NWAW at SIFF this week: the inspirational and the sad

For Asian-themed films at SIFF this week, please select links below to download:

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“Boy,” New Zealand (2010), directed by Taika Waititi
Reviewed by Andrew Hamlin

Half Jewish, half Maori director Taika Waititi created a sensation in 2007 with “Eagle vs. Shark,” a romantic comedy with a decidedly New Zealand twist. The funny accents (to American audiences) and the presence of Jemaine Clement, a member of the comedy duo Flight of the Conchords, assured plenty of amusement. For this new film “Boy,” Waititi takes a central role himself, with mixed results.

The movie opens in 1984, with a Michael Jackson-worshipping New Zealand kid called Boy (played by James Rolleston). It’s a little odd to be called Boy, admits Boy, but then again, he’s got three friends named Dallas, Dynasty, and Falcon Crest (American TV clearly reaches to some parts of their country). Boy’s mother died giving birth to his younger brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu), but he lives with a large and mostly happy extended family. He likes to pretend his father isn’t in prison, but his father (Waititi) is, in fact, in prison. Then suddenly, his father isn’t in prison anymore.

“Boy” ultimately sports too much lassitude and unevenness to qualify as a great film. As a director, though, Waititi excels at merging adult sensibilities into the young children’s fantasy lives. As an actor, Waititi convincingly sketches a man who’s a legend in his own mind. The destructive force of dad’s egomania strikes at the film’s end, but it’s hinted that love, and imagination, will conquer all.

IKEA Performing Arts Center, Thursday, May 26, 6:30 p.m.
Neptune Theatre, Saturday, June 4, 6:30 p.m.
Neptune Theatre, Monday, June 6, 4:30 p.m.

“Karate-Robo Zaborgar,” Japan (2011), directed by Noboru Iguchi
Reviewed by Andrew Hamlin

“Karate-Robo Zaborgar” has a hero with a motorcycle that turns into a robot samurai warrior. His primary nemesis, Miss Borg, has another motorcycle, which also turns into a robot samurai warrior. Miss Borg takes her orders from an evil high-tech despot with a cyborg eye, who flies around in a huge airship resembling a certain portion of the human anatomy. The movie also features a robot that spits acid from its mouth and its scorpion-styled tail. Another peril to the hero is the Bulldog Car Robot, which shockingly enough is a huge car, huge bulldog, and huge robot rolled into one.

With the above as a description for what’s in the movie, I probably don’t have to tell you much about what happens. Superhero robot fights abound, moving almost too fast for the human eye to catch.

Scantily-clad female cyborgs reflect director Noboru Iguchi’s background in soft porn. The last portion of the film, however, happens 25 years after the events. Oddly enough, the finale finds thoughtful things to say about aging, faded glory, and the search for a purpose in life. The finale won’t make you forget about the robot motorcycle, bulldog car, acid, karate wars that came before. But it gives you something to think about as the lights go up.

Egyptian Theatre, Friday, May 27, 11:55 p.m.
Admiral Theatre, Monday, May 30, 8:30 p.m.
Neptune Theatre, Wednesday, June 1, 9:30 p.m.

“Littlerock” USA (2010), directed by Mike Ott
Reviewed by Jason Cruz

This awkward but compelling story situates a Japanese brother (Rintaro) and sister (Atusko) stranded in a small, rural town of Littlerock, Calif. Their rental car breaks down during a site-seeing tour of the state.

The two tourists are on their way to San Francisco and Manzanar (to visit the World War II internment camp), but their unexpected stay exposes Atusko to the freedom of the town’s youth. As a result, she extends her stay to her brother’s chagrin as he goes forward with their original plans.

Although she cannot speak English, Atusko seems drawn to the slacker culture of the small town and befriends a group of directionless youths in their 20s that spend most of their days hanging out, smoking, and drinking. While there is a language barrier, Atusko joins the group, and the local males are drawn to the “exotic” youth from Japan.

Despite not knowing English, she observes the personalities of the small town and recognizes the problems underlying each person she encounters.

The movie has similarities to “Lost in Translation” starring Bill Murray, but in “Littlerock” Atusko attempts to navigate American culture without the ability to communicate through language. Rural America is depicted as having a hometown, inclusive feel and as a place of despair where youths wish to escape but do not know how to leave. The movie also touches upon issues of race in this predominantly white town.

