Saturday, March 21, 2009

2009 SFIAAFF Wraps

The 2009 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival is over for me. They still have programs on March 22 in San Jose but my last film was on March 21.

I ended up seeing 14 programs - 8 at the Castro, 1 at the Sundance Kabuki and 6 at PFA.

Always obsessed with my expenditures, I have to admit that I wasted a ticket for the first time in memory. I saw Fruit Fly at the Castro with my Castro Pass. I didn't plan out my film itinerary quite a meticulously as I usually do. I purchased a ticket for Fruit Fly at the PFA on March 20. I was considering watching the film a second time because I had tickets for the film screening immediately after it; I had to be in Berkeley anyway. On the afternoon of the film, I decided that I needed a workout more than a second screening of Fruit Fly. I think Fruit Fly was sold out so I probably could have sold my ticket (at face value) to someone in the Rush Line but that meant I'd have to get over to the PFA before the film started which would not leave enough time for my marathon workout sessions.


Eyes of the Spider starring Sho Aikawa; directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa; Japanese with subtitles; (1998)
Serpent's Path starring Sho Aikawa; directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa; Japanese with subtitles; (1998)
The Equation of Love and Death starring Zhou Xun; directed by Cao Baoping; Mandarin with subtitles; (2008)
The Love of Siam directed by Chookiat Sakveerakul; Thai with subtitles; (2007)
Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe directed by Harry Kim; documentary; (2008) - Official Site
Diamond Head starring Charlton Heston, Yvette Mimieux, George Chakiris, James Darren and France Nuyen; (1963)
Kanchivaram: A Communist Confession; Tamil with subtitles; (2007)
Fruit Fly directed by H.P. Mendoza; starring L.A. Renigen; (2009) - Official Website
Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi starring Shah Rukh Khan; Hindi with subtitles; (2008) - Official Website
The Revenge: A Visit From Fate starring Sho Aikawa; directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa; Japanese with subtitles; (1997)
The Revenge: The Scar That Never Fades starring Sho Aikawa; directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa; Japanese with subtitles; (1997)
High Noon; Cantonese with subtitles; (2008)
The Chaser; Korean with subtitles; (2008)
All Around Us; Japanese with subtitles; (2008)

2009 SFIAAFF Short Film Program - The Secret Lives of Urban Space
Upside Down-Downside Up; (2008)
Green Dolphin; (2008)
Suspended; (2009)
Nuevo Dragon City; (2008)
Shrivel; (2005)
Block B


Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi translates to "A Match Made by God." I may be turning into a Bollywood fan. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi is a Bollywood musical starring Shah Rukh Khan (also spelled Shahrukh Khan). Khan starred in the only other Bollywood musical I have seen - Om Shanti Om. My knowledge of Indian cinema is limited but I gather that Khan is one of the biggest stars of Bollywood today.

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi was one of my favorites of the festival. The plot is contrived (like most musicals) but involves Taani (Anushka Sharma) a woman who cannot love because of the untimely deaths of her fiance and father. Khan plays Surinder, her husband. On his deathbed, Taani's father arranged a wedding between Taani and Surinder even though they had only met that day. In fact, Surinder was there to attend Taani's wedding which was cancelled due to a tragic bus accident that took the life of her fiance. Surinder is shy and has difficulties expressing his love for Taani which is instant and unyielding.

Suri & Taani sleep in separate bedrooms and live emotionally detached lives. Taani perfunctorily goes about her other wifely duties; always showing a hint of the playfulness and passion that have been largely extinguished from her life. Suri is unsatisfied with the relationship and concocts a plan to win his wife's heart. Taani's only recreation is taking dancing lessons. Suri disguises himself, takes on the persona of an outgoing lothario and plans to win her love that way. Suri transforms into Raj Kapoor with the help of his best friend (a hairdresser with a flamboyant sense of style).

Here is a photo of Khan as Surinder and Anushka Sharma as Taani.
Anushka Sharma and Shah Rukh Khan in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

Here is photo of Khan as "Raj Kapoor."
Shah Rukh Khan in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

Predictably, Taani doesn't recognize her own husband and once Raj Kapoor enters her life, Taani's heart starts to melt. Suri isn't willing to let well enough alone. He decides that he needs to express his love for Taani as Suri in more subtle ways than Raj. A love triangle develops between Suri, Raj and Taani. It's all silly including a strange scene involving Suri entering a sumo wrestling match but it's great fun. Khan is chewing up the scenery as Raj and then shows his range by playing the milquetoast Suri in the next scene. The music is a lot of fun too. There is a song called "Haule Haule" whose opening accordion/concertina melody is the coda for the film.

Although treading on stereotypes of Indian men (Suri is likely an engineer for Punjab Power), I have to admit that Suri is spot on for many engineers I've met in school and work.


Another gem was 1963's Diamond Head starring Charlton Heston. Set in 1959, this film was a surprisingly frank exploration of racism and presciently, mixed race self-identity issues. There was some yellow-face casting with George Chakiris (Greek heritage) playing a hapa-haole and James Darren (American Italian) as a full blooded Hawaiian.

Heston plays King Howland, a sugar cane/pineapple/cattle baron in Hawaii. He has an unusual relationship with his younger sister. Their parents have passed away so Heston is more of a father figure to Sloane Howland (Yvette Mimieux). King, a widower, is obsessed with propagating the Howland dynasty through Sloane but only with pure white blood. The King gets bent out of shape when Sloane becomes engaged to childhood friend Paul Kahana (Darren). He won't abide the Howland line being polluted by non-white blood.

That's very hypocritical because the King has a secret Chinese mistress (France Nuyen) and she's pregnant by him. He hides the relationship; not because he is married but because he doesn't want people to know he has a severe case of yellow fever. Did I mention King is running for the US Senate? Apparently a white man married to an Asian woman in 1959 Hawaii couldn't be elected to state office.

King doesn't seem to consider the option of remarrying a white woman and fathering his own Howlands. To his defense, he's shacked up with France Nuyen whose character is unbelievably patient and accepting of his not-so-latent racism (not mention prancing around in tight cheongsam). It's easy to understand why he doesn't want a wife when he has a subservient lotus blossom at his beck and (sexual) call.

King doesn't need to worry about Paul polluting the Howland descendants with his Hawaiian DNA. The King "accidentally" stabs Paul to death at his engagement party! That doesn't stop Sloane; she always preferred Paul's half-brother Dean (Chiakris) anyway. After a relatively short mourning period, Sloane gets drunk, sleeps with Dean and announces her engagement. She must have a thing for Asian guys. Actually, her sexual desires are conflicted as demonstrated in an alcohol induced dream sequence that transfigures Paul to Dean to King! Loving brother indeed...

Although highly melodramatic, Asian/Hapa self-esteem issues are front and center. Hapa Dean has a serious case of self-loathing. It's not clear if its his white half or Hawaiian half that he has issues with. Being a doctor is not enough to give him inner peace. Denying himself Sloane's carnal pleasures since a skinny-dipping incident in high school, Dean doesn't really find self-acceptance until he sleeps with a white woman, slaps her around and has her come back for more.

Everyone in this film was seriously flawed - King is a hypocritical, cold-blooded racist and possibly a murderer, Sloane has some misplaced oedipal desires, Paul is stupid and Dean is confused and has self-esteem issues. Of course, that makes for an entertaining movie - flawed characters and conflict is what drama is all about.

This film and the Patsy Mink documentary were programmed because 2009 is the 50th anniversary of Hawaii's (and Alaska's) statehood.

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