Vampires,Welfare & Ponzi Schemes, Oh My!

    It’s that time of year again, folks: The massive San Diego Asian Film Festival is back in full force, with an impressive lineup of 102 narrative features, documentaries, short films and animation showcased at the UltraStar Mission Valley Theater in Hazard Center. The event, which runs from Oct. 15 to Oct. 29, offers an opportunity to engage in discussion with filmmakers and actors, participate in educational panels and workshops and watch the star-studded awards gala all at a student-friendly price. As follows, the best of the East:

    “White On Rice”
    Friday, Oct. 16 7 P.m. Tuesday, Oct. 20 8:55 P.m.

    At 40, the newly divorced Jimmy (“Letters from Iwo Jima”) is moving from Japan to America to restart his life with the help of his sister, Aiko; her displeased husband, Tak; and their 10-year-old, Bob, who, as his name suggests, is wise far beyond his years. While Jimmy’s “rebirth” requires him to share a bunk bed with Bob, he is strangely optimistic about his mission to find the perfect replacement for his ex-wife. Socially clueless as he is — about as suave as a Steve Carell typecast — Jimmy botches his chances with a number of women before meeting his unfortunate match: Tak’s niece Ramona (“Saving Face”). Of course, hilarity ensues.

    “Children of Invention”
    Thursday, Oct. 15 7 P.M. (free Reception at 5:30)

    In this American dream-shattering exploration of the immigrant experience by freshman director Tze Chun, single mother Cindy (Elaine Cheung) struggles to support her two children (Michael Chen, Crystal Chiu) when the trio is evicted and seeks refuge in an unfurnished apartment. After moving in and out of sales jobs, Cindy’s desperation leads her into a Ponzi scheme designed to victimize unknowing immigrants. When the scheme collapses, she is separated from her children, who must survive on their own. Confronting hot topics like economic meltdown and the exploitation of immigrants, this one’s a groundbreaker all around.

    “Red Cliff”
    Sunday, Oct. 18 7 P.M.
    Tuesday, Oct. 20 8:55 P.M.

    Action director John Woo defined ’80s Hong Kong cinema with classics like “The Killer, “Hard Boiled” and “A Better Tomorrow.” In the ’90s, he created Hollywood blockbusters “Face/Off” and “Mission Impossible II.” Today, Woo returns to his roots with the most expensive film in the history of Asian cinema: an epic account of the Battle of Red Cliff, where a force of 50,000 men defeated an army of nearly one million in the final days of the Han Dynasty. With an all-star cast including Tony Leung (“Infernal Affairs”), Takeshi Kaneshiro, Wei Zhao (“So Close”) and Fengyi Zhang, “Red Cliff” is old-fashioned mythic fun from one of Asian cinema’s living legends.

    “Scandal Makers”
    Saturday, Oct. 24 7 P.M.
    Monday, Oct. 26 7:30 P.M.

    Self-obsessed radio personality Hyun-Su (“My Sassy Girl”) counsels people on a popular call-in show. But when a young woman shows up on his doorstep claiming to be his illegitimate long-lost daughter, he is forced to confront his own problems, head on. To make matters worse, she has a six-year-old son of her own, making Hyun-Su a grandfather at 36. While the scandal turns the protagonist’s life upside down, freshman Korean director Hyeong-Cheol Kang presents the topic with clutch comedic timing and an adorable child actor to boot. Successful on both commercial and critical levels, the comedy is already slated for a Hollywood remake — better see what all the fuss is about.

    “Scandal Makers”
    Thursday, Oct. 15 9:40 P.M.

    Got a soft spot for bloodsuckers, but can’t stomach the mushy teenage “Twilight” series? Check director Park Chan Wook’s latest vampire thriller. When a blood transfusion goes awry during medical experiments, a selfless priest (“The Host”) is transformed into Korea’s own Edward Cullen — substituting sparkly skin for a pair of insatiable fangs. Much like his prepubescent counterpart, Wook’s anti-hero lusts after a young woman who will test his animal instincts from every angle. But don’t expect butterfly kisses or unrequited love — after this blood-spewing teeth-marker, you may want to rethink your vampire love fantasy.

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