Asian Film Festival: Eastern Reels Live by Love, Die by Sword

    The parallels are eerie: Liu Xang, a student at Mid-Western Valley State University, finds that culture-gap alienation and cutthroat academia are thwarting his dreams, ending in a malicious combustion of violence. And while it is based on a true story, that story is not — as some speculate — the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University tragedy, which occurred a year after the film had been completed. While working with A-list talents Meryl Streep and Aiden Quinn, rookie Director Chen Shi-zheng (known for his direction of Chinese opera) refrains from turning Xang’s story into “Taxi Driver”-goes-to-college by keeping the gunman human, the story honest and the audience fascinated by Xang’s descent — rather than the spilled blood that follows. (CM)
    “Dark Matter” — Ultrastar Mission Valley (Saturday, Oct. 13, 5:10 p.m.)



    Byung-du is a career criminal at 29, an ace hitman still able to find time for an ill mother and younger siblings. Of course, sudden events have a way of shaking things up in the cinema, and Byung-du’s life is no exception: He’s forced to both tackle a corrupt lawyer and serve as gangster consultant for his movie-business buddy.
    South Korean film has really found its international stride in the past decade, ranging from kick-ass (“Oldboy”) to emotional wallop (“Taegukgi”), and while “Carnival” is certain not to waste any time keeping our assassin from gunplay, you can bet Director Ha Yu won’t hold back on drama. Already hailed as one of the decade’s best, his 2006 crime flick is a magnetic study of the classic gangster in a modern world and his complex connections to the people around him. (CM)
    “A Dirty Carnival” — Ultrastar Mission Valley (Wednesday, Oct. 17, 9:15 p.m.)



    The filming is uninspired but the topic is fresh: Asian man falls for black woman. Each have their limited passions: hip-hop for him, cooking for her. Their relationship develops beyond a quick coupling in the sack, but regresses into prejudices, both publicly instilled and privately maintained. From being hissed out of a Japanese restaurant to being openly ridiculed as Mr. Miyagi, both characters endure pervasive abuse.
    For some, this film will be just another cliched investigation into the complexities of interracial relationships. It poses no new questions and even fewer answers. But for others, this film barely addresses the subtle racism many Asian-American males face in the wider society, white or black. The discrepancy between perspectives on Asian femininity (exotic, sexual, purchasable) and Asian masculinity (immasculate, asexual, frail) reveal the extent to which Asian-American male stereotypes permeate our society. (JG)
    “Akira’s Hip Hop Shop” — Ultrastar Time Warner (Tuesday, Oct. 16, 8:45 p.m.)



    Not nearly as beautiful as Malena, but far more piercing in its social critique of Sicilian society, “I Cento Passi” is an anti-mafia story with a cinematic salute to mafia films. “I Cento Passi” (one hundred steps) is a true to life film of Italian leftist hero Giuseppe Impastato, born into a mafia family but resentful of its crimes. Struggling against the codes of honor instilled in him — respect thy father, and respect thy mafia — Impastato never comes to terms with the conditions of his southern life. Instead, he elevates his personal grief into a public war, broadcasting streams of conscious derision against the mafia, publicly humiliating il capo and his father.
    In the film, moments of death become part of the Sicilian landscape, and as it gorgeously and darkly captures the years in which Italian life was engrained with mafia crimes. (JG)
    “I Cento Passi” — MoPa at Balboa Park (Sunday, Oct. 21, 2 p.m.)



    From the mind of the greatest Italian filmmaker you’ve never heard of — Palermo-born Vittorio De Seta — these 10-minute documentaries range in subject from Sicilian fishers and miners to life atop the volcanic Eolie Islands (the latter, in the Cannes award-winning “Isole di Fuoco”). Neglected by American audiences for decades, De Seta’s distinct flare for cinematography, editing and scores steeped in Sicilian folksong has finally begun to garner deserved recognition from both critics and those who thought Italian film began and ended with Fellini and Antonioni. Along with the shorts will play “Detour De Seta,” Salvo Cuccia’s documentary is a chronicle of De Seta’s life, a feature-length project praised by none other than premier Italian-American auteur Martin Scorsese. (CM)
    “Seven De Seta Documentaries” — MoPa at Balboa Park (Sunday, Oct. 21, 11 a.m.)



    Who knew such a great religious film could come from a Marxist, homosexual atheist? Mel Gibson ain’t got shit (excuse my non-sacred Italian) on Pier Paolo Pasolini; his minimalist — and most literal — portrayal of the Greatest Story Ever Told doesn’t stray from the text, focusing on Christ’s revolutionary social message, from nativity to resurrection. Pasolini never denies the divinity or humanity of the purported son of God, and seamlessly substitutes Matera, a town of virtual caves, for the Holy Land, giving it a more realistic ruggedness than the plastic-thatched roofs and cardboard stables of Hollywood. Though a non-believer himself, Pasolini deals with the life of Christ (whom he called “the greatest hero of all time”) without a political soapbox, and gives a firm testament of faith in — if not the almighty — the hope of the common man. (CM)
    “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” — MoPa at Balboa Park (Thursday, Oct. 25, 5:30 a.m.)

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