A Week At The Movies

Written By Victoria Yong
Images from SILK SCREEN FESTIVAL

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In [September 2016], the Silk Screen Festival came to town. This is a special film festival showcasing movies made by Asian and Asian-American directors. It’s an important event to the Asian and Asian-American community because it not only gives us visibility in entertainment, but lets us tell our stories in a creative medium and have control over our art. Movies are powerful vehicles of change.

This reporter purchased a 8-movie film pass and saw a good chunk of the festival. Here’s her review roundup of all the movies that she had seen…

10 Years by Jevons Au, Ng Ka-Leung, Chow Kwan-Wai, Fei-Pang Wong, Kwok Zune
Languages: Cantonese, Mandarin
Rating: 4/5 Stars

10 Years

This is a collection of 5 short films made by 5 Hong Kong directors who each depict their own vision of a dystopian Hong Kong 10 years after the political protests against the Chinese government. These visions range from a mockumentary of the continuing protests, to Cantonese slowly being erased from Hong Kong culture, to the last chicken farm in Hong Kong being removed due to censorship. 10 Years was banned from mainland China for its political criticism and is nevertheless an important compendium to bring these issues to light to the rest of the world. Each film approaches the political tension in Hong Kong from a diverse, creative array of perspectives and leaves the audience with something to think about.

Spa Night by Andrew Ahn
Languages: English, Korean
Rating: 3/5 Stars

Spa Night

A melancholy, quiet coming-of-age story about a Korean-American teenager who works at a spa to help his family. During this time, he begins to explore his sexuality through the spa’s underground gay culture. While this movie captures the sadness and struggle of growing up as a marginalized Asian-American, it moved too slowly at times and long, silent pauses were common. The ending to this movie feels ambiguous and unresolved, making it for a less-than-satisfying watch. However, the cinematography and the dim aesthetic lighting make this a beautiful movie to watch.

Jasmine by Dax Phelan
Languages: English, Cantonese
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Jasmine

A man named Leonard Toh (Jason Tobin) is still reeling from the murder of his wife. When he sees a stranger standing over his wife’s grave, he begins an obsessive investigation to find the identity of this man and the killer. With its dark lighting and alienating shots, this film sets up the perfect atmosphere for a crime drama. While it moved at an irritatingly slow pace in middle, the build-up to the intense ending and shocking plot twist was almost worth it. Jason Tobin was an amazing actor, running the whole gambit of emotions from manic regret to quiet anger, and helped to write this film. While Jasmine isn’t the best movie I’ve seen, it still has a lot of merit to make it worth watching.

Front Cover by Ray Yeung
Languages: English, Mandarin, Cantonese
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Front Cover

A talented Chinese-American stylist named Ryan (Jason Choi) is assigned to work on the publicity campaign of a rising Chinese movie star named Ning (James Chen). While the two do not get along due to cultural differences and because Ning is homophobic towards Ryan (who’s gay), the two eventually find common ground and become friends. While it is somewhat predictable, this romantic comedy nevertheless does well by tackling a rare subject: a gay Asian-American rom-com. As a Chinese-American, I was thrilled to see a film gently poke fun at and celebrate the cultures of Chinese-Americans and mainland Chinese people. A genuinely funny, beautiful hit.

Short Films Presentation by Saman Hosseinpour, Suzanne Barnard, Sofia Borges, Trevor Zhou, and Fiona Amundsen
Languages:
Japanese, Persian, Mandarin, Portuguese, Gujurati
Rating: 4/5 Stars

Short Films

A small collection of short films from many different places highlights brief moments in the lives of everyday individuals. Two Iranian films show a small child running late to school in autumn (Autumn Leaves) and an old couple trying to save a goldfish in a denture glass (Fish). An elderly Chinese woman tries to learn how to waltz and in the process falls back in love with her husband (The Waltz). A Japanese survivor of World War II recounts her memories of the war as images of abandoned steel mills in Pittsburgh flash by (To Each Other). A rare documentary shows the daily lives of an old Gujurati couple from Mozambique and the last few residents of a now-demolished neighborhood in Lisbon, Portugal (Maxamba). These films were created by lesser known independent directors who each managed to capture the gambit of emotions of ordinary people in short reels and snapshots. Though their subjects were all different, they all had one thing in common—powerful and pithy storytelling.

Wednesday, May 9th by Vahid Jalilvand
Languages: Persian
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Wednesday May 9th

Rich local philanthropist Jalal holds a newspaper contest to determine whom in Tehran has suffered enough and needs his money the most to win a fortune. Two women from different backgrounds are both in the running to win—a struggling mother who is trying to pay for her husband’s corrective surgery while supporting her child, and a young woman who needs to get her husband out of jail after he defended her from her jealous, violent cousin. After presenting both of these women’s stories, we begin to discover the real reason for Jalal’s generosity which may have created more problems than it solved. This movie highlights the shortcomings and oppressive aspects of Iranian society while telling an engaging story. However, I felt that it had dragged for too long at times and I found that the story of the young woman who ran away from an abusive family was a lot more engaging than the struggling mother. It felt imbalanced, yet the cinematography, acting, and moral questions this movie posed made it worth the watch.

Foreign Letters by Ela Thier
Languages: Hebrew, English, Vietnamese
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Foreign Letters

A semi-autobiographical film about a friendship between two young adolescent girls who are immigrants to America during the 1980’s. The two main characters, Ellie and Thuy come from different countries (Israel and Vietnam respectively) but manage to find a lot in common and solace in each other’s company as they are both ostracized from their peers. This film is slow-paced, but its wandering moments make it all the more charming rather than boring. What is especially interesting about this narrative is how little focus the movie places on the overarching political conflict that had driven the girls’ families to move to America and instead chooses to tell a simple story about the two girls being friends. The movie did well to highlight common experiences among immigrants in a strange American culture as well as portray a realistic close friendship between young girls, which is actually uncommon to see in modern entertainment. This reviewer is a bit biased that the movie had wandered as much as it did, but it was a beautiful testament to childhood and the wonderful memories that girls could share as they bridge cultural borders.

Bad Rap by Salima Koroma
Languages: English, Korean
Rating: 3/5 Stars

Bad Rap

A documentary that highlights the lesser-known Asian-American rap community and its history since its beginning in the 1970’s. This movie follows the rising careers of 4 Asian-American rappers: DumbFoundDead, Awkwafina, Rekstizzy, and Lyricks. Each rapper has come from a unique background with very personal, differing opinions on the music industry and how Asians fit into it at large. Asian representation and visibility are the main issue, as these rappers and Asian entertainers as a whole have faced racism and marginalization throughout their artistic endeavors. Hip-hop became a way for these musicians to give their community and themselves a creative voice to speak on social issues. While this reviewer was grateful to see such an important, and interesting topic as Asian hip-hop be addressed, the documentary could have done a better job to show the insidious anti-blackness and misogyny that some of the male rappers had capitalized on for exposure. Seeing as Awkwafina is a woman and that the other male rappers had criticized her for being “cute” and “easy to market” instead of recognizing her hard work for what it was, it was more than a bit disgusting. This movie had its issues with addressing a complicated subject, but it’s a good beginning to some very important commentary on entertainment and Asian-Americans’ place in American society.

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The Silk Screen organizes various events in order to increase awareness of Asian arts around Pittsburgh, whether it be through music, film, or dance. For more information, check out its website at: http://www.silkscreenfestival.org/

Read this issue and more in our Fall 2016 Issue OUT NOW

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