The second Asian-American Film Festival presented multiple showings of 20 films at 5 venues from May 11-20, 2007, and added a new element with three Asian music concerts. Suphala, a female tabla artist, Masyao Ishugure, one of the world’s most accomplished koto players, and the Chinese ensemble Melody of Dragon. Once again the festival was very successful in achieving its goals, with great press coverage, a diverse and enthusiastic audience, and recognition from Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, the Indian Consul General, and the Japanese Ambassador to the United States.
In July of 2007 Silk Screen received the “Work of Arts” award from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. This award was in recognition for the partnership with Wall to Wall Studios a professional organization committed to aiding non-profits in branding success. Wall to Wall Studios was instrumental in creating the Silk Screen logo, brand, website and marketing materials.
Barbed Wire, Kantatar
A socio-political-love drama, Kantatar centers on an illegal immigrant’s search for identity and her effort to survive. Sudha’s hard life consists of weaving herself in and out of different relationships with men and dabbling in various religions. The immediate threat of attack entirely changes the climate of her remote border village, and as the army rolls into town, inter-personal relationships are drastically affected. Suspicion, competition and fear start to grip the villagers. Sudha takes refuge in a temporary weather camp just outside the village. Binod, a meteorologist working in the village, becomes fascinated by Sudha, and they soon begin a physical relationship. But when Sudha’s identity is called into question, she is seen as a terrorist suspect. Her dreams of security are once again threatened. Kantatar is visually engaging, luxuriating in the lush locales where it was filmed. Director Bappaditya Bandhopadhay relies on both satire and social comment to tell his story, all the while exploring the ongoing conflict on the borders of India and Bangladesh. Modern India is portrayed with great impact and insight.
The beautiful country, Norway/USA (set in Vietnam and USA)
The Vietnamese slang phrase, ”Bui doi” (translation: “less than dust”), unkindly describes children of America GIs by their Vietnamese wives/lovers. In the years following the Vietnam War, those wives and mothers were treated as social pariahs; their children were equally mistreated. ”The Beautiful Country” focuses on the journey of one such child, Binh, who is displaced from his village at age 17, travels to Saigon to find his mother, then, along with his much younger half-brother Tam, flees to America to find his father. His one sacred possession is a tattered photograph of his Vietnamese mother and American father standing outside a Saigon barbershop. ”The Beautiful Country” is a drama of hope, whose themes are displacement and refugee yearning. The film concentrates on Binh’s constant voyage, moving from the sampan to Malaysian camps to an illegal refugee ship to the seedy New York City underworld. Norwegian filmmaker Hans Petter Moland directs with an epic scope; the cinematography beautifully captures nature’s grand vistas, giving balance to the narrative’s roughness. Bihn’s quiet intelligence and independence is played beautifully by Damien Nguyen. The final and heartbreakingly understated scenes produce a real hero, who is comprised of much, much more than mere dust.
BLUE UMBRELLA, India
The beginning of the popular Blue Umbrella asks the question, “Just how far will one go to fulfill desire?” The object of desire in question is, of course, an umbrella. Binya, a smart girl from a peaceful village, stumbles upon a group of picnickers and becomes instantly fascinated with their blue Japanese umbrella–enough so as to trade it for grandmother’s precious necklace thought to carry luck. She is elated with her newly acquired possession, singing and dancing to celebrate both her happiness and her acquisition. It is the most beautiful thing she has ever seen. It is also coveted by Nandkishore Khatri, who runs a tea stall in the village. His attempts to possess the umbrella are varied and clever, but ultimately useless. When the umbrella is mysteriously lost, Binya knows that it was stolen. What follows is Binya’s resolute search for her umbrella and a sweeter and more beautiful discovery. By the end, the film asks a different question: “If it is so beautiful and worth fighting for, should we not share it?” Based on the Ruskin Bond novel of the same title, the film infuses extremely colorful and gaudy images with Bollywood-style song and dance.
