Reviews Cinema

Welcome to the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival 2014


Tomorrow night, Visual Communications will kick off its 30th annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. That’s a real milestone and I’m happy to volunteer as one of the programming committee for my second year. So I’ll get to attend the gala opening screening of To Be Takei (I hope I see some Starfleet members) and then get ready to watch some import, indie, and arty movies…


On Friday night, I have the pleasure of introducing Lisa Takeba’s The Pinkie. Combining crime, gore, and other genres that I love, it’s as colorful as it is energetic. It’s going to be a kick to watch on a big screen with a hopefully boisterous audience.

Yes, Lisa will be in attendance for a Q&A afterward and so will representatives from “Unusual Targets,” a short that will accompany it. That will be cool and that doesn’t happen when you stay home and watch movies on your computer.


On Sunday at noon, I’ll get to introduce another indie import. Miko Livelo’s Blue Bustamante addresses the series topic of Overseas Filipino Workers and mashes it up with vintage Japanese sentai shows. You know, masked Power Rangers.

There’s no Q&A afterward, but when will you ever get to see a movie like this on the big screen? Of course, this movie and The Pinkie are perfect movies to be presented by Giant Robot.


On Sunday night, I present one more movie. Lordville is the latest documentary by the hugely respected arthouse director Rea Tajiri. It’s a spooky and beautiful and real study of her adopted hometown, which happens to be a ghost town.

LORDVILLE Trailer from Rea Tajiri on Vimeo.

Yes, Rea will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A to answer the many questions that will arise. Won’t you attend, too? Support indie, imported, and Asian cinema! See you there!

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The Missing Picture special screening at Art Theatre Long Beach

Cambodia finally has its first entry into the Academy Awards and the movie is now showing at the Art Theatre in Long Beach. In The Missing Picture, director Rithy Panh combines hand-carved figures with archival photos and footage to retell his experiences surviving the Khmer Rouge. The artful and affecting documentary is packed with style, intelligence, and heart, and there really is no other movie like it.

At a special screening on Saturday, March 1 at 3:00 p.m., the director will be on hand to introduce the movie and take part in a panel that also features producer Catherine Dussart, French narrator Randal Douc, and composer Marc Marder. Adding extra perspective are Chhom Nimol from Dengue Fever, Prach Ly from the Cambodia Town Film Festival, Anderson Le from the Hawaii International Film Festival, and yours truly. Moderating will be my friend Julia Huang from interTrend.

Check out the trailer, below, and get tickets at It’s the same price as a regular show even though you also get the panel discussion, a dance performance, and a reception with food and drink… Or reach out to me directly and I’ll see what I can do for you.

More press, in case you aren’t sold yet. Hope to see you there!

“Startlingly, Panh tells his story through a mixture of Khmer Rouge propaganda newsreels and little clay figurines. It was perhaps the only way of managing the devastating memories.” – The Guardian

“Panh’s remarkable new documentary works as a survivor’s testament, a film about memory and loss–and as a self-reflexive essay asking how atrocities should be depicted on screen.” – The Independent

The Missing Picture is personal and unexpected, a documentary that mixes media in an unusual way to very potent effect.” – The Los Angeles Times

“The film, which won the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, uses miniature clay figures and archival newsreels to recount Mr. Panh’s childhood memories—the missing pictures of the title.” – The Wall Street Journal

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Martin Scorsese Interviews The Grand Master Director Wong Kar Wai

If you’ve been following Wong Kar Wai since his early days, the sunglasses are his trademark. You can’t really discern his age, and it’s now nearly 20 years later and he looks exactly the same. The talk ranges from a little bit of kiss ass both ways, since they’re both legends and fans of each others work. You’ll get a bit of insight into the emerging industry of China as well.

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Johnnie To’s Drug War

It isn’t shocking that Johnnie To would make an intense, stylish, and smart gangster movie. The Hong Kong auteur has been doing that for about 25 years. What’s amazing is that this story takes place in China, where movies are epic or wacky but rarely gritty, dangerous, or even cool.

As often is the case in To’s movies, Louis Koo plays a character who doesn’t say much or show much but has a dark undercurrent that is subtly and superbly played. As a busted meth manufacturer, he is forced to become a mole for China’s drug squad in conjunction with undercover cop played with conviction by Sun Honglei.

Is Koo’s character really helping the cops? Who is really in control? As the undercover cop is led deeper into the illegal operation, he is forced to not only travel from city to city but make promises, take dope, and put himself in other unsavory situations. It’s intense and violent and the payoff is worth it.

And you can read as much as you want into it. What’s the meaning of the meth lab mutes and the drug trafficking mules? Is the cops and robbers story an allegory for Hong Kong vs. China? And how cool is it that the handsome and tanned Louis Koo is first seen foaming at the mouth and then with cuts and bandages all over his face?

