March 10-20, 2005

The 2005 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival

HK-in-SF REVIEWS of some of the best of the Fest

BUTTERFLY (Yan Yan Mak, Hong Kong)
Good lesbian love stories are a rare commodity, so when I know I'm going to see a lesbian love story, I figure I'm in for bad dialogue and overwrought situations. After seeing Butterfly, my hope for good lesbian drama has been restored. Told in a poetic style rife with super8 flashbacks and shots that evoke flashes of memory, Butterfly manages to transcend angst even though the story could easily slide into melodrama. Thirty-something teacher Flavia (Josie Ho) is stifled in her marriage to a kind but inattentive husband (Eric Kot). When Flavia meets Yip (Tian Yuen) , a vibrant, impish young female singer, it sparks memories of Flavia's first love with Jin (Joman Chiang), another vibrant young female singer/activist. Confused yet excited, Flavia struggles with her sense of duty to her husband and child, her attraction to Yip, and her unresolved relationship with Jin. Filled with beautiful erotic scenes between the young women and later on between the older Flavia and Yip, the lovemaking is realistic yet romantic. The somewhat disjointed narrative can be hard to follow at times, but it also works because that is often the way memories present themselves—in flashes, close-ups, and glimpses.irvine, 03.12.05
March 13, 12:00 p.m., Castro Theatre, S.F.
March 15, 9:00 p.m.,
AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres, S.F.

CUTIE HONEY (Hideaki Anno, Japan)
Ah, you gotta love live action anime with cute buxom amazingly limber young girls. Enter the painfully cute Honey (Eriko Sato). The daughter of a scientist, Honey was killed and brought back to life with the help of nano-bots. Being only a year old, Honey is innocent and adorable and seemingly unaware of the dangers that surround her. But when called upon to fight evil, she's quick to tap into her superhero abilities (and skimpy costume), triggered by touching a heart-shaped necklace and yelling “Honey Flash!” Teamed up with the reluctant straight-laced detective Natsuko (Mikako Ishikawa), herself a buttoned up cutie with glasses and a hair bun, and reporter/NSA agent Seiji (Murakami Jun), Honey is pitted against the Panther Claw Gang, four crazily costumed over-the-top color-coded villains with appropriately cool introductions. Many CG enhanced battles ensue, including an unusually erotic fight scene involving Cobalt Blue Claw (Sie Kohinata), our two heroines, and an elevator. But surprisingly, in the end, even after all the action and stylized violence, Cutie Honey is a sweet story about kindness and the power of love. — irvine, 03.05.05
March 12, 9:45 p.m., Pacific Film Archive Theater, Berkeley
March 13, 9:15 p.m., Castro Theatre, S.F.
DUMPLINGS (Fruit Chan, Hong Kong)
Miriam Yeung (known for her goofy and loveable comedies) deftly portrays a middle-aged former TV starlet desperate to find a fountain of youth in order to maintain the affections of her adulterous husband (played to the hilt by ex-matinee idol and funnyman Tony Leung Ka-Fai). Hollywood star Bai Ling glistens in her first Chinese film as a slutty, low-class mainlander with a secret recipe. Okay there's still nothing quite like a Hong Kong movie and this grue-fest is HK through and through. You're given the most unsavory of subjects, exploited in vomit-defying detail, and still manage to leave the theater with a smile on your face! The difference, however, in this updated Category III horror flick is the astounding amount of artistic professionalism brought to the project. Written by best selling novelist Lillian Lee (Farewell My Concubine), lensed by world class cinematographer Christopher Doyle (Hero, In the Mood for Love), and directed by indie art-film auteur Fruit Chan (Made in Hong Kong) makes Dumplings a cut above the typical commercial genre film. — young, 03.05.05
March 12, 9:45 p.m., Castro Theatre, S.F.
March 13, 8:10 p.m., Pacific Film Archive Theater, Berkeley

THE GREEN HAT (Liu Fendou, China)
Gone are the days of sweet, censor approved, family films and tedious war themed epics – welcome to Chinese cinema now! Two separate tales share the painful theme of male impotence in the stark and macho landscape of this gritty urban feature. Story A follows a cynical band of fearless young robbers, finally settling on the candid misfortunes of Wang Yao (Liao Fan), the ruthless gang's lovesick leader. We're then slammed into story B featuring a gutsy detective (Li Congxi) who's willing to do just about anything to regain both his penile virility and his adulterous wife. The frank subject matter, imaginatively shot sets and expert pacing lend a cerebral ambiance to the film's muscular surroundings. Celebrated screenwriter Liu Fendou, renowned for penning several of Beijing's first indie films, finally gets the opportunity to direct his own work here and on his very first try manages to create the ideal cinematic product: a perfect blend between commercial and art film. — young, 03.05.05
March 11, 7:00 p.m., Castro Theatre, S.F.
March 20, 5:00, Camera 12 Cinemas, San Jose

