‘Mojin: The Lost Legend’ opens December 18 at AMC Pacific Place 11.
‘Mojin: The Lost Legend’ opens December 18 at AMC Pacific Place 11.

Several narratives at this year’s Hawai‘i International Film Festival will likely become theatrical releases in the future. Watch for the following possibilities.

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A Taiwanese Buddhist ritual dictates that the mourning period for a loved one last exactly 100 days. But bereavement follows no timetable and, as anyone who’s lost someone can attest, grief is different for everyone. In Zinnia Flower, two people lose their partners in separate cars in the same accident. Both were looking forward to happy futures. Wei‘s wife was pregnant, while Ming was planning her wedding; she and her fiancé had even bought their new house already. As both Wei (Shih Chin-hang also known as rocker Stone) and Ming (Hong Kong actress Karena Lam) navigate through the painful fog of their abrupt losses, they find themselves struggling in challenging situations. Wei is obliged to return tuition money to his wife’s piano students, while Ming has to deal with useless wedding invitations and an already paid for honeymoon in Okinawa.

Insensitive relatives and acquaintances blurt out the unbelievable, with one adolescent telling Wei she knows how he feels because her dog just died. The authenticity of the script is attributable to director Tom Lin Shu-Yu, who wrote it after his wife unexpectedly passed away in 2012. “They say the rituals help the departed to pass on,” says Ming, “but it’s more like reminding us they are really gone. Giving us a time limit to let go.”

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The Coffin Maker also deals with the raw aftermath following the sudden death of a loved one. In a small Philippines village, Randy (Alan Dizon) lives with his eight-year old daughter, Angeline (Felixia Crysten Dizon). Her mother has relinquished custody in order to appease her white American boyfriend with whom she also has a child. Working as a coffin maker, Randy is frustrated with his poor economic status. His much younger girlfriend constantly demands gifts and openly resents how he prioritizes his daughter.

Unable to afford a doctor when Angeline falls ill, Randy, instead, confines her at home while continuing to report to work. After all, there’s plenty of it as the laborers toil at building 200 coffins for typhoon victims before their corpses decompose—even working overtime on the graveyard shift. Then, a horrible accident forces Randy to manage all the details surrounding a death while overwhelmed with grief. He’s even given the chore of building the coffin for the deceased. Meanwhile, a corrupt funeral home owner, who buys cadavers illegally to sell to medical students, pesters Randy. A heart-wrenching tale, this film is in Kapampangan with English subtitles.

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As rom-coms go, Miss India America is light in romance and heavier in comedy. Lily (Tiya Sircar) is always first—the valedictorian of her high school class and champion of everything. So when she discovers her boyfriend Karim (Kunal Sharma) has dumped her for a former beauty queen, she comes up with the convoluted idea that she needs to win a pageant to keep him. Somehow, that seems odd for a girl who is ambitious, competitive and even finds her own mother’s status as a noted poet too artistic and not academically acceptable. With her usual lack of tact, Lily convinces her best friend Seema (Kosha Patel) to be her stylist, mainly because she’s clueless about Indian culture. Yes, love wins in the end, but at the cost of convincing women they should be beautiful because being brainy is not enough.

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Enishi: the Bride of Izumo is the tale of a modern Tokyo woman, Maki (Nozomi Sasaki) engaged to a modern Tokyo man, Kazunori (Yuta Hiraoka). But Maki worries that her fiancé never argues with her and wonders if that will spoil their marriage. When her grandmother dies suddenly, Maki discovers a bridal kimono and marriage certificate with a stranger’s name written on it. Returning to her hometown of Izumo, known for the oldest Shinto shrine in Japan, she’s thrown together with a crass fisherman who once performed traditional folk dances. Eventually, they search for the stranger named on the marriage certificate. In her sacred surroundings, Maki learns to blend ancient customs with modern love.

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Love is the prevailing theme in A Tale of Three Cities a historical drama about Jackie Chan’s parents. Who knew that the martial arts star’s mother sold opium or that his father was a spy for the Nationalist Party? Based on a documentary they produced in 2003, co-directors Mabel Cheung and Alex Law create an expansive and powerful narrative told against the background of famine, the second Sino-Japanese war, the Nanking Massacre, insurgency, the Communist Revolution, and the omnipresent element of love. Jackie’s father, Daolong (Sean Lau), and mother, Yuerong (Wei Tang), even sing songs from the Peking Opera as bombs explode around them. Indeed, truth is stranger than fiction.

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In Pali Road, the truth is elusive for Lily (Taiwanese actress Michelle Chen). Engaged to a man (Jason Rathbone) she’s passionate about, the doctor finds her jealous supervisor (Sung Kang) creepy. So imagine her waking up married to him, and with a son, following an accident on Pali Road that killed her fiancée. This thriller features beautiful O‘ahu, where it was filmed by Chinese Canadian director Jonathan Lim. As Lily frantically searches for her missing lover, everyone around her questions her sanity.

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Thai action star Tony Jaa is back in combat in SPL2. This time, he’s a guard in a corrupt Thailand prison. With a young daughter who has leukemia, he’s vulnerable to bribery and finds himself mixed up with thugs selling prisoners’ organs. When an undercover Hong Kong cop lands in his jail, Jaa has an opportunity to show off his super Muay Thai fighting skills. At 39, Jaa is older and heftier, but still charismatic—although he’s granted fewer leaping and acrobatic scenes, the very ones that first made him famous.

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For more thrills, and just in time for the holidays, comes Mojin: The Lost Legend. Starring Chen Kun (Hu), Huang Bo (Wang) and Shu Qi (Shirley), this action-adventure rom-com with political undertones also serves as a horror thriller. Two best buddies (Hu and Wang) are ancient relic hunters dealing their stolen wares in New York City until an INS officer busts them. Running back to China, they argue like two lovers although Shirley is Hu’s real lover and argues with him, too. The three set out to perform one last job raiding a tomb holding the elusive “Equinox Flower” along with a religious cult leader and her Japanese blonde sidekick and a gold-toothed hustler. Twenty years earlier, Hu and Wang discovered the haunted massive cave while traveling with their comrades who all perished. Scenes of the past where happy characters quote Mao are brightly colored and filled with sunshine and songs while the present takes place in darkness. Periodically, Wang slams “U.S. imperialists” and at one point shouts to Hu, “Why don’t you go back to the capitalists and drink Coca Cola!” Warning, there’s a lot of cursing in both Mandarin and in the English subtitles.

‘Mojin: The Lost Legend’ opened December 18 at AMC Pacific Place 11.

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