Lodestone Theatre's first musical production revamps 1885's controversial opera, The Mikado, and celebrates Asian American theatre with dose of politics and sweet harmony.
Spring is festival season here in Los Angeles, especially for fans of Asian and Asian American cinema. But rare is the new festival that combines innovative programming with a love for contemporary world cinema.
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APA breaks down four of the nine films in the narrative feature competition at this year's Asian Pacific Film Festival, including Grand Jury winner Ocean of Pearls.
Ocean of Pearls
dir: Sarab S. Neelam
In terms of narrative, there isn't anything overwhelmingly original about Sarab Neelam's Ocean of Pearls. The film heralds the first Sikh male main character in Hollywood history, and Neelam himself is one of the first Sikh directors in Hollywood history. These first-evers will be mentioned at whatever hosted screening you go to, and are mentioned in many of Neelam's interviews. But beyond that, the movie resembles The Namesake: Amrit Singh (Omid Abtahi) is the next generation of a Sikh couple which migrated to Canada in the 60s, and as he moves up in the medical field, he begins to lose faith in the "old ways," and bends the rules and his identity in order to serve the greater good. There's the Sikh girlfriend and the Caucasian distraction; the father's secret tragedy withheld until the climax; and the public's misunderstanding of Amrit's outward difference -- his turban. But if these two films can be said to fit into the “immigration genre," then Ocean of Pearls is the one that rediscovers the rose of that genre, so to speak. It isn't unoriginal, it's a breath of fresh air. While it does exist on the level of spreading awareness of Sikhism, it also shows and tells us a universal lesson about identity that, on paper appears decrepitly clichéd and mainstream. Like so many other "truths" begrudgingly accepted by society, the reason for the truth of this film's lesson is better shown and experienced and not lectured, and that is exactly what the movie gives us, and what the plot gives Amrit. The result is a profound sense of discovery that won't leave you for some time. And the fact that the leads are pretty to look at and the cinematography so vividly exquisite certainly sweetens the pot. --Ian Shaikh
Always Be Boyz
dir: John Kwon
"I wanted to make a b-boy art film. I didn't want to make another stupid hip-hop movie," says Always Be Boyz director John Kwon. Based on several true stories, the film profiles Seven (Sebin Oh) and his b-boy crew struggling to make it in South Korea. Seven is a philosophically-minded guy who is frustrated that breakdancing doesn't have the same credibility as ballet. He becomes obsessed with "the three b's": b-boy, books, and ballet. The film's artiness comes through creative camera angles and time-freezing tricks. Extended fantasy sequences also bring art house sensibilities to Always Be Boyz. Seven has a recurring fantasy of encountering a ballerina at the demilitarized zone of the North Korean border. Kwon describes the surreal scene as Seven's wish to "unify" b-boy fluidity with the rigidity of ballet and tradition. In another scene, b-boy Ostrich transitions from the routine movements of his factory job to spinning, flipping, and dancing across the floor like a hyperactive spider. All the drama leads up to the big dance competition at the end, but the chance-structured plot separates Always Be Boyz from conventional hip-hop movies. Unique and unpredictable, Always Be Boyz is the only hip-hop movie where the crew sits around debating Socrates. --Lisa Leong
dir: Diana Lee Inosanto
You know the late-night b-movies you find while flickering through channels at 2am? Diana Lee Inosanto's The Sensei is something like that, complete with lackluster dialogue and uninspiring characters. Set in Colorado during 1985, young McClain Evans is constantly ostracized by fellow classmates for being gay and becomes the victim of a hate crime as he is nearly beaten to death by three other high school students. Enter Karen Nakano-O'Neil (Inosanto as the female lead) who returns to her hometown after a five year absence to make peace with her family and while harboring a haunted past as well (which is easy to guess, based on the themes addressed in the film). The two take on a teacher-student relationship, which becomes a huge scandal in the small, conservative town. Although the film's tackling of the outbreak of HIV and AIDS, as well as of LGBT issues, is admirable, it does not push the envelope and ends up becoming a film that dances around the issues, rather than really provide a serious discussion of it. Instead, we come face-to-face with lifeless characters set in after-school-special hell. --Kanara Ty
Pretty to Think So
dir: Steve Hahn and Francis Hsueh
What happens when a Chinese American, a Korean American, and an Indian American walk into a bar together? The answer is one of the more telling scenes in Pretty to Think So. Attorneys-turned-directors Steve Hahn and Francis Hsueh have tread into unique territory: Asian American love triangles. After getting laid off from her firm during 2000's dotcom bust, Hanna returns to New York and quickly finds herself entangled with two men. Alex Yuen, a childhood friend, is a troubled gambling addict turned youth minister. Jiwon Kim is his opposite, an up-and-coming attorney with his sights set on career advancement and Hanna. As Alex begins to revert to his old ways, Jiwon becomes more controlling, leaving Hanna torn between the two. Numerous flashbacks of Alex and Hanna from their childhood effectively drive the film's narrative as well as contextualize their relationship. The ensuing tension is slightly muted by some flat acting and contrived plot developments, particularly Alex's rather abrupt relapse. Despite the lack of visual polish, the film's free-roaming cinematography exudes a noir vibe accompanied by a pleasant jazz-electronic soundtrack composed by Hsueh himself. --William Hong
Previous APA coverage of Asian American films playing at VC's Asian Pacific Film Festival:
Kissing Cousins (dir: Amyn Kaderali)
Never Forever (dir: Gina Kim)
Santa Mesa (dir: Ron Morales)
Date Posted: 5/16/2008