Fourth annual film festival serves up the finest comedies, dramas

    rganizers of the fourth annual San Diego Asian Film Festival say that the first question many non-Asians ask is, “”Can we come, even though we’re not Asian?

    Before the organizers commit any act of racial discrimination, the four-day festival from Oct. 2 to Oct. 5 at the Madstone Theaters in the Hazard Center is not supposed to be exclusive to Asians. Instead, program director Arnold Marquez wants the festival to be one that celebrates diversity. He is in charge of selecting the 130-plus films that are being shown.

    “”We want people to think of Asian Americans in a way that is nonexotic, that is nonstereotypical, that they’re just another American,”” Marquez said. “”They’re not there because they are delivering the Chinese food. They’re not there because they’re the smart computer nerd. They just happen to be a friend.””

    There are no Asian friends on the TV show “”Friends.”” What if you really are a computer nerd? And what if you really do deliver Chinese food? There are several films spoofing some sometimes-true stereotypes of Asians.

    Marquez explains that one important step toward acceptance is getting the mainstream audience used to seeing Asians and Pacific Islanders on the screen.

    Films shown at the festival have to be about Asians or be made by Asians.

    “”The idea is to promote the participation of Asian Americans at whatever level in the [film] industry,”” Marquez said.

    The opening film this year is “”Memories of Murder,”” which is South Korea’s biggest-grossing film this year. It is a detective drama based on the true story of Korea’s first and only string of serial murders. The bumbling detectives were utterly unprepared for the smart criminal. To this day, the killer(s) remains unknown and at large.

    A more comical showing includes a Japanese film called “”Ping-Pong.”” Two friends compete against the high school champion, a Chinese “”ringer,”” and each other to become the best ping-pong player. High-flying ping-pong action as well as high-flying, hair-bobbing action is guaranteed for excitement. Several table tennis associations in the San Diego area are co-sponsoring the screening and are setting up ping-pong tables for live demonstrations.

    There is even a documentary called “”Sumo East and West,”” about the ancient Japanese sport and its large and increasing number of non-Japanese athletes. Also, the closing film, “”Robot Stories,”” has four stories about what makes humans tick. Robot sidekicks and electronic quirks make the film an entertaining one to humans.

    In “”Kung Phooey!,”” Asians poke fun at themselves by exaggerating stereotypes like bad, broken English and superhuman kung fu skills. Another hilarious film is “”Where is the Party, Yaar?”” which has a South-Asian immigrant stumbling to fit in with the club scene of Texas.

    On a serious note, “”An Untold Triumph”” is about a group of Filipino nationals and Filipino Americans who fought on the side of the United States during World War II and whose heroic deeds have gone unrecognized.

    While some films have subtitles, many films are made by Asian Americans who speak perfect English. Other films are made by non-Asians, but about Asians. Some films are not even about Asian Americans.

    There are also many international films from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Cambodia and India that range from kung fu to comedy to drama. There is a separation of cultures amongst Asians and this diversity is shown with the wide range of films from different ethnic Asian groups.

    “”Our hope is that eventually people of different Asian, Pacific Islander ethnic groups will cross over to other programs that may not be specific to their ethnic group,”” said festival founder Lee Ann Kim.

    Kim wants the Asian-American community to have a stronger voice. Several Asian clubs of different ethnicities at UCSD have promoted the festival.

    “”Our goal is to help the community, the Asian and Pacific Islander community to think from a Pan-Asian sense,”” Kim said. “”That I’m not Chinese, I’m not Taiwanese, I’m not Korean or Vietnamese. I’m Asian. Even though I may ethnically come from a different country, we all are from one continent.””

    The film festival was first started in 2000 as a fundraiser by Asian journalists in San Diego. It grew from an attendance of 3,500 to the 10,000 they are expecting this year.

    “”In this beautiful city of great diversity, I still see that, in mainstream media and entertainment, there is still a lack of representation for people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent,”” Kim said.

    Filmmaker Eric Hwang had two of his films screened at past festivals: “”White Rice”” in 2001 and “”Weight of the Soul”” in 2002.

    “”Because there is a lack of images of Asians available to mainstream audiences, the public applies the few stereotypes of Asians to the whole,”” Hwang said. “”It is more of a lack of exposure than racism.””

    Hwang’s films have been comedies, but his films are filled with personal and political messages about racism.

    “”In the guise of comedy and not dark elements, I find it easier to get my points across,”” Hwang said. “”It is much easier for people to get what you are saying when you are not being the teacher. Their defenses are down, and you can build ideologies and have political effects and still be entertaining.””

    Hwang who grew up in the South and is of Asian descent, says that many of the films shown in the festival will most likely not be shown anywhere else. Many of the films featured are not big international releases, but they are small-budget films or local films. This includes many short films, which are grouped in terms of theme. They make up a substantial part of the festival.

    Kim agrees that there is a wide variety of different film genres and formats and states that this has been due to the rise of film submissions.

    “”There has certainly been an increase in demand from artists. Each year we get more and more film entries,”” Kim said.

    In the first year, the festival received more than 80 film entries, but this year there were over 300 entries. New this year is a section devoted to local films, called the San Diego Filmmaker Showcase.

    Yet Marquez feels there is much more to be done.

    “”There are not enough writers. There are not enough people creating the work, so that films can be made or television shows can be shot dpicting these stories or characters,”” he said.

    In the first year, the festival received more than 10 film entries, but this year there were over 300 hundred entries. New this year is a section devoted to local films, called The San Diego Filmmaker Showcase.

    Yet, Marquez feels there is much more to be done.

    “”There are not enough writers. There are not enough people creating the work, so that films can be made or television shows can be shot depicting these stories or characters,”” he said.

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