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Screening Room

Solid 'Crash Landing'

The Chinese Film Festival opens with the award-winning movie, which makes the most of its special effects in true Hollywood style.

September 21, 2000|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Motion Picture Assn. of America once again hosts a Chinese Film Festival, beginning Monday at the Egyptian. The invitation-only opening night film, Zhang Jianya's "CrashLanding," was named best picture of the year in the Baihua Awards, one of China's most prestigious film prizes. Since the festival is co-sponsored by the Chinese government, it is not the kind of outlet where one is likely to find a picture by Zhang Yimou or Chen Kaige. However, "Crash Landing" is solid commercial entertainment, a disaster picture made on a spectacular scale, stressing the value of team effort in the face of impending crisis.

Shao Bing stars as an airline pilot and Xu Fan plays his wife, a flight attendant for the same airline. The couple live in Shanghai with their young daughter; their marriage is strained by two demanding careers that require substantial absences from home. As fate would have it, the pilot gets a last-minute assignment to fly the very plane on which his wife will serve as head flight attendant. As the plane takes off, Shao realizes the landing gear is jammed, requiring him to turn around and attempt a landing. But where?

Zhang stages two worst-case scenarios before building suspense as to whether Shao can land the immense craft safely. The Hollywood influence looms in special effects and great emphasis on the intricate step-by-step technical procedures involved in trying to stave off disaster. The film is fairly short on characterization, although both husband and wife mature under pressure, but it offers well-sustained, sure-fire suspense.

The festival continues with free screenings each night at 7:30 through Sept. 29 before moving on to San Francisco and New York.

For full schedule: (888) 906-FILM.

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The New York Independent Film and Video Festival commences tonight, with most screenings at the Monica 4-Plex. Among the films previewed was "The Killing Zone" (Sunday at 2:15 p.m.). Ian David Diaz's film is a cleverly convoluted riff on the old tale of the professional assassin who takes that one last job where everything goes wrong. Padraig Casey stars as a very formal, very serious professional killer--but also a jazz saxophonist--who gets caught up in escalating treacheries. This offering from the U.K. has much humor but piles up the corpses so high and so casually that it stops being a laughing matter.

Michael DeCarlo's "Washed Up" (Sunday at 6 p.m.) offers a cross-section of characters whose individual dramas play out on a stretch of beach; this Canadian film is high-spirited but too arch and theatrical to cut it. More impressive is Michael Swanhaus' "Pigeonholed" (Sunday at 8 p.m.), in which a rich kid (Justin Pierce), into drugs and hung up on his dead mother (Rosanna Arquette), is deposited into rehab by his fed-up father (Chris Noth). The clinic is housed in an English-style estate so baronial it might be mistaken for Hampton Court. The film is thoughtful and persuasive; it is also pretty bleak.

Jules and Gedeon Naudet's "Hope, Gloves and Redemption" (Tuesday at 3 p.m.) is a warm, engaging documentary about Mickey and Negra Rosario, who have helped the young men and women of Harlem and the South Bronx to break away from drugs and gang violence through their gym at 112th Street and 1st Avenue.

Full schedule: (310) 281-7999.

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Also at the Monica 4-Plex, the Laemmle Theaters' World Cinema 2000 series continues Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. with Kaizo Hayashi's "The Most Terrible Time in My Life," a terrific private eye caper, stylish and fatalistic. It's set in a wonderfully seedy section of Yokohama, where a former juvenile delinquent, Maiku (Mike) Hama ("Mystery Train's" skinny Masatoshi Nagase), has set up shop as a private investigator in an office in an old neighborhood movie theater.

Dressed punk style and tearing around town in a boxy 1954 Metropolitan car, Mike is nevertheless a serious guy. He forms a bond with a Taiwanese waiter (Yang Haitin) who asks him to find his brother, and Mike is plunged into a power struggle between brutal Hong Kong and Taipei gangs. The film has been said to be also a commentary on Japanese xenophobia and cultural dislocation, but it is above all a resonant take on the classic private eye themes of loyalty and honor. Information: (310) 394-9741. It screens at the Sunset 5 Sept. 30-Oct. 1; at the Playhouse 7, Oct. 7-8.

John Watkin and Eamon Harrington's "It Conquered Hollywood!: The Story of American International Pictures," opening Friday at the Music Hall, is an affectionate and incisive survey of how in 1955 Samuel Arkoff, James Nicholson and their colleagues launched the little company that could by targeting the teenage market as Old Hollywood crumbled. Before Nicholson died at 56 in 1972 (Arkoff sold out six years later), they had turned out 500 pictures, creating one cycle after another, keeping in touch and ahead of their youthful market with imagination and showmanship.

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