Do French and Italian filmmakers have naked pictures of stateside distributors, or what? It seems like it when Western European movies get street cred and cushy art-house runs while their Asian counterparts are relegated to kung fu festivals. This arrangement isn't standard at the Asian Film Festival, where modern Eastern movies get their due with 12 days of screenings ranging from frothy comedies to neo-noir thrillers to, yeah, a couple of old-school kung fu flicks.
Programmer Frank Lee clearly has an eye for bloodcurdling horror movies, as evidenced by his opening night selection of director Takashi Shimizu's unsettling ghost story Ju-On: The Grudge 1. Inspired by Hideo Nakata's Ringu series, Ju-On contains some of the same props -- creepy little kids, videotapes as a source of terror -- but is so spookily atmospheric that it makes the American Ringlook like a Disney cartoon. Equally scary is the low-budget shocker A Living Hell, which combines inventive Evil Dead II-style camerawork with gory torture scenes à la Marathon Man. Dentistry phobics, you've been warned.
Lee's collection of crime capers is no less scintillating, especially Drive, director Sabu's sharp, breathless tale of an ordinary man whose car is hijacked by a group of bumbling bank robbers, and Men Suddenly in Black, the smartass Mafia-film spoof centering around a group of philandering Hong Kong men.
Admission is $6-10 ($40 for a six-film pass)
And then, of course, there are the period dramas. Chief among them is The Soong Sisters, a lush retelling of the true story of three sisters whose marriages influenced Chinese history, and Szechuan Concubine, a hallucinatory look at prostitution and opium addiction in the 1930s Chinese countryside. But I'm betting that the biggest crowds will gather for One-Armed Swordsman, a lusciously restored print of the 1967 kung fu cult classic about a crippled warrior out for vengeance. If the film fest were a martial arts battle, that movie would be the last one standing.