Zoom Lens

Screening 35 recent films and eight revivals, the Four Star Theatre's seventh annual Asian Film Festival has grown immensely from previous years. I considered taking a sublet near Clement and 23rd Avenue so that I could walk to see the many releases I couldn't preview or want to revisit on the big screen.

Revivals include the ADA poster-boy championship Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman and King Hu's brilliant Touch of Zen for those left pining for more after the recent Pacific Film Archive "Heroic Grace" series. Fists of Fury commemorates the 30th anniversary of Bruce Lee's death. And fans of Ching Dynasty intrigues should enjoy 1983's Reign Behind the Curtain and its same-year prequel Burning of the Imperial Palace.

As usual, Chinese and Japanese films are the most numerous, but there's also a decent selection from other countries. Indonesia boasts melodramas both urban (the excellent Eliana, Eliana) and rural (The Whispering Sands), plus the rare high school comedy (What's With Love?). Two Vietnamese films (Heading South Going North and Golden Key) contend with the incursions of war into personal lives. Korean horror is represented in the top-grossing Phone.

Devdas.
Devdas.

Thai films include stylized takes on the criminal life (Dang Bailey's and Young Gangsters and Killer Tattoo) and melodramatic adaptations of literary works (Kunpan: Legend of the Warrior and Kwan Riam -- Legend of Love). Kunpan depicts the rise, fall, and rise again of an illustrious warrior whose Faustian pact includes a nasty little "spiritual baby" that fits into the palm of his hand and rips enemies' throats on command. (Where dothose chalk-faced ooga-boogas come from?)

Aside from the perennially and predictably outrageous Miike Takashi feature Ichi the Killer, the Japanese offerings I've seen could use some of that energy. Bounce Ko Gals perpetuates the media stereotype of the Gucci-craving teenage whore, and the films from veteran directors Suzuki Seijun (Pistol Opera) and Okamoto Kihachi (Vengeance for Sale) are comedowns from their earlier, more dynamic works.

What I can recommend is the grand Korean epic Musa the Warrior, which despite its clichéd characterizations is a roaring good time for those who enjoy gory spearwork, armored Mongolian warriors, and Zhang Ziyi as an imperious hostage caught between Korean military envoys and Ming rulers in 15th-century China. I'm also eager to see Sorrow of Brooke Steppe, another epic from Mongolian Saifu Mailisi, director of the underrated and little-seen Genghis Khan. More guaranteed amusement comes in the form of the lavishly expensive, lyrical Bollywood blockbuster Devdas, starring Shahrukh Khan and the ethereally beautiful Aishwarya Rai.

 
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