Monday, March 24, 2008


The 26th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival wrapped up this past weekend. I was able to catch several films, including some that I hadn't gotten a chance to catch up on on DVD over the last year, as well as some exclusives. Here's a brief overview in the order that I saw them:

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (US, 2008): John Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg's follow-up to Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle is as raunchy and raucous as fans of the first film (like me) could hope for, and is also one of the most sincerely and movingly patriotic American films I've seen in a long time. When Kumar sums up his defense of the American way of life with an outraged cry of "Fuck you! Donuts are awesome!", it nearly brought a tear to my eye.

I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK (Korea, 2006): Well, what do you know? I'm a Cyborg turned out to be just as disappointing as most people said it was. Park Chan-wook seems almost to be going for a Kamikaze Girls style of FX-enabled, Amelie-influenced magical realism, but doesn't have the well-drawn characters or storyline to hang it on. It also doesn't help that the movie exhibits a painfully antiquated view of mental illness, one that would be more at home in a Hollywood movie of the forties or fifties. Not that Hollywood's current over-earnest and patronizing approach to the subject would be an improvement, of course, but I think that anyone who has had any personal experience with the mentally ill will find Park's depiction of a mental hospital filled with lovable, funny hat-wearing goons a little hard to take.

Om Shanti Om (India, 2007): While I can agree with some of the criticisms leveled at Farah Khan's much-anticipated follow-up to Main Hoon Na, that doesn't change the fact that seeing it with a packed and vocally enthusiastic crowd at San Francisco's Castro Theater was one of the best movie going experiences I've had in recent memory. Of course, Shahrukh's six pack got one of the night's biggest ovations--which included a lot of lusty female screaming--and his shout out to San Francisco in the "Pain of Disco" song brought the house down. Om Shanti Om's biggest flaw is that it delivers a first act so wonderful that it would be virtually impossible for whatever followed it to live up--and that's a criticism I wish I could make about more contemporary Bollywood films. Make no mistake, though, the film is furiously entertaining from first frame to last. With this film I celebrated the completion of my journey with Shahrukh Khan, one that started out with resistance, then moved on to exhausted tolerance, then reserved fondness, and now ends with me embracing the big ham as an essential and welcome part of the Bollywood experience.

A Gentle Breeze in the Village (Japan, 2007): A Gentle Breeze in the Village, which we saw the next night, was about as far from Om Shanti Om as you could possible get: A sweet story told on a small scale and at a leisurely pace, utilizing poignant silences and finely observed details as much as dialogue. This latest film from Linda Linda Linda director Nobuhiro Yamashita--based on the manga by Fusako Kuramochi--was easily the high point of the festival for me; rich, beautiful and utterly charming.

The Unseeable (Thailand, 2006): Yeah, it would be neat if you could make a horror film that was all scares from the first frame to the last, but chances are it would just end up being exhausting and annoying like Tears of the Black Tiger and Citizen Dog director Wisit Sasanatieng's latest, The Unseeable. Sasanatieng plasters his film with wall-to-wall ominous music and sound design and delivers a "boo" moment seemingly every sixty seconds, all at the expense of building any of the kind of real tension that would result in the kind of payoff he's looking for, not to mention story and character. Furthermore, what story there is seems to be cribbed from certain Hollywood films, the mentioning of whose titles would constitute a spoiler in itself. By the time the film got around to the rapid series of largely unnecessary flashbacks that fills out its final 15 minutes, I was ready to scream "enough" at the screen. Disappointing as this was, though, I'm still really looking forward to Sasanatieng's update of The Red Eagle.

1 comment:

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

Resistance is futile. The man will win you over.

I'm very jealous you get to be in "Dard-e-Disco." Ironically, MY town rhymes "pain," but I can't figure out a way to make that work and still sound like remotely normal English.