Film Review by Kris DiNardi: “Abeoji: A Father’s Love”

*spoilers ahead*

Here is an inside look into this year’s Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival official selection.

Premiering on Saturday, April 22nd at Cinemapolis is Abeoji: A Father’s Love. 

Winner of Best Documentary at the Ithaca Student Film Festival, Abeoji follows a South Korean orphanage director and documents his role in the lives of the children he cares for. It’s a touching documentary that explores how love can affect young children for a lifetime.

The entire documentary was filmed and edited in Seoul, South Korea by award-winning filmmaker Gabriella LoBue. LoBue is currently a junior at Ithaca College majoring in Cinema and Photography and minoring in Business Administration.

In the summer of 2016, LoBue studied at Hanyang University, where the documentary was shot and edited in less than a month.

For LoBue, she said that she has a special personal connection to the documentary since she is a Chinese adoptee. LoBue said that this was the inspiration for the documentary, as it covers an issue that is so near and dear to her heart.

Abeoji: A Father’s Love will be showing at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 22nd at Cinemapolis.

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Film Review by Anna Gardner: “Spa Night” and “Golden Golden”

*spoilers ahead*

The IPAAFF 2017 program is finalized and I am very excited to be sharing some of my favorite films with you. I was very interested in engaging with the identities that overlap with being Asian American. The identity that this screening engages with is being LBGT. What does it mean to have a sexuality or gender outside the normative culture in addition to being Asian American? These two films both explore this in beautiful ways.

Golden Golden was written and directed by Erica Cho, a visual artist and filmmaker. This short film looks into the lives of two 20-somethings from San Bernardino when they visit a Los Angeles fortuneteller. Conjoined crystal balls and queer, pop song visions open up new spaces for desiring and becoming – across Asian, Black, and Latinx imaginaries. This short was very entrancing for me and exuded love. This is a love story. Love can be both romantic and platonic, and Golden Golden explores these possibilities of love in the sweetest way. It purely shows the beauty of non-heteronormative relationships.

Youn Ho Cho (Jin), Haerry Kim (Soyoung) and Joe Seo (David) in Spa Night

Spa Night is the debut feature film of Andrew Ahn. Like many first-generation immigrants, David Cho serves as the intermediary between his parents’ insular Koreatown life in Los Angeles and the frenetic landscape of the wider city. When the family restaurant is forced to close, the balance of the household is threatened and tension mounts at home. In an unfamiliar twist on more familiar immigrant stories, David does not accept his parents’ dreams for him to pursue an education but instead decides to help his family make ends meet by secretly taking a job at a Korean spa. There, David finds himself suddenly exposed to the clash between traditional Korean culture and the underground world of gay hook-ups. Ahn’s visual imagery paired with heated passions makes for a captivating film. This is an unfiltered look into gay hook-up culture. Ahn aims to tell a personal story, a family story, by having the audience get right in the thick of it. This film is steamy, heartbreaking, and relatable. What desires do you harbor in fear of losing your normal life?

Haerry Kim (Soyoung) and Joe Seo (David) in Spa Night.

IPAAFF is thrilled to be hosting Andrew Ahn for a Q&A after the screening on Friday, April 21. 

Film Review by Garrett Chin: “Life of Zili”

*spoilers ahead*

The film is a simple, short, nonfiction piece. It tells the story of Zili, an elderly Chinese immigrant. It is much more of a short memoir than a full life story but the film covers enough to get across what it needs to. I really enjoyed watching the film. Personally, I enjoy the fact that this is a humble story, a story that is not glamorous but is told nonetheless.

Zili lives a pretty sad life but he has a great outlook, which is inspirational to me. It brings me great joy to know that his story will be preserved this way through film. Zili does not mention having any children so I assume that without this film his story would be lost and would remain untold and for that I appreciate Zhang for taking the time to create this film. I really wish more stories from past generations were preserved as well as this one. This film makes me want to sit down with my grandfather and ask him about his life, and I can’t say any other film has ever done that to me. By the end of the film you will want to befriend Zili and give him a hug.

This film will be played during the Ithaca Pan Asian-American Film Festival on Friday, April 21.

Film Review by Taylor Walker: “Ended April 30, 1975”

*spoilers ahead*

Alluding to the Vietnam War, Ended April 30, 1975 explores the aftermath and trauma of the average citizen who has survived war. Many films dealing with the impact of war tend to focus on soldiers, but seldom focus on those who did not fight, but still felt the ramifications.

