The indefatigable Frank Lee has emerged after settling the uncertain future of his Four Star theater on Clement Street, and the San Francisco Asian Film Festival — a candy store of recent genre blockbusters, classics, and independent films — has found a second location to display its goodies.
Joining the venerable but embattled Four Star, Lee's recently acquired Presidio Theatre, newly divided and redecorated in a SweeTarts color scheme, will host the festival's opening- and closing-night films, and more than a third of the total offerings. With Lee also planning to open Cinema 21 down the street next year, it's hoped this year's festival will create new fans of Asian cinema in the Marina District.
The big Presidio lower-level screen will host opening-night film Electric Shadows, about a Chinese family of film buffs. The closing night promises a huge treat with the enchanting 1960 Bollywood epic Mughal-E-Azam, remastered and colorized according to director K. Asif's long-unfulfilled desire and with the approval of historians of 16th-century India. Considered by some to be the finest Indian film ever made, this tragic romance between the defiant Prince Salim and dancing girl Anarkali (played by the luminous Madhubala) glitters with brilliant fabrics, jewels, and dance scenes — not to mention the astonishing battle sequences, with casts of thousands.
Fans of Kurosawa Kiyoshi, the idiosyncratic filmmaker for whom the label “godfather of J-horror” is more of a reduction than a tribute, have a chance to see his disturbing 2001 masterpiece Pulse before its Landmark run in the fall. Way scarier than either his Cure or Seance and certainly more thoughtful than other Asian horror, Pulse is deeply unsettling and points to a more intimate apocalypse than the one made literal in War of the Worlds. Despite his tired devices like modems that dial themselves, Kurosawa uses such exquisite timing and restricted POV — as well as long takes that torture you into finding movement and apparitions where they might not exist — that clichés simply don't register.
More conventional, if genre-blending, films like the war box-office champ R-Point from Korea and Shimizu (The Grudge) Takashi's romance/horror Marebito are part of the festival's spotlight on Tartan Films USA's “Asian Extreme” label. Another subseries: daytime bargain matinees of '90s Hong Kong martial arts classics.
Hot Hong Kong director Derek Yee's melodramas are here for evaluation. 2 Young stars the likably bland Jaycee Chan, who can execute a nasty-looking fall on the ice but doesn't yet show the comic charm of his father, Jackie. The award-winning, Yee-helmed One Night in Mongkok is a beautifully shot saga of innocents in one of Hong Kong's more colorful districts. One night or 11 — Asia is yours for the sampling this month.