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'American Dreams' Reveals the Struggle of the Asian Immigrant

Movie Review

April 02, 1999|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Under the title "American Dreams," Margin Films is releasing two intimate documentaries produced and directed (with his subjects) by Spencer Nakasako for the National Asian American Telecommunications Assn. The first is "A.K.A. Don Bonus," in which Nakasako and Sokly (Don Bonus) Ny, an 18-year-old Cambodian refugee, chronicle with camcorders his senior year at San Francisco's Galileo High School.

There's a very real chance that Sokly won't graduate. And no wonder: He is pretty much on his own, stuck in a housing project where six Southeast Asian refugee families are subjected to harassment and worse by their resentful African American neighbors. Sokly's father sacrificed his life as a decoy to the Khmer Rouge so that his family might escape to America. His mother has remarried and is rarely around. His younger brother, Touch, frightened for his life, refuses to stay in the projects, which leaves Sokly alone in a derelict unit with his grandmother, his sister and her children. His older brother, once head of the family, has married well, moved to an expensive suburb and has started a family of his own while working and attending college.

Despite his disintegrated family life, Sokly tries to be optimistic; he has a circle of friends but little direction. Events start reuniting the family, but Sokly's future seems highly uncertain even if he manages to get the diploma he says he doesn't deserve. Since "A.K.A. Don Bonus" was shot in 1992-93 you have to wonder what has happened to Sokly since then.

For the more complex and involving "Kelly Loves Tony," Nakasako turned over a camcorder to Kelly Saeteurn and her boyfriend, Tony Saelio, to record 18 months in their lives. At 17, Saeteurn is a bright, pretty Oakland-area resident, graduating from high school and looking ahead to college. But earlier she had met Saelio, a beefy 24-year-old ex-con, who, like her, is an Iu Mien refugee from a hill tribe in Laos, and has become pregnant by him. What emerges is a portrait of an articulate young American woman who is caught between two cultures with conflicting values and priorities. It also suggests that the camcorder has allowed both Saeteurn and Saelio to unload their feelings freely and thereby better communicate with each other. "Kelly Loves Tony" illuminates much in a mere 57 minutes.

* Unrated. Times guidelines: language, adult themes and situations.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

'A.K.A. Don Bonus'

A Margin Films release of a National Asian American Telecommunications Assn. production. Producer and co-director Spencer Nakasako. Videographer co-director Sokly (Don Bonus) Ny. Executive producers Deann Borshay, Janice Sakamoto, James Yee, Wayne Wang. Editor Ruby Yang. Production designer John Paino. Art director Jim Donahue. Set decorator Rona De Angelo. Running time: 56 minutes.

'Kelly Loves Tony'

A Margin Films release of a National Asian American Telecommunications Assn. Producer-director Spencer Nakasako. Video diarists Kane (Kelly) Saeteurn and Nai (Tony) Saelio. Producer-editor Wendy Wank. Running time: 57 minutes.

Exclusively at the Grande 4-Plex through Thursday, 345 S. Figueroa St., downtown Los Angeles, (213) 617-0268.

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