This movie actually showed in screens over the summer and it’s very cool that a domestic DVD and Blu-ray is being released in the U.S. by WellGo today. Check it out HERE and don’t forget to watch the Ip Man: The Final Fight trailer while you’re at it…

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Hawaii International Film Festival 2013: My Schedule

The other day, a friend asked me if I was going to HIFF. I wish. I’ve been to a few film fests around the country but I think Hawaii International Film Festival is the best. And after looking over this year’s excellent schedule and its survey of arty, indie, genre, and dramatic flicks from the around the world (especially Asia), I really miss interviewing filmmakers and reviewing movies for Giant Robot mag. Too bad I can’t justify buying all those movies anymore–let alone carve out time to watch them. Man, I could go for some hurricane popcorn, too.

That being said, you don’t have to be a journalist or even an otaku to enjoy or appreciate HIFF. I would hop on a plane to Honolulu this afternoon if I could, and my schedule might look something like the following. Some arty stuff, some intellectual stuff, and definitely a lot of  junk. This is for enjoyment and not to impress anyone. (If you see one and it’s a stinker, sorry! Ditto if I scribbled down an incorrect time or date.) Of course there are plenty of slots to watch random movies and go to Waiola, Leonard’s, Jimbo, Don Quijote, the Human Imagination… Mornings are reserved for the beach.

Enjoy, and let’s definitely make plans to meet at HIFF next year!


Thursday, October 10, 6:00
The Wind Rises (Japan, 2013) – The festival’s opening movie may be the last for the much-loved animated filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki.

Friday, October 11, 5:30
A River Changes Course (Cambodia/USA, 2013) – Gorgeous, powerful documentary about the effects of modernization on Cambodia.

Friday, October 11, 9:00
Escape From Tomorrow (USA, 2013) – The already infamous experimental thriller filmed on the sly in Disneyland and Disney World.

Saturday, October 12, 6:30
Unbeatable (China, 2013) – Stool Pigeon‘s director Dante Lam and actor Nick Cheung team up once again for this underdog/MMA flick.

Saturday, October 12, 9:45
Pig Death Machine (USA, 2013) – If you can only see one movie, make it Jon Moritisugu and Amy Davis’s newest eyeball-melting, brain-frying experimental flick that captures the surreal beauty and boredom of Santa Fe, NM like nothing else. Not only is Jon and Amy’s band Low on High on the killer soundtrack but so is Dirty Beaches (above). And the people mentioned above have Hawaiian pedigrees, brah!

Sunday, October 13, 3:00
One Night Surprise (China, 2013) – Screwball comedy/chick flick directed by Eva Jin starring Fan Bingbing.

Sunday, October 13, 8:00
Harlock: Space Pirate (Japan, 2013) – An eye-popping 3-D update of anime’s favorite space pirate.

Monday, October 14, 6:15
A Tale of Samurai Cooking: A True Love Story (Japan, 2013) – Expect mouth-watering training scenes.

Monday, October 14, 9:00
Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo (Japan, 2012) – The update of arguably anime’s greatest mecha saga/religious parable/mind fuck.

Tuesday, October 15, 3:00
A Touch of Sin (China, 2013) – Jia Zhangke’s collection of shorts is inspired by by the stylized martial arts flicks of King Hu but are thematically as raw as Kim Ki-duk.

Tuesday, October 15, 8:00
King Kong (USA, 1933) – A chance to see Merian C. Cooper’s genre-defining classic on the big screen.

Wednesday, October 16 6:00
American Dreams in China (China, 2013) – Award-winning director Peter Chan and Wong Kar-Wai collaborator Christopher Doyle reunite for this intriguing and smart-looking movie.

Wednesday, October 6, 9:30
Intruders (South Korea, 2013) – A screenwriter checks into a bed-and-breakfast for peace and quiet but finds himself surrounded by obnoxious guests.

Thursday, October 17, 12:45
Me and You (Italy, 2013) – Seeing a coming-of-age movie by Bernardo Bertolucci seems like a good thing to do at a film festival.

Thursday, October 17 3:45
See You Tomorrow, Everyone (Japan, 2012) – Artful and awkward indie flick with a misfit man-child.

Friday, October 18, 5:00
Sake-Bomb (Japan/USA, 2013) – Indie road movie pitting an Asian American with his Japanese-American cousin, both on the rebound.

Friday, October 18, 7:15
So Young (China, 2013) – Directorial debut/hit movie by actress Zhao Wei adapting a popular novel about a small-town girl coming to grips in the big city, Chinese style.

Saturday, October 19, 7:30
How To Use Guys With Secret Tips (South Korea, 2012) – Tribute to the ’80s with era-appropriate music, fashion, and battling of the sexes.

Saturday, October 19, 9:30
Hentai Kamen: Forbidden Superhero (Japan, 2013) – The hero is masked and also perverted, with ass-crack powers and a “flying bondage technique.”

Sunday, October 20, 6:30
50 First Dates (USA, 2004) – Drew Barrymore + Adam Sandler + Hawaii = Impossible not to like.



