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Blogging at VC: Day 2

Blogging at VC: Day 2

The best South Asian American film ever? Not quite, but it makes for great blog fodder in day two of our VC FilmFest coverage.

By Chi Tung

Friday, May 5, 2006, 10:45 PM PT

For my second go-round at the 2006 VC Film Festival, I planned a night which I thought would serve as a sharp contrast to the previous one: two modestly shot (sub)urban dramas about contemporary Asian America, a place where hip-hop and basketball and coming-of-age coexist just uncomfortably enough to warrant some serious prying and probing. I'm referring more specificially to Tanuj Chopra's Punching at the Sun and Michael Kang's The Motel, both of which have built a considerable amount of momentum in the film festival circuit -- the former took home the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival 's top narrative prize while the latter checked out (nyuk nyuk) of Sundance with promises of theatrical distribution.

Well, you know what they say about best laid plans. As it turns out, I severely misjudged the turnout for The Motel, arriving only ten minutes prior to the screening, at which point I was promptly informed that the film had been sold out, that no, my press badge would not grant me privileged access and yes, the fire marshal was present to ensure that there wouldn't be any monkeying around. Therefore, dear reader, you'll have to wait until its theatrical release (set tentatively for later this month) to find out our verdict on the film. However, this is one of those cases where the good of the individual (myself and another colleague) was sacrificed for the good of the whole (the general public). The fact that people lined up in droves to see the film may bode well for its chances as an indie-film sensation, which means that if it grosses a couple million, champagne and bubble baths are definitely in order.

I did, however, manage to catch Punching at the Sun, which in addition to the festival hosannas it's received, has been called by various authorities as the "best South Asian American film ever." Now far be it for me to question such a claim -- my exposure to South Asian American films isn't exactly all-encompassing -- but I thought it was an arresting paean to the daily struggles South Asian Americans face in New York; no more, no less. The pall of 9-11 hangs in the background, but Chopra foregrounds it too brusquely to say anything truly incendiary -- the protagonist's nihilistic urges are compelling, but not exactly cinema nouveau, especially considering the coming-of-age niche that it occupies. Still, Chopra does have some decent filmmaking chops, and Punching at the Sun compensates for its somewhat rote depiction of urban disillusionment with an impressive outpouring of angst, paranoia, and adolescent apathy.

Following the film, I trudged over to one of the festival's many receptions, hosted at club Rage in West Hollywood. Nothing too remarkable about it, although they handed out some red-orange wristbands that read: "I love Asian film." Pretty awesome. And it goes hand in hand with the irony that Friday night at Rage is "Asian night." Unfortunately, I didn't have time to soak it all in -- I was on my way to The Motel, which, as mentioned before, was solidly booked. If only I had known in advance -- then all that shrimp tempura and chicken tacquitos wouldn't have gone to waste.

Asia Pacific Arts