NWAW reviews SIFF films: romance, intrigue, and the bizarre

Each year during the Seattle International Film Festival, we send out a team of intrepid film reviewers who are ready and willing to spend hours watching movies in order to help our readers pick out the ones that may interest them the most. This is what they’ve come up with:

“Au Revoir Taipei”
Reviewed by James Tabafunda

Lovesick Kai (Jack Yao) feels he must win back his ex-girlfriend Faye, who lives in the City of Light — Paris.

Before he goes on the 6,100-mile-long trip from Taipei, he makes regular evening visits to his local bookstore and sits on the floor to read several French language instruction books. He meets Susie (Amber Kuo), a polite but lonely bookstore employee.

By day, Kai works at his parents’ noodle restaurant and finds that he doesn’t have enough money to pay for his travel expenses. His best friend Gao (Paul Chiang) has more important things on his mind.

One of the restaurant’s regular customers and a neighborhood gangster, Brother Bao (Frankie Gao), offers Kai the money he needs. But, there’s one condition: he must deliver a small package once he arrives in Paris.

Brother Bao is under the watchful eye of both his gangster-in-training nephew Hong (Lawrence Ko) and a police detective named Ji-Yong (Joseph Chang).

Chinese American screenwriter and director Arvin Chen’s debut film explores how one night can alter the lives of different people. It’s filled with just enough subtle humor to make the point that if Kai leaves both Taipei and Susie, he will really miss out on true love. Amber Kuo’s acting skill is one of the film’s highlights.

“Au Revoir Taipei” show times:
June 6 at 6:30 p.m., Pacific Place Cinema
June 7 at 4 p.m., Pacific Place Cinema
June 12 at 6 p.m., Kirkland Performance Center

“Crossing Hennessy”
Reviewed by James Tabafunda

The tradition of matchmaking is examined in this film set on well-known Hennessy Road in Hong Kong’s Wanchai district.

Loy (Jacky Cheung), 42, works with his widowed mother Mrs. Chiang (Paw Hee Ching) in an appliance and electronics store.

He goes on a blind date with 30-year-old Oi Lin (Tang Wei), who works with her uncle and aunt in their bathroom fixtures business. At first, there is no attraction between Loy and Oi Lin.

To complicate matters, he learns that his ex-girlfriend Ho Hee (Maggie Cheung) is recently divorced and wants to rekindle their relationship. Oi Lin, on the other hand, wants to help her boyfriend Xu (Andy On) start a new life with her once he is released from prison.

Romance involves another generation as Mrs. Chiang hopes to develop a relationship with her co-worker Ching (Danny Lee) even though her older sister (Mimi Chu) is dating him.

The romance between Loy and Oi Lin is based on earned respect, common interests, and a sense of humor.

Screenwriter and director Ivy Ho does a good job in presenting the first two of these elements, but he falls short on the third one. His script tries to suggest that a sense of humor is key to their relationship, but it also adds several scenes of frustration between the two main characters. This romantic comedy is simply too weak in the area of comedy.

“Crossing Hennessy” show times:
June 10 at 7 p.m., Pacific Place Cinema
June 11 at 1:30 p.m., Pacific Place Cinema

“Khargosh”
Reviewed by Jason Cruz

“Khargosh” (Hindi word for rabbit) tells the story of a young boy’s initiation into the adult world of love.

Set in a sleepy village in India, Bantu, a 10-year-old boy is friends with Avneesh, a young man in his 20s. The two bond over flying kites and visiting the market. One day, Avneesh spots the girl of his dreams. Bantu serves as a messenger for a budding relationship between Avneesh and a beautiful young woman. He runs (like a rabbit) back and forth delivering messages written on scraps of paper between the two.

As the relationship between the two moves beyond exchanging notes, Bantu becomes expendable. At the same time, Bantu realizes his affection for the young woman.

Lacking subtitles, a non-native speaker misses the dialogue between the characters. Even though speaking is sparse throughout and you can gather the plot from the action of the characters, you are left feeling like you have missed out on a part of the story. What are not missed are the scenes between Bantu and the young woman, which are striking as body language between the two could be interpreted many different ways.

