Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo takes on Studio Ghibli -- and succeeds.
Orgies, nudity, kitsch, and prostitutes -- what could possibly go wrong?
Subscribe to the APA Newsletter
From the epic to the experimental, VC's Asian film selection continues to be the most exciting Asian programming in Southern California.
For APA's capsule reviews on the VC Film Fest's Asian American narrative features, click here.
For APA's capsule reviews on the VC Film Fest's documentaries, click here.
For APA's Finishing the Game red carpet video, click here.
Todo Todo Teros
dir: John Torres
This is Torres' debut feature-length DV film, and what an introduction to his cinematic world. At times seemingly impenetrable, at other times affecting, the film is a densely layered meditation on both visual and aural landscapes and relationships. To explain that it is about a Philippine terrorist going to Berlin to plant bombs in a subway is one entry point into the film, but anyone watching it would quickly correct him/herself. Another way would be this: reflections on terrorism as political/artistic activism are carved out of a collage of faces, city spaces, and texts (SMS and quotes), and bring together seemingly disparate elements -- the issue of surveillance in the Philippines, a trip to Berlin, a conversation with a Russian national living in Germany, a terrorist's activities, the discovery of infidelity, and the music/film communities in Manila. What makes it both impenetrable and affecting at the same time is that it's a highly personal piece -- and Torres will be the first one to tell you that -- sustained by a voiceover narration (actually Torres' voice) by the director's alter-ego, the would-be terrorist played by Earl Drilon. The most striking aspect is the film's exploration of points of view that blurs the uncomfortable line between surveillance, voyeurism, and detached observation, while constantly reaffirming the artistic point of view underlying it all. Similarly, the camera provides viewers a point of contact for the Manila art scene, and among the faces (and credits) can be found those at the forefront of Philippine independent filmmaking/activism today: Khavn de la Cruz, Lav Diaz, Mes de Guzman, Raya Martin, Alexis Tioseco, and even Tilman Baumgartel. An intimate film, but on collective terms. --Rowena Aquino
dir: Othello Khanh
Several films in recent years have been inspired by the classic Vietnamese poem "Kieu," which centers around a young woman who sacrifices herself in order to save her family -- last year's Kieu starring Kathy Uyen and Trinh T. Minh-ha's 1995's Tale of Love being the most prominent. In director Othello Khanh's modern retelling, he creates a bright and lively image of modern Saigon, using the burgeoning Vietnamese film scene as a backdrop. This Kieu (Truong Ngoc Anh) is an actress working on a film with her director Kim (Dustin Nguyen), who she is secretly engaged to. However, when she finds out that her uncle, the producer of the film, has sold her mother to pay off a massive gambling debt, Kieu asks to be taken in her mother's place -- succumbing to a life of abuse and hopelessness and leaving behind her love for Kim. Within the bounds of the story, issues of the Vietnamese diaspora are raised, through the characters of Kim, who is Vietnamese American, and Vanessa (Marjolaine Bui), who is visiting Vietnam from her hometown of France. But for the most part, the film's melodrama borders on absurdity. The dialogue -- Vietnamese, sprinkled with bits of English, reminiscent of Bollywood or Asian American films where characters effortlessly transition between languages -- is an interesting, notable choice but inadvertently exaggerates the campiness of the love talk. Dustin Nguyen, the dashing leading man caught in a web of confusion and misunderstanding, isn't given a lot to do, but wow -- he bravely wears a black-and-white spider-web patterned shirt with a red bandanna tied around his neck better than anyone I've ever seen. --Ada Tseng
dir: Leste Chen
The cute-Taiwanese-high school-romance-with-LGBT-themes genre (Blue Gate Crossing, Formula 17, Spider Lilies, etc.) gets a welcome new addition in Leste Chen's Eternal Summer. The title of the film refers to the months between high school and college, in which angst about the future is intensified by the fact that the cute-but-shy Jonathan has been repressing his romantic feelings for his best friend, the cute-but-arrogant Shane, who himself has his eye on cute-but-in-love-with-Jonathan classmate Hui-chia (played by Hong Kong actress Kate Yeung). Ah, the tribulations of youth! In what should have been a banal love triangle film where Taiwanese teens spend the duration of the film alternately pouting and screaming, Eternal Summer is surprisingly effective, not because of the subtleties of the direction, but for the opposite: it's not afraid to wear it's heart on its sleeve and let the genre conventions come out in all their glory. Thankfully, the pouting and screaming is kept to a minimum, and what is maximized is what I can only call a music video aesthetic. I'm not talking about kinetic camera movements and fast editing, the clichés of American MTV. I'm referring to the full-on epic narratives you often see in East Asian music videos, where songs are prefaced with exposition of boy with girl, before some kind of trauma ensues (car accident, lover's disappearance, someone loses their cell phone, etc.). (obligatory YouTube link) There's often a lengthy prologue, a break in the song for narrative development, or an epilogue where everything is wrapped up in a tearful dénouement (or any combination of the three). Eternal Summer is like that. Leste Chen, who got his break in music videos, employs slow motion, rack focus, and other little visual flairs to intensify the emotions so the characters don't have to. So seen as a sexually progressive, big-budget twist on the music video, Eternal Summer is practically experimental. --Brian Hu
dir: Kurosawa Kiyoshi
The prospect of a new Kurosawa film is always exciting. When you also have Kurosawa's fetish actor Yakusho Koji in the picture, you're even more excited. But unfortunately, Retribution is a minor work from a stellar talent, mainly due to the meddling hand of noted J-Horror producer Ichise Takashige, who apparently co-wrote the screenplay with Kurosawa. That is the horror the film presents. You strongly get the feeling that Kurosawa is feeling the constraints of the genre as he seeks to tackle the subjects of urban land development, alienation, and the personal/public spheres divide. His seeming affection for revisiting the history of decrepit spaces -- in this case an abandoned building that had once been a sanatorium -- to talk about modern malaise and memory in all its forms is very strong and prevents the film from being a complete failure, but there are moments when it feels like a weak blueprint for Cure. Even Yakusho's detective looks worn out (although, of course, that's part of the point) as he investigates a series of murders by drowning. He becomes almost ridiculous in the face of the female ghost in a red dress, who haunts all the lead characters and sometimes flies in the sky à la Morpheus in The Matrix. That he begins to suspect himself as the murderer doesn't really convince anyone, either. Add Odagiri Jo as a psychologist (!) treating traumatized police officers and, well, it's hard to say more. --Rowena Aquino
dir: John Woo
Stephen Hunter can write what he wants, but VC's presentation of John Woo's 1992 classic brought the house down, proving that Asian Americans can in fact divorce illusion from reality, and celebrate passionate cinema despite the fog of post-Virginia Tech racial anxiety. As if that needed any proving. --Brian Hu
APA's past coverage of other Asian films at VC 2007:
Click here for APA's review of Do Over (dir: Cheng Yu-chieh) from the 2006 Taipei Film Festival, here for an article about the experience of seeing the film at the 2007 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, and here for an interview with the director.
Click here for APA's review of Invisible Waves (dir: Pen-ek Ratanaruang).
Click here for APA's capsule reviews of Summer Palace (dir: Lou Ye) and King and the Clown (dir: Lee Jun-ik) from the 2007 Palm Springs International Film Festival.
Date Posted: 5/11/2007