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Arts & Culture

San Diego Asian Film Festival: Finishing the Game

Lin is no stranger to San Diego. He attended UCSD and had his independent feature debut,

Better Luck Tomorrow play at the 2002 SDAFF. Lin says festivals are important because "you get to sit in on the screenings, see how people react, and have Q&A discourse afterwards. The thing that's great about festivals like SDAFF is that it's volunteer based. These people work very hard because they believe in bringing in unique points of view into their communities. Plus it's nice to come back and see how much these festivals have grown."

When Lin was here in 2002, the festival showcased dozens of films and drew a few thousand attendees. This year, more than a hundred films from a dozen different countries will be screened with an expected attendance of 15,000 people.


George Lin, associate director for the festival, says SDAFF sought out Finishing the Game as their opening feature because it sets the mood of the festival -- being humorous and hitting on Asian American issues, as well as the state of Asian Americans in mainstream media.

The idea behind Finishing the Game has its roots in Lin's youth. Lin saw Bruce Lee's film The Game of Death , and was puzzled by the fact that for much of the film there was a double for his beloved star.

Send in the clones... the audition to replace Bruce Lee in Finishing the Game (IFC) &

"I was ten," Lin recalls, "I didn't understand the notion of a body double. So when I watched The Game of Death, there's Bruce Lee for a few scenes, and then this other guy walking around for about sixty minutes. I was totally confused. Eventually I found out the back story behind The Game of Death -- that Bruce Lee had died during the filming and had to be replaced -- and I was always intrigued about who was this other guy and how did he get the job?"

Lin's Finishing the Game speculates on how someone might have gone about finishing The Game of Death with only twelve minutes of footage with its star. Lin's film follows a group of Asian American actors in the '70s as they vie for the role of Bruce Lee's double. You could say Lin creates a real documentary about a fake subject, or wait, is it a fake documentary about a real subject? Lin resists the label of "mockumentary" because he says he uses real documentary techniques to tell his story and doesn't cheat the way such famous mockumentaries as This is Spinal Tap and Best in Show do. But whatever it is that Lin has created, it's frequently hilarious as the actors suffer the indignities of large casting calls.


Lin had originally wanted to make this after Better Luck Tomorrow but couldn't pull the project together. So he ended up doing a pair of big budget Hollywood movies -- The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and Annapolis -- instead.

"I think Finishing the Game benefited from me having gone through the studio experience," Lin explains. "The theme of the movie shifted from being about identity to being about denial. In Hollywood, you see denial everywhere and on so many different levels. Often in order to gain success many resort to being something that they are not and living in denial. At the same time you have to have a sense of humor about it or else you'll just get eaten up. The film also became more of an insider's view of the film industry."

Working on studio films had some other unexpected benefits.

"I did have the advantage of having relationships with studios and prop houses," Lin says, "and there was no way we could've done a period piece for the money we had without their help. We literally had sets that were from You, Me and Dupree . Kodak came in and really helped us with the film stock, and Panavision came in and basically let us use the camera. Those are relationships that I didn't have on Better Luck Tomorrow and to have these people step up and really help us was gratifying."

Filmmaker Justin Lin (IFC) &

Lin says he appreciates being able to move between studio and independent films: "I mean when you do a credit card movie and go into six-figure debt -- then to do a studio film, it really does help you. It was the first time in my life I felt like I could be creative without having to worry how much it was going to cost. But it's very clear when you are making a low budget film that money is not the currency, the currency is passion. The people who come on board have to believe in the project because there's nothing else to offer except the script. But doing the big budget Hollywood movie is kind of the opposite, you actually have a lot of money but you're trying to get everyone hyped up when they get to work because money is the currency in that situation. You have the best people in the world but you have to get them motivated to have fun with it."

As with Better Luck Tomorrow, Finishing the Game tackles Asian stereotypes in a fresh manner. Better Luck Tomorrow featured Asian honor students who engage in extracurricular criminal activities. In Finishing the Game , the Asian American characters are not exactly role models.

"I'm Asian American," Lin states, "and I'm very sensitive to how people see each other and see me but as a filmmaker. But I'm more interested in people who are flawed because we're all flawed. The reality is that we're not black or white, life is about grays and that's what interests me as a filmmaker."

SDAFF's George Lin adds, "Justin has been conscientious of Asian American issues and has cast Asian Americans even in his big budget studio films. In Finishing the Game , he returns to his independent film roots and makes a film that is bold but reaches out through humor, satirizing and subversively criticizing Hollywood stereotypes."

And that's one of SDAFFs goals -- to challenge stereotypes and present a diverse array of Asian and Asian American films. Their line up for this year's festival reflects that. There are shorts, features, and documentaries from both local and international filmmakers.

More information about the festival schedule and purchasing tickets is available at or by calling 858-565-1264. The festival runs October 11 through 18 at UltraStar Mission Valley at Hazard Center (7510 Hazard Center Drive). More on other festival films tomorrow.

Check out the Finishing the Game MySpace site.

Companion viewing: Better Luck Tomorrow , Game of Death, Enter the Dragon