We at Hyphen look forward to the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival every year. Partly because it's a stylish, intelligent event celebrating Asian American artists and their supporters, but mostly because it means we get to screen some films early from home, in our sweatpants, and afterwards unleash our inner elitish film critic on the festival's offerings.
Starting today and continuing through Wednesday (the eve of the March 11 festival kick-off), Hyphen staffers will be posting reviews of select films screening this year. But remember: one man's Rashomon is another man's The Last Samurai, so make sure you get some tickets and see the films for yourself. And please come back to give us your two cents on the reviewed films in the comments section.
This week, Cynthia and I sound off on promiscuous sex and the worst arranged marriage in history.
You're intrigued now, aren't you?
The People I've Slept With
Directed by Quentin Lee
Don’t you just love a good ol’ fashioned hag-and-sassy-fag-unplanned-pregnancy-quest-for-true-love story? Quentin Lee’s The People I’ve Slept With makes the unconventional seem nearly typical by following the standard rom-com format. Angela (Karin Anna Cheung, Better Luck Tomorrow), a self-described slut (or "just a woman with a man’s morals"), romps from one drunken sloppy sexual escapade to another -- until her serial sack-hopping is derailed by the discovery that she’s pregnant. By potentially five different men, who are identified only by monikers like "Five-Second-Guy," "Mr. Hottie," and "Mystery Man."
With the help of her queer BFF Gabriel (Wilson Cruz, He’s Just Not That Into You), Angela embarks on a wacky adventure to nab DNA samples from all the possible fathers in rather, um, creative -- and sometimes downright grody ways. While Angela attempts to trick one into marrying her, Gabriel re-examines his life as a “gay cliché” as he tries to win back his ex-boyfriend.
While TPISW has moments that are a bit too cutesy and contrived and practically shriek "We’re the multiracial Will & Grace!," the film does feature some memorable one-liners: "No smoking, no drinking, no coffee…getting knocked up is the worst STD ever" and "You’re hung like a dinosaur!" Randall Park also delivers a hilarious and endearing performance as "Nice-But-Boring Guy" -- who is overjoyed and overzealous to be in the running as baby daddy.
It also seemed like the plentiful sex scenes in TPISW were just an excuse to see Cheung doing her best lingerie-clad, sex kitten poses (dudes, reserve your SFIAFF tix now). At least Angela is an equal opportunity “slut” in terms of race and gender, and by setting overt sexual politics aside in favor of random casual sex -- the focus remains squarely on the mishaps of Angela and Gabriel during their search for stability and wedded bliss.
While the cheeky raunch and a mainly queer and ethnic cast are refreshing and seldom seen in mainstream romantic comedies, TPISW still embraces boilerplate rom-com aspirations: Bad girls and bad boys that deep down want to be good, wear white to their weddings, and become devoted partners. TPISW may not strike out to completely transform the status quo or the genre -- but for a playful, entertaining movie with a naughty twist, it’ll satisfy. —Cynthia Brothers
Make Yourself At Home
Directed by Soopum Sohn
It's a rarity when you watch a film and avoid becoming invested at all in whether any character lives or dies. Too harsh? It was difficult getting through Soopum Sohn's Make Yourself At Home (alternative title: Fetish), a drama about a mysterious Korean shaman woman who ends up marrying a Korean American man (Rob Yang) and wreaking quiet, creepy havoc on his New Jersey family and the white couple next door with whom she becomes fixated. She's bad for Koreans. She's bad for Caucasians. She's a Black Magic Woman from the East.
Korean actress Hye-kyo Song does a competent job of conveying the creepy/beautiful/mystery aura that film requests from her but the rest of the cast can't support her with their monotone performances that range in levels of woodenness from "I'm on Nyquil" to "I think that was a horse tranquilizer."
The only contradiction was found in Jane Kyoto Lu's stereotypical, overbearing Korean mother-in-law character but she's outshined by the non-professional extras who play her church friends, the only bright spot in a film that's caught up in its own gloomy, supernatural hype. And without investment in any of these characters and a plodding, underdeveloped story line, by the time you get to the film's spooky ending, you're already itching to make yourself at home and go to bed. —Sylvie Kim