Blogging at VC: Closing Night
Chicken wings, california rolls, and the vampiness of Joan Chen -- all trademarks of VC FilmFest 2006's closing night extravaganza.
Published: Thursday, May 25, 2006
As film festivals in the greater Los Angeles area go, this year's VC was nothing short of spectacular. Swankee soirees, enthusiastic crowds, and unusually accomodating publicists made the entire experience a wholly pleasurable one, and that's more than I can say about some of the others we've attended. Unsurprisingly, circuitry was in full effect, and by that, I mean, there's the customary spate of Asian American films that find themselves in constant festival rotation, a list that includes (but is not restricted to) the following: Ham Tran's Journey from the Fall, Eric Byler's Americanese, Julia Kwan's Eve and the Fire Horse, Michael Kang's The Motel, Tanuj Chopra's Punching at the Sun, Mora Stephens' The Conventioneers, Lane Nishikawa's Only the Brave. As for the Asian films, standouts came in all shapes and sizes, from the melancholic (Chen Wen-tang's Blue Cha Cha) to the, well, even more melancholic (Eric Khoo's Be With Me). And, of course, there were the trifles -- Toon Wang's animated Journey to the West permutation Fireball; Japan's rom-dram It's Only Talk -- that nevertheless managed to satisfy our curiosity in what B-films in Asia are supposed to look like.
Enough listmaking; let's talk spectacle. The reception following Eric Byler's Americanese closed out the festival in typically strong fashion; I do recall the tasty (but extremely oily) chicken wings at last year's reception, but the california rolls were definitely a pleasant surprise. The in-crowd must've thought so too; I counted Michelle Krusiec, Parry Shen and John Cho among those in attendance. The real treat, however, was the film itself. I had heard from some very distinguished folks that Americanese was kind of a paltry exercise in Asian American filmmaking; stock characters, little narrative heft, and a perfunctory view of serious issues. I can assure you, however, that this is simply not the case: Americanese is a quite well-acted, well-meaning romantic drama that occasionally grapples with Asian American topics to provide it with more dimension and depth. Therefore, one might be tempted to write it off as an approximation of Asian Americanism, possessing none of the singular flair of canonical works like Wayne Wang's Chan is Missing, or even, say, Harold and Kumar go to White Castle. But I don't think Byler's take on Asian America is any less authentic or progressive or daring than the aforementioned films, even if it doesn't totally capitalize on its more-than-compelling source material (Shawn Wong's much-bandied-about American Knees). What others find to be slow, plodding, and on the road to nowhere, I found patient and wrly observing; what others see as weak and underdeveloped dramatic motivation I saw as internalized tension. In other words, just because Americanese doesn't look, sound, or act Asian American doesn't necessarily mean that it isn't.
What I'm getting at is that Americanese, along with some of the other "circuiteers" at the festival (Journey from the Fall and Eve and the Fire Horse immediately come to mind) have made a decision -- conscious or not -- to resculpt and redefine the public understanding of the Asian American experience in cinema. Turns out it's not always low-budget or navel-gazing or family-crisis-oriented, which means that The Joy Luck Club -- for all its superficial merits -- should cease to become the standard-bearer for how an Asian American family acts. And that's fine by me, even if that means John Cho gets high and rides cheetahs, or that Michelle Krusiec is gay, or that Joan Chen is the voice of middle-aged unreason and uninhibited vampdom. I'm okay with all of this because I know that there's plenty more where that came from, and it's places like the VC where these myths become our reality.