A hyperactive month for the film industry, November saw festivals and events galore occurring at several locations.
The U.S.-China Film Summit hosted by Asia Society took place November 1 at L.A.’s Skirball Cultural Center. There, one of four Lifetime Achievement Award winners, actor/director Feng Xiaogang (Kung Fu Hustle, Monkey King, Big Shot’s Funeral), shared the stage with celebrated writer Yan Geling (Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl, The Flowers of War). Besides touting Xiaogang’s upcoming film, Youth, about a People’s Liberation Army dance troupe, they also discussed Hollywood-China co-productions.
Director, producer, and graceful globetrotter Ankie Lau, representing her current hometown of Munich, appeared at the reception following.
Meanwhile, between November 1–8 in nearby Santa Monica, the American Film Market offered films for sale from 80 countries. Incredible stories of perseverance, both past and present, were displayed in two Filipino movies.
In the documentary, Sunday Beauty Queen, domestic workers in Hong Kong enter beauty pageants on their one day off, Sunday. Otherwise, they endure the drudgery of housekeeping six days a week without the benefit of sleeping in a room of their own or sharing meals with the families they prepare them for. Sadly, raising their employers’ children means they’re unable to see their own left behind in the Philippines, usually under the care of a relative. A moving tale of the exploitation of vulnerable working women, this film captures their effervescence at being allowed to feel human for one day by donning elaborate costumes and posing prettily onstage.
Heneral Luna is a fascinating retelling of history; the story of a real-life general who helped lead a guerrilla resistance against American invaders during the Philippine-American War. Although the filmmakers admit taking liberties with the original narrative, it’s still based on facts about the temperamental Antonio Luna who adored his mother while fighting ferociously for his country. Relentlessly loyal to his nation, he admonished Filipinos for killing each other in favor of capital gains offered by U.S. annexation. In one tense scene, Luna bellows, “How dare Americans take our freedom when they fought so furiously for theirs!” John Arcilla is perfectly cast in the lead as are those in supporting roles. Grossing some $250 million at the box office, this film reportedly instilled pride in Pinoys worldwide.
AFM also hosted several Roundtables including, “The Changing Hong Kong Movie Scene: What is New, How and Why?” Felix Tsang, Sales and Acquisitions Manager of Golden Scene Company, Ltd., informed the audience that, “The new generation of Hong Kong filmmakers came about because of the film boom in the Chinese market in the mid-2000’s. All the established filmmakers went to make movies there.”
While the panel event was well-organized, the reception following was not when several angry invitees argued with gatekeepers denying them access because they hadn’t RSVP’d—something not mentioned in their emailed invitations.
In contrast, Thailand’s Department of International Trade and Promotion, Ministry of Commerce, offered its usual warm and welcoming pageantry at its annual party. Besides featuring Her Royal Highness Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi, a trio of colorful dancers performed and a scrumptious buffet of Thai delicacies was served.
Other Asian countries at AFM included Japan at their JETRO (Japan External Trade Organization) pavilion, and China at theirs. At the Wow Maxx kiosk, Aiko Tamashiro offered a rundown of Japanese films seeking U.S. distribution while discussing her family’s intriguing Japanese-Peruvian roots.
Enticing filmmakers to shoot in their countries, several film commissioners participated in the Location Expo including Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA), Film Development Council of the Philippines, Myanmar Film Commission, Taipei Film Commission, and Thailand Film Office. South Korea also promoted their animation industry at a private booth.
As AFM ended, the American Film Institute launched its film festival November 9–16 in Hollywood. One notable short narrative was China’s foreign-language contender for the Oscar, A Gentle Night. Winner of the prestigious Cannes’ Palme d’Or, the 15-minute film is a tension-filled tale of a mother frantically searching for her missing teenage daughter. As her husband remains unruffled, she grows desperate, beseeching police to find her child. Inspired by a true story, the film stars former Chinese Opera performer, Li Shuxian. The award-winning writer/director Qiu Yang is unsurprisingly mentored by legendary Hsiao-Hsien Hou (The Assassin).
Meanwhile, the 37th annual Hawai‘i International film Festival opened in Honolulu on November 2, spanning three islands through November 19. Featuring special spotlights on films from China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, South Korea, Southeast Asia, and Taiwan, HIFF is one of the most Asian-centric festivals in America.
One gripping documentary about Pacific Islanders was Island Soldier. Directed by Nathan Fitch, it showcases the disproportionately high numbers of Micronesians dying in combat after joining the U.S. military. Following one family’s tragedy, the filmmakers travel from the island of Kosrae in the Federated States of Micronesia to Afghanistan where son Sapuro is deployed. Other families are also featured in the search for answers to why Micronesians volunteer to serve without earning veterans benefits like Americans, or being allowed to vote in U.S. elections. Their bleak economy is one factor, yet their tropical environment suffers without succeeding generations available to help maintain traditional methods of sustainable farming and fishing.
Lastly, a recent release that didn’t appear at any festival is South Korea’s The Swindlers featuring Yoo Ji-tae, Hyun Bin, Bae Seong-woo, Park Sung-woong and Nana. Like a bloody maze, this violent narrative weaves a tangled story of betrayal and revenge. Twists and turns abound as criminals and cops seek to swindle one another. But the biggest swindle comes at the film’s conclusion when the ending you thought would appear, doesn’t.
‘The Swindlers’ opens 12/1, Cinemark Century Federal Way, AMC Loews Alderwood Mall 16 Lynnwood