Ended April 30, 1975 illustrates the difficulty of transitioning not only from wartime to a time not clouded by war, but also relocation due to war. The older woman in Ended April 30, 1975 struggles with adjusting to her new home while dealing with the connection she has with her hometown. The struggle of adjustment is explored through symbolism, sound design, and cinematography. Though a short film, Ended April 30, 1975 has a great impact due to the creative means used to showcase the impact of war on the average citizen.

This film will be played during the Ithaca Pan Asian-American Film Festival on Friday, April 21.

Film Review by Monica Chen: “The Monkey King is in Town”

*spoilers ahead*

The Monkey King is in Town tells an endearing story of Alex, a nine-year-old boy who struggles to find a Chinese American superhero to dress up as for a Halloween party. The film brings awareness to a very real issue of representation in literature and media, especially in terms of the kinds of content that young children absorb. Alex, like many children of color, struggles to find a character in comic books and on television who looks like him, someone he can identify with and look up to.

Although I never had a particular interest in superheroes growing up, I definitely had experiences of struggling with finding Asian and Asian American, specifically Chinese and Chinese American, in my case, characters to look up to in popular American media. In early elementary school, Mulan was one of the only characters I could think of and my peers could think of who “looked like me.” Because she was the only one, however, I began to resent her character and the film because all of my friends kept comparing me to her, placing me in a box because of my ethnicity.

I felt a very strong connection to The Monkey King is in Town. It depicts an experience that I and many people of color, especially Chinese Americans and Asian Americans in general, had as children. The story of the Monkey King is also one that many Chinese and Chinese American children grew up with. He was one of my brother’s favorite characters growing up. My brother and I read the books, as well as watched the cartoons and the movies. I highly suggest all people, no matter their background and childhood experiences, come watch this film screened at IPAAFF.

This film will be played during the Ithaca Pan Asian-American Film Festival on Thursday, April 20. 

Film Review by Jordan Nitsch: “A Grain of White Rice in the Endless Yellow Sun”

*spoilers ahead*

In order to get a point across, sometimes the message has to be blunt. Jeff Fong’s mockumentary is just that, but with a compelling twist and very effective framework. A Grain of White Rice in the Endless Yellow Sun calls for better representation in order to prove how equally capable Asian Americans are in cinema. How does it approach this message in a different light?

By reversing the roles of Asian Americans and Caucasian Americans.

This film flips the narrative to allow its audience to greater identify with the message and see first hand how great of an issue this is and shows the audience just what they’re missing out on. This mockumentary includes archival styled footage of Asian Americans recreating scenes from different moments in film history. And these actors knock it out of the park. This short film, while told in a parallel setting to our modern world, is still incredibly straightforward and blunt with its message. It continues to hit its message home with direct fourth wall breaks, excellent Asian American performances, witty dialogue, and a lot of heart.

The approach to this incredibly important moral is unique and compelling, reaching a wider audience and displaying an incredible array of talent. You’ll be enthralled with its charm straight up to the final scene. This short film is not one to miss.

This film will be played during the Ithaca Pan Asian-American Film Festival on Saturday, April 22. 

Film Review by Louis Medel: “The Secret Life of an Asian American”

*spoilers ahead*

For this week’s blog post I decided to write a film review of The Secret Life of an Asian American. This film was directed by Nicolo Requiestas, who is Filipino American. As Filipino American myself, I personally enjoyed this film a lot. It was very refreshing to watch a piece of cinema and see not only yourself represented but also your issues represented. In The Secret Life of Asian an American, Requiestas showcases the issues that come with being Filipino American and Asian American. His film explores the question of the place Filipino Americans have in the Asian American diaspora. Are Filipino Americans Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders? This is something I had to deal with a lot in high school, with kids telling me I was not Asian American but instead a Pacific Islander.

Diving into more issues that affect the Asian American community, Requiestas comments on the hypocrisy of the Academy Awards and Chris Rock for making stereotypical Asian jokes while at the same time calling for more diversity. Where Requiestas really shines is where he comments on the lack of Asian American representation in Hollywood. He states that if he were white he would have a much easier time making it in Hollywood but because of his race, it’s much harder for him. This is something I think is very important to the film. This whole film is a social commentary of what being Asian American in the media is like. It will be very hard for Asians to make it in Hollywood as “normal” characters. I think what’s so powerful about this film is what it can mean to people; to me personally it inspires me to know that there are people out there in the world who want to change the way Asian Americans are seen on screen. This makes me really happy.

This film will be played during the Ithaca Pan Asian-American Film Festival on Thursday, April 20. 