The Companion, Dosar
Beautifully shot in black and white, The Companion is an engrossing film that focuses on the disoveries of a young housewife Kaberi (Konkana Sen Sharma). Kaberi finds out that her husband has suffered a near-fatal car accident at the same time that he was engaging in an affair with a married colleague. Her immediate reaction is extreme hurt, which surfaces as antipathetic vehemence: she refuses to sign hospital documents, treats her brother-in-law callously, makes inappropriately sarcastic remarks, and appears to almost delight in telling her injured husband that his “other woman” died in the crash. After the initial shock, Kaberi tries to regain normalcy, and audiences start to see her more complex, human side. Elements to appreciate in this film are basic, solid moviemaking ones – a compelling script, excellent acting, tight editing – and most of all, the ability to empathize with the various character’s dilemmas. Marital infidelity must be reckoned with by both partners, and this film captures, so well, the crisis that occurs in the mind of an individual torn apart. Much of The Companion’s power comes from the recognition that the worst qualities displayed here are human failings to which all of us are vulnerable.
I Don’t want to sleep alone, Taiwan/France/Austria
Two men, two women and an old mattress are protagonists in Director Ming-Liang’s deadpan allegory. Hinting at social realism, the story is woven with both erotic and comical threads. Homeless on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, Hsiao Kang is robbed, beaten and thought dead; Rawang, an immigrant worker finds Kang and nurses him back to health. Rawang lives in the shell of a modernist building abandoned during construction. Rawang’s feelings for his patient are sexually ambigious, but Chyi, a waitress in a dilapidated coffee shop—her eyes definitely detect lust when they land upon the recovering Hsiao Kang. This triangle forms the movie’s main relationship. Ming-Liang used an authentic abandoned building in Malaysia for Rawang’s home–providing a perfect backdrop for the chaos of his characters’ lives. He chose Kuala Lumpur because he felt that it attracted everyone, not only people from other parts of the country, but also foreign workers. Influenced by the number of immigrants milling about the city, Ming-Liang said, “They’d been lured by the economic boom of the mid-1990s and they’d lost everything — including their dreams — in the economic crash. I felt for them.”
Goodbye Life, Iran
“Goodbye, Life” is director Shah-Hosseini’s second film which reflects her own life as a war correspondent during the “Iran-Iraq” war (1980-1988). The tragedy of combat is told from a female perspective, as audiences follow its heroine from the frontline to an endangered village on the Iran border. The war’s impact is felt most strongly on these edges of combat. Goodbye Life dramatically unfolds the life of journalist Maryam, who, while struggling with divorce, pulls strings to be sent to the front. Her high connections landed her the unusual assignment, but the army allowed her to do almost nothing until she jumped on a supply truck and escaped from her unit. Instead of going out in the proverbial blaze of glory, as she hoped, she discovers a vision of the world completely changed by war. By saying goodbye to her previous life, Maryam finds a new way to live. Variety Magazine has said that this film “confounds expectations by heading in a wholly different direction from a Western war movie. Instead of a blustering, heroic heroine coming face to face with tragedy, Shah-Hosseini empathizes with a confused, scared young protagonist whose chief goal is to hightail it back to Tehran.”
Goodbye boys, Malaysia
“Education is that which remains when everything else learnt in school is forgotten.” Director Bernard Chauly finds this Einstein quotation “still relevant” and admits that Goodbye Boys is semi-autobiographical. The story is a timeless journey that affirms adolescence as a beautiful tragicomedy. Set in Malaysia in 1990, Chauly’s tale is one of expedition, where eight boys embark upon a 100-kilometer hike in order to fulfill a King Scouts requirement. In the process, their journey forms identities and lays a small path to their larger life routes. He captured that crucial formative period in one’s life—also called “youth”– where identity, ambition, and sexuality evolves. It’s a time when everything seems exaggerated. Setting out on a grueling five-day through the Kinta Valley, this gang of teenagers, rife with pimples, raging hormones, and undecided ambition, finds that their friendships have changed as well as themselves by the trip’s conclusion. They learn that friends are important but ultimately, it’s not always about togetherness. Sometimes, it’s about walking your own walk without anyone else’s assistance. The personal journey of a few boys is one that can be universally understood. Although this is Chauly’s second feature film, it’s his first screenplay.
In this Persian drama, Mahmoud is a welder for the Iranian railway outside Tehran, keeping him far from home. When he learns that his young wife Pari, who has a record of mental illness, has mysteriously disappeared along with his daughter, he goes into Tehran to find them and frustratingly finds few people willing to help with his search. The neighbors spread ugly rumors that Pari has abandoned Mahmoud, which severely humiliates him. The never-ending gossip plagues him. Mohmoud’s morose demeanor quietly reveals his conflict between his love and loyalty towards his wife, and his anger and shame over her behavior. His emotions range from rage to denial; at times, the uneducated Mahmoud reveals a touching portrait of individual courage and integrity. Director Miri’s provocative second film begins as a domestic mystery, evolving into somewhat of a social commentary, revealing a true, repressive Iranian society replete with its gender-related double-standards. Iran’s insidious, deeply embedded sexism is clearly stated. The presentation of Mahmoud’s religious and legal right to punish his wife however he sees fit—with murder as one viable option–will surely jar American audiences. Gradually seeks to challenge ingrained social stigmas, ultimately speaking to the powerful potential for change.
