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From Raymond Chow To Current Asian Cinema
Cinema Junkie / November 8, 2018
Legendary Hong Kong producer Raymond Chow died earlier this month. This podcast pays tribute to his legacy with San Diego Asian Film Festival artistic director Brian Hu. Plus we get a preview of the 19th annual festival.
Welcome back to another edition of listener supported KPBS and I'm a junkie podcast on Beth Accomando.
Today's podcast comes to you earlier than usual because the San Diego Asian Film Festival kicks off tonight. And I wanted to talk about it's opening night offering as well as to talk about the passing of a Hong Kong Legend. Raymond Chow so what better way to do this than to have the San Diego Asian film festivals artistic director Bryan who come on the show and discuss both okay. If you don't live in San Diego I know you might be thinking why should you listen to a podcast that's going to tempt you with offerings that you won't be able to see.
But you don't have to live in San Diego to appreciate the offerings of the film festival or this podcast because who highlights films that you can seek out streaming. Find them at art houses or maybe find them on DVD or Blu ray. But I will confess there are a few that might be near impossible to see outside of a film festival venue. Plus you might want to get some insights into the challenges of running a film festival or find out about trends in Asian cinema or maybe make a list of filmmakers that you need to watch.
So join me on a journey through Asian cinema that begins by paying tribute to one of its towering figures.
Raymond Chow died earlier this month at the age of 91. He launched so many careers including Jackie Chan Bruce Lee Jetly John Woo and he left his legacy of films. Since you program for the Asian Film Festival here in San Diego I wanted to talk to you a little bit about Raymond Chow and kind of what he means to the industry.
Give me a little background on who he was and how he kind of came to be this producer of Hong Kong films.
Well when he first started out it was the heyday of siob brothers and siob Brothers was the face of the famed studio based in Hong Kong that was taking over screens all over the world with especially with martial art films and reman tchau kind of he kind of looked in to his his. And what it became later his fortune was he signed on an actor that Shaw Brothers didn't really know what to do with.
He was looseleaf.
So it's not just that he sense that there's something special in Bruce or that Bruce the be movie star. It's also he knew how to market in New York sell him both domestically and internationally.
So that's really his legacy.
He did the Bruce Lee of course. You know there's no one like him. But what Raymond Chow did was he realized Well yeah when Bruce Lee. I can't just make Bruce Lee movies and Bruce Lee only made a few films just in his in his prime. And what Raymond shouted was he created a format and a familiarity with that famed Golden parvus logo that got the entire world buzzing about these films and that really stole the thunder away from Star brothers and revolutionized not just Hong Kong cinema but with Hong Kong cinema means internationally as a part of world cinema.
I still can remember those tones that hit when the logo for Golden Harvest comes on. Yeah as a kid growing up in the 80s that's the only local perform movie I remember it wasn't really that I was into.
Asian cinema that much as a kid growing up in L.A.. But something about Bell logo.
When nihilo came on I was I felt like I was in good hands. And I think for Flaca for an action fan that that Golden Harvest logo is as important as the lions or for MGM or you know the the Pixar logo with the hopping desk lamp like it has that kind of stature. And the legend to it.
So in looking at his body of work he worked as a producer he didn't direct he didn't write but did he leave a particular mark or brand on the films that he produced.
Well I think the him as someone who's behind the scenes is the one who's funding it and greenlighting films. I think he he he created a format that was particularly conducive to just making as many movies again. I mean it takes a certain kind of investments or risk taking to say that's a format. Now if I can make dozens of films per month and how many of those need to be hits for me to sustain this. Once you figure that calculus out then you can run with it. And of course not all Golden Harvest films were hits a lot of them are not very good but when you have that kind of scale that where you you're pumping out these films at such velocity that some of them are going to be life changing but also means that you have to give filmmakers a lot of chances to try new things.
Like if you're just a directors only making one movie a year you're probably going to stick to the script. If you're making two movies a week or something like that probably won't be a script. And as a result you have to be creative in new ways. Like maybe if it's not on the script maybe you have to think about this visually or how am I going to fix this and in post-production or how am I going to encourage my actors to act in a certain way that's going to fit this new. So my improv isn't improvisational mode of production and Dreman show created that opportunity and that to me I is what revolutionized Hong Kong cinema.
Eighties in particular when you have just the most inventive approaches to cinematography and special effects and even to acting which doesn't get a whole lot of credit in Hong Kong cinema. Raymond Chow created the terms in which this could be possible.
Are there other stars and directors that people might be familiar with that he helped launch we mentioned Jackie Chan who followed after Bruce Lee and Jetly and I believe John Wu did his first feature film with Raymond Chow.
