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A downtown showcase for the Asian film scene

December 27, 2007|Mindy Farabee

WHEN the Linda Lea, a legendary Japanese-language movie house, closed in the early '80s, it was because much of downtown L.A. had died too. This month, a New York-based media company dusted off the site with the debut of the ImaginAsian Center, showcasing fare from Bollywood to Mongolia.

It's the first independent movie theater to arrive in the city's center in more than two decades, and its animating idea is to make a home for the wide variety of moviemaking that represents Asia's maturing scene, says David Chu, ImaginAsian's senior vice president for programming and producing.

"All Asian countries have their luminaries, but what you're seeing in the last 10 years is really the next generation who grew up on Hollywood and foreign films and went to the best film schools," Chu says. "Asian cinema now is very cutting-edge and less formulaic [than Hollywood]. . . . They're making these great films, and the chains won't play them. A lot of mainstream blockbusters cross the water and get lumped into the art house."

Since opening with the Japanese thriller "Midnight Eagle," the center has shown "Khadak," about Mongolian nomads, and "Taare Zameen Par," which is about a dyslexic child and opened in India the same time it did at the ImaginAsian. Coming films include the Kurdish musician's tale "Half Moon" (Friday) and "A Bloody Aria" (Jan. 18), described by some as a Korean-style "Deliverance."

The center also plans to highlight the contributions of Asian Americans, who often get treated like strangers in Hollywood, Chu says. As a result, he's seen Asian studios reaching out to fund Asian American fare; ImaginAsian wants to provide a platform for getting it seen back home.

That platform is now fully loaded in L.A. with state-of-the-art technology, though it's located at a site whose cinema heyday dates back to the 1920s, when it began passing through incarnations serving Latino, Filipino and Asian communities in turn.

Since the early days of Jackie Chan, however, the former marquee player had been wasting away as a glorified storage unit. Developers say that fate rendered it virtually impossible to restore in a historically sensitive manner. Completely renovated by Hodgetts + Fung (the team behind the Egyptian Theatre's overhaul and Hollywood Bowl's makeover), it's become all sleek curves and snow-white minimalism.

It also includes a stage for live performances, because the center hopes to go beyond just showing movies. "We didn't even call it a 'theater,' " Chu says, "because we really see it as a gathering place for the community."

-- Mindy.Farabee@latimes.com

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IMAGINASIAN CENTER

WHERE: 251 S. Main St., L.A.

WHEN: Today, "Taare Zameen Par"; Friday- Jan. 3, "Half Moon," "Ichi the Killer"; Jan. 18, "A Bloody Aria"

PRICE: $10

INFO: (213) 617-1033, www.iacenterla.com/la

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