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The 24th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival

Another Solid Year

With the exception of films like Better Luck Tomorrow and Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, it's rare that movie going audiences see Asian-American characters, themes, or issues on screen. In those rare circumstances in which films containing the aforementioned do grace the silver screen, Asian-American characters frequently appear as bookish, emasculated (in the case of males), asexual (sometimes for both genders), and/or nerdy.

Fortunately, the 24th Annual San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival provides a refreshing opportunity to go beyond the stereotypes and clichés. From March 16-26, a multitude of complex, challenging, and entertaining films will screen in a myriad of venues in San Francisco, Berkeley, and San Jose. What all of these films have in common is an exploration of Asian-American identity and issues.

The films encompassed in the festival schedule include bizarre, stream of consciousness comedies, independent film festival flicks, revival films, and even a screening of The Karate Kid Part II in honor of the recently passed Pat Morita.

A few films worth mentioning:

Red Doors
Writer/director Georgia Lee dropped out of Harvard Business School to pursue filmmaking and if her first feature, Red Doors is any indication, she made the right decision. Ed Wong is the patriarch of a quirky Chinese American family that includes three fiercely individualistic daughters and a loving wife. His recent retirement catalyzes an identity crisis that ultimately drives him to an isolated, meditative stint as a monk. Meanwhile, eldest daughter Samantha grapples with imminent nuptials, middle daughter Julie grapples with her sexuality, and youngest daughter literally grapples with the boy next door. A refreshing look at a frighteningly familiar dysfunctional (but loving) family, it's not surprising that Lee's quirky "dramady" was optioned by CBS for a pilot and is due for a theatrical run soon.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Eve and the Fire House
This whimsical coming of age story focuses on young Eve who was born under the sign of the Fire Horse. Having the misfortune of being born under such a sign Eve is strong willed, sharp, and creative. Said qualities were unfortunately not held in high regard by her Chinese ancestors who frequently drowned babies born under the Fire Horse sign. Complicating matters for Eve is a confusing Chinese-Canadian upbringing. Writer/director Julia Kwan's semi-autobiographical tale feels like a Chinese-Canadian version of "The Wonder Years" with a little splash of Jean Pierre-Jeunet thrown in for good measure.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Letter From An Unknown Woman
In a distinctly dissimilar vein is Letter From An Unknown Woman. A tragic tale of unrequited love, the film follows 20 years of longing. Jiang is enraptured with a mysterious writer who opens the door to a life far removed from the squalor that is all too familiar to her. Set against the backdrop of war torn China, young Jiang's love never falters despite the apparent lack of reciprocity from the emotionally detached writer. While it's pretty clear how this one's going to turn out, the ride is engaging nonetheless.
Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars

Rules of Dating
While marketed as a "romantic comedy", Rules of Dating veers in the direction of drama, tragedy, and absurdity on more than one occasion. But, it never fails to entertain. Two high school teachers alternately pursue and eschew each other during one of the most bizarre courtship rituals every captured on film. Broken hearts, disillusionment, and some pretty intense sexual situations round out this mixed up affair.
Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars


The San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival runs from March 16-26 at the Kabuki Theater, Castro Theater, Palace of Fine Arts, Pacific Film Archive Theater (Berkeley), and Camera 12 Cinemas (San Jose).