Are there any other people that people might recognize golden Jarvis's imprint is so deep in Hong Kong cinema that I'm actually not sure which ones are theirs and which ones are now called unharvested and also because these stars and directors worked with so many companies. Yeah I mean Jackie Chan is one that really was a very much a golden harvest person from the beginning. Pretty much anything the 80s.
Would do you think his influence has been on Hong Kong. And are we seeing a legacy today that is reflected from kind of the groundwork or the foundation that he laid back in the 80s.
I mean sadly I would say Hong Kong cinema is going in a different direction. If Raymond Chow was interested in films that were like let's just go make it doesn't matter if we don't have all the cash or the script isn't ready yet. Let's just make it and see what happens and our ingenuity will guide us. And now that Hong Kong cinema is becoming more and more intertwined with mainland cinema there is a sense that everything has to be controlled more not just in terms of the obvious like you to submit your script to the censors like those that kind of control of course but also just a sense that there's more at stake.
There's more money to be made now because that market is so huge. Let's not mess this up so everything. Every project now is a lot more Hollywood in. Everything's contractual everything is you know like has to be calculated. So that sense of let's just go do it even if we don't know what the consequences are. That's kind of disappeared. But for the decades of Hong Kong's sort of its heyday the 80s and 90s that imprint was all over the industry and all these other studios most of them which came and went just that they were trying to capture that spirit that Raymond Chow created.
Do you have a favorite one or two films that he produced.
So for me it's not a one or two films but it's the series of films that Jackie Chan Samel Hong and Young Biala means. Welcome to Barcelona Spain. Costa. International action superstar. Jackie Chan. With. Simon. Former a. Mistake. For. Meals on meals. Is a giant sight helping I'm. Thrill.
And mostly for sentimental reasons like meals on meals just like these are the movies that before I knew what a subtitled movie was.
I was watching these movies like my Mandarin and Cantonese is good enough to watch these films but when I was a kid these were the first time I saw subtitled and realized there were subtitled I somehow figured out the story and I was just totally totally enraptured by what's going on visually and also just the charisma of these stars. So so I think for me it would be those that that series of films they made in the 80s. It's nothing like them.
Now love is like the pinnacle of that era. I remember discovering those films on LaserDisc.
Watching them yeah watch them on like we would go to these Chinese video shops that would have them on dual VHS tapes and because they charged double if you just put any film onto tapes and you pop it in and go and harvest logo comes on and you know that's what else can you ask for.
I remember putting some of those movies on and just the sound of the logo would draw my son out from his room to take a look. Like what are you watching. Yeah. As I mentioned you are a programmer for the San Diego Asian Film Festival and the artistic director for it. So when you are programming a festival like this what are you looking for when you're curating these films. How do you kind of tackle this task of distilling all of Asian cinema down to ten days worth of films.
So I think books keep talking about human Chow because I think he set a certain format for how you can be innovative in and how you can kind of hide your films can be addictive to people and that's what I'm looking forward in programming. So first of Riemann child made films that were very popular and I think for a lot of us outside of Asia in the 90s just thinking about all these films that people love everywhere else how come we can't see them. So is something about seeking out the box office hits of other places not just the art films.
I think we in America were pretty good at finding art films and films about reality from other countries and they play in the film festivals. But somehow the mainstream side has been neglected. And so that's one of the things that we try to aim for with our phone Film Festival we care about what's popular in Asia. We care about what people are laughing to and gasping to all around the world and with countries like China and India these are the most populous countries in the world. These are really the films that are as big as as industries as Hollywood is.
So let's find out what's in there. So there's that side of it. And then the Raimon show has a side which is you know every every film has an opportunity to kind of rewrite the rules for him like how how to pull off the special effect. We don't have Hollywood money. Let's make it up. And are there films like that now. Are there filmmakers who understand the limitations that they have. But we are going to transcend them and in doing so show the audience that are seen before. So I'm looking for that as well.
And and those cases often these are by independent filmmakers who have not had a chance to get eyeballs in their home countries let alone elsewhere. It's a really rare chance to try to pick up on the most innovative filmmakers of our time.
Well one way you kind of really keep the Raymond Chow spirit alive is through a little sidebar you do of mystery kung fu theater and I know you can't reveal titles that you show. But I do want you to talk a little bit about the fact that you sometimes screen them on 16 millimeter.
