Chinese and Chinese American Directors Are Among the Diverse Voices at the 38th Asian American International Film Festival


From July 23 – August 1, the Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF), presented by Asian Cinevision will feature over 50 films and videos from Asian and Asian-American directors.  Now in its 38th year, the nation’s first and longest running Asian American film festival has always sought to be more than a commercial festival or a curatorial exercise.  Executive Director John Woo has likened curating a film festival to making a film and telling a story.  True to this analogy, the festival has been and continues to be a a platform for diverse Asian and Asian American voices.

As in previous years, Village East Cinemas will be the primary theater for screenings.  This year, AAIFF has partnered with the Museum of Chinese in America for talks with award-winning filmmakers Ruby Yang and Arthur Dong and the Museum of the Moving Image for screenings and its closing reception.  Many films are being co-presented with local businesses and organizations, and AAIFF has re-established an outreach to the Asian communities in Queens with free programs in Flushing.

Chinese and Chinese American films have always been well represented at AAIFF.  With about a dozen feature length films and over a dozen shorts, this year’s selection ranges from works by local, emerging filmmakers starring undiscovered talent to big budget and critically-acclaimed films with internationally recognized casts.

As we compiled this list of Chinese and Chinese American films and trailers, we were impressed by the variety of themes and personal stories and are looking forward to attending many of the films.  The film are, of course, on our events calendar.  So, check there for a quick look at when the screenings are.

Our coverage doesn’t end here!  We hope to provide insight into the festival and its films through our interviews with AAIFF and Asian Cinevision Executive Director John Woo and director Ruby Yang.  We will also review a couple of the films and post to our Facebook page anything related that might be of interest.

Visit the festival site for ticket and location details, further synopses, information about panel discussions and Q&As, and the full list of festival films.  Also “like” the AAIFF Facebook page for updates on films and events.

Update 7/18: Look here for information on how to win tickets to Nezha 《少女哪吒》 or La Salada and how to get a 25% discount on AAIFF films and events this weekend.

The AAIF has always been distinguished for its commitment to raising awareness of social issues of concern to and the rich histories of Asians and Asian-Americans.  The festival’s discerning eye for important, but possibly overlooked, stories of triumphs, tribulations, and everyday life brings us six narratives and documentaries from the China, Taiwan, and the United States.

Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Ruby Yang’s My Voice, My Life (7/23, 7 PM and 7/24, 6:30 PM) has the honor of opening this year’s festival.  The film chronicles the trials and tribulations of a group of under-privileged middle and high school students as they underwent six months of vigorous trainings to produce a musical on stage. A life-affirming journey of self-discovery and growth, the stories of these young people will challenge every parent, teacher and policy maker in Hong Kong to reflect on our way of nurturing our young in societies where competition encouraged to a detriment.

On July 24, 1 PM, The Museum of Chinese America hosts a screening of Ruby Yang’s other films The Blood of Yingzhou District 《颍州的孩子》, Tongzhi in Love 《彼岸浮生》, and The Warriors of Quigang 《仇崗衛士》 and a conversation with the filmmaker.

Li Xiaofeng’s debut feature and Golden Horse-nominated narrative film Nezha 《少女哪吒》 is a coming-of-age drama about the complex dynamic of female teenage friendship that explores the growing pains of divorce, loyalty, and irreverance.  Two girls, Wang Xiaobing and Li Xiaolu, quickly become best friends, but their relationship drifts apart as life inevitably takes them down different paths.  Based on Facebook activity, this may be one of the festival’s most popular films.

Based on director Zhang Wei’s personal experiences in Shenzhen, Factory Boss 《打工老板》 (7/31, 6 PM) is a compelling look into the heart of China’s manufacturing culture.  It follows the global economic effect of rising demand for cheap Chinese labor and the social issues surrounding its labor force through the tribulations of a factory boss.