Hiding Divya, India
“Hiding Divya” follows three generations of Indian-American women struggling to cope with illness in their family. The death of an uncle prompts Linny to return home to see her estranged mother Divya. Linny’s inheritance requires a two-week waiting period, so she and her daughter Jia stay with Divya. At home, Linny and her mother fall into the old dynamic of rebellious daughter versus authoritative mother. Meanwhile, Jia tries to understand her grandmother’s illness while Linny shelters her from it. But as Divya exhibits signs of serious mental illness, their worlds turn upside-down. Director Rehana Mirza has said that while her film “came out of a need to educate South Asians about a [community issue], it has developed into a wonderful, universal story about a family in crisis. It…will appeal to not only those who are marginalized by mental illness, but anyone who has struggled to keep a family together.” “Garden State” and “Pieces of April,” inspired Mirza during scriptwriting. She also gained confidence in making a film about family dynamics wherein a young female’s perspective was paramount, with the then-recent successes of Mina Nair’s “Monsoon Wedding” and Gurinder Chadha’s “Beck it Like Beckham.”
Inner Circle Line, South Korea/U.S.A.
Inner Circle Line tells the story of two characters, one male and one female, who share the same name: Youngju. Female Youngju is a club DJ who becomes increasingly attracted to a mysterious club patron; male Youngju is a locomotive engineer whose train is involved in the death of a suicidal soldier. The two lives are brought together when female Youngju’s roommate Jin (no longer able to live comfortably with her newly found feelings for her roommate), moves out and encounters an old flame, the male Youngu. Thus, the Youngjus’ stories meet and develop into one story. The film takes its name from Seoul’s large circular subway line, whose route circles in a continuous loop. The Inner Circle Line is male Youngju’s subway route and serves as the setting for most of the action. Characters meet, separate, wait and dream on this line. Throughout their various changes, their dreams manage to survive, albeit in very different ways. Director Eunhee cinematographically depicts the cyclical nature of pain. Humans go round and round, taking pain, dishing it out–mimicking the motion of the train that simply continues to go round and round.
The frozen steppes of Mongolia serve as a magnificent backdrop of Khadak, an epic story of Bagi, a young nomad confronted with his destiny. A powerfully written storyline keeps audiences attuned. Bagi, whose gift is the ability to hear animals across great distances, recovers a lost sheep, and while away, suffers from a disturbing premonition. A shamaness appears to revive him and proclaims that he is to become a shaman. His grandfather warns him that ignoring his destiny will bring misfortune, but Bagi neglects his calling. Soon after Bagi’s encounter with the shamaness, a strange plague strikes all the animals, who have to be quarantined and slaughtered. The nomads are forced to resettle in a desolate mining town. In the sad mining town, Bagi’s job is to deliver mail on a motorcycle. His grandfather has grown sullen while his mother finds unexpected joy in her new job of machine operator in the mine. Bagi’s own life is completely disrupted after he saves the life of a coal thief, Zolzaya, and together, they hop a coal train bound for a faraway city. While on their adventure, the shamaness returns and a remarkable revolution unfolds.
Linda Linda Linda, Japan
When Linda Linda Linda opens, a girl’s rock band has three days to prepare for the musical talent show portion of Shiba High’s Holly Festival. Trouble starts when the lead guitarist, Moe, injures her finger and has to bow out. The three remaining members must find a solution. Kyoko is on drums, Nozumi (who, in real-life, plays in the actual band “Base Ball Bear”) plays bass, and Kei switches from keyboards to guitar. To compensate for their missing fourth, they recruit a shy Korean exchange student to be their lead singer. Their plan is to cover three songs from the 80′s band, The Blue Hearts: “My Right Hand,” “Endless Song,” and their biggest hit “Linda, Linda Linda.” And that’s the movie. But the longer you stare at it the more perfect you realize it is.
