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Documentary on Brocka at UCLA Tonight

Times Staff Writer

Among the films screening this week in the richly rewarding third annual Asian Pacific American International Film Festival at UCLA Melnitz Theater are Christian Blackwood’s “Signed, Lino Brocka,” an engaging documentary on the Philippines’ leading director (tonight at 8); “A Chinese Ghost Story,” a dizzying and delightful fantasy from Hong Kong (Thursday at 7:30 p.m.) and Kazuo Hara’s engrossing “The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On” (Sunday at 7:30 p.m.). Both Blackwood and Hara’s films were at the recent AFI Film Fest but warrant further comment.

Outside the Filipino community and film festivals Brocka, for all his international prominence, remains largely unknown. Therefore, Blackwood’s film serves as a good introduction first to the man and his work and then his eventual commitment to the downfall of the Marcos regime. Brocka has always been a dynamic, courageous and controversial film maker whose 50-plus films include five set in Manila’s worst slums. (His pictures are also at times marked by the lurid and the sensational, something Blackwood unfortunately fails to deal with.)

A homosexual whose mother prostituted herself so she could afford to send him to college and a one-time Mormon missionary who worked with the lepers of Molokai, Brocka has had a lifelong passion for the cinema, and clips from his films are certainly intriguing. His 1984 “Bayan Ko,” about a poor worker seeing “a little justice” became a cause celebre in the final period of the Marcos regime. In 1970 he made “Gold-Plated,” one of the first Filipino films to deal with homosexuality seriously, which had as its hero a deeply tormented, middle-aged husband and father, and his next film, “Macho Dancer,” will deal with the gay underworld of male go-go dancers and hustlers. “Signed, Lino Brocka” makes it clear that a Brocka retrospective is long overdue.

Written by Yuen Kai Chi and directed by Ching Siu Tung, “A Chinese Ghost Story” is at once a highly commercial genre film and a pure enchantment in which a dazzling mastery of technique has been brought to bear upon the telling of a quaint fable. When a naive young tax collector (Leslie Cheung) takes shelter in a haunted temple he falls in love with a beautiful ghost (Wong Tsu Hsien) held in the thrall of a 1,000-year-old tree monster whose human form seems to be that of an aging drag queen. Coming to the couple’s aid is a scruffy, philosophical swordsman (Wo Ma). Filmed in ravishing color, “A Chinese Ghost Story” moves like lightning and is crammed with action involving the most spectacular special effects and martial arts displays.

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It’s not surprising to learn that “The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On” is based on an idea of director Shohei Imamura, who has long been fascinated with obsessed characters, both real and fictional. Kenzo Okuzaki is real all right, a Japanese World War II veteran who survived the horrors of New Guinea and who has become fanatical in his attempt to force Emperor Hirohito to acknowledge his personal responsibility in the conduct of World War II. The wiry Okuzaki seems clearly in the right but his single-minded, eternally frustrated dedication to seeing justice done has also clearly made him potentially dangerous. Yet that has not stopped film maker Kazuo Hara from exploiting Okuzaki’s rage to the hilt. As disturbing as this film is, it is no less mesmerizing. (213) 206-FILM, 206-8013.

On the surface “Broken Noses” (at the Nuart today and Wednesday only) is an affectionate, occasionally meandering portrait of a likable young professional boxer, Andy Minsker, who devotes his spare time teaching scrawny street kids how to box (and in regard to his mother and stepfather displays an astonishing capacity to forgive their apparent abusiveness toward him in his childhood). Yet throughout the film there’s the feeling that famed photographer Bruce Weber, in his film debut, views the well-built Minsker as if he were a potential model for one of Weber’s underwear ads. (213) 478-6379, 479-5269.

Note: LACMA’s Saturday 8 p.m. screening of “Annie Get Your Gun” (as part of the Irving Berlin 100th birthday celebration) is a rare opportunity to see the film, which has been out of release since 1963 and is not available on TV or video. (213) 857-6010.


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