Asian American International Film Festival


Twenty-two features and a whole platoon of shorts—simple logistics limit the critic-as-consumer-guide. In large, you’ve just got to peruse the program yourself (though how can anything called The Killing of a Chinese Cookie be all bad?).

Name recognition isn’t the best criterion, as Wayne Wang’s cultural-amputation anomie pic The Princess of Nebraska opens the fest with a double-dose of cinematic Seconal. (Wang’s Chan Is Missing played at the long-running AAIFF’s ’82 incarnation.)

Further toward the top of the mixed bag is Brillante Mendoza’s overcrowded, unsentimental Tirador (Slingshot), which recalls the sensationalistic melee of Hogarth’s Gin Lane. Mendoza shoves and jostles down the alleys of Manila’s Quiapo District, through police raids, rigged elections, and the Feast of the Black Nazarene, passing the camera between characters like an infection to give an overview of the neighborhood organism in the throes of brawling, squalling, screwing, cockfighting, freebasing, shoplifting, and double-crossing.

Wretched in a different sense: Christine Choy’s Long Story Short, in which actress Jodi Long reviews the career of her “latter-day vaudevillian” parents, veterans of San Francisco’s “Chop Suey” circuit. Choy and Long’s understanding of the cultural function of vaudeville only goes as deep as predictable hindsight “tsk-tsk”-ing. The film’s eventual devolution into the queasily intrusive airing of family business does, however, make for uncomfortably fascinating emotional burlesque.

Another travesty, semi-redeemable as kitsch: John Wootak Kwon’s Always Be Boyz, which follows the travails of a troupe of Seoul b-boys. I’ve studiously avoided every other Hungry Urban Dancer movie—breakdancing is just so much slippery kinetics to me—but I assume they’re all pretty much like this. (Proof: “You belong in a hip-hop movie,” says one character to another.) When not teetering on the precipice of gay porn, the film delivers such lines as “Plato could never bust b-boy moves” and, if nothing else, confirms the seamless exportability of pop fatuity.