The 2022 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival ran from May 5 – 13 with a feast of films for every taste. The following are some of my narrative film picks.

Arisaka

Arisaka
In Mikhail Red’s Arisaka, an armed motorcade guarded by cops meanders along a country highway, the site of theBataan Death March, while protecting a sweating politician hemmed in by the lone female officer, Mariano (MajaSalvador). From the furtive looks, you just know that something’s going down, and boy does it. Bullets fly, a mobilephone is thrust in unwilling hands, and mayhem ensues.

While the nail-biting action establishes the bad guys, it isn’t entirely clear the crime that motivated the killing. Thebaddies – it’s hard to not think of them in anything other than simple terms as they are so thinly written – scamperacross a gorgeous countryside that shimmers from Mycko David’s luminous camerawork. It is also a place wherePOW soldiers died during the forced March. A young indigenous girl, Nawi (Shella Mae Romualdo) rescues Mariano, and later takes her to remnants of the March hidden in a cave.

This is where the Arisaka becomes muddled about what it is; an action flick about corruption in contemporaryPhilippines, or a reckoning about a historical horror at the hands of the Imperial Japanese Army and its possibleresemblance to the treatment of the tribal people of the area? By merely glancing at them, the film minimizes thesuffering of Filipino and American  POWS and the fate of people, like Nawi and her family, who lack rights andstatus.

The action in Arisaka hits the mark for grit but the film dips into caricature in the finale, although the real issue isthat it’s underwritten, and ultimately unsatisfying.

Stay the Night

Stay the Night
Who doesn’t love a rom com, especially a rom com for Millennials that manages to address their attitude towardssex and intimacy without preaching. Writer/director Renuka Jeyapalan’s Stay the Night is an unexpected look at hook-up culture, stalling careers and fear of taking a chance. Grace (Andrea Bang) is a buttoned-up HR employee whose failure at a gain a plum role has her spinning. She meets professional athlete Carter (Joe Scarpellino) at a barbut fails to connect. Until they do, but not how you think they will.

Indeed, miscues, interruptions and irritations get in the way of their happily ever after, except this isn’t ageneration that necessarily believes in such a thing as the film makes clear. It doesn’t stop the film from trying toexplain the value of opening up to risk. It’s a lesson almost everyone learns at some time or another, and it feelsthe most vulnerable when it involves the hurt.

The chemistry between Bang and Scarpellino makes the pairing believable, even if socially awkward Grace findsCarter oblivious about what it’s like to be on the outside looking in. Turns out, he may know something about that.And the film peels away stereotypes they have about each other to reach a bittersweet understanding aboutpossibilities in even the most casual connection.

Dawning
Really, if there’s a genre ripe for exploring family trauma, it’s horror. Young Min Kim’s Dawning  does it justice with adecrepit farm as the setting for exploring the trauma experienced by a Korean American family. Haejin Park (anexcellent Kim Ellis), a successful therapist in New York City, drops everything to fly home to California when younger sister, Soojin (Veronica Kim) calls her after a breakup. Haejin finds her at the abandoned family farm still pining forher abusive ex-boyfriend and unable to move on from the old home or the nasty relationship.

The sisters air out their barely concealed grievances during the visit which stem from the trauma they experiencedas children. Only Haejin refuses to accept that moving on from a small town and getting a life makes her at fault.Alex Winkler’s brooding score tips us off that Dawning isn’t the typical family melodrama especially when it addsto the creep factor when Haejin finds her sister grunting and furiously burying something in the middle of the night.

A series of flashbacks and flash-forwards reveal the true nature of the sibling relationship. Abandonment, despairand guilt war with each other and result in fractured memories about the past. The film doesn’t hesitate to speakabout the burdens borne by family members who choose to survive the slashing cost of violence.

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