Monday Morning Glory, Malaysia
Monday Morning Glory takes place a week after a terrorist bombing of a night club that has claimed 199 lives. Set in a fictitious country (presumably Southeast Asia), Woo’s film follows a group of regular-joe-looking guys who are steered by the police as they describe and reenact their terrorist deed to a group of journalists. The local police chief invites this select group to witness a reenactment of the events leading up to the attack. What the group of journalist don’t know is that this same police chief has already captured the core members of a cell group he thinks is responsible for the bombing. Facing extreme pressure by his superiors, the chief hopes on this Monday morning to vindicate himself and reveal the truth behind this act of terrorism. As they say, the truth is never what it seems. Shot in a verité style, by award-winning filmmaker James Lee, Monday Morning Glory is an indictment not only of the terrorists but also of the corruption of the authorities. The film’s incident is not based on any real-life terrorist attacks, but Woo was inspired after seeing photos of an incident in Bali, where the suspects of a bombing reenacted their meetings on location
Shanghai kiss, USA
Think of Shanghai Kiss as a romantic comedy that picks up where the uber-popular Lost in Translation left off. While Lost captured the ennui and self-discovery of life as a foreigner in a foreign land, Shanghai Kiss’ characters show more involvement with the country and the people themselves. Emmy Award-winner Kern Konwiser and co-director David reveal show one Asian American actor’s cultural shock and confusion at his voluntary foray into 21st-century Shanghai, a city where no one speaks his language but where he nonetheless feels remarkably at home. Liam (Ken Leung) plays the struggling actor, fed up with the superficial beauties of Los Angeles. He wastes his time with writer buddy Joe, who hasn’t written a thing. He finds an innocent, but flirtatious friendship with Adelaide, a precocious Beverly Hills teen (Hayden Panettiere of NBC’s “Heroes”), thus establishing Liam’s only emotional connection. After Liam inherits his grandmother’s Shanghai home, he visits China and is introduced to Micky (Kelly Hu), whose entire being captures his imagination. Micky instigates Liam’s serious consideration of his Chinese identity. Caught between two worlds and two women, Liam is also forced to consider the desires of his heart.
Summer palace, Yiheyuan
Certainly the most sexually explicit film to come out of mainland China, Summer Palace relays the story of two lovers, Yu Hong (Hao Lei) and Zhou Wei (Guo Xiaodong), who begin a complex, erotic, love/hate relationship against a volatile backdrop of political unrest. Narrated by Yu, the film starts with her leaving home and family to arrive in Beijing University in 1987. After meeting Zhou, together they embrace the new social and economic freedoms spreading on campus. The empowerment felt by the students in Beijing climaxes during a series of demonstrations in Tiananmen Square; the protests carry tragic consequences. All the while, the build-up to their sexual connection mimics the developing political landscape just outside of their dorms. Lei and Xiaodong give magnetic performances, each possessing a beauty and intensity that is impossible to deny. The turmoil of the events at Tiananmen Square transpires when they are still young, and the haunting aftermath tears their lives apart. Over the next decade, their relationship lingers and fades, but never disappears. The film captures the short-lived sexual and political idealism and the ensuing dissolution of that same idealism which ran rampant throughout Beijing in the late ‘80s.
Note: Summer Palace was the first Chinese film to feature full-frontal male and female nudity. Sexual content not appropriate for children.
Tears of the black tiger, Thailand
If you’ve been dying to see a Thai cowboy melodrama, look no further. Dum, a young peasant boy, vows to one day reunite with his childhood love Rumpoey, the daughter of a wealthy family. They meet as adults, but the murder of Dum’s father by outlaws and Rumpoey’s betrothal to a smooth-talking police captain thwart their rekindled passion. These obstacles instigate Dum’s transformation into the gunslinging bandit, “Black Tiger.” Director Sasanatieng reaches into a bag of classic 1960’s tricks–employing mock vintage Technicolor hues, wipes, obvious back-projection – but combines them with a modernist approach to storytelling. It’s worth noting that most of the actors in Tears of the Black Tiger are all relative newcomers with little or no previous feature film experience. In casting, Sasanatieng said, “I didn’t look for experienced actors for the main roles. Rather I looked for people who had the kind of charisma you used to see in film stars of the 1960s”. However, that did not prevent this film, Sasanatieng’s debut as a writer-director, from winning the Dragons & Tigers Award for best new director at the Vancouver International Film Festival in 2000.
