Seattle International Film Festival set to begin

By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly

The Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), running from May 15 through June 8, always brings fascinating Asian films to our town, many of them not available for viewing elsewhere. Here are three preview picks for the first few days of the festival:

“Monsoon Shootout,” playing May 15, 17, and 19, is from Indian director Amit Kumar making his first feature film. It dwells on Adi, a police officer played by Vijay Varma, who obsesses over, chases, and finally corners a notorious Indian hit man. In only a fraction of a second, Adi must decide whether to pull his trigger. The rest of the film’s action proceeds before, after, and around this defining moment. And each of Adi’s choices produce — or could produce — a different future.

Varma, a charismatic young fellow from the Indian city of Hyderabad, marks this as his third feature film. Most of the other cast members are also younger actors starting out in India’s voluminous film industry: Srijeeta De as Geeta, Jayant Gadekar as Patil, Tannishtha Chatterjee as Rani, and Geetanjali Thapa as Anu.

“A Time in Quchi,” playing May 18, 19, and 20, is from Taiwanese film director Tso-Chi Chang.

Unlike Kumar, Chang has made several films in his home country, although this may be the first look that Seattle audiences get at his work. The central character, a boy named Bao, finds himself in unfamiliar territory when he’s sent to live with his grandfather for the summer.

Bao finds his new surroundings nearly intolerable. He’s stymied by the lack of cable TV, but unlike earlier generations of boys in his predicament, he finds solace in a computer tablet. But non-electronic life proves much harder. He’s never sure whether the country kids are his friends or are just using him as laughing stock. And while he isn’t completely aware of it at first, his parents are negotiating a divorce. The cast includes Liang-Yu Yang, Yun Loong Kuan, and Ya-Ruo Lin.

Unlike the other two directors, Taiwan’s Tsai Ming-Liang, whose new feature “Stray Dogs” plays May 21 and 25, has both a long list of films to his credit and a substantial following, amongst critics and cineastes, in the United States. Several of his earlier films, including “I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone” and the mind-blowing “Goodbye Dragon Inn,” came to Seattle courtesy of SIFF.

Ming-Liang’s films will almost certainly never be popular with the general audience. They move very, very, very slowly, and long sections can pass without dialogue. In “Goodbye Dragon Inn,” my pick for one of the finest films in the last 15 years, a woman simply sits, frozen, for what seems like an eternity. But the director draws you in and makes you move to his rhythms. When the woman finally decides to take action, the release of tension is superior to and more devastating than most onscreen gunshots or CGI explosions.

“Stray Dogs” is about an alcoholic father and the addiction that destroys him and his family. It is about pain, suffering, coping, and, ultimately, strength. So much of Ming-Liang’s work is about comparing and contrasting strength and weakness in startling, poetic juxtapositions.

Finally, “Awake: The Life Of Yogananda,” playing May 18 and 19, chronicles the arrival to the West of the man credited with spreading yoga from the East. Directed by Paola di Florio and Lisa Leeman, this documentary tells the fascinating story of Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952), a native of India who came to America in 1920 and formed the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) to spread yoga and meditation practices.

The SRF still exists and it bankrolled the film, so it’s hard to tell how impartial the final results will be. But “Awake” combines archival footage of its subject with the words and experiences of followers through the decades. (end)

For more SIFF details, show times, and venues, visit

Andrew Hamlin can be reached at

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