Combustible Celluloid

24th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (2006)

Asian Hearts

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy The Karate Kid, Part II on DVD

If dreary multiplex pickings have got you down, cheer up. The 24th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival has now arrived with the best lineup in years.

Eric Byler, director of the underrated Charlotte Sometimes (2003), supplies tonight's Opening Night film, Americanese, a grown-up story about race and sex co-starring Kelly Hu and Joan Chen.

Closing Night will feature Ham Tram's Journey from the Fall from Thailand, and Deepa Mehta's Water will occupy the coveted Centerpiece Presentation.

In the heart of the festival, James Shigeta, perhaps the first Asian-American romantic leading man, will receive a spotlight tribute with three classic films, including Samuel Fuller's great The Crimson Kimono (1959). In it, two cops and best friends fall for the same woman during a murder investigation. Racial tensions explode when she chooses Shigeta over his white partner (Glenn Corbett).

From the midst of the Thai New Wave, we get Wisit Sasanatieng's amazingly cockeyed Citizen Dog, a kind of dreamy, cartoony romance in which anything can happen and then keeps on happening. Country boy Pod (Mahasamut Boonyaruk) moves to Bangkok and falls in love with the equally dreamy Jin (Saengthong Gate-Uthong). He begins to rearrange his life in order to be closer to her, even if it means conquering a mountain of plastic bottles.

From China and Hong Kong comes the rugged, old-fashioned adventure tale Kekexili: Mountain Patrol about a scruffy band of volunteers that scours the bone-cold, bone-dry mountains of Tibet for illegal antelope poachers.

Local public defender Jeff Adachi, last seen on the silver screen in the documentary Presumed Guilty (2002), now directs his own film, The Slanted Screen, an exploration of the way Asian-American men have been portrayed in the cinema.

For pure fun, check out a selection of four Shaw Brothers martial arts films -- including the unfortunately titled Dirty Ho (1979) -- playing exclusively at the Pacific Film Archive. Or, screening in honor of the late Pat Morita, revisit The Karate Kid, Part II (1986).

Best of all, and the highlight of the festival, is the Bay Area premiere of Hou Hsiao-hsien's 2003 masterpiece Café Lumiere. The Taiwanese-born Hou shot the film in Japan and in Japanese in tribute to the great Yasujiro Ozu (Tokyo Story), and it's a beautifully poetic, subtly moving film about leaving the nest and searching for something of your own. This is not only the best of International Asian cinema; it's the best of cinema, period.

The 24th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival runs March 16-26, 2006. General admission is $10, $8 for students, seniors and the disabled, and $7 for NAATA members. Prices for special events vary. Tickets and information are available at the NAATA website, or in the festival program guide. A ticket office is also located in the lobby of the Kabuki Theater, 1881 Post Street, San Francisco.

Americanese (March 16, 7 p.m. Castro)
Café Lumiere (March 19, 9 p.m. Castro; March 25, 4:45 p.m. PFA)
Citizen Dog (March 17, 7 p.m. Castro; March 18, 9:15 p.m. PFA)
The Crimson Kimono (March 18, 3 p.m. Castro)
Dirty Ho (March 25, 9:30 p.m. PFA)
Journey from the Fall (March 23, 7 p.m. Palace of Fine Arts)
The Karate Kid, Part II (March 21, 9:30 p.m. Kabuki)
Kekexili: Mountain Patrol (March 20, 9:30 p.m. Kabuki)
The Slanted Screen (March 19, 3 p.m. Kabuki)
Water (March 19, 6 p.m. Castro)

Movies Unlimtied