Favorite Artists at the SFIAAFF

Jennifer Young March 21, 2007

The SF International Asian American Film Festival is nothing if not fraternal. Famous friendships have been made here, and groundbreaking films have emerged from them, as Oliver Wang points out in his “The Class of 1997” piece for the Festival’s 25th anniversary catalogue. According to Wang, Justin Lin and Jason Tobin’s SFIAAFF-made acquaintance resulted in “Better Luck Tomorrow” five years later; Eric Byler and Jeff Liu hooked up with actress Jacqueline Kim and a drive back to L.A. together created the seeds for “Charlotte Sometimes.” SF360.org was looking for a way in on this fruitful mutual admiration society, so we checked in with actors and filmmakers roaming this year’s festival to give props to their favorite Asian American artist, past or present.

Actor Sung Kang (“Finishing the Game”/“Undoing”)
“The Far East Movement. They’re based in L.A. and they provided the music for a couple of Justin’s films: ‘Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift’ and ‘Finishing the Game’ — they’re in the movie too. They’re a young hip-hop group and they’re very talented, very hardworking, very good kids. I think very soon everyone’s going to know about them.”

Actor Dustin Nguyen (“Finishing the Game”)
“I certainly think Justin Lin deserves the spotlight. I’m biased of course. It was tons of fun working with him on this film. It’s such an over-the-top comedy that I wouldn’t even say it was work! But off the top of my head it would have to be Keye Luke who you know passed away years ago and I certainly miss his presence here. For me he’s a pioneer.”

Actor Roger Fan: (“Finishing the Game”/“The Trouble with Romance”)
“My vote goes out to a filmmaker by the name of Gene Rhee who I’ve known for many years. He’s the epitome of what we need in order to bridge the gap between independent and mainstream cinema for Asian Americans. He has a film here at the festival right now called ‘The Trouble with Romance’ and I feel like there are a lot of movies we can make but if we make more movies sort of in that vein I think the social discourse, the sort of normalizing everything in the future, will be much more apparent quicker.”

Actor Leonardo Nam (“Finishing the Game”/“Undoing”)
“I’d say Nora Okja Keller. She wrote ‘Comfort Woman’ and ‘Fox Girl.’ ‘Comfort Woman’ is about comfort women that happened during the Japanese invasion of Korea. And ‘Fox Girl’ is about the daughter of a comfort woman and about her journey into becoming a comfort woman. I’ve just really been moved by her books.”

Filmmaker Richard Wong (2007 SFIAAFF trailer/“Colma: The Musical”)
“J.P. Chan who has a short in this festival called ‘Dry Clean Only’. He comes from theater and I always respect that. And I think he deserves props, and he deserves to be seen, and he deserves to be out there. And thank god for this festival for giving people like that a shot. I think he’s a really talented writer and I would encourage him to keep going.

Filmmaker Justin Lin (“Finishing the Game”)
“Well they’re shining the light on him this weekend — Spencer Nakasako. It’s funny, you know, my first film festival ever was here in ’95 and I had a short film and it played in front of ‘a.k.a.. Don Bonus’ and that was my introduction into Spencer’s work and it blew me away. That was revolutionary. That was way ahead of its time. We’ve developed a good friendship and I cherish it and it’s all because of this festival. It’s been 12 years. I can’t believe it. We’ve gone through our ups and downs but we were able to share the experiences and now I feel like we have a really tight-knit family and it just keeps growing.

Filmmaker Spencer Nakasako (2007 SFIAAFF Spotlight Filmmaker)
“I’ll say this right off the top — I think filmmaking is collaborative. I think quite often only one person gets recognized for it. For my work, I would say for the last 15 years, I’ve been working in the Tenderloin here in San Francisco. And I’ve gotten a lot of credit for that. I’ve gotten an Emmy award. I’ve screened on national public television. But the bottom line is that those films could not have been made without that community, without the participation of that community, and to be perfectly honest, without the collaboration. Because a lot of the people I work with in the TL are kids. And I really rely on their energy. I rely on their input. And you know they actually help give me a perspective that I might not see.”

Filmmaker Chris Chan Lee (“Undoing”)
“It’s difficult to give a complete response to your question because I haven’t had a chance to see all the new films yet that are at the festival. I’m looking forward to Gene Rhee’s new movie [‘Trouble with Romance’]; I know he’s a very talented, committed filmmaker and I’ve enjoyed his earlier works. I’ve heard good things about it and so Gene Rhee is definitely someone for me to watch at this festival. And Grace Lee as well, she’s got her new movie out — the ‘American Zombie’ movie — and it sounds really fun and it sounds like a real audience pleaser. Those are the first two filmmakers that come to mind.”

Filmmaker Doan Hoang (“Oh, Saigon”)
“What I find interesting about being in Asian American film — because you know I grew up in Kentucky, and I lived in New York where there’s not the same sort of support you have here — when I got called about this festival, I just felt an immense amount of support that I don’t feel from other festivals that I’m in, being an Asian American. You know it’s a really nice thing to hear, when I was screening my film for people I noticed that anyone Asian American I would show it to, there was no need for explanation in a way that they would just start crying throughout the whole film. Say someone who is not Asian American, people would be touched, but it was a different thing when you can relate to something. And it’s really wonderful to be doing something that I want to be doing while being able to make something that other people can relate to who are like me. So I’m really excited about having my premiere here at this festival for that reason. I think about the fact that my film has been compared to another film in the festival and I haven’t met the filmmaker yet — the woman who did ‘New Year Baby,’ Socheata Poeuv. She’s Cambodian and she did a film about her family and the Khmer Rouge. And that being a separate country from Vietnam is a different experience but to sort-of non-Asian American programmers, it’s the same thing. Whereas you can have Kubrick, and Coppola, and say Scorsese, or whoever, doing a Vietnam film and people will watch it. If a number of white directors are making a film on a similar topic it doesn’t matter but if a Cambodian woman and a Vietnamese woman make films about their experiences it can’t be shown at the same festival except for here. So it’s really nice that I’m in a place where people celebrate those experiences.”

Actor Tzi Ma (“Dragon Boys”/“Red Doors”)
“You know why this question is tough? It’s very difficult to recommend just one single individual. There are SO many talented Asian Americans out there that deserve to come to a festival such as the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. It’s really hard because you can only accommodate so much. And I think a lot of people are very deserving of being here. And it’s a fine festival. It’s probably the best festival I’ve ever been to, really, and I’ve been to quite a few. And just off the top of my head I would say guys like Tony Lee from ‘Lost’ should be here. I think