Yeah and something about 60 millimeter. It's not quite 35 millimeter. Like we obviously we sort of film 35 millimeter like we would have to pounce on the opportunity. That's how these movies were meant to be seen. But something about 60 millimeter that it just looks a little bit more battered and are like this print spin around and it's not pristine but we all understand as the audience that we're lucky to see these films at all and it kind of adds a certain aura to it. I can divulge that this year.
We have a 60 millimeter print. We found a way to also procure a 60 millimeter projector at the altar store which doesn't normally have a 16 millimeter projector. We'll see what happens when when the shutter starts to flicker and the media in the projection booth you realize how much we've missed this. I remember when we had the chance the film won from celluloid to digital.
We noticed how still everything is now it doesn't. There's no shaking this shaking of the projector. And so now when you watch something in film you're like wow I can't believe movies used to be this alive.
It's moving front of me and we want to recapture that magic and although not everybody gets to travel to the projection booth the rig that is set up by your projectionist is amazing and it's got huge take up aerials that the film can play out and it's it's a work of art in itself just to see the projection booth in action.
Yeah. Now we're really lucky to have John Miller our projectionist who can like Raymond Chow as he sees it as if we have the sixth. We have the 60 millimeter print. We have no projectors for it will either not show this film or we can invent something that will allow us to play it and he literally invented this device it doesn't exist anywhere else.
Well the thing about mystery Kung theater is that you are all in a theater together. These films tend to be kind of old school kung fu movies the kind of thing Raymond Chow might have produced and the ability to see that in this communal kind of environment where everybody is doing and I sing and getting to the edge of their seat at the same time is really fun.
And you have all kinds of people in the audience some who you know like they've seen countless kung fu films. And part of the challenge is trying to show them something they've never seen before. But also what I love about that audiences they will pick up on who the stars are. They might recognize the director and they'll know a lot of tropes so they know what makes whatever we show either similar or different and they respond accordingly. And then you know people who have never been exposed to this odd corner of film history for them to feel a little bit like who everyone here seems to know what this is.
How come I and then just wanting to be indoctrinated into this it feels like a secret society. And that's what we want to create with this and this idea that you can't tell what once you see the film you can't divulge to the world what it was like you're a part of this. You're part of this club now and I love the way that the audience comes on feel some ownership over this. They feel like this is for us. And I feel so lucky that we have an audience like that.
Now a title we can divulge that carries on this spirit is a detective film by Troy Hawke who's an amazing action director from Hong Kong. This one we can talk about and it does something which I can't believe I have not seen yet which is martial arts in 3D.
Yeah I mean for Harcus such a brilliant director of 2D. Yes he knows when to makes action go up down left and right. And to surprise us with it. So what if you just give him extra an extra access to move on and and it's not just throwing things in our faces.
Like I think that's what we're expecting. Like just the gimmick of 3-D why don't we would if we threw some arrows at the audience and there's a little bit of that but I think he has such a sense of magic that when things are thrown at us sometimes like is it a real thing is it. And it is a fantasy it's not just the martial art film it's also about it's about magic. That's one of the themes of the film. And so we're also what's also being launched at us are physical objects that may or may not be there.
And it's really a work of art in that sense he's use it a lot utilizing this extra dimension to to have us imagine the world knew just the way his 2D films did.
And this is really the only way for this movie to be seen and his 2D films pretty much leapt off the screen as well I have to say. Those were some of the earliest ones I was exposed to from Hong Kong cinema and some of those just make your eyes pop.
Yeah. So who knows.
Well we're going to be transported to this when you break up the festival in two different sections to kind of help guide people through the films and one that's always a joy to experience is the Masters because these are filmmakers who have proven their craft and you look forward to pretty much everything they do. What is it like curating from these masters. What films are you picking from this year in which masters are you showcasing this is the easiest action.
It's sort of like if you've got a new Picasso someone discover a new Picasso. It could be the worst Picasso ever. Like we should probably show the world that people are going hunger to find out and well obviously if any of these directors that we consider are masters of Asian cinema made a less than average film I would think twice about playing it. But they're masters for a reason and they make my job very very easy. Like someone like Jafar Panahi who he doesn't make movies. Actually he's been pretty prolific lately.
He's famously had a filmmaking ban put on him for his political views because of his outspokenness about politics. And after that filmmaking Brown he's made more films than ever and so each film we also feel like is very precious. Like what is he going to show us this time that's breaks that becomes a critique of of the institutions of cinema because he's been told you're not allowed to make films anymore and then the first thing he makes up for his band is called. This is not a film. And since then he's he's not just explored himself as a creative person but also what are the lines of cinema that I can cross.
