The Asian American Film Festival’s quirkiest lineup in several years is boosted by the presence of the great Korean iconoclast Jang Sun-Woo, whose last film, Timeless Bottomless Bad Movie, could be considered Seoul’s reflexive, kaleidoscopic answer to Kids. Jang’s latest, Lies, takes an unblinking, welts-and-all look at a sadomasochistic relationship between a schoolgirl and a fortyish sculptor, from the initial loss of virginity (Jang provides helpful intertitles: “First Hole,” “Second Hole,” “Third Hole”) to the introduction of progressively more imaginative accoutrements (the best sight gag involves a gardening implement). In the tradition of Realm of the Senses, the couple soon retreats into a hermetic existence of round-the-clock fucking, perversely ascetic in their utter devotion to the sexual act. More than French intellectual skin flicks like Romance or the forthcoming, all-talk Affair of Love, Lies is a sly, candid anatomy of sexual desire—at once perceptive, moving, queasy, and comically relentless.
The festival’s other quasi-pornographic feature, Shu Lea Cheang’s I.K.U., pales by comparison, perhaps unavoidably. A self-proclaimed sequel to Blade Runner, Cheang’s film picks up where Ridley Scott left off—with Sean and Harrison in the elevator—and launches into a gaudy but dull nonnarrative in which androids retrieve orgasmic data from each other’s, um, hard drives by humping them, or something. More compelling as off-kilter sci-fi, Roddy Bogawa’s Junk sets a Ballardian surveillance-paranoia romance in the East Village. Of the more typical festival fare (issue-laden social dramas, slick shoot-’em-ups), the most satisfying is Running Out of Time, the latest by Johnnie To, Hong Kong’s most esteemed action specialist since John Woo. A moody cat-and-mouse thriller with a melancholic undertow, the movie will be introduced by star Andy Lau.
This year’s strong documentary section includes First Person Plural, Deann Borshay Liem’s affecting personal story of her adoption from a Korean orphanage, and Jeremy Spear’s Fastpitch, in which the director journeys deep into the curious, rapidly declining world of fastpitch softball. Easily the most absorbing of the bunch, Buenos Aires Zero Degree: The Making of “Happy Together” isn’t strictly a making-of doc, but (appropriately, given the wistful yearning that suffuses the original movie) a pilgrimage to its locations a year after filming ended. Wong Kar-wai’s notoriously protracted shoot resulted in discarded subplots and unused footage, chunks of which are supplied here and remarked upon by Wong and star Tony Leung. All in all, a great fetish object to accompany a supremely fetishizable movie.