This year's Asian American Film Festival has hit it big by predicting local winners. One of the best is Rabbit in the Moon (Sundance Cinematography Award), not just a revisionist documentary about Japanese-Americans who resisted the loyalty oath imposed on them in the concentration camps by military recruiters, but a lyrical ode to director Emiko Omori's mother. Omori also shot the Vietnam scenes in another locally made Sundance winner, Barbara Sonneborn's Academy-nominated Regret to Inform, a terrific account of American and Vietnamese women who find each other by having lost their men to war. Also fresh from winning three awards at Sundance is Sunnyvale director Tony Bui's Three Seasons, beautifully photographed stories of Saigon citizens who, like lotus flowers, are purer than the mud from which they grow. Despite the presence of Harvey Keitel and other reminders of Vietnam veterans in more nihilistic American films, Three Seasons allows for redemption and renewal in a conqueror-weary Vietnam.
The buzz on Citizen Hong Kong is hot as a representative of the “new Hong Kong” cinema, while another revitalizing specimen is Fruit Chan's Made in Hong Kong. And life itself is a big gamble for the hero of actor/director Darshan Bhagat's droll, affectionate Karma Local, which takes us into the low life of the Fulton Street fish market and the Belmont racetrack, where gangsters quote the Bhagavad-Gita and a bag of fishy cash could mean the American dream to an Indian immigrant's son. Manuel Ocampo: God Is My Co-Pilot looks at a matter-of-fact Filipino painter who chafes against the merchandising of his work while continuing to churn out the profane images that compel galleries and collectors like Dennis Hopper to pursue him.
Women figure heavily in the festival's Korean offerings, including Silence Broken: Korean Comfort Women, a docudrama on sex slavery in the Pacific War. The sluggish Whispering Corridors is less horror film than an analysis of cruelty in a girls' high school. Lighter fare includes Life Tastes Good, which plays with noir conventions and Bay Area fetishization of Asian cuisine. Fishes in August and In the Navel of the Sea both detail young men's coming of age by the sea. And here's your chance to see on the big screen arguably the greatest film ever made, Seven Samurai, in a tribute to the late Akira Kurosawa.
— Frako Loden
The 17th annual Asian American Film Festival screens March 11 through 18 at the AMC Kabuki 8 Theaters. Visit www.naatanet.org/festival for a complete listing of screenings and ticket information.