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By Eric Campos | October 21, 2008

A Cricket in the Court of Akbar

Kicked off a long day of movie watching with a whole bunch of sitar music. Fortunately I didn’t have too much of a brutal hangover from the night before, otherwise I’m not so sure this documentary would’ve gone down so well.

“A Cricket in the Court of Akbar” focuses on native Texan Andrew Mendelson who had his whole life changed by one amazing sitar performance and thus decided to learn how to play this North Indian classical instrument himself. The guy’s a natural as he’s been able to wow even the most skilled sitar musicians out there. And so, with those natural skills under his belt, this doc follows Mendelson as he travels to India to compete in a tournament of champions musical competition – he being the only American competitor.

Also directed by Mendelson, along with his partner Nadia Abji, “Cricket” definitely runs the risk of being a puffed up vanity project – “Hey look how great I am…me, me, me, me, me…” but the film does contain enough information and history on this type of music that it’s not entirely focused on how bad-a*s Mendelson is. And he is bad a*s. But this is a well-rounded film and if you love the sitar, you need to see this one.

Yours Truly, Miss Chinatown

This one is a nice little 60 minute feature and we had originally seen it just to kill an hour before our next movie, but once it was over we were really happy that we had caught it.

At first we thought this was going to be another beauty pageant doc, and that element is certainly there, but what it really does is introduce us to three women – two competitors in the Miss Chinatown competition in Los Angeles and a performance artist who pokes fun at the contest by dressing herself up as a rude and crude Miss Chinatown and making a public nuisance of herself…all in good fun, of course. But instead of focusing entirely on the mechanics of the show and all of the drama surrounding it, the film delves into the lives of these women, and even spends a good amount of time catching up with them post-competition, to provide us a hardcore look at what it’s like to be an Asian American female. It’s incredibly insightful, and at times very sad as we watch the father of one of the women completely disregard her new family as she has married an African-American man.

Unspoken Passion

Hooray for more gay cinema! Upon entering the theater, festival programmer Michael Chen described “Unspoken Passion” to me as being “tawdry” and upon introducing the film to the absolutely packed house (gay cinema cleans up at this festival – it’s a great thing to see), he warned that if anyone in the theater objected to full-frontal nudity and raunchy bath house sex, perhaps they may want to leave.

Gimme me a warning like that and I’m all in! Especially after having a Pop Rocks margarita right before. Yes, a packet of Pop Rocks was actually poured into my drink. I’m still digging candy out of my eyes.

More touching rather than tawdry, even though there is plenty of raunchy sex involved, “Unspoken Passion” focuses on two lifelong friends – Enzo and Adong. The two played innocently as little boys, but as young men, while Adong has his eyes on the ladies, Enzo has his eyes on Adong and his dingle dang. But soon, Adong elopes with his lady and splits town, leaving Enzo alone and heartbroken. Flash forward several years and we find Adong in Manila, split from his woman and whoring himself out at a gay porno theater. Hey, it happens to the best of us. But it’s at the theater that he is “discovered” and turned on to performing live sex shows at a nearby bath house. And so Adong carries on his business as usual until one evening he’s scheduled to do a show with a guest performer. That guest performer turns out to be Enzo.

I know this all sounds like a really sleazy set-up for a gay Skinemax feature, but what follows is a rather touching look at two old friends coming back together again and helping each other find their proper life path. I’m really happy that it was a packed house that afternoon as “Unspoken Passion” was easily one of the best films I saw at the fest this year. You’re dragged through such an emotional journey, and in the end, you leave the theater feeling great and satisfied. I hope this film gets out there for more people to see it. It deserves alot of attention.


Wrapped up our longest movie watching day with this martial arts flavored dungeons and dragons monster movie and in doing so, ended our festival experience with a bang.

Super packed house again – a popular trend at this festival – “Dororo” tells the tale of a young man born with no appendages or vital organs whatsoever – he’s basically a log of flesh – due to his father making a pact with a horde of demons to receive unlimited power to take over the world if he sacrifices 48 of his son’s body parts to them. We catch up with this son, Hyakkimaru, years later, all grown up and miraculously with a complete body. A young female thief sees him vanquish a monster foe and is compelled to follow him on his mysterious journey. In doing so, she learns of his past and how a doctor, experimenting in limb and organ replacement, had completely restored his body, including a fully poseable left arm that can fall off at will and reveal an ancient blade made for demon smiteing.

F**k a kung-fu grip.

She also learns that it is his mission to destroy all 48 of the demons that have taken parts of his body and with each demon destroyed, one of his fake limbs is replaced with a real one.

It’s some crazy majical s**t, but it sets the stage for a totally entertaining monster mash. Jam-packed with eye-popping battle sequences featuring some really bizarre looking creatures, “Dororo” has the ability to unleash the inner fantasy nerd in just about anyone.

Good Night, San Diego

Actually, it was good morning. We stayed through Sunday night, which was a good idea as we were totally drained from the long weekend of hardcore movie watching. And so it was a Monday morning ride back to Los Angeles for us with memories of a perfect film festival on our minds.

Seriously, I think the San Diego Asian Film Festival, year after year, has the most solid program of films – diverse, yes – but you can walk into pretty much anything and leave feeling satisfied, if not absolutely elated from your cinematic experience. On top of that, the festival is run by the best of the best. Festival leader Lee Ann Kim and crew deserve the highest accolades possible for all of their kickassery.

Now I feel like a big jackhole for missing the past two years of the festival. I don’t know what I was thinking, but it won’t happen again. The San Diego Asian Film Festival celebrates its ten year anniversary next October. If you’re wise and have the means to make the scene, you should do so – great movies and a great community await you. I promise.

With love to George Lin. You are missed, my friend.

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