Saturday, October 17, 2009

GROWING, DIEING, FREAKY: PRE-WEEKEND WOWS, WOES AND WHOAS

It’s two days into the festival and the emotional tug-of-war has already started. With the opening night film, CHILDREN OF INVENTION, directed and written by Tze Chun, it revealed that Chinese kids could act.

The above may sound like a weird statement but I’ve been watching Chinese films since the 1970s and the one thing you can count on in Chinese movies is that when it comes to child actors and their characters, most of the children act the same way; they flash the typical pouting cheeked face and the whining puppy eyed look.

Look at Ronny Yu’s FEARLESS (2006) or Chen Kai-ge’s THE PROMISE (2005), in both films the Chinese child actors played their respective characters in exactly the same way, using the same way of line delivery and using the same faces that Chinese films have done for decades.

Of course what doesn’t help too is that in the old days, kids voices were usually dubbed by a handful of adult female dubbers who can do a great child’s voice, all the same.

But the child actors in CHILDREN OF INVENTION, Michael Chen and Elaine Cheung, showed a breadth and range of acting that maintained that standard cute as a button look but did so with a realistic helping of angst as one would expect children to show when a child is forced to become an adult when the real adults are screwing up.

The film follows the story of two children forced to make hard life choices when their unemployed single mother is trying to make ends meat but instead of doing a job well done, she is getting the raw end of several deals that is making mincemeat of everyone’s lives.

After the film, director Tsu Chun shared with the audience that 250 kids tried out for the roles and as he succinctly jokes, “All the kids started to look and act the same,” the decision to cast Chen and Cheung was based on their audition tapes from TRANSPORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN.

“In that clip,” Tsu Chun muses, “the kids were eating ice creams and then they had scream like they were being attacked by giant robots.” After the filmmakers believed that they were being attacked, Chen and Cheung got the roles.

The 25-day shoot was the result of a screenplay Tsu Chun wrote two years ago and although not on purpose, the story fitted right in with today’s economy making the hardships seem more real.

Last night I took in a very sad film, CROSSING, it reminded of a lot of Chinese kung fu films where at the end of the movies, everyone dies and it leaves you scratching your head saying, “What’s the point?” Because after you vest in these characters for over 100 minutes, you’re just waiting for something good or positive to happen…and it just doesn’t come.

So what is the point?

It’s the kind of film that makes you think that if the portrayal of the conditions in North Korea are even remotely like the way the film depicts, then something drastic needs to be done to solve just one of the many ills the world contains.

It’s about father whose wife is dieing ffrom tuberculosis and must escape to Communist China, earn money, buy the necessary medicine to cure her, then sneak back into North Korea.

Meanwhile, his 11-year old unemployed son must take care of his mother with no food or income, and then adding insult to injury, the kid gets arrested and sent to a labor camp because his father is coerced into defecting to South Korea.

Just like CHILDREN OF INVENTION, the two main child actors did such a believable and bang up job that if we could have gathered all the tears coming out of people’s eyes, it might have helped our city’s water shortage problem. It is was that believable.

But then to bring us back to the unbelievable was the opening film for the SDAFF new film program SDAFF Extreme, a collection of four, full-length films that are more far-out that the planet formerly known as Pluto. (BTW, in case you didn’t know, Pluto is not longer considered a planet.)

Part blaxploitation, part spaghetti Western and part chambara (samurai sword fighting film), AFRO SAMURAI: RESURRECTION is all Japanese anime.

Afro Samurai and his mudslide brother Ninja Ninja (both voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) are en route to find the holder of the second headband. In the wacky samurai world of Afro, whoever owns the second headband can challenge the holder of the first headband, but not before. The holder of the first headband is Sio (voice of Luck Liu), a deranged, sexy samurai femme fatale trying to resurrect Afro’s dead father and use the father to kill Afro.

What was engaging about the movie was picking out the various Japanese samurai films that had perhaps influenced AFRO SAMURAI. Parallels from the LONE WOLF AND CUB, WICKED PRIEST and HANZO THE RAZOR series came to mind.

When director Leo Chu and producer Eric Garcia were asked this question by an audience member they smirked and said, “Our major influences were from spaghetti Westerns.”

When I raised my hand an pointed out that Ninja Ninja sounded an awful lot like Donkey from the SHREK cartoons, their faces were taken aback. A few moments of silence later Garcia slightly winced saying, “You know, no one ever said that before, but now that you mention it, Ninja Ninja does sound like Donkey.”

I had to ass-k.

If any of you were walking around the lobby, you may have seen me with my wife Silvia who was giving Free Qi Readings and Free Qi Checkups. For the more than 55 people that came over for this totally rad experience, we thank you for being so open minded and hope that your health is better. We’ll be back in the lobby next Friday, Saturday and Sunday with more Qi Readings, bean detox and Qi twigs.

Well, it’s getting late, and like my butt that has been running around for the past four days getting ready for the festival and preparing for the event FIGHT SCENES AND FALL GUYS panel, of which I will be moderating tomorrow, Sunday October 18th, 2009, I am a wee bit behind in the blogging. But beware, after tomorrow night, the deluge shall begin.

Peace, Love, Brotherhood and may the Qi (chi) be with you.

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