Sometimes the lines between fiction and documentary and this one definitely as it's called Three faces but it's also a look at women in the running film industry and kind of the lines that they have to navigate in a kind of conservative society when it comes to things like gender. And so it's of a fascinating experience. But then you also have directors like Cynthia Tsukamoto who years ago wowed us with films like Tatsuo back when he was sort of just kind of flying off the seat of his pants just making whatever starring his own movies.
And now that he has a little bit of a bigger budget now that he's kind of understood to be a master like was he going to do when he could make a samurai film and we were a film called Killing which is like that and these structures were their careers are a lot of fun to track and we like to see ways in which there are consistent themes and styles that that we have come to appreciate but also like where they're going to take their careers. Well we have about a dozen of these.
And the easiest films to choose for national festival and some of these masters like Kiyoshi Kurosawa make films that are not quite as traditional as maybe some of the others in his films. The reason I love his movies is they tend to be more about kind of mood and atmosphere and harder to kind of put your finger on exactly what the narrative of the plot is because that doesn't seem to be the primary concern of his movies. And you have a new one from him this year.
Yeah this one's called Jotaro foreboding. It's actually the TV version of a film we played of his last true cult before he vanished. But I think this new ones even it was originally five hours or so on television but he cut a feature length version that's just a little bit over two hours and it's alien invasion movie but it's alien invasion movie with. If I'm correct has no special effects. I mean I think that might be a little bit but he's really interested in how people react to the kind of odd situations that are brewing around them.
The uncanny feeling you get when you see somebody and you wonder is that a person or is that an alien and he explores what you're talking about like that tone to him that is way more frightening than what you can conjure through a lot of effects of murder or usuals frights that you might get from a alien invasion movie for him always the fright that the scariest rights of all are the ones that we kind of control our minds and he's a master of just creating and he's just quiet.
I don't know. There's a tone he creates that just puts you kind of on edge but not in the way where you're jumping at something that like pops out of the dark or something. Right. And he he dread maybe. Yeah but the uncanny.
I think that's thinking about him like what is going on. Am I seeing this right. Because sometimes you get that feeling when you're watching his films.
And yet the alien invasion story is kind of a perfect one for him and I'm also looking forward to creating new film shoplifters which just won at the Cannes Film Festival. He's another director who has a mastery of tone and style that's kind of this quiet not in your face style at all but a very kind of elegant way of of crafting a film.
This one is about a family kind of living below the radar and they steal. I mean they shoplift petty foods and their household equipments that they share and that's how they get by. And so this could easily become you know like a cute little family comedy. It could also be just sort of a damning portrait of reality in Japan but somehow tonally it's it's impossible to pin down. Last few few years create as me a lot of films that have been charming domestic comedies with you know they are grounded in reality.
But before that he made some hard hitting realist portraits like nobody knows. And this film is some been calling it the best film of his career. It really marries the grittiness of of nobody knows with the charm and Ficken of family love of his recent films.
And it's it's heartbreaking but it's also just it makes us look a family a new and makes us wonder kind of how to how do we define family now kind of the flip side or the other extreme of masters would be your discoveries one which is people filmmakers and films that people might not be familiar with in any way. So how difficult is that to kind of under these gems.
This will be the hardest thing because it's like the Cannes Film Festival isn't really interested in these movies. They are they like the films by the famous directors or by all that are produced by famous directors whereas we don't want to just show the ones that were playing the big film festivals although there are something here that played big festivals. This is what we do the most research and some of these came through our open call which is incredible. And some of them are filmmakers we've been tracking for a long time and we've seen them start from having very very little resources and now they just have slightly more resources.
And we see the development of their wild ideas about about film and how you can evoke news sorts of emotions Bittles experiences through film and and these are we're going to find the future masters and one of them. I mean he's ready he's on the cusp. His name is began. He made a film called Long Day's Journey Into Night which is also in 3-D. So if Choi Harch is taking advantage of the fact that you can make a lot of money in 3-D in China began as real as I can make a movie that is not going make a single dime on the box office.
But I can use 3-D as just another tool in my arsenal of filmmaking. And the first half of the film is in 2D and at one point in the movie you are triggered to put on your 3-D glasses which will provide for us for the audience and the movie takes off from there with some of the most stunning camera work I've ever seen in any movie. And he's taking chances in New ways than ever seen before and that's the spirit. The discovery section of all these films are going to be you know absolute masterpieces but.
But you get the sense that they are masterpieces in making with these with these artists. And that's a different and a joy than you might get from the M.S. which is all these films come to us fully formed.
Well this is I guess the area where if you want to be a little more experimental and gamble on something this is where you want to go.