Director Paresh Kamdar places the film in a dreary, anonymous town, which illuminates the action of his characters. The deliberate pace of the movie is indicative of the theme of this story. However, the plot is one everyone has seen before, with minor twists. Essentially, we see what everyone has gone through while growing up: a first crush. Billed as a coming of age film, “Khargosh” depicts the loss of innocence through Bantu’s eyes as he realizes feelings he never had before.

“Khargosh” show times:
May 30 at 1:30 p.m., Uptown Cinemas
June 1 at 9:30 p.m., Egyptian Theatre
June 6 at 3:00 p.m., Kirkland Performance Center

“RoboGeisha”
Reviewed by Jason Cruz

In this cheesy comedy set in Japan, two sisters working in a geisha house are abducted by a young leader of a local steel company. He has secretly assembled an army of robot geisha girls devised to assassinate male businessmen, political leaders, and anyone else that gets in his way in his conquest for world power. As he transforms the sisters into enhanced robot killing machines, the sisters vie for his attention. However, when the sisters are pitted against one another, they must decide whether to destroy one another or unite against a common enemy.

Director Noboru Iguchi’s film does not skimp on the obligatory bloodletting, unrealistic violence, and number of bare midriff RoboGeishas. Iguchi pokes fun at the stereotypical demur geisha with this depiction of scantily clad killers with weapons in places most would not look. A gratuitous (and overdone) fight scene opens the movie, and you are left wondering what the purpose was. This becomes a theme in this movie.

It was hard to determine whether the film makes a serious attempt at gore or it is a campy ode to sex and violence. Admittedly, it was hard to take the film seriously when reading the subtitles, which must have been verbatim translations of Japanese lines. The fight scenes give off a comedic, low-budget, B-movie feel on purpose. The same can be said for the special effects (or lack thereof). The squirting and spewing of fake blood was a common occurrence throughout the film.

“RoboGeisha” is a light-hearted and entertaining film. If you can look past the unrealistic and unexplained plot twists and the not-so-special effects, you will have an entertaining time.

“RoboGeisha” show times:
May 28 at 12 a.m., Egyptian Theatre,
June 8 at 10 p.m., The Neptune Theatre

“When We Leave”
Reviewed by Tiffany Ran

Umay (Sibel Kekilli), a young Turkish woman, escapes from her abusive husband in Istabul and returns with her young son Cem (Nizam Schiller) to her family home in Berlin. Umay’s refusal to return to her husband tarnishes the name of her entire family. Her father Kader (Settar Tanriogen), the stern patriarch, struggles to enforce traditions due to the love he feels for his daughter. Umay’s mother, Halime (Derya Alabora), is unable to accept her daughter’s decision to rebel against the traditions she so willingly submits to. Her brother, Mehmet (Tamer Yigit), exhibits unwavering cruelty toward his sister to protect the family honor. Umay is pushed out of her family as her decision begins to affect their family standing within the Turkish community.  She is unable to accept her family’s rejection even as she starts a new life as an independent woman.

An eye-opening view on domestic violence complicated by hard-fast traditions, this film will break your heart every step of the way. This is a film that ethnic communities throughout the world can relate to — depicting the silent, unspoken issue of abuse and conflicts between modernity and a long-standing patriarchal structure. Director Feo Aladag skillfully weaves silence into the film. With much of the film unadorned by music, audiences are forced to witness blatant violence, absorb tension, and acknowledge the fragility of Umay’s independence. In films where the protagonist is greatly wronged, it is easy to demonize the wrongdoers.

However, Aladag takes a sympathetic look at the degenerating effects of abuse on an entire community. The film is rich in character development and sensibly captures the inherent weakness in aggression, cruelty in love, and vulnerability in times of strength. The amazing cast, thoughtful storytelling, and sensitive approach makes this film an unforgettable story. ♦

“When We Leave” show times:
May 27 at 6:30 p.m., Pacific Place Cinema
May 29 at 4 p.m., Pacific Place Cinema

For more information or to buy tickets, visit www.siff.net.

Jason Cruz, Tiffany Ran, and James Tabafunda can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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