresolved. (Joshua Katzman) Chin will attend the screening. (8:00)