There are no subtitles for Atusko as she uses her native Japanese with the townspeople although they do not understand her. This gives the audience the chance to experience the frustration of not knowing what is said and relying on body language to understand. “Littlerock” shows how people have the ability at times to communicate with each other without words. And other times, they are unable to communicate even though they need to connect.

Harvard Exit Theatre, Friday, May 27, 9:30 p.m.
Admiral Theatre, Saturday, May 28, 3:30 p.m.

“Marathon Boy” India (2010), directed by Gemma Atwal
Reviewed by Jason Cruz

This documentary tells the story of Indian-born Budhia Singh and the quest to become a running phenomenon. From the slums of India, Singh is born to an abusive, alcoholic father and destined to live the life of a beggar. His mother sells Singh at an early age, and he is eventually taken by a local Judo coach, Biranchi Das, who runs an orphanage for slum children. Discovering Singh has a knack for running, he grooms Singh to become India’s greatest runner with hopes of competing in the Olympics.

The documentary follows Singh from age 4 as he embarks on incredible, if not inhuman, endurance runs. Within six months of training, Singh runs 20 half marathons (13.1 miles each) and in a year of training, he runs 48 full marathons (26.2 miles each).

The amazing feats by Singh gain praise and iconic status from the Indian onlookers that cheer him on as he passes. However, there are distressing images of Singh after he finishes a difficult 65-kilometer (40.3 miles) run in extreme heat. As Singh convulses and vomits from heat exhaustion, the adults in charge look helpless and deny that he is suffering physical trauma. This is when local child welfare officials step in to charge Das with cruelty. This might be the appropriate measure, but for the intimation that the government officials might be corrupt and are seeking to gain notoriety from the boy.

Although a documentary, the story plays out like a drama with surprises throughout. One learns of betrayal, corruption, and exploitation surrounding the boy.

Director Gemma Atwal provides the viewer with unfettered access to all of the major players, which gives the audience a disturbing look behind the fight for the marathon boy.

Admiral Theatre, Monday, May 30, 1:00 p.m.
SIFF Cinema, Sunday, June 5, 7:00 p.m.
Egyptian Theatre, Wednesday, June 8, 4:30 p.m.

“Saigon Electric,” Vietnam (2010), directed by Stephane Gauger
Reviewed by Jason Cruz

“Saigon Electric” tells the story of two young girls trying to live out their dreams in modern day Saigon.  Mai is a naïve girl from the countryside hoping to be admitted into the national dance academy as a ribbon dancer.

Kim is a rebellious hip hop dancer belonging to a local crew with dreams of making it big. When Mai is not admitted to the dance academy, she stays in Saigon with Kim, rather than returning home to face the shame of her family. Mai is embraced by Kim’s dance crew as they prepare for a contest that could land them a chance for fame and fortune. However, the community center, where the crew practices and many of the crew call home, is threatened to be destroyed by a developer.

In addition to preparing for the hip hop competition, Kim falls in love with a wealthy boy who promises her a new life that could lead her away from her hip hop family. Mai begins a romance with the leader of the hip hop dance crew. Also, Mai must deal with her angry landlord, a music professor who is dealing with alcoholism.

Instead of using their fists to solve disputes, the local crews breakdance. The movie has its share of hip hop and techno beats as the Vietnamese youth in “Saigon Electric” adopt the American hip hop culture, from the music to the baggy clothes to the breakdance moves of the 1980s.

The movie is reminiscent of dance movies of the past, where an out-of-place dancer adopts her surroundings, falls in and out of love, and comes together with her newfound friends for a common cause. In the end, there is an entertaining dance off in which Mai and Kim’s crew squares off with its rival. While formulaic, “Saigon Electric” has enough energy and interesting characters to make it a movie to check out. ♦

Neptune Theatre, Saturday, May 28, 7:15 p.m.
AMC Pacific Place 11, Monday, May 30, 3:00 p.m.
Everett Performing Arts Center, Wednesday, June 1, 6:30 p.m.

Jason Cruz and Andrew Hamlin can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

Don’t forget to check out …

“Late Autumn” South Korea (2010), directed by Kim Tae-Yong

After spending the past seven years in prison for killing her abusive husband in self-defense, Anna is granted furlough to attend her mother’s funeral in Seattle. On the bus, she meets Hoon, an escort escaping the wrath of a client’s jealous husband. Anna provides ticket money for this attractive and charming stranger, and the two sit near one another for the duration of the bus ride …

Filmed in Seattle, you can catch glimpses of such neighborhoods and sites as Ballard, Fremont, and Ride the Ducks as backdrops for this intriguing tale of chance and human connection.