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Writer/co-director Matt Riggle on FILMAGE (Descendents documentary) w/ info on this weekend’s San Diego screenings

FILMAGE, the long-awaited documentary about the Descendents and ALL has been making rounds on the film festival circuit throughout 2013, and currently it’s hopscotching the country yet again with the help of cool supporters such as Vannen Watches (makers of the Descendents/Coffee Time watch) and Hi My Name Is Mark (Mark of Blink 182 appears in the flick). They are sponsoring three screenings at the Digiplex Mission Valley in San Diego on Saturday, September 21.

I was able to catch an early screening in Long Beach, and was not only stoked to see one of my all-time favorite bands on the big screen blasted though huge speakers but actually learned a lot about the road bumps they’ve encountered and suffering they’ve endured on the quest for ALL. It’s a worthwhile story to tell, and the band’s commitment to its craft (up there with The Beatles and Queen, says Robert Hecker from Redd Kross) and enduring a rough life (as some brushes with death) will appeal to audiences well beyond O.G. punks. I hit up writer/co-director Matt Riggle about the movie, its making, and its future.

MW: How did you get into the Descendents? A rad show, hearing the right song at the right time?
MR: I personally started with ALL’s “Dot” single then traced things back to Descendents. To me they were just so unique sounding. “Can’t Say” was the first thing I heard and it remains, to me, a shining example of a perfect song. I’d never heard a band with so many songwriters sound so cohesive. And they were so strong and melodic and funny without being a joke. I loved the look of their records, too–the covers, the sparse use of pictures, the consistent typesetting. And the fact that the drummer wrote great songs and produced was insane to me. It defied the laws that I thought were in place for bands. (more…)

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Filmage (Descendents documentary) secret screening in Long Beach

Last night, I was invited to attend the “family and friends” screening of Filmage, a documentary about the Descendents and ALL. How cool is that? The filmmakers were in attendance and so were many of the film’s local contributors and friends of the band. My friend Sandy Yang (Red Krayola) came along, too! (more…)


Daniel Wu on Europa Report

Really stoked about Europa Report, which has been available for streaming in the U.S. and finally hit big screens last week. My friend, Hong Kong-based actor Daniel Wu and I had a short conversation about the indie sci-fi flick, which has been getting press for its slow-burning intensity and sound science, and this is how it went…

MW: You told me that you are especially proud of this movie. Why is that?
DW: I’ve always wanted to do a sci-fi flick but have never had a chance in Hong Kong or China. And the fact that this is “hard” sci-fi is even better. It was a really interesting film to make. Six of us actors from all over the world being thrown into a space capsule and shot via “on-board cameras” that didn’t move presented a lot of challenges. It was very experimental and after having done 50-something regular narrative films, this was fresh.

MW: What attracted you to the role in Europa Report?
DW: To play the ship’s commander amongst a group of well-seasoned actors stuck inside a space capsule seemed like it was going to fun. The fact that I was going to spend three months in New York didn’t hurt, either. I literally just came off The Last Supper, where I spent about eight months in rural China, and I was eager to get back to civilization.

MW: The thrust of the Comic-Con panel was that the movie’s science is realistic. Did you have to study up on it?
DW: Yes, lots. We had three weeks of rehearsal where we got to talk to actual astronauts and experts, and that proved vital to the project. The original script was a bit between hard science and Armageddon type sci-fi. It was through our research that we decided to keep it as real as possible and get rid of the Hollywood shit. We wanted the story to seem not only believable but possible, too, so the facts had to be spot on. Obviously, we did dramatize certain things but we kept it 90 percent real. Also, because my character is from the CNSA (Chinese National Space Administration), I had to do a lot of research on the history of their program and their future plans.

MW:  What was it like working on an indie sci-fi flick in New York? Must have been very different than your Hong Kong and China gigs…
DW: Yeah, totally. A lot more comfortable and great food and culture was always all around us. We were located in a studio in Williamsburg and stayed in Manhattan, so every morning on the way to work we’d see hoodie-wearing hipsters mixed in with hardcore Hasidic Jews near the studio. It was also nice to be close to many useful museums and libraries for convenient access to research materials.

MW: Was it odd to act in English? You pretty much learned how to act speaking Chinese.
DW: Yes and no. It was incredibly freeing to be able to speak in my mother language, which allowed me to improvise much more than I’m usually able to in Chinese. And it was especially interesting because Michael Niquist and Anamaria Marinca, who are not native English speakers, sometimes had trouble with the scientific dialogue. I could totally feel for them from my experience working in Chinese. Because the cameras didn’t move, it allowed us to do really long takes and burn through three or four scenes all in one go. Having English dialogue made it so much easier to learn 18-20 pages of script quickly.

MW: Tell me about the cast and crew. Any stories? Anyone we need to watch out for?
DW: I know this is gonna sound PC, but they were all great. There were some issues in the beginning during rehearsals but we kind of slowly began to morph into our roles and once we got on that ship we really became a tight-knit crew.

