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An Asian Repast

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The 14th annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film and Video Festival, a key event on the movie calendar, opens at 7:30 tonight at the Directors Guild of America (7920 Sunset Blvd.) with Philip Kan Gotanda’s “Life Tastes Good.” The film is a highly philosophical and theatrical treatment of a tale about a career criminal who tries to make up for a lifetime of neglect toward his now-adult children with a suitcase of stolen money. Although the film is too stagy and slow-paced, it has considerable edgy humor and strong portrayals from veteran Sab Shimono, as well as Tamlyn Tomita and Greg Watanabe as his children. Dan Kuramoto’s fluid, varied score effectively enhances the film’s shifting moods.

Manshih Yonfan’s “Bishonen!” (“Beauty”), screening at the DGA Saturday at 9:30 p.m., certainly lives up to its title, featuring four young Hong Kong men who look like Calvin Klein models. Yonfan, an internationally successful fashion and portrait photographer, brings tenderness and insight to this romantic gay melodrama, just as he did to “Bugis Street,” his earlier film about transvestite prostitutes in Singapore.

Stephen Fung stars as Jet, a much-in-demand male hustler who falls in love for the first time, with a policeman (Daniel Wu), who not only is deeply closeted but has more of a past than Jet imagines. The stylish film is exceptionally strong in the scenes in which the loner Jet responds to the warmth of the policeman’s parents, who have no inkling of their son’s sexual orientation. Like “Bugis Street” before it, “Bishonen!” seems a sure hit with gay audiences.

Miike Takashi’s “The Bird People in China,” which closes the festival May 20 (7 p.m. at the Japan America Theater, 244 S. San Pedro St., Little Tokyo) is a remarkably accomplished and venturesome parable. Wada (Masahiro Motoki) is a young Japanese company man sent to a remote region of China to track down a lode of jade. He is followed by a brutal yakuza, Ujiie (Renji Ishibashi) intent on getting his gang in on the act, as Wada’s company is deeply in debt to the gang. Led by the strongly entrepreneurial guide, Shen (Mako), they progress from jet to a raft towed by six giant turtles and grow closer to a veritable Shangri-La. The place transforms the visitors, Ujiie especially, in unexpected ways. Just as this distant locale casts its spell, so does this imaginative, amusing and provocative picture.

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Jessica Yu has followed up her Oscar-winning “Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien,” a portrait of a poet-journalist confined to an iron lung, with another extraordinary documentary, “The Living Museum” (Monday at 7 p.m. at the David Henry Hwang Theater, Union Center for the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso St. [formerly San Pedro Street] between 1st and Temple streets, Little Tokyo). Her subject this time is an ambitious arts program for patients at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens. Although therapeutic in its effects, this is no basket-weaving crafts class but an opportunity for clearly talented individuals to enlarge their identity beyond that of mental patient. The variety in their work is infinite, rich and challenging, and it has been professionally exhibited. One of the most articulate of the artists, who, like others, accepts that he may never be free of mental illness, says that art has allowed him to give his life meaning and joy. This consciousness-raising HBO production is itself a joy. Other screening information: (213) 680-4462.

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Of the two Mark Lewis films dealing with man’s relationships with animals that the American Cinematheque is presenting at 7:30 tonight at the Egyptian (6712 Hollywood Blvd.), the second, “Rat” (56 minutes), is far more intriguing than the facetious “Animalicious” (52 minutes). It presents with humor--and scary statistics--New York City as a paradise for rats, its sewers and subways ideal for their dispersion and its huge supply of garbage providing a variety that assures rodents a well-balanced diet. Rats carry diseases, one couple can yield 15,000 descendants in just one year, and one veteran exterminator concludes that the city can only hope to control the rat population; it will never eradicate them. (323) 466-FILM.

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Documentary filmmaker Jan Schradie will appear tonight at 7:30 at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (1010 S. Flower St., at Olympic Boulevard), with a screening of her and Matt DeVries’ “The Golf War.” This potent 35-minute work-in-progress investigates what looks to be a classic land grab in the Philippines: Closely associated developers and government officials are trying to displace 7,500 peasant farmers from their ancestral land, an unspoiled coastal region called Hacienda Looc, conveniently close to Manila. They intend to build a vast tourist resort, including a yacht marina and four golf courses, but have met with unexpected resistance from the peasants, backed by the New People’s Army. Tiger Woods shows up for an exhibition match at the Mimosa Golf Course 100 miles north of Manila not realizing that by promoting the game of golf that he’s helping promote the Hacienda Looc development. Schradie and DeVries have a nearly completed bombshell of an expose on their hands that could stand as Exhibit A in the argument for the motion picture academy to retain its short documentary category in the Oscars. Screening information: (213) 625-7705.

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Chris Smith’s “American Job,” which opens Friday for one week at Laemmle’s Grande 4-Plex (345 S. Figueroa St., downtown Los Angeles), follows a tall, skinny, affable young man (Randy Russell) from one minimum-wage job to another. It means to suggest--with a certain amount of droll humor--how menial it all is, but this highly lauded film actually sends another message: that factory and janitorial jobs and the like are beneath the articulate young white males that populate this picture. Yet virtually none of them reveals a trace of ambition or any desire to get an education that would provide better opportunities. The irony is that Russell encounters only decent people and decent working conditions; there are plenty of people who would consider themselves fortunate to find work in such circumstances. (213) 617-3084.


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