Actors of Asian descent have long been underrepresented in mainstream American movies, but indies help pick up the slack, as evidenced by the Gene Siskel Film Center’s long-running Asian American Showcase. Opening the festival, the formally ambitious Fish Bones (Fri 4/6, 8 PM) stars model Joony Kim as a lovely but vacant Korean student who tends her family’s New York restaurant when she’s not landing fashion photo shoots and attracts the romantic attentions of a Latina music producer. Writer-director Joanne Mony Park favors static long takes to recount the affair in reverse chronological order, but she doesn’t yet have the skill to pull off what Harold Pinter did with Betrayal.
In Aram Collier’s Stand Up Man (Fri 4/13, 8 PM) a Korean-Canadian newlywed’s parents head overseas as missionaries, leaving him to mind their Windsor restaurant. Fatherhood and an unwanted, extended visit from a teenage cousin follow, as the movie charts the embittered protagonist’s transition from aspiring stand-up comedian to stand-up guy. This emotional development is just as well, because there are few genuine laughs.
Race initially posed few career limits for Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa. Remembered primarily for David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Hayakawa (a University of Chicago graduate) was one of Hollywood’s biggest and richest stars during the silent era, becoming an international sex symbol after his breakthrough in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Cheat (1915). Hayakawa leveraged his success to create his own production company and make films with a more nuanced depiction of what was then called the Orient. In the 1919 drama The Dragon Painter (Sat 4/7, 5:15 PM), directed by William Worthington, Hayakawa plays an obsessive artist who’s convinced his fiancee has been changed into a dragon; a master painter looking for an apprentice offers him a path back to sanity. Contemporary viewers may balk at the “yellowface” casting of Edward Peil Sr. as the mentor and the shots of Yosemite Valley standing in for rural Japan, but the film is compelling for its mythic underpinnings and Hayakawa’s sensitive performance.
Yosemite also figures in the strikingly original road movie Find Me (Wed 4/11, 8 PM), from Chinese-American writer-director Tom Huang. He stars as a divorced accountant in LA who’s forced out of his comfort zone as he tracks a missing coworker through three southwest national parks. The stunning landscapes and Huang’s low-key persona are enchanting, as are the ethnically diverse free spirits he encounters during his quest. v