We all came from very different places with very different experiences. Our cast consisted of Christian Camargo (Twilight, Dexter), who is American, Michael Nyquist (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, MI4), who is Swedish, Anamaria Marinca (4 months, 3weeks, 2 days), who is Romanian, Karolina Wydra (Crazy Stupid Love), who is Polish American, and Sharlto Copely (District 9), who is South African.

Our director Sebastian Cordero is from Ecuador, our DP Enrique Chediak is from Brazil, and our production designer Eugenio Caballero and costume designer Anna Terrazas are both from Mexico, so there there was this really strong Latin vibe going on. Lots of drinking, eating, and cheek kissing but I really liked that warmness. You don’t see too much of that here in Asia.

Sharlto Copely came in later because he was working on Elysium, so when he first arrived I think there was a bit of insecurity on his part because we had such great chemistry. It turns out Sharlto is a prankster, something that he must have learned from Matt Damon on Elysium. When we finished Europa, he recruited me and Anmaria to break into the producer of Elysium‘s  NYC spot (the neighbors let us in). We took some fake blood from the set and then proceeded to do a photo shoot with a dead and bloody Anamaria lying in various places in the house. He then opened a fake email account and each day sent a new picture to him with crazy psychotic messages about how he’d be next, then the wife, then the kids… watch out for that guy.

MW: Speaking of family, how’s your and Lisa’s baby?
DW: Awesome! Raven is constantly changing everyday and it’s a pleasure to be able to witness that.

Stream Europa Report online NOW or watch it at a theater near you. Of course, I suggest the latter to maximize the heavy atmosphere of the movie.

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Animal Style Revisited at Asian Cinevision’s AAIFF (NYC) + Ramones Pilgrimage

Last night my program of indie skate videos by friends showed at the Anthology Film Archives in the East Village. I knew it was a rad spot as soon as I saw the Let Me Die a Woman and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! posters outside. And then when I finally met R.B. Umali in person, he said that he showed the first installment of N.Y. Revisited at the same venue ages ago as part of the Underground Film Festival. Another good omen. And when I saw my friends Wing Ko and Jesse Neuhaus gather to represent The Brotherhood: Chicago, I was reminded of the Chicago and Honolulu screenings, I knew this film festival tour was a pretty rad thing to keep going. (There was also San Diego.)

I’m a crummy skateboarder. I’ve never made a movie other than filming my daughter do cute stuff. But I’m really proud that I’ve been able to help promote the rad skate videos that my friends have made. From Tadashi Suzuki and Thy Mai’s artful and fun “The Working Man” and “Perfect Time” (which I got to be in, here’s a shorter version) to Wing Ko’s amazing doc about Chicago’s first generation of pro skaters Jesse Neuhaus, Stevie Dread, and Eric Murphy, The Brotherhood: Chicago. Ben Clark and Langdon Taguiped’s music shorts on Ray Barbee and Mario Rubalcaba. Willy Santos versus Pinoy comedian Jo Koy. And I wouldn’t have taken these to New York City unless I secured the local support of R.B. Umali, who made a special remix of his upcoming N.Y. Revisited Vol. 3 just for the fest.

The screening looked and sounded incredible and the Q&A afterward kicked ass until the lights dimmed. Thanks to Asian CineVision’s AAIFF Managing Director Judy Lei for inviting us to show skate videos on the big screen alongside indie, experimental, and imported works. I think it’s awesome that she would take that chance and put the genre in such context.

Yes, I’ve been doing other stuff in NYC, too. Namely, taking my 5-year-old daughter Eloise on pilgrimages to various destinations related to The Ramones. Left to right: Joey Ramone Place, 53rd and 3rd, the address where CBGB once stood. I know the way to Rockaway Beach but don’t think we’ll make it this trip. Perhaps next time… Gabba gabba hey!

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Jon Moritisugu on Pig Death Machine and his retrospective at the Downtown Independent (L.A.)

Underground filmmaker Jon Moritsugu not only has a mind-blowing new movie out, Pig Death Machine, but he has also been on the receiving end of recent retrospectives in San Francisco and New York City. Coming up on August 9 it’s the City of Angels’ turn at the Downtown Independent. I asked my friend about the honor as well as the flick to get all of you excited about it.

MW: Is this the first time you’ve ever depicted a character with the problem of being too smart?
JM: Yeah, it’s a first. I’ve had characters in other movies who thought they were really smart. F’rinstance, Miles Morgan (played by Kyp Malone from TV on the Radio) in Scumrock and Kazumi in Mod Fuck Explosion. But Cocojoy is the only legit, hands-down, I’m-so-smart-this-sucks character. Amy and I wanted to portray “too smart” as an affliction, a total problemo, like not something you’d ever wish for.

