Still from Ajoomma, which plays May 13 at Ark Lodge Cinemas and May 20 at SIFF Cinema Egyptian

Get ready! The 49th edition of the Seattle International Film Festival kicks off on May 11.

The opening film, Past Lives, is a romantic drama by Korean-Canadian writer-director Celine Song about two Korean childhood friends who reconnect as adults in New York City. This reunion, however, is not the first time they’ve reconnected. 12 years earlier, he had found her on Facebook but their attempt to rekindle their relationship was halted by geographic constraints. Now face-to-face for the first time in 24 years, the opportunity to be in each other’s orbits again sets the stage for an aching contemplation of the past, present, and future. Past Lives, Song’s first directorial feature, debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival to universal critical acclaim.

The Asian Crossroads Program, featuring thirteen films from Hong Kong, India, Japan, Mongolia, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan, includes challenging social issue-driven movies. The Japanese drama Plan 75 feels ripped from recent headlines. This haunting debut feature by Chie Hayakawa envisions a reality in which a government-sponsored euthanasia program is implemented as a solution to the country’s growing aging population. July Jung’s dramatic thriller Next Sohee investigates the consequences of South Korea’s hypercapitalism on its young adults in this based-on-true-events story about a student who commits suicide after entering a high school job training externship.

Against the Tide, the only documentary in the program, from India, is about the friendship of two indigenous Koli fishermen dealing with the reality of climate-impacted seas. One adheres to time-honored fishing methods, while the other has adopted methods he learned from Western education. Their fishing practices have very real environmental and economic impacts, and the honest debates between the two men about their choices reveal the depths of both their conflict and their love for each other.

Looking for something a little lighter? Check out He Shuming’s charming dramedy Ajoomma, about a Singaporean widow with a K-Pop obsession who embarks on an adventure of self-discovery in Korea. When she is neglectfully left behind at a stop, Aunty must figure out a way to rejoin her guided tour group — never mind that her phone has died, she doesn’t know the language, and her only (un)willing source of help is a taciturn apartment building security guard. Could this be love? Speaking of love, what could go wrong when your younger brother invites his new girlfriend — and your old flame — to a family reunion dinner you’ve been planning? That’s what eldest brother Steve is about to find out in Sunny Chan’s Table for Six, which explores the trope of dysfunctional Hong Kong family dynamics in comedic fashion.

Aside from the opening film and outside of the Asian Crossroads program are a number of inclusions by North American filmmakers from the Asian diaspora. Set in Seattle, local filmmaker Sudeshna Sen presents a heartwarming feature debut Anu about a 12-year-old coping with the loss of her beloved Bapu. When her dead grandfather keeps appearing to her, Anu seeks to bring him back to life with the help of her friends — first by looking to her religion and then to the promises of a shady traveling magician. In Sarah Kambe Holland’s Egghead & Twinkie, another feature debut, a nerdy Asian American teenager who comes out to her conservative parents and then decides to drive halfway across the country to meet up with her online crush, a minor lesbian social media celebrity.

Christine Yoo’s 26.2 to Life is a powerful and inspiring documentary about men spending a full year training for an annual prison marathon while incarcerated at San Quentin Prison. Fresh from his co-directing duties with Koganada on Pachinko, Justin Chon returns to the big screen with Jamojaya about an up-and-coming Indonesian rapper whose recording deal with an American music label company strains his relationship with his dad, who he just fired as his manager.

Then there is Alan @ Work about the International Examiner’s own Alan Lau. Locally-based filmmaker Lowell “Doug” Ing presents this brief and affectionate portrait of the artistry, poetry, and musings of the former Uwajimaya grocery worker and current IE arts editor. If you are only going to catch one film at the festival, this should be the one.

The 49th Annual Seattle International Film Festival runs May 11-21, 2023. The opening night film will be presented at the Paramount Theatre. Other festival screenings will be presented across six other Seattle area venues: SIFF Uptown and SIFF Film Center in lower Queen Anne, SIFF Egyptian on Capitol Hill, Pacific Place in downtown Seattle, Ark Lodge Cinema in Columbia City, and Shoreline Community College. Passes and tickets can be found at:  

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