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Los Angeles’ Asian Pacific Film Fest 2005

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Why do “Chinese people hate Christians?” Is it possible to rejuvenate a musical career at age 94? Can a few angry Asian immigrants change the cycle of exploitation?

Opening on April 28, Visual Communications’ 21st Asian Pacific Film Festival continues to provide a provocative program of foreign and domestic films. This year, three documentaries explore contemporary Asian American culture in Los Angeles.

On May 1, 5 p.m. at the Directors Guild of America, Curtis Choy’s 99-minute “What’s Wrong with Frank Chin?” dares to ask what makes the infamous Los Angeles-based writer, director, playwright, teacher and civil rights activist so angry? Chin is known for making brazen generalizations, like declaring Chinese people hate Christians because of the Opium Wars. As a firebrand of righteousness, he jump-stated theater groups, two Asian American literary anthologies and the Japanese American reparations movement, yet his dominating personality, often strident dramatics and his long-standing sniping at Maxine Hong Kingston have also divided the Asian American community. Choy’s documentary suffers from some poor productions values and the involvement of writers that Chin has openly criticized. Still, Chin is important enough that even this flawed documentary is a must-see for those wishing to understand Asian American literature and history.

S. Leo Chiang and Mercedes Coats’ documentary, “To You Sweetheart, Aloha,” explores an unusual relationship between music and love on May 1, 2 p.m. at DGA. The Hawai’ian-born master of the ukulele Bill Tapia was once a well-known figure in his home state. Yet in his 94th year, living in the Los Angeles area and having recently lost both his wife and his only child, a daughter, Tapia is brought out of his depression by 26-year-old Alyssa Archambault, who becomes his muse and his manager. Yet this relationship comes under scrutiny by this family. We don’t really know that much about Archambault since the film mostly focuses on his family’s feelings, but this portrait aptly catches the problems of old age and the renaissance of a man’s musical career.

A third documentary, “Grassroots Rising: Asian Immigrant Workers in Los Angeles” challenges model minority stereotypes and the concept of a unified community.

This one-hour Visual Communications production and tells how Asian immigrant workers were and are exploited, not only by Americans, but also by their fellow countrymen in America. Yet it also looks how these workers were empowered through organizations such as the Korean Immigrant Worker Advocates, the Pilipino Workers’ Center, the Garment Worker Center and the Thai Community Development Center. The May 3 screening at the Aratani/Japan America Theater will be followed by a Q&A discussion with the director and participants of the film.

The festivals opening night features Alice Wu’s “Saving Face” in its Los Angeles premiere at the Directors Guild of America. Closing the festival will be Georgia Lee’s first feature film, “Red Doors,” on May 5, at the Aratani /Japan America Theatre.

“Saving Face” looks at the dilemma of surgeon Wilhelmina Pang (Michelle Krusiec) who is pregnant and unmarried and must face her mother’s (Joan Chen) meddling while she explores the possibility of romance with a dancer (Lynn Chen).

In Lee’s “Red Doors,” Ed Wong (Tzi Ma) shuts down emotionally upon his retirement, watching old childhood videos of his daughters and contemplating suicide. He eventually runs away from his family, leaving his daughters (Jacqueline Kim, Elaine Kao and Kathy Shao-Lin Lee) to out their romantic problems.

Other notable offerings inclue: “20:30:40.” Sylvia Chang has directed a movie based on stories by herself and Rene Liu and Lee Sinje. Working with GC Goo Bi and Cat Kwan, Chang tells the story of women in different age groups in modern-day Taipei. A married woman (Chang) discovers her husband has another family. A 20-something woman (Malaysian actress-singer Angelica Lee) comes to Taipei hoping to become a pop star. A stewardess (Rene Liu) juggles many boyfriends while really yearning for married life. Mandarin and Cantonese with English subtitles. Screening on May 4, 7 p.m. at the Aratani/Japan America Theatre.

In “Rice Rhapsody” director Kenneth Bi takes a light-hearted look at a restaurant owner’s (Sylvia Chang) attempt to interest his youngest son, Leo (LePham Tan), in girls. Jen was abandoned by her husband 16 years ago. Her two older sons, Daniel (Alvin Chiang) and Harry (Craig Toh), are gay and she longs for grandchildren. Her restaurant is famous for her Hainan chicken rice, a Chinese-influenced staple of Singaporean cuisine. Jen, along with her best friend and sometime suitor, Kim Chui (played with an affable charisma by TV chef Martin Yan of “Yan Can Cook”), plot to introduce a French exchange student (Melanie Laurent) into Jen’s household to stir up Leo’s heterosexual libido. In Mandarin and English with subtitles. Screening on April 30, 9:30 p.m. at DGA.

Awarded the Grand Jury prize at last year’s International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam and Sundance this year, Leonard Retel Helmrich’s movie, “Shape of the Moon,” attempts to introduce the audience to the largest Muslim community in the world. The fourth largest nation on the globe, Indonesia should define what being Muslim means, but remains an undiscovered world to most Americans and Europeans. The movie follows 62-year-old widow, Rumidjah, who cares for her 13-year-old granddaughter Tari and her son Bakti. The Christian Rumidjah finds life in Jakarta difficult and longs to return to her village in central Java. When Bakti decides to marry a Muslim girl and converts to Islam, Rumidjah moves back, eventually leaving Tari in Jakarta where she will have a better future. In Indonesian with English subtitles. April 29, 7:15 p.m. at DGA.

For more information on schedules and ticket sales, call (213) 680-4462, x59 or visit www.VCOnline.org.

–from the Pasadena Weekly

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