Director Haibin Du A Young Patriot 《少年小赵》  (7/26, 3 PM) documents a post-90s Chinese young man Xiao Zhao, who comes to realize that idealism cannot exist in reality. In this coming-of-age story with a focus on political identity, Xiao Zhao learns what it truly means to be patriotic to one’s country in an ever-changing world.  In this transition period of change, we witness the restlessness and disturbance the Chinese society is currently undergoing.

If There is Reason to Study 《學習的理由》 (7/26, 1 PM) is a story of a group of Taiwanese alternative school students and their struggle facing this conventional belief. By tracing their journey from junior high school to college, director Yi-Fan Lee who was an alternative school student himself and spent 6 years, beginning at age 14, making the film, realized that high-stake testing and the tracking system might be the reason his friends are losing their motivation in learning and the courage to discover their own calling.

Oscar-nominated and three-time Sundance award-winning filmmaker Arthur Dong’s Forbidden City, U.S.A. (7/25, 4 PM, preceded by a conversation with Arthur Dong at 1:30 PM) spotlights the little-known history of Chinese American performers in the 1930s and 1940s at the all-Chinese nightclub, Forbidden City in San Francisco.   A perfect composition composed of elements of archival footage of original recordings, performances, and interviews of the performers themselves, Forbidden City, U.S.A. provides a glimpse into the glamour and not-so-glamorous lives of these Asian American entertainment pioneers by sharing their real life stories. “The Chinese Sinatra”, “the Chinese Sophie Tucker”, and the “Chinese Sally Rand” are just some of the spirited personalities that strut their stuff and share triumphant and often sidesplitting tales of adventures in the cabarets of yesteryear.

The Museum of Chinese in America hosts a book talk and reception on July 26 at 6 PM to introduce his book of the same name.

Big films with big stars are also part of AAIFF’s programming.

We are reminded that China’s contact with the West goes back two millennia in director Daniel Lee’s epic historical fiction Dragon Blade《天将雄狮》 (7/24/, 9:30 PM) starring Jackie Chan, John Cusack, and Oscar winner Adrien Brody. Set during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), Huo An (Chan), a Chinese commander joins forces with fugitive Roman general Lucius (Cusack) to overthrow corrupt Roman Emperor Tiberius (Brody) who seeks to control the Silk Road. With a budget of 65 million USD, Dragon Bladeis one of the most expensive Chinese films ever made. AAIFF screens the film ahead of its wider release in the United States in September 2015.

Battle cries make way for understated emotion in A Simple Life 《桃姐》 (7/29; 8 PM) , a Hong Kong film helmed by distinguished Hong Kong director Ann Hui (许鞍华) and deemed one of the best films 0f 2012 by Roger Ebert, stars Andy Lau (刘德华 ) and Deanie Ip (叶德娴), who was awarded the Coppa Volpi Best Actress award at the 68th Venice International Film Festival for her role as Ah Tao, a servant for the Leung family who has looked after the household for 60 years.  Inspired by the true story of producer Roger Lee and his servant, the film depicts the blossoming relationship between Ah Tao and Roger (Lau), the last member of the Leung family.

Not to be confused with Andy Lau or co-director Andrew Loo, Andrew Lau collaborates again with producer Martin Scorsese in the crime thriller Revenge of the Green Dragons (7/30, 8 PM).  Based on Frederic Dannen’s  New Yorker article of the same name and made in Flushing, it chronicles the true story of two brothers who survive the decay of 1980s New York by joining the Chinatown gang The Green Dragons.   Read more about the film and the gang on NPR.

AAIFF presents three shorts programs that showcase the talents of emerging filmmakers and their unique perspectives and vignettes on topics not necessarily suited for feature-length treatment.

Made in NYC Shorts (7/26, 12:30 PM) presents six films, including two by Chinese filmmakers about experiences of being Chinese in America.

In Chung Lam’s The Flip 《抖一抖》, a young Chinese-American boy, tries to master a cooking technique in an attempt to earn his mother’s attention.