Yeah so for instance I mean we have a film called The Return which is about's Korean adoptees around the world. And so the filmmaker decided well she is an adoptee herself from Denmark. And so half the film is fiction half of it is documentary and it's interwoven in a way that you can't quite tell what the boundaries are between the two. And as a result the fiction scenes are imbued with a sense of realism that you wouldn't have otherwise. In the meanwhile the documentary scenes come to life in a way that you only expect from fiction films.
So those are the kinds of experiments that we're talking about in this section.
You also have a category of special presentations which contains a film that I had not heard of and is one of the wildest craziest films I've seen.
It is intimate now. We introduced Blow's.
Legend of the Stardust brothers. This is not a new film but it's kind of a discovery in a different way. Tell me how you found this and kind of how it kind of resurfaced for people.
Yes so you absolute there's nothing like this out there. It's hard to even describe it it's like they've been trying to describe it as like Rocky Horror meets thriller. MICHAEL JACKSON Yeah but it's not quite so it's it's got a lot of De Palma's fans of the Paradise little Repo Man. Maybe yeah but it's but it still feels fresher than that. I mean that gets its mixing together a lot of different elements of popular culture but it's also of like very kind of Japanese aesthetic to Japanese humor. It's zany. And yeah.
And they don't care they're just there they want to put it all in there. And for me it's like it's a precursor to what we would find in the early 2000s with films like funky forest and taste of tea that are really kind of gone over it's like weird from Japan.
But this is 1985 and it's also in the spirit of my friend makes music.
I make movies what happens if we just work together and make something so it feels like the 1980s in a way that's nostalgic for like the late 70s maybe so like layers of nostalgia layers and layers of pop cultural references.
This new version of it. It's a new restoration and a new digital preservation of it. We don't really know. Slash is going to make the protest like the third or fourth festival in the world to play this since it was it was on earth and first presented just a few months ago.
So we'll see if it becomes the potential cult classic that it's destined to be come out and see for yourself and see what you decide. It's crazy. Yes.
It's got music at sky high and it's just unpredictable monsters and it's every hunter there's anything that they love yeah.
Another thing that pops up in this festival in particular is this sense of food and family.
And you have a number of films that are going to make people salivate and want to run out and grab a meal right after the film. Maybe you should watch it before the film so your stomach doesn't growl through the whole movie.
I mean we watch movies with our bodies. Some of you forget that like we watch a movie when we want to have goosebumps or we want to laugh and or we want to see things in 3-D that make us flinch or we have virtual reality in the full vessel for you for the first time. We want films that make you turn around and for a film to make us salivate. I think it's perfect. This is what film is destined to be. It's a move our entire bodies and move our bodies into reconsidering new ways of empathy.
Like if you're hungry with a character you're kind of identifying them in a different way and with little force hoping to film it's about a young woman who from the city she goes back home to the countryside where she grew up and it's she's trying to reconcile her relationship with her mother by remembering the foods that her mother cook added to still become a pussy.
As a tool she did.
When I knew too that Asians love food and family is a big part of our lives. But we also recognize that I think we live in a golden age of food discourse. People love talking about food and we want to borrow people's adventurousness when it comes to food to their adventurousness about film and what better way to do that than to have some food movies the little forest was a surprise hit the box office in Korea this year started by Jim Sunia who has for many years been the most prominent woman director in Korea.
And she's not very well known internationally and we think that's a shame. So not only are we letting her with this film role playing one of her classic films the day after. So it's really a way to spot her. But the food component to us is significant because we don't want our audiences just to watch these movies and say oh this is a culture of faraway. That there's a way that we as San Diego can immediately get the excitement that is delivered in the film through for instance local restaurants local restaurants might not have the kinds of foods that are being portrayed in the film because the food's in there are rather exotic if you will I mean like they're they're they're not foods you normally get at a Korean restaurant.
So we challenged local restaurant tours to say hey can you what can you make that's inspired by the food in the film. But localize it and make it significant to us in San Diego. Ingredients we have here and they love that challenge too.
And then you're closing night one is Japanese. So ramen shop. It's another journey that person takes to kind of reconnect with family. And I am not one for sentimental movies generally speaking and I usually kind of wince at them as being too saccharine. But when you kind of pare the emotionalism with food where the food is the thread that kind of takes people back to these memories. I don't know why but it just kind of I fall into that much more readily. Maybe it's because of my background. I always say I come from the three best cooking countries because it's like my grandfather's Chinese my grandmother's French and my other grandparents are Italian and I go.