Asian-themed films at SIFF this week:

A Barefoot Dream (South Korea): An inspirational David and Goliath tale of a former professional soccer player, who coaches kids from East Timor.

  • AMC Pacific Place 11, Thursday May 26, 7 p.m.

Bruce Lee, My Brother (Hong Kong): The movie traces the early years of kung fu legend Bruce Lee’s life, from the perspective of his brother, Robert Lee.

  • Neptune Theatre, Friday, May 27, 7 p.m.
  • Neptune Theatre, Saturday, May 28, 1:30 p.m.
  • Everett Performing Arts Center, Tuesday, May 31, 9 p.m.

Dance Town (South Korea): A North Korean woman forced to flee to South Korea after her husband is arrested, and struggles for freedom.

  • Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center, Monday, May 23, 6 p.m.
  • Harvard Exit, Monday, May 30, 9 p.m.
  • Admiral Theatre, Wednesday, June 1, 9 p.m.

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (China): A trip-roaring martial arts movie about the disgraced forensic genius Detective Dee.

  • Neptune Theatre, Wednesday, June 1, 7 p.m.
  • Egyptian Theatre, Monday, June 6, 9:30 p.m.

Grandma, A Thousand Times (United Arab Emirates): A documentary movie about Teta Kaabour, an 83-year-old family matriarch and the sharp-witted queen bee of an old Beiruti quarter.

  • SIFF Cinema, Thursday, June 2, 4:30 p.m.
  • Kirkland Performance Center, Friday, June 10, 5 p.m.

Late Autumn (South Korea): A convict returns home for her mother’s funeral. She strikes up an unlikely relationship with an escaped escort on the streets of Seattle.

  • Harvard Exit, Sunday, May 29, 6:45 p.m.
  • Egyptian Theatre, Tuesday, May 31, 4 p.m.

Outrage (Japan): When the leader of Sanmo-kai Yakuza found out that one his lieutenants has made an alliance with a rival drug-dealer, retribution is swift and brutal.

  • Everett Performing Arts Center, Friday, May 27, 9:30 p.m.

Pinoy Sunday (Taiwan): After discovering a couch on the streets of Taipei, two Filipino migrant workers embark on a comic journey.

  • AMC Pacific Place 11, Thursday, May 26, 4:30 p.m.

Red Eagle (Thailand: Two detectives work with a political activist to track down a violent masked vigilante known as the Red Eagle.

  • Neptune Theatre, Friday, May 27, 10 p.m.
  • Neptune Theatre, Sunday, May 29, 1 p.m.

Rosario (Philippines): Based on a true story, Rosario is a lush, tragic saga about the price a woman must pay to follow her passions.

  • AMC Pacific Place 11, Saturday, May 28, 10 a.m.
  • AMC Pacific Place 11, Monday, May 30, 6 p.m.

The Bengali Detective (India): A comedy documentary about Rajesh Ji, a man with a fierce purpose, whether it involves serious sleuthing or coaching a dance routine for a ragtag team.

  • SIFF Cinema, Thursday, May 26, 7 p.m.
  • Everett Performing Arts Center, Saturday, May 28, 6 p.m.
  • Kirkland Performance Center, Friday, June 3, 7 p.m.

The Hunter (Iran): An explosive thriller set in 2009 in Iran, about a man whose family is killed in the crossfire between the police and protestors.

  • Admiral Theatre, Wednesday, June 1, 6:30 p.m.
  • Egyptian Theatre, Friday, June 3, 4 p.m.

The Majority (Turkey): A young man rebels against the brutish authority of his father after a girl he meets opens his eyes to a different way of life.

  • AMC Pacific Place 11, Tuesday, May 31, 7 p.m.
  • AMC Pacific Place 11, Wednesday, June 1, 4:30 p.m.
  • Kirkland Performance Center, Saturday, June 11, 3:30 p.m.

The Stool Pigeon (Hong Kong): Desperately needing money to repay his debts, petty criminal Ghost agrees to become an undercover police informant.

  • Neptune Theatre, Sunday, May 29, 10 p.m.

    The White Meadows (Iran): A fast-paced horror movie about a quiet man travels to remote islands collecting the tears of the grief-stricken.

    • Egyptian Theatre, Thursday, June 2, 7 p.m.
    • Kirkland Performance Center, Saturday, June 4, 6 p.m.
    • Neptune Theatre, Wednesday, June 8, 4:30 p.m.

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