Cultures clash in film festival

  • by David Lamble
  • Tuesday March 11, 2014
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Jazz (right) and his new German boyfriend</br>in director<br>Baby Ruth Villarama's <i>Jazz in Love.</i></br><br>Photo: Courtesy CAAMFest
Jazz (right) and his new German boyfriend
in director
Baby Ruth Villarama's Jazz in Love.

Photo: Courtesy CAAMFest

The 2014 edition of the Center for Asian American Media Film Festival (March 13-23) kicks off at our beloved Castro Theatre movie palace with the Vietnam-based fashion comedy How to Fight in Six Inch Heels, followed by the San Francisco film festival circuit's most fabulous annual party, at the Asian Art Museum. The balance of the 11-day fest, with films from 20 different countries, unfolds at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, the New People Cinema, Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive, and for the first time, Oakland's New Parkway Theatre.

Jazz in Love (Philippines) Hands-down winner of the festival's coolest director handle, Baby Ruth Villarama presents a laid-back Filipino comedy-romance. A sweet, unassuming lad, "Jazz," the queer boy with perhaps the slickest hairdo in the islands, sets out to meet, greet, and possibly even marry a German traveler he's discovered online. Sound a bit half-baked? Yes, well it is, but it's also a lovely slice of a kind of one-off reality-TV show about an ultimate culture clash. Baby Ruth informs us at the top of the film that Filipino "war brides" seeking a German visa are required to learn the language in a two-month crash course. There's scarce evidence that Jazz is up to speed on his German, yet when the beloved Theo finally arrives, it's perfectly clear he's a duck seriously out of water. There's a little padding in this 75-minute romp " we get perhaps one too many shots of Jazz's hard-drinking grumpy Dad " but ultimately Jazz in Love turns into a remarkably acute warning to take the new boyfriend on a test spin in front of the relatives before making a commitment you'll long regret. The director is expected at the SF screening. (Kabuki, 3/15; PFA, 3/21)

Out/Here queer shorts program Topping the annual queer shorts program is Madeleine Lim's astute portrait The Worlds of Bernice Bing, in which the late painter's female coterie neatly, comically but compassionately sums up a singularly productive life that ended way too soon. The program also features short subjects like Kyle Chu's Leave a Light and Christine Liang's Straight Jacket. (Castro, 3/16, Noon)

Brahmin Bulls (USA) Mahesh Pailoor's sharply observed narrative kicks off as Sid, a lanky young architect of Indian descent, lets his cat off on the side of the road. Sid is in the process of a severe downsizing in every department of his life. Gone are the cat, his estranged wife of three years, and perhaps most depressing of all, the project he had hoped to finish for his firm: a big mall office-complex. Sid isn't lonely for long as his hectoring old Dad shows up unexpectedly from Boston, using an academic conference as an excuse. Actually, Asbok is negotiating a reunion with a long-ago mistress (the radiant Oscar winner Mary Steenburgen). This acerbic comedy plants us inside the stormy ups and downs of a son/father relationship that is badly frayed. For a while we worry whether Sid will be out of a job and totally out of luck, but as soon as his cat returns and bonds with Dad, things take a mysterious but definite turn for the better. One of the strengths of this film is the filmmaker's willingness to show the protagonist in a cheesy light " clumsily hitting on women at work " without leaving us with the feeling that he's beyond saving or caring about. This non-explicit but truly adult comedy deserves a life at your local multiplex. (New People, 3/15; Kabuki, 3/19; New Parkway, 3/22)

The title subject of director Madeleine Lim's The Worlds of Bernice Bing.
Photo: Courtesy CAAMFest

Bringing Tibet Home (Tibet) Tenzin Tsetan Choklay's doc involves an elaborate ruse to fool the Mainland Chinese government into allowing the crew to enter Chinese-occupied Tibet to steal bags of Tibetan top soil so that a gathering of exiled Tibetans can run their feet through it on neutral territory. Both an engaging buddy film and the most softly executed international protest ever staged against an authoritarian "Blue Meanie"-style government. (New People, 3/14; PFA, 3/19)

Stateless (Philippines/Vietnam) Duc Nguyen's doc takes a hard look at the fallout from the American war in Vietnam: the plight of the numerous refugees of Vietnamese descent who are still officially "stateless" and living on the fringes of Filipino society, awaiting the miracle of visas to allow them into the US, Canada or Australia. (Kabuki, 3/14, 19)

A Picture of You (USA) J.P. Chan's rambunctious family drama finds a long-alienated brother/sister duo duking it out over how to clean out their recently deceased Mom's country house. You won't always like these siblings " their grief-fueled behavior borders on lunacy " but ultimately they get a grip and find a way to preserve their own sanity and the integrity of their late Mom's most intimate secrets. A large male organ makes a distinctly odd guest appearance. (Kabuki, 3/15, 19)

A scene from director
Kyle Chu's Leave a Light.
Photo: Courtesy CAAMFest

Karaoke Girl (Thailand) Visra Vichit Vadakan presents a disturbing if sadly truthful portrait of a Thai woman leading an edgy life on the fringes of Bangkok's red-light culture. (New People, 3/14; PFA, 3/19)

The Road to Fame (China) Hao Wu shines a light on the emerging mainland Chinese middle class in this talent-show doc that has visiting American theatre experts assist two sets of bright Beijing drama students in staging a homegrown version of the classic American show-biz fable. (New People, 3/15, 21)

Eat Drink Man Woman (Taiwan/USA, 1994) The food is the star, virtually the only thing to recommend about famed Taiwan-born director Ang Lee's follow-up to his first US hit, the queer-themed The Wedding Banquet. An attempt to explore the agonizing deterioration between a famous island chef and his fiercely independent adult daughters, the two-hour film wanders from the path in every way except for Dad's dynamite concoctions. (New People, 3/17)