By Eric Campos | December 27, 2008

Originally ran on on 10/21/08

It’s been a long time. I missed going to the San Diego Asian Film Festival the past couple of years because there was always something in the way – life’s little nuisances pooping on my party. But this year I vowed to pull it together to take the trip south a little ways to gorge myself on some fine Asian film…and seafood as Joe’s Crab Shack is located next to the theater.

This has always been a pretty mellow festival for me, which is great as fall is my busiest time of year, so this is kind of like a little vacation – a movie vacation. My responsibility is pretty minimal – see movies – and the program is always so strong that I’m in a theater most of the day and night. It’s a little something like heaven.

Ease on Down the Road

So, leaving a mountain of work behind me, my girlfriend and I took the pleasant two and a half hour trek to San Diego for some marathon movie watching. Before long, we were checking into our hotel at the Town and Country Resort in Mission Valley. The whole place is like a tiny village with something like six or seven different restaurants staggered throughout…some with a full bar. Where has this place been my whole life? It was very cozy and the temptation to kick back, drink beers and perhaps wander around peeping through people’s windows was great, but we had movies to see…

We stopped by the festival guest lounge to check in and was instantly greeted by one of my favorite festival people – guest services coordinator, Catherine Jaravata. After apologizing for my absence the past couple of years, we received our festival badges and GOODIE BAG!!!

If you can recall my prior coverage of this festival, you may remember my enthusiasm for their thoughtful goodie bags. This year, the goodie bag was no less impressive as it not only contained little interesting knick-knacks, but other items as well that could help aid a person through his or her festival adventure – snacks, condoms, booze…everything but a blowtorch and a whoopee cushion.

It was then time to mosey on over to the theater which was just one trolley stop away from the hotel. And if that wasn’t convenient enough, the trolley station was right across the street from the hotel. Convenience was the name of the game here and I was diggin’ it.

We still had a little time to kill before our first screening, so we decided to check out the festival meet and greet soiree taking place just above the theater. Hobnobbed with a few filmmakers, drank some complimentary sake…which wound up being a not-so wise decision in the life of Eric Campos. More on that later.


Been pretty excited to see this one for a while. Actually, I should’ve been more excited than I was as it’s the latest film from Prachya Pinkaew, director of one of my all-time favorite martial arts films – Ong Bak. However, his follow-up to “Ong Bak”, Tom yum goong was far less than impressive, so I figured maybe his load was all blown. It was a good load, though. Got all in my eyes. But that being the case, I still couldn’t help but feel giddy anticipation for this new film that many have been calling the best action film they’ve ever seen. Pretty tall claim. Perhaps they hadn’t seen “Ninja III: The Domination.”

“Chocolate” focuses on an autistic girl, Zen, who learns some rather lethal fighting skills by watching martial arts films on TV.. When her mother falls ill, it is up to her and her brother to pay for her medications by going around and collecting from people that, for reasons uknown to them, owe her money. Being gruff factory heads during hard times, of course none of these guys want to pay up. Cue the spankdowns.

The bulk of the film sees Zen move from one fight to the next and we get to watch this 14-year-old girl kick mega a*s. The stunts and fight choreography here are jaw-dropping. In fact, during the end credits roll we’re shown outtakes featuring the actors getting totally mauled, some even being carted off to the hospital.

It’s a really simple movie – simple but rousing – and simplicity was a major virture of “Ong Bak,” the only difference here being that the filmmakers tried to interject a little more story into the mix and they’re just not storytellers. Here, there’s a whole gangster backstory that just complicates things way more than they need to be. “Ong Bak” was great in that the playing field is set at the beginning of the film and then we watch Tony Jaa just blaze through it – destroying everyone in his path. While “Chocolate” has sort of that same feel, it also has a very jerky start and stop quality to it that makes you wish that its excess baggage could be stripped away in order for it to really fly.

Anyway, still an awesome flick and definitely worthwhile for all “Ong Bak” fans. It’s the truth!

Big Man Japan

This is where drinking all of that sake turned into a bad idea. I don’t know whether it was just the sake, or whether it was a combination of a few different things, but by the time this movie got rolling, I had the worst splitting headache you could imagine, which is a damn shame as “Big Man Japan” is a movie that’s definitely right up my alley. So I just buckled down and dealt with the pain. It was worth it.

To be released early next year by Magnolia Pictures as a part of their Six Shooter film series, “Big Man Japan” is strictly for acquired tastes only. Going with the mockumentary format, a camera crew follows a down and out loser, named Dai Sato, as he carries on his daily routine. And just when you’re getting tired of this human version of Eeyore, he suddenly receives a call from the “Department of Baddie Prevention”. He then hurries off to a power station where he receives electric shocks that transform him into Dainipponjin – Big Man Japan. Dainipponjin is a Godzilla sized version of Dai Sato in purple undies and an Eraserhead afro. It is Dainipponjin’s mission to do battle with various giant monsters as they attack Japan and so these battles – and there are many – are the main event of the film. When Dainipponjin is dormant and Dai Sato is his normal sized self, we learn about his history and how he came to be Big Man Japan.

The closest thing I can compare “Big Man Japan” to is Takeshi Kitano’s “Getting Any?” It has that same dry humor, which is offset by some truly bizarre imagery. And, like Kitano’s film, “Big Man Japan” spins further out of control as it goes along, leading to a real head-scratcher of a finale. In short, it’s glorious.

The festival continues in part two of MOVIE VACATION AT THE 2008 SAN DIEGO ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL>>>

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