Those are all countries that value food but sometimes our memories of these cultures that precede us like we don't actually know them that we're not that familiar with them. They say that the first Asian American Film Festival that as the generations go on like if you're here in the United States for X number of generations the last words you lose are food words. So it's like somewhere in the back of our cultural memories is food. And sometimes we sort of repressed it. And so I think our connection to art that kind of that is like exceeds our logical understanding of culture in the world.
It becomes aroused when you see the food on screen and it reminds us of things that we didn't even know we had memories of. And the film explores that in some way the family histories that are yet to be excavated. Uncle.
Tenny teach me how to cook books. I wanted to bring rock to Japan.
You're not here for a young man then but could they be noisy. You know.
I always think about my cooking and your bucket and food is what does it for the characters.
Before us it also makes us hungry to understand our relationships with our family members but also across cultures too. It's really it's the film we need now like like that to think about how we can easily shut off our the baggage that we bring the political baggage and social baggage and just share a meal together. OK. So. Those. Are the rates.
You must choose.
Fresh one fresh one you see here blah blah blah blah blah. Every time you talk about boiling. Point. Yes. OK. OK. So. The. Day. You eat one. Of. These wonderful. Fresh. Also blah blah. Blah blah day. By day by by. Bringing. Springing springing.
Up first. Viola Wow. Yes. So let me see fresh eyes and then you must put them up from malicious Sagawa. Just walking is the best. Because anybody who saw you eat a lot inside your body or come up. Oh yeah. And ozone garlic. Garlic garlic always look like you.
Instructed by one of Singapore's great contemporary directors and he was commissioned by a Japanese institution to say hey let's make a film about Singaporean and Japanese friendship. And once again we think about friendship across cultures somehow food just reminds us of how we can shed a lot of the baggage whether it's cultural baggage or in this case a lot of strange colonial imperialistic baggage from Japan in World War II and to think about families that have crossed both nations and hand how food can remind us of families we left behind family members we didn't know as well and we can seek Happy Endings through being able to eat together.
And I think that's something a lot of people can identify with.
You also mentioned that you want to see films that are popular in other countries and kind of bring them over here for us to share so you have an Asian pop section which is dedicated to these kind of films.
Soules it's not that we know what everyone else in the world is like what their imaginations are and what their hopes and dreams. These aren't these aren't the most realistic movies. But that's not really why we watch movies anyways. I want to. We want to see more than just our reality. But of course through films that are fantastical or about how we dream love it's to be it does tap into something that's very authentic which is how do we yearn for more. And this happens in Hollywood happens in Asia for sure.
So we have a on the surface this ridiculous comedy called Big Brother starring Danny and Danny as he played it man. I mean this is the action star of his generation and he plays a high school teacher. And so imagine like sort of like he has a former Navy SEAL mixed with dangerous minds but in Hong Kong. And it seems absolutely ludicrous and a lot of it is except he realized this this is the film it's very very serious about our adolescence going through in high school. And sometimes you just need somebody to come and literally kick convention out of the out of the room to remind us that you know like I mean we've lost something about ourselves.
If we are sticking to the script of education system or was it mean to be a good or a bad son or daughter or. And then there's some facts about race so much more. But it all gets imagined through kind of action lunacy. Yeah. So it's to us this is as authentic as you know the the worlds that credos tapping into in these masters films.
You also have a section called Asian American panorama and one thing about this kind of interesting I think is that you followed some filmmakers this year. You have a film by Mendoza as you've shown more than one of his films but it's kind of like I feel like we've seen him grow up as a filmmaker through the festival.
Yeah it is a great example of that and we've seen his career stretch from musicals to ghost movies and now this is a well this is a hard one to describe it. It's it's it's a domestic drama but it has cult horror elements or are unnerving elements.
Why do you keep trying. Mean if you so bad why do you keep.
Gave me that Glenn. If it weren't for me. I would have kicked him out of the house. Really. Don't get me. Oh really. Of course I would.
Why would you kick him out of the house because it's mean he's violent and he scares everybody. But means stopping you from taking. But she needs that I didn't have that. Look at how well I turned out and I feel so guilty. Of what. Guilty about what I don't know us. You.
Like him. Everybody's scared of him. Even his own daughter.
You don't like him either.
Why do you keep on asking all of us. I don't think your friend. Made people's lives better. Everybody's life worse.
So it makes everyone's life worse. Buddy we'll miss him. The world would be a better place without him. Why don't we kill Troy.
Glenn. That's sick.
How would we do it. So we had to see him develop as a develop you know the more tools for his craft but also that director is like let's just mention that his film is bitter melon so people can look for it and then a director like Patrick Wang in 2011 we played some in the family we were the first film festival to accept any of his works. He's since gone on to becoming an award winning filmmaker and we're honored that he thought of us to play his new set of films called the bread factory which is an ode to community theater.
