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Blogging at VC: Day 1

Blogging at VC: Day 1

APA blogs on opening night at the VC, where Vivian Wu and Ham Tran's colossus of a film, Journey from the Fall, took center stage.

By Chi Tung

Thursday, May 4, 2006, 12:37 A.M. PT

Opening nights at film festivals are both a blessing and a curse. Let's count our blessings first: free booze and edamame, bustling crowds, all-around goodwill and, of course, the red carpet. Now, the curses: smarmy celebrity bootlickers, insipid questions at the Q&A and, of course, the red carpet. Still, there's a difference: at its best, the red carpet is where stars rule the roost without disrupting the feel-good vibes by obnoxiously championing themselves. At its worst, it's Joan Rivers X 1000, which is to say that there's a whole lot of worthless blather.

The question, then, becomes, how does one ask meaningful, insightful questions on the red carpet without coming off as a total square? The answer is that, well, you can't. What you can do, particularly at a a festival like VC, is give the stars their shine while prodding them in the direction of collectivism and community and art-over-commerce musings. For all of its wholehearted attempts to become a glitzy, glamorous showcase for Asian America, VC never fails to remind us of its humble beginnings and grassroots-like appeal. The beautiful thing is that before and after the festival, mingling never becomes a chore; you see gorgeous gals and dashing dudes that, with a little less D&G, might look something like you or I.

APA Photo

Golden Horse nominee Michelle Krusiec.

You or I, though, could never be Vivan Wu. When she strutted onto the red carpet, heads turned and shutters clicked, not simply because she's such a classy beauty (she is), but because anyone with an inkling of knowledge of Asian American film knows the actress has paid her dues. From The Last Emperor to Joy Luck Club to The Pillow Book to The Soong Sisters to her most recent triumph, Julia Kwan 's Eve and the Fire Horse, Wu has garnered the reputation of someone who never ceases to push the envelope in creating nuanced, complex, memorable characters.

Onscreen, she's usually fiery (but never exaggeratedly so: ahem, Lucy Liu), and offscreen, she's no different, taking the time to tell us that she's more than willing to go to bat for Asian America, right before she waxes poetic about Eve and the Fire Horse, and her collaborations with leading ladies Hollie Lo and Phoebe Kut. Elegant, articulate, and passionate, she lends the kind of presence and voice that Asian America (not to mention Asian filmmakers) could certainly use more of. Consider this my official Vivian Wu endorsement.

I could list you some of the other folks we spoke to or saw, such as Lynn Chen from Saving Face or The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift's Chris Tee, or Red Doors' Mia Tiverton, or The Perfect Score's Leonardo Nam but that's E!'s job, not ours. What I can tell you about is the opening night film, Ham Tran's Journey from the Fall, which kicked the festival off on a rather promising note.

APA Photo

Leonardo Nam with pals Lynn Chen (L) and Mia Tiverton.

A more structured, professional review can be found here, but consider me among those floored by its wide-eyed ambition and astonishing scope -- the fall of Saigon, reeducation camps, pirates, the untold story of the boatpeople -- this isn't some modest, character study, but a full-blown epic that nearly out-Hollywoods Hollywood. And it's affecting in a way that a big-budget three-hankie weepie could never be: it's real lives and real events with real gut-wrenching consequences.

The one disappointing aspect of the night was -- surprise -- the Q&A, which, despite good intentions, was too protracted, and too scattershot to serve an instructional purpose. (Or any other purpose, for that matter.) The key, I think, to an effective Q&A is a combination of skillful moderating and audience participation that isn't restricted to questions about minor plot points or the director's laundry list of influences. Unfortunately, there were time constraints, due, I think to the fact that the previews ran over 20 minutes long.(Note to programmers: do we really need to see a Heineken commercial that airs during every major sporting event? Or trailers for both Chen Kaige's The Promise and Kyung-Taek Kwak's Typhoon?

APA Photo

Principals from Ham Tran's Journey from the Fall

Shouldn't there be a rule that allows only clips of one enormously convoluted, CGI-encroached, would-be international blockbuster per screening?) Normally, this wouldn't be a problem, but one tends to assume that after seeing a film about post-trauma victims and survivors and harrowing immigrant experiences that we'd get to hear more from the cast members, many of whom had their own experiences or experiences of their ancestors transplanted into the film.

All in all though, a good show, and (hopefully) a precursor to some more excellent films. Bring on the edamame.

Asia Pacific Arts