Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival 2013

The Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival began in early May, taking place mostly at the CGV Cinemas in dense, retail-choked Koreatown. I’ve prided myself on knowing every theater within the municipal limits of the City of Angels, but this pocket-sized multiplex, enveloped by a vertical shopping mall, was a kick in the head. However, I’m told that it’s only been around a couple years, so I’ll forgive myself. This wasn’t the sole venue; early screenings also took place at the Directors Guild Theater over on the parking-challenged Westside, where I had the pleasure of meeting Entourage star Rex Lee, who’s now appearing in Suburgatory.

Only the sort of obsessives profiled in the frightening documentary Cinemania would attempt to spend all day, every day at a festival, and I’m not so deranged. Nevertheless, I did enjoy a diverse array of films during this year’s LAAPFF, and these are some observations:

Be Your Shoeself — an amusing, socially aware curio featuring a cast of stop motion-animated shoes. Co-director Wendy Nguyen (with James Chen) moderates her own fashion channel (Wendy’s Lookbook), and cleverly lampoons human nature and cliquishness without the assistance of dialogue. (short subject)

Born To Dance This Way — what happens when a chubby LGBT teen boy with wicked dance floor moves yearns to join the backup team for the hottest girl group around? UCLA grad Jerrell Rosales serves up insouciant humor, and a bit of pathos, as Ghetto Fabulous Joo Si, a.k.a. Shadynasty, tries to fulfill his fantasy. (short subject)

I’ve no idea how to describe Man Chyna’s Brokeback That Ass Up, but this satirical music video subverts numerous social archetypes and milieus while being hilariously sexy. BBTU screened as part of a series of shorts featuring LGBT themes. On that tip, I was haunted by Kinekuma Pictures’ very modest short The Game Kiss, about two closeted teen gamers who simultaneously come out to each other, both suddenly realizing they’re in love. The fragility of love, not to mention life itself, is revealed in the closing credits, and casting two ordinary-looking boys only makes Paul Agusta’s drama more effective.

Certain to generate argument is Stanley Yung’s overheated Chink, showcasing the extraordinary Jason Tobin. Remember his kinetic, live-wire performance in Better Luck Tomorrow? Has it really been more than a decade since that movie? Tobin’s expressive, sharp-cheekboned face propels this tale of a budding Norman Bates in contemporary Los Angeles. Its controversial denouement suits its B-movie heart, and no matter what side of the fence you sit on, you won’t soon forget it. (feature)

Alicia Dwyer’s compelling, accessible Xmas Without China feels like a setup for a reality series, perhaps with Michael Moore’s stamp of approval. Tom Xia, a young Chinese-American man living with his parents in a suburban McMansion, questions how Americans would handle the Yuletide without Chinese-manufactured items, and we discover that it’s virtually impossible to indulge in a materialistic First World Christmas. Dwyer’s film delves into various issues, including questions of national identity and the inevitable waning of U.S. socio-economic supremacy. (feature)

In Sato Yoshinori’s Tokyo Boy, Masashi, an isolated teen boy, stands by helplessly as his family’s tenuous bonds stretch beyond the breaking point. In fact, the family presented here is an unwitting antidote, of sorts, to Japanese monocultural cohesion, which may have simultaneously strengthened and withered during that country’s incredible postwar expansion. Tokyo Boy is quiet and deliberate in its exposition, with sometimes opaque storytelling, made more challenging by poorly-transcribed subtitles. (feature)

Leon Le’s short Dawn tackles the Asian/Black divide in modern America, with a surprise climactic twist few will predict, while Byron Q’s Raskal Love manages to be heartwarming without becoming saccharine. It’s the true story of Vanna Fut, an erstwhile member of the 65,000-strong Tiny Raskal gang, the largest Asian-American street gang. His family fled the killing fields of their native Cambodia at the tail end of the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal rampage, and he grew up on the dicey streets of south Pomona, east of Los Angeles, later winding up in seemingly blissful Washington state. Much of his hard-knock upbringing is familiar (drug-addicted father, street-corner gunfire) but he comes across as a tender, soulful thinker, with additional challenges to come. Finally, there’s the Korean wartime feature Jiseul, about the little-studied Jeju Massacre, a shameful event that unfolded during the aftermath of the Second World War. A damning indictment of American military actions as the winds of the Cold War blew in, director O. Muel’s film is notable for crisp black-and-white photography and a powerful score, and its occasional brutality is leavened by moments of comic relief, perhaps a reminder of war’s absurdity.

LAAPFF marks its 30th anniversary next spring. I don’t know what Visual Communications, the outfit which produces the fest, will do to mark the occasion, but one hopes that diversity will continue to be the modus operandi.