In Lao Wong 《戏痴老王》, Ming Zeng follows an ordinary nail salon owner in New York, who once was a famous Peking Opera singer in China, trying to overcome numerous problems on his upcoming opera show to get back on stage and recall his past glorious days.

With four Chinese directors, The Experience of Cinema: Art House Shorts (7/26, 4 PM) program reflects a strong interest in arthouse and experimental storytelling by directors.

In Donkey Riding, director Simon Liu gathered hand-processed and rephotographed 16mm from his trip back home to Hong Kong. Journeying back to the house he grew up in, Liu pieces together scrapbook audio recordings revealing some of his early attempts at speaking, broken sentences interrupted by toy sirens, images of Tokyo streets and Los Angeles highways. He also captures fleeting memories on trains and out of car windows while sharing moments with intimate images of people who are happy to see him. Liu explores these deeply familiar faces and spaces by indulging in curiosities about the potential of 16mm film.

Majun Chen’s Karma 《修行》 is a comedic tale of questionable business ethics and retribution by the universe.  An auto-repair garage owner spreads nails along the mountain road near his business to puncture tires to attract business.  He meets his match in a a similarly business-minded monk on his way to perform rites.

The Seat 《位置》 is a short film created by friends who believe in the spirit of independent expression. Director Yi Xu depicts the beauty of a young adult’s determined transition through featuring a single couch, a step of re-position and a longing of solitude. The cast and crew are Shanghai-based young gallery curators, architects, designers and art students who stand nearby their first intersection of career choice and life paths. The team devoted their weekends in completion of this film with generous supports from their seniors in the local art field.

Tiger Cai’s surrealist commentary Six Dreams About a City 《孤城六梦》 explores the middle ground between dreams and reality, as well as history and present. Employing animation and historical footage, the film depicts several short phantasmagoric dreams of an unknown city, which seem to occur in the mind of an imprisoned white American. The film is a response to the Hyper-reality of today’s China. But there is no answer or solution has been revealed in the film, as there is no answer and solution for this pathetic world either.

LGBTQ rights are being recognized in the United States and are developing in China and Taiwan as activists, artists, and everyday people stand up for human rights.  LGBTQ Shorts (7/25, 5:30 PM) features three works of love and self-discovery by Chinese directors who are part of a generation and movement that challenges tradition and encourages acceptance.

In Coming Home 《回家 by Steven Liang, Jie Cheng, a well-behaved local Taiwanese high schooler, and Eric, a rebellious international student from the US, take a road trip down the most dangerous highway in Taiwan. Their trip is cut short when Eric reveals that he must return home after graduation, forcing Jie Cheng to confront his darkest demons.

Paper Wrap Fire by Raymond Yeung tells of a Chinese teenager who is raised by his financially burdened mother and finds life uninteresting and full of hostility.  In a Chinatown community center, he meets a man who rekindles his smile.

In Min Ding’s Rattlefly, a small-town teenage girl with a dead-end existence finds short-lived hope when she falls in love with the new pastor’s luminous daughter.

Feature-length films by Chinese-American filmmakers have a home at the AAIFF.   Two romantic comedies are featured this year Lawrence Gan’s Love Arcadia (7/25, 3 PM) and YouTube sensation Wong Fu Productions’s full-length film, Everything Before Us  (8/1, 8 PM)

Love Arcadia

Everything Before Us

Finally, in a kind of film that reflects AAIFF’s recognition of the diversity of the Asian diaspora and probably can’t be seen elsewhere, Chinese-Argentinian director Juan Martin Hsu’s La Salada (7/30, 8 PM) tells of the Asian immigrant experience outside of the United States through three stories of Asian immigrants in unsettled limbo in Argentina, one of who is of a lovelorn, lonely Taiwanese immigrant.  Set in the vibrant Buenos Aires street market La Salada with its myriad of stalls, the film was praised by the Toronto International Film Festival as “gorgeous” and a “thoughtful and affecting study” of the immigrant experience in Argentina