Train man, Japan
Mixing together one hopeless geek, one beautiful girl, and a high-speed Internet connection concocts a compelling modern romance. Hailed as “the love story for the geek in all of us,” Train Man tells the story of Otaku (the Japanese term for “geek”), a young computer engineer who finds fantasy more interesting than reality–until he meets “her”. Boy meets girl on a train. Boy falls instantly. Using his codename Train Man, Otaku posts Web inquiries—“How the heck do you talk to girls? What do I wear on a date?” Deeply interested in Train Man’s first love, newly-formed Internet pals eagerly supply him with advice. Encouraged by their support, Otaku undergoes a makeover for his first-ever date. Train Man substitutes the typical American high school with the multicultural backdrop of Tokyo, re-imagining the genre of nerdy teen romantic comedies. Inspired by Hitori Nakano’s phenomenal bestseller novel, director Shosuke Murakami did not miss the train, when he adapted the story to film. Train Man was an instant hit, grossing over 35 million dollars in Japan, serving as testament to the idea that the desire of a real human relationship will always trump that of a cell phone, computer, or gadget.
Tuli is a brave film, atypical of the safe subject matter associated with Filipino cinema. In fact, Tuli was first banned in the Philippines, later featured at Sundance. Daisy lives in an isolated Philippine province, in a conservative barrio ruled by men. Her father is the town circumciser; he is also an abusive drunkard who beats his wife and daughter. Throughout Daisy’s childhood, she witnessed men disrespecting and objectifying women. She doesn’t want to become just another abused women, nor does she want to follow the tradition that dictates that she become the town’s next circumciser. The situation worsens when Daisy’s father wants to arrange her marriage. Enter Vanna, Desiree’s childhood playmate. As they begin to rely on each other for emotional support, their relationship deepens beyond friendship. Deciding to raise a child together, they ask Carlo, the only uncircumcised man in the barrio for his “help”. Carlo has been habitually humiliated by the townspeople, since they equate not being circumcised with not being a real man. He is the natural choice to Desiree and Vanna, since they feel he will sympathize with their “outsider” status. The ending qualifies Tuli as a rite of passage film, not easily forgotten.
With the release of Undoing, Director Chris Chan Lee returns after a ten year hiatus since his groundbreaking independent film debut, Yellow. Like his own return to filmmaking, Undoing too, is a stylish and ambitious story about returns—that of Sam Kim (Sung Kang) who returns to the Los Angeles underworld after having fled with a dying friend a year earlier. While usually playing the moody bad boy role, Sung Kang veers down a much different path in Undoing. As Sam, Kang drops any and all bravado. Instead, he’s an anxious man on the lamb, with a desperate air of uncertainty about him. He attempts a complicated blackmail scam whose goals are twofold: to resolve his friend’s long-ago murder and to patch things up with his estranged lover (Kelly Hu). However, his return to the underworld results in even more chaos than his departure evoked. He unwittingly attracts unwanted attention from corrupt cops, K-Town gangsters and in particular, a warped hitman (Russell Wong, playing the hitman, steals this scene). Keeping in the noir tradition, Undoing evokes a haunting and unsettling moral ambiguity. Characters are neither innocent nor villainous, merely people who wrestle with inescapable pasts.
Vanaja was inspired by a child’s scream in the film “Sophie’s Choice,” which should indicate the film’s tone. The film is set in rural South India, where social barriers are higher than fort walls. Vanaja, the daughter of a poor fisherman, struggles with dwindling catches and mounting debt. A sooth-sayer predicts that she will someday be a great dancer, so she goes to work in the house of local landlady, Rama Devi, with hopes of learning Kuchipudi dance while earning her keep. Eventually, Vanaja secures Rama Devi’s mentorship: first in music, and then in dance. Vanaja excels at Kuchipudi, when Shekhar, Rama Devi’s son returns from abroad. Shekhar is handsome, yet insecure, and flirtation and innuendo follow. However, the situation turns grim when Vanaja’s superior intellect pits her against Shekhar in a public incident which ultimately humiliates him in front of his mother—resulting in a lesson of loyalties and class structure. To convey authenticity, non-actors were casted from hutments, labor camps and the General Indian middle class. Urmila Dammannagari (Rama Devi) had to learn Carnatic Classical Music, and in order to learn Kuchipudi dance – no easy task—Mamatha Bhukya (Vanaja) trained for a year in the director’s basement.