THE ASIAN AMERICAN FILM FESTIVAL: 1997 Image

After watching these three offerings from the SFIAAF, I felt so ridiculously fragile and misunderstood, so “The Second Sex,” so… subaltern.
The gravity of a gendered world weighs terribly heavy throughout these films, and each has a conclusion of barely glimmering hope. Each is set in the present, each in industrial societies, and each screams out the message of women-breaking-the-bonds-of-chattel.
[ GIRLS LIKE US ] ^ “Girls Like Us” follows the lives of four teenage girls from age 14-18, when they’re beginning to express the consequences of their formative years. Their disparate problems lie in the shared belief in thinly veiled lies regarding the control of their bodies, minds, or lives (considered by most of the guardians here to be the same things, in effect). Their stories clearly show the brutal differentiation between masculine and feminine socialization in South Philly. All these girls are vaguely aware that the lies they’re told (that girls are too weak to be trusted, that Adam and Eve existed, that pregnancy is a punishment for disobeying) are constructions for keeping them under control, but they of course don’t understand why they are objects of such control. They all see the power handed to boys, and the resulting flaccid idiots their brothers, boyfriends or fathers become. The lies they’re told, their awareness of harsh double standards, and identity crises that develop from these lead to rebellion crises for some, liberation for others. All the stories are sad, either because the girls end up totally vapid or baby machines. Note: the two breeders have disgusting eating habits- there’s gotta be a parallel here. In one scene the 16 year old mother of three tells rebukes her child’s request for juice, and tells her to drink her Coke instead.
[ A HOT ROOF ] ^ Here’s a fun movie about wife beating. Prostitutes, restaurant owners, Avon ladies, mothers, grannies and a transvestite cabaret singer all retreat to the sundeck of their apartment complex after beating the shit out of an abusive husband. Through the course of the film the fugitives reconcile their enemities and bond over their shared plight as slaves to a mysogynistic society. Half the film follows their story, half the foibles of their counterparts: rapists and wife beaters, cops and robbers. Most of the turns of the story, as in Fire, take place because of the action of eunuch characters- the bumbling police lieutenant who tips off the media, the robbers ensconced in the “victim’s” apartment who adopt butch and femme roles (and foil an assassin by dropping a bucket of shit on his head as he scales the building, thus emasculating him). A sexpot news anchor helps start a national movement around the rooftop brigade, which somehow seems to get the women out of trouble. I think. It was hard to tell, the subtitles kept falling off the screen, and the last scene was really vague as to the gang’s legal disposition. All I could glean from the ending was that the cop in charge was a wife beater, and the head prostitute took him down a notch by offering an alliance handshake. Where it went from there is a mystery, but there was a bus involved. I was really glad to have a review tape of this film, I needed the power of the fast forward button to get through a great many awkwardly timed segments- mostly due to the long, drawn out script and terrible acting by the police captain. The incidental music really helped to slow things down, too: an acoustic guitar melody for a helicopter scene?
A ballad for a mob scene? Upbeat disco as they board a bus for (probably) prison? It didn’t work. It wasn’t even surreal. What was surreal was that the women eventually resigned themselves to jumping off the roof into the arms of the cops- why didn’t they take the stairs like normal people?
[ FIRE ] ^ This was the big finale to the Festival, an event featuring “an evening with” the director. The program devoted more than a page to notes from her directing journal. Whatever. I liked the story o.k., there was some damn fine acting, but the directing was hardly even there. You can tell what was attempted in various scenes, but you can also tell how it wasn’t attained.
There is a lot of faulty editing, sometimes between two equally misplaced camera angles, so that long buildups are not pregnant with tension but miscarried.
The crucial element of lighting is entirely missing – there are a number
of poignant scenes that fall flat on their intentions because there was no lighting. It’s hard to care about something you can’t see. Some distance shots suggest beautiful composition, and with the really cool architecture abounding you’d think it would be a piece of cake. The cinematography is so shoddy that only ugly (sans grit) elements shout out a cacophony that drowns out the initial suggestion. Throughout the film are interjected scenes of a family on a grassy hillside, seemingly watching the movie through an opium haze – but this element is totally undeveloped and makes no sense. The brave scenes of the manservant jacking off to pornos while tending to the invalid old matriarch were bits of brilliance, however.
Generally, “Fire” seemed like a well acted excuse for lesbian vs. patriarchy sensationalism. And sex (in the dark). There were numerous nonsensically placed discussions of political and cultural differences between and conciliation of The Colonized(Chinese vs. Indian). There were many allusions to mythological testing by fire, although the recent furor over wife burning was not brought into the text. By 34 min., 37 sec. (I know because the timecode was superimposed on the film the whole time. Ugh.) I was so ready for some “Sister My Sister” action – Kill! Kill! – that never came; all we are given is a most unerotic hairdressing sequence at 37:32.
Again, there was no real conclusion to this story, only unspoken tensions and half realized vagaries.

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