And that's Patrick's background and Sulick. All the topics that are of interest to him too. As a storyteller somebody joked that not only joke but like why can't an Asian American director be in the master section like we've already followed their careers in a way that's like we're clearly like we will show anything by them because we want to see where they're heading. So there's that film because we discovered when when they're making short films so we've really seen their careers expand. And then there were just these filmmakers in there who we've never seen to work at all before.
And what is American cinema. You never know if this is going to be their first and last movie because they're just not a huge market for films like this even though well we are here with our film festivals that this should be part of anybody's diet of film consumption. I don't like the food analogies galore. And yes every film in this week we cherish because we know how hard it is for an Asian American director to have that opportunity let alone to make something that we think is well worth watching by just anybody that we want to help build their careers to want to tell them you have an audience and we go out of our way to find audience for them.
And often these are this is the section where audiences want to come back because they watch films in the Asian American Panorama section. They see things that reminds them of their own families or their upbringings or that they know friends who have gone through similar things and they really realized how you can find these slums anywhere else in the world. Is a pop section Awesomes might end up on Netflix Monday. The M.S. will be the Asian American parrot.
These are really opportunities to cherish and in programming the festival have seen changes in terms of kind of what Asian film festivals around the country are focusing on or how they're kind of curating films because it seems like over the years there seems to be less of a need to push Asian American films that are strictly about the search for identity because there is more representation. So have you seen kind of the makeup of these Asian American Film Festivals changing over the years.
Yeah we don't often see very many films about's who am I like that used to be that's the cliche of Asian American cinema. I'm stuck between two worlds. And there are films like that to but best of these films like we are a film called Fishponds that has an element of that to me stuck between the world that my parents expect of me and kind of what I am going through outside of the home. But it adds another layer of identity politics through LGBT stories and how that complicates that question. But the sums are not about identity at all it's just about what people are doing and that's what Asian Americans do regardless of whatever cultural conundrum they're going through is still significant and unheroic and whatever.
And we have them called blowing up. This is a documentary about a judge in New York City and it's about how she's trying to work with some grassroots organizations to create a program so that if you are coming through her court and accused of a sex crime that there is a pathway to clearing to being fully on all the charges to be dropped and to get you in some kind of a program that can get your life together and she happens to be Japanese American. There are some scenes where she talks about Japan but has something to do with her her work as a judge.
But what will her work as a judge is so incredible that that Insaaf is worth documenting. But also when you realize that she is a Japanese American and most of her people are going through her courts are either black or or undocumented immigrants from China that this a kind of maybe subliminal empathy going on that that doesn't get elaborated on explicitly but we feel it.
And that's beautiful too.
Have you seen any trends or anything in Asian cinema recently. Any place any hotspot where a country just seems to be suddenly producing stuff where they weren't. I mean for a while we got. I remember when the raid came out it felt like we were seeing something fresh and new.
I mean there isn't like a place that feels untapped. We've shown films from kind of all over the world from another from heaven in an Asian Western. This year the Philippines continues to be one of the more exciting places for filmmaking in the world. From Poppy rom coms to documentaries to realists dramas on the ground. Like any other robust film industry there are bad films there too. What's the sense of possibility is existing there and we want to tap into it. The other place that's worth mentioning the Singapore which has been kind of on the minds of a lot of people in the film world this year because of Crazy Rich Asians which is Hollywood film mostly with mostly Asian American or Asian diaspora talent going to Singapore and telling a very very specific story of rich people in Singapore especially the specifically rich Chinese people in Singapore.
What the films that we normally get from Singapore remind us Singapore itself is so diverse and it's not just about rich people as much as about Chinese people. So our closing IFILM Rahman shop is about regular working class people in Singapore but also there are connections with places like Japan that Indonesian Western I'd mentioned Buffalo boys is actually attracted by Singaporean directors actually. Singapore's submission to the Oscars this year. So just a reminder that Singapore is also a hub for a lot of transnational filmmaking in the area. And then we have another film called islanded imagined which is like literally imagining what Singapore itself can be because it's about people who work on land reclamation literally bringing in dirt from places like Malaysia to continue to build this.
The surface area of Singapore and the imports workers from all over South-East Asia to work on the land that they are building using soil from other places in South-East Asia.
It is such a fascinating film and it's a film noir to film noir and it just won the Locarno Film Festival and yeah it's a real talent to watch as well as Singapore. This is a good year for them.