Film Review by Abigail Mejia: “It Is What It Is”

*spoilers ahead*

It Is What It Is is a story of a family. A look into the past. The rift between the young and the old. It forces its viewers to wonder: What should be known about one’s past? What should be left unknown? Family is deeply rooted. It reminds us that we do not know everything–sometimes just the immediate truth. The filmmaker takes us on his complex journey, not to discover, but to ask.

Filmmaker Cyrus Tabar documents his search for the reasons behind his family’s tumultuous history. Though he is part Japanese American and part Iranian American, he has never met any of his family from Iran; the only remnants of them he has are the copious amounts of archival footage. Something from the past forces the two sides of his family to cut off all contact. He narrates his story as he visualizes his memories in his compelling compilations of homemade videos. The film shows us that, sometimes, a story can tell us the truth through the question, minus the answer.

Tabar phenomenally utilizes archival footage in a way that accurately depicts the fragmented ambiguity that is the human memory. The visual effects and editing further enhance the already intriguing narrative of Tabar’s past. Along with the great sound design and mixing, themes of confusion and the search for an answer are made very clear in It Is What It Is. The film adheres well to the idea of an Asian American film because it tells of the filmmaker’s struggle as an Asian American who lives a life completely separate from his extended family. Through the sole use of archival footage, Tabar fantastically puts his audience in his shoes throughout his quest.

This film will be played during the Ithaca Pan Asian-American Film Festival on Thursday, April 20.

Film Review by Angela Poffenbaugh: “The FBI Blew Up My Ice Skates”

*spoilers ahead*

One of our selected films, The FBI Blew Up My Ice Skates, is a sweet animated film. A little girl sits inside her house on a couch, dreaming of ice skating and is practically swooning at the idea. She sits patiently, waiting for a package that contains the one thing she dreams of: ice skates. Sounds like a cute, simple short film right? Wrong, actually.

While this film comes off as innocent, it actually contains a strong background linking to the Iran Hostage Crisis back in 1980. This was when Western perspectives of Middle Easterners shifted exponentially, causing stereotypes, racism, and many of the issues that lead up to events today.

From this change in perspective, the FBI began to put Middle Eastern families under heavier surveillance. This film is based off of a true story that happened during the Iran Hostage Crisis and is much more than it first seems to the eye.

Directors Sara Zia Ebrahimi and Lindsey Martin put a comedic twist on this story through the adoring eyes of this little girl waiting for her ice skates. Although the film seems to progress innocently, there is a much deeper meaning behind it that audiences need to witness for themselves.

This film will be played during the Ithaca Pan Asian-American Film Festival on Friday, April 21. 

Film Review by Garrett Chin: “Way of the Dragon”

While not an American film, I think “Way of the Dragon” comes pretty close to Asian American cinema. Bruce Lee was as Asian American as they come, being born in San Francisco. Bruce Lee not only starred in the film but also directed and co-produced the film. What keeps this film from being Asian American is the fact that the production company that backed the film was a Hong Kong based company (that was co-founded by Lee) and the plot centers on a character, Tang Lung, who is decidedly not American.

The plot of the movie is pretty simple, Bruce Lee moves from Hong Kong to Italy to save a family restaurant. Bruce Lee fights off Italian thugs who want to close down a Chinese restaurant and even takes on (and defeats) Chuck Norris’ character, the greatest American martial artist.

I believe “Way of the Dragon” is a great film for Asian American representation because Bruce Lee plays a tough, muscular, martial arts expert, a character that clashes with typical portrayals of Asian American Men in American cinema. Lee brought the strong masculine Asian man to the big screen in America. My father and his brothers were highly inspired by Bruce Lee and this movie in particular, even though his characters are not Asian American. My father didn’t care that the character was not Asian American, it was just nice to see another Asian American (or Asian in general) on the big screen.

Asian American representation could have been better if either Tang Lung was American or if the movie itself took place in America. This way the movie would have been about Asian Americans rather than Asian Italians (though I guess Asian Italian representation is important for Asian Italians). Without changing either of those Chuck Norris could have been replaced by an Asian Actor to better Asian American representation. This way, the greatest martial artist from America would be an Asian American. This would allow for an Asian American character and one that goes against stereotypes as well. Although there is something about the Asian American Bruce Lee defeating the white Chuck Norris that is positive for representation. One shortcoming for Asian American representation was the subtle anti-Japanese sentiment in the implication that Japanese martial arts are inferior to Chinese martial arts.

As I’ve learned from studying Asian American history, events abroad affect Asian Americans in America. This is no different. This movie, produced outside of the country (though made by and starring an Asian American), not only fought against Asian American stereotypes, but also gave Asian American someone to look up to that shared their skin color.