Asian-American Film Festival

"Movie Magazine International" Special Report

(Air Date: Week Of 3/5/97)

By Andrea Chase

The ridiculous and the sublime in this week's Asian- American Film Festival report.

Chinese director Zhang Min's "Rainclouds over Wushan" tells a story of boredom, sex, bad TV reception and gratuitous carp-killing. The less said about this one, the better.

"Looking For Fangs" bills itself as a generAsian X, genre- hopping thriller and I can't quibble with that assessment. Set in hyper-sunny Southern California, it's as inventive and original as they come.

In it, two characters suffer from identity crises whose respective developments and unfoldings are never predictable. One, it seems, may be turning into a lesbian, the other into a werewolf. Don't be so sure who's more upset by which putative metamorphosis. And don't be so sure where it will all end up. Screenwriters Justin Lin, Quentin Lee and Dan Alvarado know their way around a plot twist and they have a real flair for creating interesting characters.

For some good, clean eroticism, there's the Sessue Hayakawa double feature - Cecil B. DeMille's "The Cheat" from 1915 and Roger Lion's 1924 "J'ai Tue". At this stage in his career, Mr. Hayakawa was, as Movie Magazine producer, Monica Sullivan, puts it, the sexiest thing on two legs.

"Hwa Om Kyung" by director Jang Sun Woo, about whom I waxed so rhapsodical last week, translates an ancient Buddhist sutra of the same name to modern Korea. It's magical realism at its very best with a performance from an eleven-year-old that would put most of the Actor's Studio to shame.

But the best perfomance at this festival is from Ruan Ling- yu in the festival's kick-off presentation, "Love and Duty", a silent masterpiece of high-flown melodrama. Never before seen in this country, "Love and Duty" is the story of a young woman trapped in a loveless, arranged marriage to a not-so-faithful husband. Poor kid, his idea of scintillating conversation is discussing the weather. She longs for her first love, a dashing student who tends to break into dance when happy. Flouting society, they elope, leaving her children behind, only to descend into a life of despair. You know the drill. Her lover dies and she's left to fend for herself and his child. Many years later, fate steps in, reuniting her with her abandonded children, to whom she cannot reveal her identity. Ruan goes from high-spirited schoolgirl, to rich, bored wife, to noble and selfless single mother. Only twenty-one at the time, she effortlessly ages from dazzling fifteen-year-old to shopworn, middle-aged drudge, her face translucent to even the subtlest of emotion with body language and gestures that are elegently eloquent. I defy you not to puddle up at this one.

Here's a rare opportunity to discover one of the great actresses of the cinema, whose career was cut short much much too soon.

Copyright 1997 Andrea Chase

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