Yeah that was an amazing Comer's gorgeously shot. And you know talking about land reclamation it's it's this sense of you taking a Hollywood format of this film noir and transposing it into Singapore and kind of reinventing it in their terms.
Yeah and with that the people who lived there you have it in people you have Chinese people and it all comes to a head and a sultry way.
Are there any films as we wrap up that you want to make sure you highlight in case people want to check something out that might get lost in the shuffle.
OK I have I have to mention this one. It's for better or worse. One of the things that I have done at this film festival through the years is play movies that don't quite fit in any boxes. And so one of the things I've done in recent years is I've been trying to introduce Senegal audiences to the director loved Diaz who makes movies that are four or five hours long. Well this year I have even that beats the amazing documentarian Wong being from China who is in certain circles considered one of the great documentary filmmakers in the world.
He had a film at the Cannes Film Festival this year called Dead Souls. Most people I know who were at the festival did not watch this film. I went to a special market screening of it. Yeah not very many people in the audience because it's eight and a half hours long and it's about a pretty devastating topic. It's about the late 1950s and anti rightest campaigns and how China is basically imprisoned people who they thought were the enemies in these deserts far away and they starved and they resorted to cannibalism. And there was like How is this ever going to end.
Or what's what's what's going to happen to them. And so first of all I mean in China you don't really talk about that period. Yeah they choose to pretend it happened and now actually let people to know that something like that happened but they don't know the specifics of it. So what Wong did was while there's still a few people alive. I mean that was hard enough just to survive these camps let alone still be alive. Decades later if I have a camera maybe I should just go check some of these people don't ask them questions.
And he just lets them talk sometimes they are redundant sometimes they just ramble but there's something about watching them and these very very long takes and not chopping any of this up as if watching the director knows what's important or not and just knowing that this could be it. This is the archive. If I don't preserve these stories then we'll have to pretend that we know everything that happened and so we Swatis for 18 1/2 hours. And it's and in between interviews sometimes I'll just go into the desert with his camera and it's it's eerie it's ghostly.
You just this points the camera to the ground. And there's still bones there from the 1950s that people like they would rather not deal with the the the dead Vongfong instructors like this is if I don't and I don't know who will and serve. And for an audience member it's like if I don't watch this does it even exist. And not many people are going to have the time to watch it in half hour movie. And I totally get it if people go and watch two hours of it they're going to get something very very valuable.
If you watch one hour of it if you watch four hours it's only half of which is a long experience. And we want to make it available we're not doing this. We're expecting a packed house. We're not expecting to make money off of this but we want to make it available to same spirit. The one being said I just want to make this available and just with my camera that's the tool I have. And as a film festival our tool is exhibition. It's turning on the projector so that those who want this can find it.
And a warning is coming to our festival and I don't know what he expects but this is a rare opportunity to have truly a master of contemporary documentary meter audience. And I think it's going to be for those who who want experiences who can stomach it. I mean it's a tough watch. I think they're great. They're never going to forget this. So dead souls. I'm I'm very very proud of this one.
Well I think that's something that film festivals can do that people sometimes forget is that they're not meant to only show crowd pleasers part of the thing about a festival that I love is that that's the best place to show the film that's challenging that isn't going to find a place to be shown anywhere else. And this could be your only opportunity to see it.
Yeah. And I do believe it will please the crowd just the very very potentially very small crowd and maybe not the kind of pleasure we normally get. It's truly a deep kind of satisfaction and a sense of not sort of like oh I'm so proud of myself for watching this but like a I got something today beyond just like a pianist getting educated. To me it's not about being educated about being transported. And this film does that and that's a certain kind of joy to that too. And we want to give will give people opportunities to have to have all kinds of choices like this to film.
All right well I want to thank you very much for talking about the 19th annual San Diego Asian Film Festival and Raymond Chow. Thank you. That was San Diego Asian Film Festival artistic director Bryan who I can't believe I forgot to talk to him about the utterly charming and delightful one cut of the dead. It's an extremely low budget but inventive single take zombie film from Japan. The single take is actually only a 35 minute opening section of the film but where it goes from there is genuinely clever and fun. Thanks for listening to another episode of cinema junkie sorry the last two episodes have not dropped on the usual every other Friday schedule.
But I'll be back on track November 2013 with a podcast about Steve McQueen's bullet car and it's done drivers list of the best car movies to check out. So till our next film FX Beth Accomando your residence cinema junkie.
Satisfy your celluloid addiction with the Cinema Junkie podcast, where you can mainline film 24/7. This film and entertainment series is run by KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando. So if you need a film fix, want to hear what filmmakers have to say about their work, or just want to know what's worth seeing this weekend, then you've come to the right place