MW: Santa Fe looks amazing, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen you show nature like this before in a movie. Can you talk about how your new home base has affected your film making?
JM: New Mexico is totally intense–visually, physically, psychically. I love it. You have the desert (of course), blue-screen colored skies, summer monsoons that bring full-on thunderstorms and torrential rains and then blistering sunshine half an hour later, seven thousand foot altitude and 30 percent less oxygen. Green chili sauce so hot it makes you puke (no joke, the place is Horseman’s Haven). The sweet smell of pinon wood burning in fireplaces at night. Plus, we live in a 200-year-old adobe (!!!) house that looks like a baked potato with holes poked in it for windows. This area is totally weird and cool, foreboding and beautiful all at once. Perfect inspiration for making the movies. Plus Albuquerque is only an hour away for getting rowdy in that Walter White sort of way. (more…)

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Interview with Robert Williams at Comic-Con about the Mr. Bitchin’ documentary (Release date: July 30)

Robert Williams is a champion of lowbrow art who has barged past the velvet rope of fine art with wonderfully complex, completely thought out, and masterfully executed oil depictions of Western Civilization gone horribly wrong. His work is so far out from the fine art world that he was forced to found Juxtapoz magazine to not only create context for his work but start a movement of street-level creativity as well. Even so, he is largely dismissed in high art circles and equally ignored in pop culture realms. When the excellent documentary on the artist was screened last week at Comic-Con, he was introduced as “Robin Williams.”

Mr. Bitchin’ should help prevent such mistakes in the future. It details the artist’s evolution from hot-rod garages to high-end galleries, and features luminaries such as Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, Don Ed Hardy, and R. Crumb, as well as members of Guns N’ Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blondie, and Butthole Surfers. While effectively and convincingly telling William’s story, it provides quite a primer on subcultures.

I met with Williams the day after the movie showing and a subsequent panel about him. As affable as he is intelligent, we had a casual yet charged conversation in the compound of Gentle Giant (which has released a miniature bust of the artist and is assisting the artist in realizing a series of large sculptures) in anticipation of the film’s release on DVD and digital platforms on July 30. (more…)


Comic-Con 2013: Robert Williams, Frank Brunner, William Stout, Paul Pope, Spider-Man, Metallica…

After attending for 24 years I still love Comic-Con. Crowds and corporations can’t ruin the annual gathering that is Halloween, Christmas, and the first day of summer for me. The costumes, goods, and energy are unbeatable–not to mention hanging out with my twin brother, friends from elementary school, and other people that matter from all over the place. Best Comic-Con ever? It this year felt like that–or at least a return to focusing on comic books for me.


After picking up our badges in perhaps the easiest line ever (one of the things Comic-Con gets right), my brother Greg and I made our annual donations at the Robert A. Heinlein Blood Drive.

Then we went straight to Hall H to catch the panel for Europa Report. I don’t often buy into the lines and hype of the Con’s biggest hall, but couldn’t miss the scoop on the indie sci-fi flick featuring my longtime friend, Hong Kong movie star, and Giant Robot contributor Daniel Wu. Shockingly, the line was reasonable and we were rewarded with an awesome trailer as well as some killer footage accompanied by earth-shaking audio. The panel, which featured director Sebastián Cordero, composer Bear McCreary, actress Karolina Wydra, and two consultants from JPL, focused mostly on how the movie is scientifically sound. Karolina told some pretty funny stories about wearing the scientifically correct spacesuits. The movie looks amazing and intense, and I wish the panel also mentioned the flick’s more kick-ass elements. Too bad there was no time for a Q&A session because I wanted to bring up Dan’s role in it. Go see the film, and get more info here! (more…)


Movie reviews: Kim Ki-duk’s Pietà; Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster; Stephen Chow’s Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons

Hot damn! Three new movies by three of my favorite filmmakers: Kim Ki-duk, Wong Kar-Wai, and Stephen Chow.

Pietà, the latest film by Kim Ki-duk, depicts a ruthless and violent money collector who is embraced by seemingly the only person with the power to tame him: his long-lost mother. The events are as brutal as the premise is simple,  bolstered by layers of symbolism and the blackest of humor. The critique of capitalism could be seen as cartoonish but I thought it was hilarious. Somewhere between playing chess with Death or Socrates learning a Kansas song, the goon’s downfall is loaded with meaning yet amusing to no end. It doesn’t hurt that the movie is masterfully filmed with no filler or irony, and I’m stoked that the Drafthouse Films version comes with English-subtitled interviews and extras.

The Grandmaster, the long-awaited Ip Man bio by Wong Kar-Wai, is as gorgeous and frustrating as his fans might expect. Tony Leung is enigmatic and powerful in the title role as Bruce Lee’s sifu, and successfully carries battles that range from the spectacular (in a train station) to the profound (using a piece of cake). Zhang Ziyi is equally magnetic, and perhaps has the most charged role as a rival grandmaster of kung fu. Sadly, Chang Chen’s role seems cut short. But ultimately, the characters are mere parts of the shifting eras, philosophies, and politics of China. Small parts of a bigger picture that will look incredible on American screens with a Comic-Con premiere.

