The 2nd Vancouver Asian Film Festival

by Ross Pink

Films and videos by Asian filmmakers were screened at this Festival on September 18-20 at Judge McGill Theatre (Robson Square Conference Centre). Deborah Rees-Lee, Festival Director, hoped she had more people, but with so many things going on in Vancouver including the Fringe Theatre Festival, and the upcoming International Film Festival, this year was not as good as last year's, audience-wise.

Opening Gala September 18th featured the film Hundred Percent by Canadian writer/director Eric Koyanagi who was present along with the film's producer Jusak Yang Bernhard, and one of the stars of the film, Garrett Wang from TV's "Star Trek Voyager".

The festival opened with the clever and amusing animated short, One Big Banana, directed and produced by Satomi Maekawa. A true little guy against big guy story as the young chimp sees and goes after the 'mother' of all bananas only to be thwarted by King Kong himself who grabs the banana first. Yet in a sweet twist, the beast takes pity on the young chimp and allows him to feast on the coveted 'big banana'. There is no doubt that Maekawa will have more to share with audiences in the future given his talent and the wonderful response from the audience to his work.

No doubt the feature attraction at the festival was Chinese American actor Garret Wang who stars in the picture Hundred Percent . The movie is a morality play for the young and confused about responsibility and adulthood. In order to get anywhere, the characters learn, one must learn to surrender and sacrifice. The role of Troy, played by Wang, is cut close to reality since Wang himself is a young and talented Chinese American actor trying to break the yellow curtain in Hollywood and T.V land and be taken seriously as a mainstream actor.

Wang is a good actor, and a scene where a cynical and rushed producer asks him to redo a scene for a Chinese food product commercial using a heavy Chinese accent is clever and funny. The scene captures well the prevailing stereotypes that must frustrate many actors in America.

Dustin Nguyen (21 Jump Street) plays Isaac who is a young wannabe hipfellow looking for the perfect girl. She does come through the door of the coffee bar one day, Thaise (played by Joy Luck Club actor Tamlyn Tomita), and he is caught by her charm and sophistication. However, the affected cool of Tomita is not believeable. Both performances needed more edge.In fact there are moments in the film where natural acting slips into cliche acting. Overall, the story is interesting and has a lively musical score.

The thirty-minute documentary Unsung Heroes was an important entry. It examines the Chinese-Canadians who served in the Canadian military during WW11. Before 1949, it is relevant to note, Chinese Canadians were denied the vote and excluded from many aspects of Canadian life such as the right to practise law. Canada had many discriminatory laws in effect through the late 19th century and first half of this century.

How ironic that these patriots who served their country with courage and who were willing to die and did die for their country, were deemed not good enough to exercise the true right of citizenship: voting. The hypocrisy and irony is glaring. The program was produced and directed by Vancouverite Christina Wong.

Yellow Belle, a 26-minute minute film by Korean-American Christine Yoo, is based on a real incident in Yoo's life. It's a touching story of a Korean-American eighth grader who, like many first generation Asian Americans, denies her ethnic identity in hopes of assimilating into the upper class Caucasian life style in the Southern United States. However, she is not accepted, and finally comes to terms with her Asian identity.

Most enjoyable was the last full-length feature of the Festival, Disoriented, by thirty-three year old Filipino filmmaker Francisco Aliwalas , who directed and acted in this funny flick. This comedic film is about a Filipino-American studying to be a doctor. He is controlled by his domineering mother, an immigrant housekeeper, who wants her son to live up to the American dream. He then meets and befriends a local car wash attendant who questions him about this dream. The story ends with a comic note, as our disoriented hero realizes the true meaning of what it is to live up to the American dream. This film has been accepted in the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival, Los Angeles Asian American Festival, Chicago Asian American Film Festival, USA Film Festival (Dallas), and the International Family Film Festival (New Mexico). It won't be a surprise if this film by this talented actor/director will soon be shown in commercial theatres.There were just a few technical flaws in the film, whereby some close up shots were tainted green, and the sound didn't come out too clear.



Copyright Ross Pink 1998