Where Sex Dolls and Kung Fu Masters Collide

Now in its 11th year, the annual San Diego Asian Film Festival is back and bigger than ever, featuring numerous guests, educational workshops and over 140 features, shorts and documentaries. The festival begins today and runs until next Thursday, Oct. 28 at Mission Valley UltraStar Cinemas. Several well-known filmmakers and actors will be in attendance at the panels taking place over the course of the week, including Harry Shum Jr. (the “other Asian” on “Glee”), Ellen Wong (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”), C.S. Lee (“Dexter”), Daniel Dae Kim (“Lost”) and John Cho (the Harold of “Harold and Kumar”). But most importantly, the festival gives you the opportunity to check out diverse flicks by some of the best filmmakers from 20 countries.

“LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN”

THURSDAY, oct. 21, 7 p.m.

You can only expect so much from a movie titled “Legend of the Fist.” For this festival opener, prepare yourself for a flick that doesn’t even try to be an engrossing drama — instead, there’s fists, fists and more fists. The Hong Kong martial arts extravaganza stars Donnie Yen as the titular Chen Zhen, an iconic action character (think the Chinese James Bond) originally played by Bruce Lee in 1972. In this piece of the series, Chen Zhen is presumed dead and secretly living in a Japanese-occupied Shanghai. Disguising himself as a caped fighter, Chen Zhen sets out to fight for Chinese resistance against the Japanese by infiltrating the mob. Yes, it sounds absolutely ridiculous, but with cutting-edge visual style brought to you by the film director Andrew Lau, it ain’t a bad way to start off the festival. Plus, this is the popcorn flick’s West Coast premiere.

“AIR DOLL”

SATURDAY, oct. 23, 8:50 p.m.

WEDNESDAY oct. 27, 8:45 p.m.

What would happen if Lars’ “real girl” had actually been a real girl? So asks the Japanese selection “Air Doll,” which follows the journey of a sex doll that “wakes up” one day with a heart. The film — originally a manga series — marks a return to director Hirokazu Koreeda’s signature style of magical realism. It plays out like a modern fairy tale: Once the eponymous doll comes to life, she leaves her master (still dressed in her sexy nurse costume) and explores the outside world, eventually meeting (and falling in love with) an employee at a video store. Absent is the quirky yet realistic humor of that other sex-doll dramedy (“Lars and the Real Girl”); “Air Doll” is instead an unexpectedly thought-provoking parable on the search for a soul.

“COLIN HEARTS KAY”

FRIDAY, oct. 22, 9:15 p.m.

MONDAY oct. 25, 9:40 p.m.

For the indie darlings: Sit up and pay attention, because “Colin Hearts Kay” is essentially “500 Days of Summer.” Okay, there are a few changes — it’s in Brooklyn instead of Los Angeles, Zooey Deschanel’s Summer has been replaced with Chinese food blogger Kay (Emily Chang) and there’s none of the ultra-fine Joseph Gordon-Levitt. But the rest of the ingredients are still present. There’s still the post-breakup turmoil courtesy of the film’s protagonist Colin (Noah Starr). There’s still the ultra-hip soundtrack (this one features up-and-coming Brooklyn bands). There’s still the chronic whimsy, as Colin rehashes his three-year relationship’s ups and downs through clever drawings that turn into animated backgrounds. Exceedingly quirky? Yes. Entertaining? Emmy-winning director Sebastian Ho Conley sure hopes so.

“CLASH”

FRIDAY, oct. 22, 9:30 p.m.

MONDAY, oct. 25, 9:30 p.m.

As Leonardo DiCaprio could tell you, the final heist — that one last job — is always a lot more difficult than you expect, and the heroine of “Clash” might have to agree. “Inception”-style (minus that whole “dreams” thing), the thriller follows thief and seductress Trinh (Ngo Thanh Van) as she goes through her final job in order to get her kidnapped daughter back. But with a brand new crew that can’t be trusted, the obstacles (read: explosions) are inevitable. Directed by Le Thanh Son from a screenplay by martial arts heavyweight Johnny Nguyen, one of the film’s stars, the movie sets itself up as a gritty and stylish martial arts thriller. Expect the fast paced editing, fight scenes and car chases of your standard Hollywood action flick; amidst the documentaries, short films and arty indie comedies that dominate the festival, it will be a welcome breather.

“AU REVOIR TAIPEI”

THURSDAY, oct. 28, 7:30 p.m.

For festival closer “Au Revoir Taipei,” first-time feature director Arvin Chen promises a smile-worthy crowd pleaser. Setting itself up as the Taiwanese “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” the film takes place over one memorable night in Taipei. It begins with the lovelorn Kai (Jack Yao) dwelling over his girlfriend’s move to France (where she doesn’t seem interested in returning his calls). He spends his day pining in his local bookstore, trying to teach himself how to speak his lover’s new language. Kai eventually embarks on an adventure — mob recruitment, hoodlums and all — with cute bookstore stock-girl Susie (Amber Kuo) through the lovingly shot streets of Taipei. Sure, the “Nick and Norah” setup seems charming enough, but if they’ve got a Thai Michael Cera on their hands, count us out; Hollywood’s already got enough of charmingly awkward dorks.

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