Stephen Chow’s follow-up to Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle, and CJ7 has practically no western appeal whatsoever. And it’s too bad if the Journey to the West prequel doesn’t get a proper U.S. release like Pietà or The Grandmaster, because it’s brilliant. Mixing the fully realized universes  of Chow’s last three films with the no-holds-barred humor of earlier classics like Flirting Scholar, The Mad Monk, or Justice, My Foot!, Chow impossibly balances between the deep and the profane, art and entertainment, high and low. In Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons, Chow stays completely behind the camera but his vision and imprint are unmistakable, while Shu Qi gives yet another performance of a lifetime as a vivacious demon hunter who is smitten with her less-than-equal played with measured gusto by Huang Bo.

Check out the trailers for Pietà, The Grandmaster, and Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons and then seek out the movies.


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Animal Style Revisited at Asian Cinevision, New York City

It started by accident when I contacted my friend Tim about showing a independently made skateboard video called “The Working Man” at the Chicago film festival that he runs. He said, sure, but asked me to curate an entire program to go with it and I accepted the challenge. After the packed spring 2012 showing in the Windy City, the pack of new, independent skateboard films went on to enjoy successful screenings at film festivals in Honolulu and San Diego–a pretty cool run that I was stoked by and proud of. I not only was able to give attention to the awesome work of my creative friends but promote skateboarding videos as an art form and more than a niche genre for sweaty guys who roll around sideways.

So when Judy at Asian Cinevision asked if I’d like to bring the program to this summer’s Asian American International Film Festival, how could I say no? It will include the same core of movies:

“The Working Man” and “The Perfect Time” by Pity Corp., reimagining Downtown Los Angeles through the lens of skateboarding
The Brotherhood: Chicago by Wing Ko, featuring Jesse Neuhaus, Stevie Dread, and Eric Murphy
• Ben Clark and Langdon Taguiped’s “Traveling Sounds” and “Wide Angle Sounds” with Ray Barbee and Mario Rubalcaba
• “Willy vs. Jo Koy,” pitting legendary Pinoy skater Willy Santos against big-time Pinoy comedian Jo Koy.

As usual, there will be a local element mixed in. This time it is a world premiere by skate documentarian RB Umali.

• “N.Y. Revisited 3 Remix” features some of the city’s most beloved spots and skaters, including Jefferson Pang, Keith Hufnagel, Danny Supa, Chris Keeffe, Bobby Puleo, Karl Watson, Vinnie Ponte, Ben Liversedge, Anthony Correa, Maurice Key, Joey Alvarez, Spencer Fujimoto, Todd Jordan, Gino Ianucci, Quim Cardona, Rodney Torres, Fred Gall, Peter Bici, and Harold Hunter.

Animal Style Revisited will show one time only on Friday, August 2 at 8:30 pm at Anthology Film Archives. Get more information and preorder tickets at Share, and hope to see you there!

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Reviews: The Sound of Crickets at Night at LAAPFF, The Three O’Clock, King Tuff, JT Habersaat & The Altercation Punk Comedy Tour

Another year, another Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. I’ve attended such fests in the past as a member of the press, as a presenter, as a judge, and as a contributor. This was my first time it was a committee member who helped select the movies that were shown, write synopses for the program, and then introduce movies and conduct post-screening interviews. Honestly, it was a little more work than I expected but how could I say no when I was recruited by my friend/Visual Communications Creative Director Anderson Le? And the festival duties have turned out to be a lot of fun.

Last night I was assigned to The Sound of Crickets at Night. I chose to write the program’s essay about the movie because I Ioved its honesty, rawness, and creativity when I saw the screener. So it was a real treat to introduce the Marshall Islands indie flick, see it on a big screen, and then have a brief chat with co-producer/co-director/writer/gofer Jack Niedenthal. Jack is a really personable and outgoing guy with a fascinating story (visiting with the Peace Corps, staying and entering local politics, becoming a self-taught filmmaker to represent the culture after his young son asked him why there were no movies about the Marshallese) so, really, I just had to hand him the mic and get out of the way. Almost too easy, but more of him and less of me is what the audience came for.

Tonight is the fest’s closing screening of the Japanese dark comedy Key of Life, which will be followed by encore presentations of some of the its most popular movies (none of my pics, oh well) over the weekend. Support indie film! Support film festivals!  Who knows when you’ll get to see these films at the movies, meet the filmmakers again, or surround yourself with like-minded cultural connoisseurs and  patrons of the arts again?


