WORKED AT THE SAN DIEGO ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL Image

I love taking a trip down to San Diego, for a festival, nerd convention, or meeting with the monkeys at the zoo, whatever. It’s just a quick two hour drive, so if the s**t ever goes down, it’s an even quicker two hours back home to safety. You never know what’s going to happen at one of these events. Say, maybe I get really trashed one night and wind up “accidentally” falling naked into the hotel pool in front of everybody. Man, that would be rough…So, knowing that home base is only a short panicked drive away provides some peace of mind.

But this trip to San Diego was a little more special. Regular long-time readers of the site will remember the trip I made to the San Diego Asian Film festival a couple years ago. I came back with a report of great films and an all-around amazing group of people that put on this classy event. Just goes to show how far a well thought out goodie bag will get you.

Jokes.

So now, with the San Diego Asian Film Festival heading into its sixth year (September 29 – October 6), I found myself returning to the event for four days of moviegoing madness and drunken revelry. Being that I had laid on the drunken revelry pretty thick at another festival just the weekend prior, the plan this weekend was to get into more movie watching. The 2003 SDAFF program didn’t do me wrong at all, so the thought of shutting myself away in a darkened theater for a few days, emerging for occasional food and alcohol, was comforting to say the least.

So it was noon on Thursday, September 29th that I hit the road for San Diego with a movie watching mission…

Thursday

After a nice, leisurely drive into San Diego, I checked into my hotel, La Pensione in Little Italy. I didn’t even know San Diego had a Little Italy. You learn something new everyday. What’s more, it was just up the street from the Gaslamp District, party town. La Pensione wasn’t the main festival hotel situated right next to the theater, that hotel was the Doubletree. However, I’m always willing to give up walking distance to the theater for walking distance to all of the festival parties any day. You see how I had only been in town for a few minutes and already my mission of watching non-stop movies was going down in flames?

So it was a brief five minute drive to the Doubletree to check into festival headquarters to pick up my badge, festival program, goodie bag and, more importantly, to reunite with festival director Lee Ann Kim and guest services divas Grace Lee and Catherine Jaravata. I hung out in the guest lounge for a while, having a couple of drinks, catching up with old friends and making plenty new ones.

I had a couple hours before the opening night screening of “Marathon,” so I decided to grab some Chinese food with Michael Chen, SDAFF programmer and local television news reporter, and filmmaker Shashi Balooja who executive produced and starred in “Ariana,” a film playing in the queer shorts program on Friday night. Festival screenings take place at the New Ultrastar theater situated in a mini-mall in Mission Valley. Upstairs from the theater is an excellent restaurant where you can get either Chinese or Japanese food. We opted for Chinese and, of course, drinks, filling up before we took on a “Marathon.”

Marathon

This award-winning Korean film tells the story of a 20-year-old autistic man, Cho-won who, since as a child, has been trained by his mother to become a marathon runner, focusing so much on this mission that she reserves little time for her younger son and husband. The ultimate goal is to get Cho-won to finish a marathon in under three hours, a major accomplishment for any amateur runner. To help in achieving this goal, Cho-won’s mother enlists the help of Jung-wook, a former marathon champion turned reluctant coach. Having become quite the burned out alcoholic character, Jung-wook may not be someone’s first choice as a coach for their son, a son with special needs no less. Jung-wook digs his heels in at first, but begins seeing promise in the determined Cho-won who knows little else than to keep running no matter what the cost. The two form a bond, a bond that finds Cho-won’s mother becoming jealous, leading her to pull him from training and running all-together. She fears that Cho-won may only be running because she’s been forcing him to. Guilt sets in and it’s during this downtime from marathon training that she discovers some truths about her son.

The first half of “Marathon” is engaging and undeniably charming. Most notably, the training scenes with Cho-won and the grumpy Jung-wook are a riot as the two characters figure one another out. But once Cho-won’s mother pulls his from training, the movie hits a bit of a depressing lull. Depressing and quite a bit hokey as our heart strings are yanked at, making us feel sorry for this mother who has begun questioning her relationship with her autistic son, complete with sad, syrupy musical accompaniment just in case you don’t think any of this is heart wrenching. This movie is going to tell you what you’re watching is sad, and you better believe it! It was a bit too much to handle at times, but by this point, you’re so taken by the character of Cho-won that you’re willing to sit through some thick cheese until the film takes an upswing back onto its charming little course. I’ll let you figure out what happens. I have faith in you. You can do it!

So, besides the movie smacking you on the back of the head for a bit, trying to get those tears rolling down your face, “Marathon” is still a very enjoyable experience. I rec-O-mmend.

After a quick beer and stockpiling of cigarettes at Shashi’s hotel room, we were off to the opening night party at a club in the Gaslamp. Amongst food and drinks galore, I got to meet several more festival filmmakers, attendees and crew members, including festival facilities coordinator Chris Paffendorf, a major cinephile who I always have the pleasure of running into when I’m in San Diego. This is a man who takes his job very seriously and he has a San Diego Asian Film Festival tattoo on his back to prove it. Now that’s dedication. Well, I call it dedication…

And then, all of the sudden, it was 1 am and I was one of the only people left in the club. How these things happen, I don’t know.* Fortunately, festival artistic programmer Sam Chen found me holding up the bar. A filmmaker/animator himself, you may have seen Pete Vonder Haar’s review of his film Eternal Gaze around here somewhere, Sam was extremely proud of the animation block of shorts he programmed this year and stressed that it was something I should check out. Done deal.

And so it was a short fifteen minute walk back to my hotel to get some rest before Friday’s festivities.

* alcohol

The story continues in part two of WORKED AT THE SAN DIEGO ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL>>>

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