It was a thrill to get back to the Californian roots of Outsideleft with our (virtual) invite to take in the 38th Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF). Founded in 1983, the festival focuses on cinematic work created by Asian and Pacific Islander artists and filmmakers. With more than 180 filmmakers representing we were spoiled for choice but what follows is the first report which focuses on some highlights from the short films programme.
There were a number of themed strands in the short film section at LAAPFF. Without the time to watch them all, the first port of call was the “Lit After Dark” program of late night tales, genre based shorts, mystery and magic(k). Well loosely magick as I recognised the back of the cards used in TAROT (REVERSE ) as being the Aleister Crowley deck. Written and directed by Dorothy Xiao and starring a solo Artemis Snow as a woman who takes to the Tarot cards to answer a question about a decision she has to make about the future. Her future self appears and answers back. It’s a short short, a simple set-up competently executed. More complicated time travelling arrives in the shape of Josh Aries’ () in which an assassin is caught in a loop as he tries (and fails) to take out his target. It’s Groundhog Day goes hit man with a few gags and some impressively choreographed shoot-ups. What could be a simply generic chapter of some high concept action flick is elevated by the fact that the location and moment the hit is set to take place is the exact same moment the hero had his heart broken and so he is constantly distracted by the failings of his younger self as his future self tries to be clinical.
Miida Chu’s EUREKA () is beautifully shot (by Qingzhuo Wang) and looks at the 1885 anti-Chinese riot in Eureka. Starring Ying Yue Joyce Chong as an indentured prostitute caught up in the ethnic cleansing of a Californian town, it’s a really luxurious looking film with exceptional colouring and texture. The frequent use of a hand held camera suggests a claustrophobia alleviated only by the occasional flare of sunlight in keeping with the central character’s captivity and imminent expulsion. In this version of the story there is a little more style than substance and it’s a snap shot of the lead character and her situation but what is there is excellent and bodes well for Chu’s plans give the story the detailing it warrants by extending this to feature length.
There’s no need to extend Wally Chung’s excellent IN THE MOUNTAINS () beyond its current five minutes. A scratchy ink and pencil black and white animation sees two hikers run into vengeful fire trolls out to stop their prized elks from getting turned into jerky. The fire trolls sound a bit like Beavis and Butthead and the whole thing races to a comically violent and very satisfying ending.
A different kind of horror in the great outdoors is found in POACHERS () which screened as part of “From Visions To Reel” (some kind of catch-all strand as far as I could tell). Two friends are illegally harvesting and selling succulents from the Californian wilderness in an attempt to raise cash for college and one is a little keener on the enterprise than the other. Directed and co-written by Tiffany Lin the film takes full advantage of the scenic Pacific coastline and pivots on one particularly savage moment that comes out of nowhere.
I’m not entirely sure what Ray Yamamoto’s short is all about which is often no bad thing. Titled either REIWA 9000 or REIWA, BARRY BONDS () depending on where you look for it. It’s dreamy, slightly surreal (or is it just confusing) with some excellent “snorkel parka on the beach” scenes. Kind of fun. Yamamoto apparently spent his $8500 life savings on it.
There’s yet more beach action in the much simpler to follow CROSSWINDS () written/directed by Candace Ho it follows the last few days of a second generation Chinese American who is about to pack up and leave LA for good. There’s a very strong performance from Grace Shen as the mordantly funny Minnie whose final fling is to fly a kite in the hope that her ancestors can see her. Originally funded as part of the Deutsche Bank Frieze LA Award the entire film can be seen on the Frieze website.
Probably my favourite of the shorts is BEAUTY QUEEN () the debut film by Myra Aquino. Based on the true story of Filipino guerilla leader Remedios Gomez, the film packs in a feature length treatment in just 18 minutes and though obviously low budget makes full use of a presumed mostly non-professional cast and a dense, cloying, oppressive jungle location. Set in 1942, Pampanga, Philippines, the Empire of Japan has invaded the Philippines. Remedios, a beauty queen, runs to the mountains with her brother to join the Hukbalahap resistance. Appalled at being sidelined because she is a woman she eventually persuades her fellow resisters that she is more capable as a leader than the rather ineffectual men that have been put in charge. A Filipino folk hero, Gomez later known as Kumander Liwayway continued to go into battle wearing a dress, in fresh make-up and nail polish. She is brilliantly portrayed here by Carina Febie Agustin in her only featured role (to date).
Main Image from In The Mountains
All films screened as part of the 38th Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival
Kirk Lake is a writer, musician and filmmaker. His published books include Mickey The Mimic (2015) and The Last Night of the Leamington Licker (2018). His films include the feature films Piercing Brightness (2014) and The World We Knew (2020) and a number of award winning shorts.
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