Sunday, October 4, 2015

2015 CAAMFest San Jose

On September 19 & 20, I went down to see the 2015 CAAMFest San Jose at the Camera 3 Cinema.

I saw three films:

Hollow starring Nguyen Hong An, Son Bao Tran & Lam Thanh My; directed by Ham Tran; Vietnamese with subtitles; (2014) -  Official Facebook
Someone Else starring Aaron Yoo, Leonardo Nam & Jackie Chung; directed by Nelson Kim; (2015) - Official Facebook
Queen starring Kangana Ranaut, Lisa Haydon, Mish Boyko, Jeffrey Ho, Joseph Guitobh & Rajkummar Rao; directed by Vikas Bahl; Hindi, French, Dutch & English with subtitles; (2014) - Official Website

CAAM announced that "over 2,000" people attended CAAMFest San Jose festivities.  Most of the 2,000 did not attend the three films I did.  Attendance was meager.


Hollow was on the CAAMFest program in March.  I remember being interested in seeing it then but couldn't fit it in my schedule.  Hollow was directed by Ham Tran who also directed How to Fight in Six Inch Heels.

Hollow is ostensibly a ghost story but it weaves in some social commentary on child prostitution.  Ai (Lam Thanh My) is a happy, young girl from a wealthy family.  She adores her older stepsister Chi (Nguyen Hong An).  Chi has the goth/punk thing going.  She is a rebel but what is she rebelling against?  It is most likely her stepfather Huy (Son Bao Tran) whom she has never gotten along with although she can't quite articulate why.  Chi also has a secret; she is pregnant.  While looking after Ai, Chi experiences nausea.  This allows Ai to wander off and is pulled into the river.  Hollow plays it both ways - sometimes the film has supernatural elements but much of it is rooted in real world criminal activities which could explain much of the plot.

Ai is lost and turns up at the morgue but miraculously & disturbingly comes back to life.  From there, strange things happen.  The audience (with Chi as the guide) slowly learns that Huy's fortune comes child trafficking and although he is trying to go legit, he still has ties to the criminals that run the child prostitution rackets.  Ai's disappearance could be signal from the mob that they don't like Huy trying to put his past behind him but the film puts a definite supernatural slant on things.  I found myself wishing that the film was a little more ambiguous about the source of these ominous events.

Anyway, Chi with the help of her cop uncle & a shaman priestess slowly unravels Huy's mysterious past and have to deal with the evil they uncover (both paranormal & man-made).

Hollow was decent horror film as far as I am concerned.  It had some visual panache & by looping in the child prostitution (which was more disturbing than the spiritual possession), it gave Hollow a gritty/scary vibe which was quite effective at times.


Someone Else was a mindbender.  Aaron Yoo plays Jamie, a shy law student from Virginia who comes to NYC for the summer to intern at a prestigious law firm.  He stays at his extroverted cousin Will's (Leonardo Nam) apartment.  Hungry for new experiences, Jamie quickly starts dating the sexy Kat (Jackie Chung), breaks off his engagement to plain-jane Yoo Jin (Chung in a dual role; I didn't realize it was her until close the end of the film), gets addicted to cocaine and has a meteoric rise & fall at the law firm.  Or did he?

About 75% of the way in, Someone Else reverses course and the audience sees a different depiction of the events of that summer.  Which is the truth?  Director Nelson Kim said the 2nd version was but I don't think it really matters.  The film is about the troubled psyche of Jaime.  Interestingly enough, by the end of the 2nd version, Jaime ends up at the same place.  In fact, I interpreted the final scene as meaning Will was Jaime alter ego.

Someone Else gets high marks for effort.  The acting of the three leads was fabulous.  I think the plot could have used another draft.  At times it was confusing and at other times it was awkward in its attempts to explain all the loose endings.  It was a solid even exemplary low-budget independent film.


Queen was a feel-good story about Rani Mehra (Kangana Ranaut), a shy young woman a few days away from her wedding.  Sheltered by her family and strong belief in traditional behavior, Rani is devastated when her fiancĂ© Vijay (Rajkummar Rao) breaks off the engagement.

Eventually, she decides to take the honeymoon trip alone because she has always wanted to see Paris.  While there she makes friends with the hotel maid Vijayalakshmi, who also goes by Vijay (the stunningly beautiful Lisa Haydon).  Free spirited, Westernized, sexually active & a single mother, Vijay is everything Rani is not and everything Rani has been taught to avoid.  Armed with a kind soul & non-judgmental attitude, Rani forms a strong friendship with Vijay as she explores Paris.

Paris was Rani's choice for the honeymoon but the second half is in Amsterdam, her ex-fiancĂ© favorite city in Europe.  Speaking of Vijay, an accidental text from Rani revives his interest in her and he flies to Amsterdam to reconcile with her.

If Paris was an eye-opener, Amsterdam is life-changing for Rani.  I don't know why she didn't stay at the hotel she presumably had her honeymoon reservations at.  Instead, she settles for a youth hostel and lucky to have that since every room in town is booked for unstated reasons.  It's a coed arrangement though.  Do those really exist?  Rani's roommates are the artist Oleksander Mish Boyko) from Russia, the rambunctious Taka (Jeffrey Ho) from Japan and the non-descript Tim (Joseph Guitobh) from France.

Rani is horrified at the thought of sharing a room (two bunk beds) with strange men but their thoughtfulness & congeniality win her over eventually.  Traipsing all over Amsterdam, the four become a tight knit group and Rani begins to gain her self-confidence.  Eventually, Vijay tracks her down and begs for forgiveness while being disdainful of the friends and choices she has made.  Rani sends him home without an answer but in a film like this, I knew what the answer would be.  Rani tells Vijay to pound salt upon her return to India.

Queen is a multicultural coming of age story.  It's decidedly dismissive of traditional Indian gender roles.  I wonder if those roles still exist.  Telling, the Indian protagonist had to go to Europe to find her self-worth.  Bollywood dance music is India's most relevant cultural export according to Queen.   Indian attitudes towards female sexuality also takes a beating.  In addition to Vijayalakshmi, Rani meets self-assured & unapologetic Rukhsar (aka Roxette), an Indian woman working in Amsterdam's red light district.

Although a little saccharine at times, Queen was largely satisfying based on the performance of Kangana Ranaut as Rani.  She convincingly makes the transformation from the meek jilted virgin to the self-confident (although still virginal) would-be entrepreneur.  I guess Queen still adheres to some cultural limitations.  I would think that the female protagonist would have to experience the joys of sex to have made the transformation in some countries.


All told, it was a satisfying trio of films at the 2015 CAAMFest San Jose.

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