Zoom Lens

The Great Undistributed
The sixth annual International Film Financing Conference (IFFCON) is in town, and the accompanying Asian Directors Film Series offers five works -- four of which, despite their occasional brilliance, may not get distribution within the U.S. The best of the three I was able to screen is Fruit Chan's 1997 Made in Hong Kong (Friday, 9:30 p.m.), which manages to infuse what at first seem to be three cliche characters from Mean Streets-era Scorsese -- an alienated boy, his kidney-diseased girlfriend, and his mentally disturbed albatross-sidekick -- with extraordinary sympathy, humor, and grace. Not even in the work of Wong Kar-wai, with whom Chan shares a few stylistic tics, has the image of undies on a hanger, swinging in the breeze as a plane flies overhead, been so moving.

Even more downbeat is the pensive, dialogue-heavy 1997 12 Storeys (Saturday, 9:30 p.m.), directed by Eric Khoo, which intercuts three different stories of residents of a government housing project in Singapore. The film begins, as does Made in Hong Kong, with a death leap from a roof. Later, a Singaporean tofu seller who has lured a pretty Chinese woman away from the mainland pays dearly for lying to her about his business and his Benz. A group of idle gamblers functions as Greek chorus, commenting on how the government mistreats its own citizens and poor immigrants, while an American president publicly supports a young American caned for spray-painting cars.

More colorful but less successful in the films' common theme of exposing the underbelly of urban Asia is Masato Harada's 1997 Bounce (Ko Gals) (Thursday, 8 p.m.). Koji Yakushi, the current darling of the Japanese export-film world (Shall We Dance?, The Eel), plays an improbable yakuza gangster who resents losing his pimping revenues to some "loose-sox" high-school-girl amateurs engaging in teenage prostitution. Three girls in particular, who demand high fees from their aging clients but somehow manage to avoid performing any acts, have only one night to recoup the monetary losses of one of their own, who is determined to escape to the salvation of New York City. Celebrated as a cri de coeur of modern Japanese youth, the film is mostly a heartwarming but superficial exploitation of a dubious, media-exaggerated phenomenon.

The festival also includes the unscreened South Korean Motel Cactus (Friday, 6:30 p.m.) and the Joan Chen-directed Xiu Xiu (Saturday, 6:30 p.m.), opening here this spring.

-- Frako Loden

The Asian Directors Film Series runs Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 14-16, at the AMC Kabuki, 1881 Post (at Fillmore), S.F. Admission is $7-8 ($9-10 for Bounce); call 281-9777 for recorded program information.

 
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