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Asian Pacific Festival Offers Stories of Scope

Films explore exploitation, stereotyping and other topics. Also on the agenda: seminars, short films.

May 18, 2000|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Visual Communications presents the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film & Video Festival at various venues tonight through May 25. Several films available for preview suggest the breadth and depth of the festival, which opens this evening at 7:30 at the Directors Guild of America, 7920 Sunset Blvd., with Gene Cajayon's "The Debut," about a young Filipino American's conflict with his father, his struggle with a dual cultural identity and his embarking upon a new and special friendship.

One of the sure-fire hits of the festival will be Mel Chionglo's "Burlesk King" (at the DGA on Saturday at 9:30 p.m.), the latest potent variation on the late Lino Brocka's landmark 1989 "Macho Dancer." Once again, two handsome, impoverished youths come to Manila to try to make some money as near-nude dancers and hustlers at a seedy Manila club. Along with the abundant expected titillation, the film offers strong melodrama centering on the key youths' hatred of Americans because his own father was a brutal American who pimped both his mother and him. Writer Ricardo Lee has piled on the lurid soap operatics but also alludes in the Eurasian Harry (played with conviction by Rodel Velayo) to a long-standing exploitation of Filipinos by Americans, especially those serving at the American military bases, now defunct.

Also entertaining--and erotic--is Emily Liu's "Woman Soup" (Sunday at 1 p.m.), which inevitably will bring to mind "Waiting to Exhale" and the current "Luminarias" as a celebration of female solidarity as it depicts four successful, single Taiwanese women looking for love in a society in which the position of unmarried women can still be described as awkward. Liu knows how to score serious points within a lively and engaging context, which unfortunately is not the case with neophyte Jay Koh and "True" (DGA, Tuesday at 7 p.m.). Koh does a very good job of illuminating the plight of three young Korean Americans. One is Bobby (Jesse Wine), an aspiring actor who has been raised in Middle America by adoptive Caucasian parents. He sees himself as 100% American and has virtually no sense of his ethnic heritage--until he encounters stereotyping in his career. Another is a young woman, Amy (Alda K. Yu), oppressed by her father's expectation that she play the part of dutiful daughter.. The third is Jamie (Koh), a young man who tries to sacrifice his own dreams to try to fulfill his immigrant parents' aspirations for him. With more experience, Koh may be able to outgrow the heavy-handed and didactic approach of this film, which is strong on content but short on form.

Along with a series of seminars, there are numerous programs of short films. One especially notable example is in the festival's first such program (DGA, Friday at 7 p.m.) Erika Surat Andersen's 30-minute "Turbans" is an adroit, lyrical and economic incident told by Andersen's grandmother, writer Kartar Dhillon, who also narrates and draws upon her childhood in an Oregon lumber mill community. A father (Kavi Raz) must decide on the hard choices of assimilation in rural America in the early 20th century: specifically, whether to insist his small sons wrap their uncut hair in turbans according to Sikh tradition or cut it and do away with the turbans so that they might better fit in an unsophisticated, reflexively xenophobic community. ] Information: (213) 680-4462.

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The American Cinematheque's monthlong retrospective, "Celebrating the New Hollywood of the 1960s and 1970s," commences tonight at the Egyptian Theater at 7 with "Five Easy Pieces" (1970), starring Jack Nicholson. It will be followed by a discussion with director Bob Rafelson and two of the film's co-stars, Karen Black and Susan Anspach. On Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. the Cinematheque will present as its Alternative Screen attraction Les Bernstein's darkly surreal border-town odyssey, "Night Train," which finds a bleary, paunchy ex-con (John Voldstad) adrift in the most boldly evoked vision imaginable of Tijuana as hell-on-earth. He's in search of an elusive brother who disappeared with a suitcase of ill-gotten American dollars. Everyone comments on how the film reminds them of Orson Welles' "A Touch of Evil," which it most certainly does, but Bernstein, a special effects expert, has his own unique and compelling vision. Information: (323) 466-FILM.

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As part of its "Artificial Humans in the Cinema" series, LACMA will present tonight at 7:30 Peter Cohen's "Homo Sapiens," a highly formal and academic documentary on eugenics, a long-discredited movement that flourished in the early part of the 20th century in Europe and America. The movement held that the human species could be improved by controlling the hereditary factors in mating--it reached its terrible conclusion in the Holocaust. Cohen's dry, static approach to archival footage suggests that a straightforward treatise on the subject might be more rewarding. Cohen is scheduled to attend. Information: (323) 876-6010.

Laemmle Theaters' new special programs opening this week are both eminently skippable. Michael Dugan's "Raging Hormones" (Fridays and Saturdays at midnight at the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd.) is a slice of sex-crazed suburbia in homage to John Waters that has a mild, jaunty naughtiness, which is no substitute for the hilarious outrageousness and grit of the master. Even worse is the latest in the American Independent series, Sofie Pegrum's "Dogstar," a silly and tedious business about a weird young astronomer. It screens Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. at the Sunset 5 and repeats May 27, 28 and 29 at 11 a.m. at the Monica 4-Plex, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9741.

Note: "Princess Cheung Ping" a 1975 Ming Dynasty musical, which screens Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at UCLA's Melnitz Hall, was directed by none other than John Woo, whose "M:I-2" with Tom Cruise opens Wednesday. Information: (310) 206-FILM.

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