As the headliner for Diwa Filipino Film Showcase of Seattle, Ang Babae sa Likod ng Mambabatok (The Woman Behind the Tattoo Artist) is a brilliant choice. In this 45-minute documentary, filmmakers interview 93 year-old Fang od, who’s been tattooing her fellow tribes folk—women for beauty, men for valor—from a young age. A member of the indigenous Kalinga, of Northern Philippines, Fang od defies her clan’s expectations of its women—she remains unmarried. That topic seems to hold a lot of fascination for director Lauren Sevilla Faustino and her crew as they question Fang od about her past suitors, numbering in the double digits.
Spry, with a head full of hair including some still black strands, Fang od giggles a lot. But when it comes to her work, she’s serious. Painstakingly tapping inked needles into her clients’ skin, she creates elaborate designs without the benefit of wearing eyeglasses. The last of her line, Fang od has an apprentice who may not be needed for some time. Watching Fang od scramble up the steep stone steps of her rural mountain home without a walker or cane, it’s clear she’ll be around for awhile.
Diwa Filipino Film Showcase of Seattle happens June 4 and 5 at Seattle Center Armory’s Loft2. See the schedule here: https://www.facebookcom/diwafilmfest
Meanwhile, at the Seattle International Film Festival, several Asian-themed films have been programmed.
From South Korea comes The Bacchus Lady, a surprisingly engaging tale about a 65 year-old Korean prostitute. After discovering she’s contracted gonorrhea, So-young (Youn Yuh-jung) visits a clinic. While she’s there, a Filipina woman stabs a Korean doctor with scissors then yells to their son waiting outside to run away. Inexplicably, So-young chases after the biracial boy urging him to accompany her home where she lives with her dysfunctional neighbors—a transgender landlady and an amputee chain smoker who seems obsessed with the landlady’s sex organs. The “Kopino” (Korean Filipino) kid speaks neither Korean nor English, but So-young insists on caring for him while she continues to pick up tricks in a Seoul public park—her anxiety over him stemming from her own dark past. Meanwhile, she accepts new job duties with horrifying criminal overtones, assisting her elderly clients who suffer from a host of ailments. Approaching potential new johns, So-young offers them an energy drink called Bacchus, named after the Roman god of wine. A multi-layered film, it delves into issues of neglected seniors, multiethnic children, euthanasia and more. Cleverly written and directed by E J-yong, the movie’s authentic feel hails from its roots based on actual events, and Yuh-jung’s naturalistic acting style.
One of the more stylish marital arts films on the market, The Final Master from Chinese director Xu Haofeng features the most fashion-conscious fighters that ever drew a fist or knife. Liao Fan stars as Chen Shi, the last Wing Chun practitioner, who’s ordered to fight eight other schools before he can start his own in Tianjin—after which he plans to return to Canton. He hires a young prodigy (Song Yang) who appears after following home Chen’s gorgeous, Valentino-fanatic wife of ill repute (Song Jia). In this pre-WWII period piece, the costumes are glamorous, the music infused with jazzy tones and mournful trumpets, Fan’s performance is intense, and the action non-stop. While the ominous message about militarization of martial arts is frightening, among various villains nothing appears more intimidating than Chen’s opponent Mrs. Zhou (Jiang Wenli) who flaunts a constant smirk.
A Tibetan film about spirituality, Paths of the Soul features Buddhist devotees from a village making a 1,200-mile pilgrimage to Lhasa to atone for their sins and offer prayers for loved ones. One man is a butcher who wants to symbolically wash the blood from his hands. Another wonders if his family is cursed after two men die building them a house. Even a pregnant woman and a young girl are determined to go. Preparing for the ritual, they carve wooden blocks before starting on their journey. Then, they literally slide down the highway on their bellies as vehicles rush by, kowtowing with their foreheads to the ground, then rising, clapping wooden blocks together in prayer, and throwing themselves to the pavement again. For over half a year, this is their path; through blinding snow, flooded streets, a mild earthquake, the birth of a baby, and the breakdown of their wagon—driven behind them loaded with provisions and the tents they sleep under each night. Director Zhang Yang wisely employs a cast of non-actors whose performances are genuine.
Whistleblower is a Philippines film about an accountant (Nora Aunor) who’s enticed away from her employer to work for a wealthy woman (Cherry Pie Picache), only to discover that she’s unwittingly joined an association setting up fake NGO’s to rake in money. Before long, the ring is busted and there are televised trials involving high-level politicians, bulletproof vests, and even a corrupt press. The most frightening moment comes when one victim realizes that the witness protection plan she’s entered is utterly fallible.
In Zud, a Mongolian rancher’s animals keep dying. Already in debt, he worries about his family including a new baby. Pinning his hopes on his 11-year-old son, Sukhbat, he assigns him to tame a wild horse for a race that will pay off their obligations should he win. But the pressure is too much for the boy, and his unaffectionate father is overly critical. German director Marta Minorowicz cast real people instead of actors and, along with the cold steppes of Mongolia, the tale feels tragically feasible.
Death by Design is an American documentary that focuses on the worldwide electronic device craze. Filmmaker Sue Williams travels to China to unflinchingly reveal factories where young people labor, constantly bent over tiny motherboards; and, the resultant pollution that spills into lakes, rivers, and landfills. It’s not just that consumers are victims of planned obsolescence, having to upgrade every few years, but the accompanying toxic chemicals have crippled workers, and caused birth defects and cancers for Americans, too.
The Seattle International Film Festival runs through June 12. For more information, visit http://www.siff.net/festival-2016/festival-box-office.