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Pac-Arts’ Spring Showcase Kicks Off 7th Year Of Asian Cinema

Shorts, features, documentaries, and Mystery Kung Fu Theater

A North Korean fisherman drifts into southern waters and is captured and ques...

Credit: Crest International

Above: A North Korean fisherman drifts into southern waters and is captured and questioned as a Communist spy in Kim Ki-Duk's "The Net," screening at Pac-Arts' Spring Showcase.

Pac-Arts' Spring Showcase kicks off its seventh year Thursday night at Ultrastar Mission Valley (formerly Ultrastar Hazard Center) with the New Zealand documentary "Poi E: The Story Of Our Song."

Pac-Arts' Spring Showcase kicks off its seventh year Thursday night at Ultrastar Mission Valley — formerly Ultrastar Hazard Center — with the New Zealand documentary "Poi E: The Story Of Our Song."

Asia produces too many great movies to contain in a single annual festival, so in addition to the San Diego Asian Film Festival in the fall, PacArts also hosts a Spring Showcase. This year, the Showcase highlights 20 films (including shorts) from 10 countries, the largest number of films at a Spring Showcase to date.

Most exciting for me will be new films from world-class filmmakers Kim Ki-Duk and Hong Sang Soo, both from South Korea and — both fiercely independent and uniquely talented artists. Kim has made "The Isle," "Bad Guy" and "3-Iron" among other award-winning films. His latest is "The Net" about a North Korean fisherman who drifts into southern waters when his boat breaks down and he's captured as a Communist spy.

Pac-Arts artistic director Brian Hu explains in the program notes, "But in Kim Ki-duk’s hands, even innocence must be as harrowing as biopolitical torture, as absurd as a Communist in an Under Armour tracksuit, and as grimy as an outhouse excavation. That’s because for Kim, nothing is more inhumane than the act of humanism, especially when egos are at stake. His fisherman is no mere victim — a hot potato in a cold war — but is a specimen of intelligence and physical intimidation, a nationalist body with a survivalist’s mind, smart enough to play two countries’ chessboards at once, but perhaps too steadfast in his own sense of self to know that statelessness and being a proper state subject are just two circles of the same hell."

Spring Showcase Trailer

Hong, who gained international attention for his 2000 feature "Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelor," delivers "Yourself and Yours," his take on romantic comedy.

Hu describes the female lead in the program notes: "Minjung could be a romantic, a liar, a drunk, a twin, or a mere figment of the male narcissist’s imagination. She could be of sound mind or she could be of many. But tell that to the men in her life, from a boyfriend who can’t tolerate the rumors he’s been hearing about her public intoxication, to the passerby on the street who can’t help but pause to tell her they swear they’ve met her before. As the men cycle through, their insecurities and possessive self-importance are refracted through Minjung’s prism-like identities, creating a delightful game of mis-recognition and awkwardness that make her a classic Hong Sang-soo heroine."

But as the showcase is about to kick off, Hu told me that he is most excited about the "Right to Resist: From 9066 to 2017" series on Sunday.

"We've been wanting to do a series on the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066 for a while now," Hu said. "But with the Japanese incarceration back in the news this past year, and with the travel bans and Muslim registries talked about with seriousness and hate in the highest levels of our government, we felt it was necessary to not only draw attention to what happened 75 years ago, but what also happened 16 years ago with 9/11, and what's happening today. We've curated a selection of four features and four shorts that explicitly tell stories of resistance against discrimination conducted through the excuse of 'national defense.' We can't think of more important work we can be doing today."

Mystery Kung Fu Theater On 16mm Film

Another highlight I always look forward to is Mystery Kung Fu Theater where you have to put your absolute trust in Hu to pick something amazing because the film is not revealed until it unspools on the screen. And it will indeed unspool this year.

Credit: Pac-Arts

Mystery Kung Fu Theater returns to the Spring Showcase. The title of the film is not revealed until the first 16mm images unspool on the screen but it will be old school martial arts and there will be blood.

"In the spirit of Mystery Kung Fu Theater, we have mysteriously procured a bunch of 16mm prints, and some of them are martial arts films, and many of them I have never even seen before because they are that hard to find, and a lot of them have never been digitized so we’re excited to play one the 16mm prints at our Spring Showcase," Hu explained.

I went to the last Mystery Kung Fu Theater on 16mm, and it was a joyous event. I also got to see the impressive 16mm projector Jon Miller had to rig at the theater, which just made the whole event unique and memorable. All Hu will reveal in advance is that the film will be old school martial arts, and there will be blood. I cannot urge you enough to take a gamble on this and experience something you cannot find anywhere else.

Hu is also pleased to show "Gook," which was the most challenging film for the showcase to book.

He said, "We're thrilled to close the showcase with 'Gook,' which just world premiered at Sundance. It was especially important for us to play it on our closing night, which is just two days before the 15th anniversary of the LA Rebellion. The filmmakers are scheduled to attend, and we really look forward to a conversation about what that moment means for the greater LA community, which includes Asian Americans."

Also of note at the Showcase is Steve James' new documentary "Abacus: Small Enough to Jail," which follows the legal battle of a Chinatown bank fighting against the Justice Department, and the North American premiere of the new documentary "Sunday Beauty Queen" about overseas Filipino workers in Hong Kong and the life they bring to each other and all of Hong Kong.

Once again the Spring Showcase will host a tantalizing array of films Thursday night through Thursday, April 27 at the Ultrastar Mission Valley Theaters.

Check out the digital program book here.

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