The Three O’Clock – Live at the Old Waldorf
Sadly, I missed the Paisley Underground band’s reunion shows at Coachella, The Glass House, and The Troubadour. But I couldn’t pass up this limited-edition live album, which captures The Three O’Clock at their arguable peak in 1983 with all of the swirling, ripping songs off their perfect Baroque Hoedown EP (one of the first records I ever bought back in junior high) as well as selections from their more psychedelic Salvation Army era (Befour Three O’Clock) and previews of their yet-to-be-released pop opus, Sixteen Tambourines (alas no “Jet Fighter”). The fact that the wafer-thin audio sounds like a bootleg taped off a Walkman will alienate lesser fans and the merely curious–who should pre-order the 20-track anthology with outtakes and demos from Omnivore Records instead–but this is a real artifact and a must-have for fans and survivors of the mod revival like me. [Burger Records]

King Tuff – King Tuff Was Dead
While I don’t have one friend who isn’t addicted to King Tuff’s self-titled perfect garage pop album on Sub Pop, I haven’t known anyone who has possessed or even heard his first album. Until now. The folks at Burger have resurrected their pressing of his impossible-to-find debut LP on Colonel Records and the grooves didn’t even require any dusting. It’s practically fuzz-free compared to his universally loved follow-up but has all of the hooks and melodies. Songs like “Just Strut” and “Animal” come across like an unholy mix of T-Rex and Bob Dylan–or just plain old great, stripped-down King Tuff. If you don’t have the budget to spend 15 bucks on the vinyl you can buy the $6 cassette version like I did since you’ll want to listen to it in your car al the time anyway. [Burger Records]

JT Habersaat & The Altercation Punk Comedy Tour – Hostile Corporate Takeover
I am totally out of the comedy scene and haven’t owned a comedy LP since Dr. Demento’s Dementia Royale. But I can connect to this sampler because of its connections to punk. Beyond having cover art by Raymond Pettibon, M.O.D. and S.O.D.’s Billy Milano has an extended and hilarious gag about being a single guy on tour masturbating into all the black T-shirts that bands would gave him as a bouncer for C.B.G.B.’s  and Riverboat Gamblers’ Mike Wiebe recounts his encounter with The Boss. As for ringleader Habersaat, he is totally aware of his place in punk as well as comedy; when a comedian pal talks about performing alongside The Melvins, Slayer, and Skeleton Witch, he reluctantly recalls hitting the road with emo bands with ridiculous names like Cute Is What We Aim For on the Warped Tour. Meanwhile, his Clash of the Titans story is necessarily listening with the recent passing of Ray Harryhausen. Also features thoughts on lazy protesters, hipster chicks, and Panopticon’s Pet Money Shot by  Mack Lindsay and Joe Staats. [Stand Up! Records]

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Life on Four Strings Jake Shimabukuro Documentary

Watch this on the 10th! Imagine… a theater filled with folks who looked like they were cutting onions. It’s touching and deep. This is the story of a guy who is the best in the world at ukelele and you can see this free. A film by Tad Nakamura.


A production of the Center for Asian American Media

and Pacific Islanders in Communications

Directed by Tadashi Nakamura

Watch trailer:

PBS National Broadcast Premiere

Friday, May 10, 2013 at 9:00p (check local listings)

Please set your DVRs!  On your cable box search for “Jake Shimabukuro”.  Record in HD if possible.

Find your local PBS station at:

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Reviews: The Rolling Stones at Staples/The Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival at the DGA

Still can’t believe my friend Cate invited me to watch The Rolling Stones kick off their current tour at Staples Center last Friday. Still can’t believe how great they are live. Like the blues musicians they grew up idolizing, The Stones have become not only timeless but ageless masters… Yes, to kick off the evening they had the UCLA marching band play “Satisfaction” following a video montage of musicians, filmmakers, and fans sharing their devotion to Their Satanic Majesties; there were guest appearances by Gwen Stefani and Keith Urban; and the CSULB choir sang a chillingly beautiful intro “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” to make it a special night. But really it’s all about their enormously heavy catalog of songs. Everyone from The New York Dolls to Aerosmith has tried in their own way to channel The Stones’ primal, evil grooves but The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band remains just that. Everyone talks about how Mick and Keef have survived with style but Ronnie and Charlie are effortlessly on point and cool… (more…)

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Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival begins!

Just got back from the opening night of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. The featured flick was the Los Angeles premiere of Linsanity, a real crowd-pleaser of an underdog story that we’re all familiar with, but for a guy like me who doesn’t get out much the highlight was seeing friends. Clockwise from top right are Eric from GR, Working Man/Perfect Time/SGV skateboarding homie John Lee,  Patrick from NFS, and Eugenia Yuan, who appears in the movie Chink on Saturday night. Also saw my pal Kristina Wong decked out in a bridal gown and met Judy Lei from the Asian American International Film Festival, who is going to bring the Animal Style skate program that I put together to New York City this summer. More on that later. First comes Los Angeles…

Have I ever mentioned that my friend Anderson Le (Visual Communications’ Artistic Director) recruited me to be on the programming committee this year? Part of my duties include introducing films and filmmakers as well as conducting Q&As after screenings. These are the four that I’ll be handling, and it would be cool if you came by to check them out and say hi.

