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This year's New York Asian American International Film Festival included films such as Hong Kong's Pastry, China's Li Tong, and the Philippines' Hubad.
When the schedule for this year’s Asian American International Film Festival first came out, it was so short that I thought it was a teaser. There was no way it could be the full line-up. How could last year’s ten days be cut down to four? While the 31-year-old festival was brought closer downtown (in the name of community) with venues in Chelsea, Tribeca and Chinatown, the space in the newly renovated Museum of Chinese Americans in Chinatown was subpar -- single-level viewing with folding chairs and inferior sound.
But even though the strains of budget restrictions were felt, festival organizers didn’t skimp on style: after-parties every evening, from Thursday to Sunday. Many filmmakers also made appearances for Q&A sessions after screenings, including Claustrophobia’s Ivy Ho, Children of Invention’s Tze Chun, and White on Rice’s David Boyle. As executive producer Liliana Chen said after the awards ceremony, “Despite the economic downturn, we decided early on that we would not forsake the spirit of community that is the anchor of AAIFF, and in fact, that spirit has been our greatest strength. We’re grateful for the diversity of filmmaking talent that has been brought together and proud of the event that has taken place here in New York.”
However small the venues, the passion was still there. An abbreviated festival was certainly better than none at all.
dir: Risky Liu
A light-hearted yet down-to-earth rendition of family, love, and relationships, Risky Liu’s Pastry is strung together by the quintessential Chinese pastry: the egg tart. The film is narrated by Mui, played by Percy Fan, who was chosen for the role after the director treated her to an egg tart and liked the way she ate it. Pastry follows Mui from her youth into her 20s, as she learns lessons from her four older sisters' love lives. Each experience is punctuated in some way with egg tarts -- whether it’s the egg tarts from her sister’s weddings or the egg tarts a boyfriend buys after upsetting her. But it’s not just any egg tart, it's the egg tarts from the restaurant near her home, that Mui and her family love and enjoy -- symbolic of the strong ties of her family.
Adapted from Chan Wei’s short story “A Love Affair with Egg Tarts” (Dan Ta Qing Yuan) from the book Delicious (Hao Wei Dao), the film uses lively yet simple piano music to convey humor in the film's easygoing atmosphere. At times, the sillier characters run the risk of being cheesy -- like the oldest sister and her husband, and their amorous ways -- but the actors’ natural performances make it work. Mui’s parents successfully convey the universal concerns of parents, whether it’s the mom’s nagging and her overbearing worries about her daughters’ futures, or the dad’s subtle desire for his daughters to be happy.
With Mui’s endless boyfriends (some dumped for their lack of appreciation for the right egg tart), the film became slow at points. However, one of the last scenes -- Mui watching a movie with her dad, and her dad quietly crying as the onscreen wedding takes place -- was touching enough to make you forgive the film for dragging a bit (but probably not distracting enough to make you forget your egg tart craving).
dir: Nian Lu
Nian Liu, who won Best Emerging Director in Narrative Feature for Li Tong, paints a picture of modern-day Beijing and Chinese big city dreams (not unlike the American dream). Li Tong follows a girl who is trying to find her way home after losing her bus pass. Through the eyes of a still impressionable young soul, Li Tong (Zhicun Zhao), we see the success of the “quick rich” or “bao fa hu,” a class to which her family belongs, juxtaposed with the evident poverty that still exists.
In her journey, she witnesses a dog thief, desperate for money, being beaten up; she meets a young woman who says she’s sick of Beijing; and she gets disapproval from a classmate for being a part of the “quick rich.” When she runs into Li Daheng (Kang Yao), a precocious boy beggar, we see that she too has learned to disapprove of others. He even calls her out for “looking down on people.” It’s only when she needs money for a phone call home that she appreciates his begging skills. Through Li Daheng, whose father is a construction worker, we also see the story of those from outside of Beijing who work in the city to send money home.
When Li Tong excitedly returns home after a physically and mentally exhausting day in the city, she is disappointed to walk into an empty home, with only the food her mother left on the table. We see that making money comes at a price; she's forced to give up time with her family. Dejected, she returns to her room alone, coming full circle from the beginning of the film, where she also wakes up alone.
dir: Mark Gary & Denisa Reyes
Don’t be mistaken: although the title of the film might mean “naked” in Tagalog, but amount of bare skin actually shown onscreen is limited. The “naked” comes more from the non-literal sense of the word, the vulnerable situations the middle-aged main characters find themselves in. Carmen (Irma Adlawan) and Delfin (Nonie Buencamino), actors past their prime, are taken out of their comfort zones in their latest theatrical production. Their task is to play a married couple who try to overcome their sexual frustrations. The result blurs the lines between what’s real and what’s not, as they embark in an extramarital affair that challenges their own respective marriages.
Directors Mark Gary and Denisa Reyes sprinkle art (scenes from the play) into “real life" (the actors rehearsing, starting the affair, and having fall-outs with their respective spouses), never allowing the film to become overly dark or uncomfortable. The cast's effortless performances make the characters' personal dilemmas especially impactful -- whether it involves Carmen or Delfin's relationship(s), or their director Andre (Peque Gallaga) and his struggle with obtaining funding for his risqué production. Hubad succeeds in showing a slice of the art world in the Philippines.
Previously covered n APA:
Date Posted: 8/14/2009