The Asian-American Film Festival comes to town

Nuoc2030
Nuoc 2030 is a wonderful piece of speculative filmmaking about the near-future inundation of the Mekong Delta as a result of climate change

If it’s March (and unless someone is playing cruel games with my calendar, it is), it’s time once again for the Asian American Film Festival. As in previous years, 2015’s festival includes a number of screenings at Pacific Film Archive.

This year’s festivities get underway Friday, March 13 at 7:00 p.m. with a film I was unable to watch in advance, Iran’s Tales. It’s double-billed with Vietnam’s Doat Hon (Hollow), a rather late contribution to the turn of the 21st-century Asian horror boom that relies overly on the now passé ‘long-haired ghost’ trope. If you’re a fan of the genre, you could do worse; otherwise this is a very, very average example of the style.

Far more interesting is director Dean Yamada’s Senrigan (Cicada), an endearing character study from Japan screening at the Archive on Saturday, March 14 at 8:15 p.m. What initially threatens to be one of those awful ‘multiple perspective’ storylines develops into a tight little tale about an infertile schoolteacher (Yugo Saso, good but perhaps a wee bit too old for the role), his unsuspecting fiancé (Hitomi Takimoto), and an unfortunate 4th-grade pupil (Houten Saito). It’s a lovely little film anchored by fine performances all around and writer Yu Shibuya’s slightly cheeky screenplay, which manages to blend elements sweet and sour to near perfection.

My pick for ‘best in show’, however, goes to another Vietnamese film, Nuoc 2030. Screening on Sunday, March 15 at 8:00 p.m., this is a wonderful piece of speculative filmmaking about the near-future inundation of the Mekong Delta as a result of climate change. Though it might be considered ‘science fiction’ by some, the film is stoutly realistic, suggesting that human beings will adapt and (almost) muddle through what will be a very bad situation indeed. It also suggests that Shakespearian tragedy will continue to have a place in our world even as the floodwaters are lapping above our rooftops. While not quite perfect (things get a little too melodramatic towards the end), it’s a terrific film indeed.


The Great Star Theater San Francisco. Photo: Thomas Hawk
The Great Star Theater San Francisco. Photo: Thomas Hawk

One of the hottest tickets at the fest will undoubtedly be for John Pirozzi’s documentary Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll. There’s been growing interest over the past decade in this ‘lost’ music, exhumed from the killing fields of Democratic Kampuchea by archival labels such as Seattle’s Sublime Frequencies. The music is wonderful, the stories of the artists fascinating: the film will be getting a theatrical release later this spring at the Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, at which time I plan to write more about it.

Finally, I can’t ignore the opportunity to see a classic of wuxia cinema on the big screen – and in San Francisco’s Chinatown, no less. Produced by the legendary Shaw Brothers, directed by Cheh Chang, and starring Yu Wang (better known to Occidental audiences as Jimmy Wang Yu), Du bei dao (One-Armed Swordsman) will be screening at The Great Star Theatre at 636 Jackson Street at 9:15 p.m. on Friday March 13 and at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 17. Built in 1925, The Great Star is only open on special occasions – and this one promises to be quite special indeed.

Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more from Big Screen Berkeley on Berkeleyside.

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