Saturday, May 4 (Director’s Guild of America on Sunset)

12:15 – A River Changes Course. Winner of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize for World Documentary.

2:45 – StatelessLike a spelling bee movie on steroids, Duc Nguyen tells the story of Vietnamese War refugees who never made it to America, settled illegally in the Philippines, and are preparing to interview with U.S. State Department officials when the immigration department decides to open new cases.

7:15 – Abigail HarmDirector Lee Isaac Chung does a remarkable job of crafting a compact but open-ended fable that can be as deep as you want it to be. As sad as you want it to be. And as fantastic as you want it to be. But gorgeously and masterfully executed in any case.

Thursday, May 9 (CGV Cinemas in Koreatown)

7:00 - The Sound of Crickets at Night. Displacement from home, broken family, loss of identity, and eroding tradition are only some of the themes that are presented dreamily yet effectively in this modest and skillful film from the Marshall Islands.

Seeya then. Support independent film! Support film festivals!

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Show review: Iceage and Milk Music at The Echoplex; Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles preview: Eega, Miss Lovely

After following Milk Music for a while but never getting a chance to see them, I had mixed feelings about finally getting to catch them at a big place like the The Echoplex. But then I found out that the headliner was pretty interesting (Iceage) and the cover was still fair (15 bucks). If you stand right in front, it doesn’t matter how big the venue is, right?

Of course, Milk Music were great. Doubly fuzzed rock ‘n’ roll with the stony riffs of Dinosaur Jr. and unedited power of Hüsker Dü, they sounded amazing live. Then they took it down a notch for a song that was “half written by someone else” that happened to be Johnny Thunders. Wow. Their first LP is impossible to find these days (being repressed as I type by Perennial Death) but they had a box of the new one which I snatched up. I’ve only listened to it a hundred times. The band said they came from Joshua Tree, which I thought was a joke, but I heard that they are indeed moving there from Olympia. Hopefully they’ll play Los Angeles more often as a result. See them when you can.

When Iceage asked all the photographers to leave the space between the barrier and stage, I told my friend Ben that they are either totally punk rock or they’re assholes. Maybe it’s both? The young Copenhagen band’s first release mixed the angular sounds of Joy Division with the fay vocals of The Church, which they ditched for hardcore on their second (and superior) album. They ripped through their short set like well-dressed animals and walked off after less than 40 minutes. It was a statement more than a show, and they nailed it.


Next week the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles opens. I’m a big fan of the film fest, which is in its eleventh year, because they always come up with an interesting mix of arty blockbusters, lo-fi indies, and cool oddball documentaries. I was lucky enough to watch some screeners…

Eega is doubly, maybe even threefold weird. The big-budget and unabashedly commercial flick starts off as a straight-up love triangle movie between a pretty girl (Samantha), a nice but poor guy (Nani), and a ruthless and rich man (Sudeep). Following a sweet courtship complete with sappy songs and dancing, the story takes a serious left turn when the businessmen offs his rival who is reincarnated as a housefly. That’s when director S S Rajamouli turns it up as the fly defends the naive love interest by creating spa accidents, causing sleep deprivation, and pestering the villain as he drives a motorcycle. The cg insect writes on the dirty windshield of a crashed car: “I will kill you.” It’s darkly funny and oddly sweet, and it wouldn’t work as well as it does if the escalating reactions of Sudeep weren’t at least as good as the special effects.

Miss Lovely is an arty indie flick about India’s pre-Internet exploitation cinema scene. The recreated softcore horror and smut scenes look great–almost as if reimagined by Wong Kar Wai–and the atmospheric scenes of alleys, factories, and slums are simply gorgeous. In the middle of this are two brothers (Niharika Singh and Nawazuddin Siddiqui) who are trapped in the crime-infested low-budget movie scene. Can the younger one break out of the grindhouse circuit to make a legit movie with his sweetheart? Director Ashim Ahluwalia paints a straightforward and bleak picture complete with double-crossing and extortion that doesn’t have the whimsy of Ed Wood or energy of Boogie Nights. It’s completely sordid but also unique and absorbing (and started off as a documentary but none of Ahluwalia’s interviewees wanted to be involved) and I was more than a little sad to see it end like a Jack Chick tract.

See these and other incredible films on the big screen at the amazing ArcLight in Hollywood from April 9-14, 2013. Check out the IFFLA site HERE.

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Roger Ebert RIP at 70


If you’re a writer, you have to like this man. Roger Ebert wrote tons of reviews, watched plenty of movies, but understood how to keep doing it and at the same time adapt to new technology and changing times. That might have been one of his better gifts. He also championed films from a wide spectrum of people and understood what the playing field was like for them and worked accordingly. I’m glad to have met him at the Hawaii International Film Festival. I’ll see him at the movies. (Chicago Sun Times – Roger Ebert)

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