The Goddess and the Patriot
The redoubtable Frank Lee's Four Star Theater is putting on two film festivals at once. "Electric Shadows: Early Chinese Films 1932-1949" features new 35mm prints of 10 rarely seen classics like Wu Yongang's The Goddess, starring tragic Shanghai film icon Ruan Lingyu (depicted by Maggie Cheung in Stanley Kwan's recent Actress) as a prostitute who's jailed for giving a gangster what he deserves. In Sun Yu's Small Toys, Ruan is the chief breadwinner for a toy-making village, losing her wits after a series of misfortunes. Sun Yu also directed The Highway, which in its day must have been a heady mixture of pop-idol musical and nationalistic engineering propaganda, containing a surprising amount of male nudity and girl-girl cuddling.
The other festival features new Asian cinema of the past two years, boasting the latest work of Filipina Marilou Diaz-Abaya, whose dutiful, hagiographic patriot epic Jose Rizal is the highest-grossing Filipino film of all time. In the Navel of the Sea and Milagros portray stigmatized women in unusual quandaries -- in Navel an island midwife struggles to teach her art to a handsome but reluctant son. The tear-jerker Love Letter, the highest-grossing film in Korea last year and least interesting of this lot, portrays an impossibly syrupy young married couple just begging for the tragic fate to come. Spring in My Hometown, a multiple award winner at recent festivals, is a maddeningly elliptical account of the changing fortunes of two Korean village families as rumors of war crackle through the static of an old radio. Leisurely long shots are effective only when you can tell one character from another, and maybe even what's happening, in the frame. The NHK-Sri Lankan co-production Death on a Full Moon Day is an oddity, something between village picaresque and unsolved mystery. My favorite is the frank Chinese film The Making of Steel, about a violent, aimless young man searching for his elusive mentor. No wonder it's banned in China, steeped as it is in the rock 'n' roll and heroin cultures of Beijing.
-- Frako Loden
The New Asian Cinema Festival and "Electric Shadows: Chinese Films 1932-1949" show at the Four Star, 2200 Clement (at 23rd Avenue), June 3 through 13. Call 666-3488 for price and times.