Journey to the East

A complete guide to the 15th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival

The festival is presented by the National Asian American Telecommunications Association (NAATA). All screenings are at the Kabuki Theater, 1881 Post (at Fillmore), except as noted. Ancillary screening sites include the Pacific Film Archive, 2625 Durant (at College) in Berkeley; the San Francisco Art Institute, 800 Chestnut (at Jones); and the World Theater, 644 Broadway (at Columbus).

Tickets are $7.50, $5 for weekday shows beginning before 5 p.m. There are discounts for seniors, students, and the disabled. The opening-night event is $45; closing-night tickets range from $15 to $50. The following guide represents the information available Tuesday. Call 252-4800 for details, show confirmations, and updates.

Thursday, March 6
(Opening Night)
7 p.m.: Screening at the World Theater. Chinese silent screen star Ruan Lingyu was the subject of Stanley Kwan's celebrated The Actress, with Maggie Cheung playing the title role. Bu Wancang's Love and Duty (China, 1931) gives us a rare chance to see the real thing. Ruan plays Nei Fan, an innocent schoolgirl who falls in love with handsome Tsu Yi (Jin Yan). Family pressures force her to marry a wealthier man, but she abandons their two children and elopes with Tsu Yi. Inevitably, the refugee couple fall quickly into a nether world of poverty and assumed identities, and the film ends in tragedy. You can see why Ruan Lingyu is still remembered, though she committed suicide in 1935 at age 25: Like international stars like Lillian Gish, Kinuyo Tanaka, and Giulietta Masina, whose company she surely belongs in, Ruan fearlessly deglamorizes herself, moving with riveting style from wide-eyed gamin to wrinkled, crooked-toothed wretch. Love and Duty's U.S. premiere will be accompanied by a new score written by John Yi and performed live by Yi and a nine-piece orchestra.

10 p.m.: Reception at the Grand Palace restaurant, 950 Grant.

Friday, March 7
4 p.m.: "Remote Memories" is a program of shorts that examine personal responses to the Vietnam and Lebanese wars.

6 p.m.: Lindsey Merrison's Our Burmese Days (Germany/U.K., 1996) is the filmmaker's study of the hidden history of his mother's mixed racial identity.

7 p.m.: Massacres of citizens by the state have become so commonplace in the last few decades that it's hard to keep score. In 1980, Korean troops murdered hundreds of peaceful demonstrators in an event known as "Kwangju." In A Petal (Korea, 1996) Jang Sun Woo begins with graphic documentary footage from this episode, then pulls his lens back to the personal story of an unnamed 15-year-old girl (Lee Jung Hyun), who somehow extricates herself from the piles of dead. Her escape is short-lived. The director's approach is meant to be as rough and harrowing as the Kwangju, a strategy that succeeds with disturbing brilliance in the violent scenes and a very unsettling sequence where the girl relentlessly pursues a terrified woman she calls "Mom!"

8:30 p.m.: Gay filmmaker Nick Deocampo's father was a communist guerrilla and a drunk who abandoned his family and disappeared after Japan's occupation of the Philippines. Private Wars (Philippines, 1994) documents Deocampo's search for the mystery man with a mix of archival footage, re-enactments, and interviews.

9:30 p.m.: Aging enfant terribles Quentin Lee and Justin Lin send up a rainbow of genres from horror to thriller to sex comedy in Shopping for Fangs (U.S.A., 1997). Watch for homages to Hong Kong cinema in a Woo-style standoff between a brainless hunk and a Brigitte Lin look-alike in blond wig and sunglasses.

Also today, at the Pacific Film Archive -- 7 p.m.: Wushan Yunyu's Rainclouds Over Wushan. See 9 p.m. Saturday, March 8, for details. 9:15 p.m.: Wan Jen's Super Citizen Ko. See 7:45 p.m. Tuesday, March 11, for details.

Saturday, March 8
Noon: "Fate No More" is a program of shorts on female adolescence and coming of age.

1 p.m.: A panel -- "New Asian American Feature Films" features Michael Idemoto, Chris Chan Lee, Quentin Lee, Justin Lin, Eric Nakamura, and Rea Tajiri.

2:15 p.m.: Jang Sun Woo's The Road to the Racetrack (Korea, 1991) tempers the director's Marxism in this study of sexual intrigue among the intellectual classes.

3 p.m.: Controversial Iranian director Abolfazl Jalili gets far more than he bargained for when he thinks he's discovered the right boy for a movie he's making, as detailed in his documentary A True Story (Iran, 1996).

5 p.m.: Jane C. Wagner and Tina DiFeliciantonio's documentary Girls Like Us (U.S.A., 1997) is a kind of condensed version of Michael Apted's 28-Up series; here, in a scant 60 minutes, four girls of diverse backgrounds grow up before our eyes, from barely teen-agers of 14 to young women at 18. Much of the material sounds like the stuff of tabloid TV -- teen-age mothers, drug-addicted parents -- but the filmmakers never condescend to the girls or treat them like fascinating freaks. These teens are strong, funny, hopeful, and somehow poignant. All the girls talk frankly about sex, and one of them even says the unspeakable: "Fucking with a condom doesn't feel like sex -- it feels fake!"

6 p.m.: There's no cat on Lee Min Yong's A Hot Roof (Korea, 1996), but the film abounds with other pleasures, not least of which is a riot caused by a group of women defending an abused sister.

7 p.m.: The title of the shorts program "Stories About Leaving Home" says it all.

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