The Asian Weekly at the movies — Staff picks for SIFF 2013, part two

By Staff
Northwest Asian Weekly

Each year, the Northwest Asian Weekly sends a team of intrepid film reviewers to the Seattle International Film Festival to pick out the best Asian and Asian American films. Starting this week and running through the end of May, we will be reviewing our picks for the most interesting APA films at this year’s SIFF.
Directed by Don-ku Lee
Reviewed by Andrew Hamlin

First-time director Don-ku Lee financed “Fatal” by handing out flyers on street corners and working as a bathhouse attendant. With a total budget of roughly $3,000, “Fatal” qualifies as a “micro-budget” film, but the lack of funding isn’t nearly as interesting as what Lee does with what he has.

The film traces the sad story of Sung-gong (played by Nam Yeon-wo), a nervous and insecure boy who’s fallen into the midst of several school bullies. He takes part in a horrifying gang rape of a drugged teenage girl, Jang-mi (Jo-a Yang), trying to leave the scene several times, only to be pushed back by the others who are stronger than he is and are perfectly willing to use violence.

The film then flashes forward 10 years, and the sadness is compounded. Sung-gong is still being pushed around by many of the same people. He holds a menial job sewing clothes, and he seems resigned to his fate. Director Lee demonstrates an almost-frightening insight into bullies and how they bully, slowly, systematically, lacing their abuse with streaks of reason and even flickers of compassion, but returning always to the shove, the kick, the push, and the verbal assaults.

Sung-gong discovers Jang-mi alive and well enough on the surface, attending and volunteering at a local church. He falls in love with her and is determined to right the wrong done 10 years before. But because Jang-mi can’t remember exactly who raped her and Sung-gong can’t bring himself to tell the story, all of their encounters — no matter how charming — happen under false pretenses.

The audience eventually understands — even if Sung-gong doesn’t — that life is messy, unpredictable, and that Sung-gong’s wishes for revenge and redemption won’t necessarily win him what he wishes. He’s made the mistake, actually, of assuming that revenge, no matter how bloody, will automatically bring him redemption. And that’s a rare, perceptive revenge scenario indeed.

“Fatal” show times:
June 5 at 4:00 p.m. at SIFF Cinema Uptown
June 6 at 9:45 p.m. at AMC Pacific Place 11 Land of Eb
Directed by Andrew Williamson
Reviewed by Andrew Hamlin

Director Andrew Williamson’s first feature film takes place among natives of the Marshall Islands, displaced by the nuclear testing that the United States conducted on the islands between 1946 and 1958.

The director’s masterstroke, however, is to never show the Marshall Islands themselves. The family and community he follows go through their lives in the Kona District of Hawaii.

The script, by Williamson and co-writer John Hill, follows Joseph (played by Jonithen Jackson). As the film opens, Joseph, a middle-aged man staring down old age, overhears his doctor on the phone to another doctor. They suspect Joseph, who has a history of cancer as so many Marshall Islands people do, might have a large tumor growing inside him. Joseph takes a note from his family doctor — a note that will allow him to see the specialist. Then he crumples it up and throws it into the empty seat beside him in his truck. He’s a busy man, and the specialist can wait.

Joseph’s “business” turns out to be supporting his large, multi-generational family any way he can.

Mostly, that’s picking coffee beans, but he’ll take any kind of work he can get. He rarely complains and always works hard. We learn about his family, as we watch them live, play, and occasionally quarrel.

Joseph talks to his relatives back on the Islands through a radio — at least, when he can get the radio working.

The family’s strong sense of community contrasts with the ignorance and distrust they feel outside that community. Hawaii is no island paradise for them. It’s simply a refuge, where they’ll take what they can get and hope for a better life than they’d get back home. The film is a quiet, well-etched portrait of a people stranded outside their own lineage. (end)

“The Land of Eb” show times:
May 28 at 9 p.m. at Harvard Exit
June 2 at 8:30 p.m. at AMC Pacific Place 11

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