HANA AND ALICE (Shunji Awai, Japan)
Just when you think that you can't stand to see another coming of age film, along comes Hana and Alice. The story, originally three short films created as promos for Nestle's KitKat candy bars, is slow and meandering, but always charming and heartfelt. Like director Shunji Awai's previous film All About Lily Chou Chou, Hana and Alice explores the exciting yet confusing and often overwhelming emotional lives of teenagers. We follow best friends Hana (Anne Suzuki) and Alice (Yu Aoi) as they stumble through the crushes, misunderstandings, & disappointments of struggling toward adulthood. Awai lifts this film from a typical angst-ridden teen drama through often amusing vignettes and unique plot twists culminating in a wonderful scene where Alice is finally able to break free of her insecurities and shine. Beautifully photographed in soft focus and pastels. — irvine, 03.12.05
March 14, 6:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres, S.F.
March 16, 9:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres, S.F.

KEKA (Quark Henares, Philippines)
By night Keka Jose (played brilliantly by Katya Santos) is a young, blasé computer support technician (forced to speak in a stupid American accent). By day she's gleefully offing the rival frat boy murderers of her old college boyfriend. Add to the mix a budding love affair with the amorous policeman assigned to solve her killing spree and what you get is a black comedy with a lot of heart. But hip sophomore writer-director Quark Henares wasn't interested in making just a simple genre film; he's infused Keka with biting doses of youthful cynicism on subjects ranging from dirty cops and deep pocket judiciaries to egomaniac soap stars and pop movie formulas. Unfortunately, even though the film has a lot to say, some of the dialog and plotting fall flat making the effort less than perfect. Still, Henares has a rare gift – the ability to balance both a fond regardand a discerning critique of his culture using a language that's real and entertaining. — young, 03.05.05
March 11, 9:15 p.m., Pacific Film Archive Theater, Berkeley
March 15, 9:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres, S.F.

OLD BOY (Park Chan-wook, South Korea)
What do you get when you kidnap and incarcerate someone for fifteen years with nary a word of explanation? One really pissed off mo-fo. But if you think Old Boy is ye old standard tale of revenge then you're in for a surprise or two. The second entry in super creative writer-director Park Chan-wook's vengeance themed trilogy (starting with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and ending with Sympathy for Lady Vengeance ) is a strikingly lensed, seedy, live-action manga played with equal parts humor, anger and pathos. There's been a whole lot of buzz about this film. Cannes buzz. Tarantino buzz. Best actor buzz. Unfortunately I have to say I was disappointed in the rather hollow narrative particularly during the last half. But if you're asking do I recommend this movie then my answer is hell yeah. Old Boy is something you can really sink your teeth into and that's a reference you'll only get after you go SEE IT.
young, 03.05.05
March 11, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres, S.F.
March 12, 7:00, Pacific Film Archive Theater, Berkeley
March 20, 9:30, Camera 12 Cinemas, San Jose


SWADES (Ashutosh Gowariker, India)
Swades is about Mohan, an Indian aerospace engineer living in the USA who returns to India, traveling to a small rural village to convince his childhood nanny to return with him.   While in India, he has a change of heart, realizing that while his life in the USA is comfortable and his career rewarding, he's missing out on what's really important in life — love, community, & family.   Okay, that's the plot, but the best part of Swades is Shah Rukh Khan – the king of the “Movie Moment” who just makes you sigh in happiness and remember why you love movies. That moment arrives when the entire village is gathered for an outdoor film showing, but thanks to an unstable electrical system, the film is cut short.   Mohan takes it upon himself to entertain the crowd, breaking into a charming song and dance number that literally tears down the barrier between the village's upper and lower castes. It's a two Kleenex moment for sure. Director Ashutosh Gowariker, who also helmed the highly entertaining Lagaan, isn't quite as successful with Swades, but it's still an enjoyable film well worth seeing for Shah Rukh Khan's performance alone.
irvine, 03.05.05
March 11, 9:30 p.m., Castro Theatre, S.F.