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Festivals Showcase Asian Pacific Film Treasures : Movies: Two major events this month display the region's films but point up the paucity of theatrical outlets, a situation that may be changing.

May 07, 1994|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The ninth Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film and Video Festival will open May 18, establishing itself as the largest event of its kind in the country. This year's edition will showcase 112 works, including nine features in their American premieres and three more in their West Coast premieres.

Sponsors are the UCLA Film and Television Archive and Visual Communications, an L.A.-based Asian Pacific American media arts center.

Meanwhile, the 14-year-old Hawai'i International Film Festival will present, for the first time in Los Angeles, its sixth annual Asia-Pacific Film Tour. It will stop at USC Sunday through Friday as part of an 11-city tour to display six recent features and four video documentaries focusing on Hawaiian history and culture.

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If these festivals attest to the growing awareness of the Asian Pacific cinema, they also call attention to the paucity of such films in local theaters. The old warning regarding foreign films may still be true: Festivals may be your only opportunity to see them. Yet happily this may be changing.

In a near yearlong experiment, from April, 1993, to March, 1994, Rim Films, a subsidiary of Raymond Chow's Golden Harvest Productions, booked one of the screens at the Monica 4-Plex with only Hong Kong product. Golden Harvest ultimately decided to refocus its priorities, which include launching into Southeast Asian production, and got out of exhibition. It did prove, however, that there is an audience, mainly younger and racially and ethnically diverse, for Asian Pacific pictures. As a result, some of the more venturesome small distribution companies are considering taking a chance on Hong Kong product; no doubt they will be looking upon these two festivals with interest.

For nearly eight decades, except the World War II years, Los Angeles was never without a Japanese-language theater, and by at least the '60s those films were always presented with English subtitles. The long-defunct Toho La Brea attracted a largely non-Asian audience, especially when it presented samurai movies, and over the years such sadly missed theaters as the Kabuki, the Kokusai and the Little Tokyo Cinemas attempted to attract crossover audiences.

This has never been the case with the Chinese-language theaters, several of which continue to thrive without making any effort to reach beyond the Chinese community. Filipino films haven't had a local showcase since the Linda Lea on Main Street for at least a decade, and the Indian cinema, which at various times has had its own local showcases, has been co-opted by the near-instant availability of its films on cassette. Unsubtitled Korean films have been a staple at the Four Star Theater for years, but only with the recent "Two Cops," presented at the Vista (because of earthquake damage at the Four Star), has there been an attempt to reach non-Korean moviegoers.

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The irony of these vicissitudes in exhibition is that the Asian Pacific cinema has as rich and varied a heritage as the American and European cinemas, especially the Japanese, who have been responsible for some of the greatest films made anywhere. It therefore seems a safe bet that both festivals will have their own treasures.

Hawai'i Film Festival director Jeannette Paulson has been especially impressed with Xie Fei's "The Women From the Lake of the Scented Souls" (USC Norris Theater, Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.), a strong women's drama that just happened to be UCLA's Asian Pacific Fest closing-night attraction last year; "Southern Winds" (Norris, Monday at 5 p.m.), an anthology film with contributions by four Asian directors dealing with the common theme of changing Asia, and "Act of War" (Norris, Friday at 8 p.m.), a video documentary, made collectively, on the 1893 U.S. invasion of the independent kingdom of Hawaii.

Along with a retrospective of a selection of '30s films by Yasujiro Ozu, one of Japan's greatest directors--his 1952 "Tokyo Story" is a staple of all-time best lists--UCLA/Visual Communications' offerings span "Canadian Tales," short works by Canadian Asian Pacific filmmakers, to the experimental work of Yoko Ono and a series of contemporary Korean films.

The opening-night attraction is Huang Jianxin's "The Wooden Man's Bride" (UCLA Melnitz, May 19, 7 p.m.), a folk tale about a woman forced to marry the wooden effigy of the man she was betrothed to, from the maker of the controversial "Black Cannon Incident."

Also from China: Zhang Yuan's "Beijing Bastards" (Laemmle's Grande, May 20, 9 p.m.), described by film historian Tony Rayns, an Asian Pacific specialist, as a "seemingly free-form portrait of rock-generation kids in the city."

Chung Ji-Young's "White Badge" (Melnitz, May 21, 7 p.m.) is the first Korean film to depict the experiences of that country's Vietnam War veterans, 300,000 of whom fought alongside U.S. troops. Also highly touted is Beat Takeshi's Japanese gangster picture "Sonatine" (Melnitz, May 24, 9 p.m.).

"Sopyonje" (Grande, May 24, 7 p.m.), Korea's biggest box-office hit ever, is a sad tale focusing on the itinerant pansori singers of the '50s-- pansori is akin to the blues--made by Korea's most celebrated director, Im Kwon-Taek. Carlos Siguion-Reyna's "I Will Wait for You in Heaven" (Grande, May 25, 7 p.m.) transposes Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights" to the Philippines in the present.

Closing the UCLA/Visual Communications festival on May 29 at 7 p.m. in Melnitz Theater is Hong Kong filmmaker Clara Law's "Temptation of a Monk," an allegory set in the Tang Dynasty that deals with two imperial princes scheming to succeed to the throne.

* Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film and Video Festival, (310) 206-FILM; Hawai'i International Film Festival 1994 Asia-Pacific Film Tour, (213) 740-3334.

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