"Rooftop Film Screening" to Benefit the People of North Korea -review by Jennifer Chen
Nodutdol, a Korean activist organization, presented short films and documentaries from up-and-coming Asian American filmmakers to help raise money for the people of North Korea. The money raised at the film festival will go towards medical supplies to be delivered to the people of North Korea who are currently suffering from an economic and military embargo imposed by the United States.
The films, ranging from comedy, documentary, and martial arts spoof created by young Asian American filmmakers featured mainly Asian American casts. The festival began with the comic strip turned into film shorts, Angry Little Asian Girl, created, written, and directed by Lela Lee. In Angry Little Asian Girl, Lee attacks different perspectives of growing up as an Asian American girl. In the first short, titled, "First Day of School," Kim arrives in her all-white classroom welcomed by her teacher who calls her an "oriental" girl. Kim cusses out her teacher and informs her Caucasian classmates that she is an "angry Asian girl." In another short, titled "Lunch with Sally," Kim watches as all the boys flirt with pretty blonde Sally while Kim is ignored. In the last short, "Afternoon in the Park," two Caucasian boys make fun of Kim's small eyes. Kim fires back that their eyes are too big. Filmmaker Lela Lee illustrates simple drawings for Angry Little Asian Girl, giving it a child-like quality in contrast to Kim's potty mouth. Lee's shorts are perfect in length and deal with real issues most Asian American females have dealt with in their lives.
In the short film, 98.599, by Thomas Moon, the main character, Ham, an Asian American student at an ultra competitive high school where smart students cheat to maintain perfect scores, Ham questions whether his childhood friend, Joy, is sleeping with the math teacher to get better grades. The short is nicely shot and the actors handle their material well. The characters are well developed and their situation is dramatically interesting, but 98.599 ends with a question: will Ham and Joy remain friends? The film falls short of resolving the main conflict between Ham and Joy, settling instead to leave the audience wondering.
In the comic short, Anal Retentive, by James Bai, a young Asian American couple bicker after a spilt Coca Cola ruins their immaculate apartment. At the top of the movie, we think the young man is the anal retentive one as he perfectly aligns all the Coca Colas in the fridge, but it's revealed that his girlfriend is even more of a neat freak who color codes the sponges in the apartment and arranges the household cleaners alphabetically. Anal Retentive displays a good use of comedy and use of film cuts to benefit the overall comedy. Filmmaker James Bai focuses the film solely on the crazy antics of the obsessively clean couple and succeeds on making every moment funny. The only drawback in the film is when the actors sometimes take long pauses in between dialogue which holds back the momentum of the comedy. Otherwise, the film was quite well done.
The documentary, Searching for Go-Hyang, by Tammy Tolle (Chu Dong Su), follows the life of the filmmaker as she and her twin sister travel back from the US to Korea to reunite with her birth parents who gave them up for adoption at eight years old. Tammy takes the audience through the first emotional meeting at the airport. Tammy's mother and father burst into tears after seeing their long lost daughters. Tammy's mother, particularly heart broken, explains through a translator how she was told that she could keep in contact with her daughters, but once they were in America, the adoption agency refused Tammy's mother any contact with the girls. Tammy brings the camera home with her while she tearfully explains to her Korean parents how abusive her American parents were to her and her sister. Searching for Go-Hyang is beautifully shot, intercut with Tammy's voice-overs and evocative imagery. The documentary is full of such tender and real emotion that at times it makes one wonder how Tammy could have skillfully put together such a personal story. Tammy also adds a bit of comic relief amidst the emotional drama when we see the family sitting down for a traditional Korean dinner. Searching for Go-Hyang is an excellent documentary from beginning to end.
The last film of the festival was A Waiter Tomorrow by Michael Kang, a fun, martial arts spoof. Set in a busy sushi restaurant, two Asian American waiters, Bert and Mike, are constantly harassed by annoying customers who think they know what Japanese culture is like. As the annoyances build up from a "regular" silverware customer to an older white man who hits on the "oriental" girls, Bert and Mike bust out guns and high kicks to wipe out the annoying customers. The fun of the movie is watching the farcical nature of the action. The only distracting part of the action is the close up of the bloodied victims. The focus of the movie is on the unreal, the fun, and nonsensical nature of the action. The blood only brings the audience back to reality.
The Film Festival presented by Nodutdol and wonderfully organized by Nodutdol member, Alina Kwak, displayed a refreshing look at young Asian American filmmakers. Each film dealt with a different aspect of Asian American culture. Overall, the movies were a delight to watch and their mainly Asian American casts brought to life a much needed diversity on the big screen.