The poster of “Empire Waist,” a film by by Claire Ayoub. Courtesy.

The Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) returns to Seattle for 2024 and will be screened at venues around the Puget Sound May 9 – 19, and streamed on the SIFF Channel May 20 – 27.

This year marks the festival’s 50th anniversary and up to 281 films will be shown. In the following article I will try to preview films from Asia as well as films that may have Asian or Asian American/Pacific Islander content.

Highlights of the festival includes a young Taiwanese American filmmaker Sean Wang. His feature film “Didi” won the audience award at Sundance and tells the story of a skate board video loving kid in California who must learn the realities of life from wherever he can. Wang’s short documentary on his two grandmothers was also an academy award nominee so here’s a young filmmaker to keep an eye out for.

The Asian Crossroads series brings a diverse collection of genres from around the regions and cultures of Central, East, and South Asia.

“Agent of Happiness” is a compelling documentary that follows a government worker as he surveys citizens with a “happiness scale” in the nation of Bhutan.

“Agra” is film from India that tells the story of a young man who works in a call center in love with his work colleague. But he still lives with his parents and when he announces to his family he wants to marry the woman and live together on the terrace of their shared home, nothing goes as planned.

“Black Box Diaries’ is a documentary by a Japanese journalist who turns the camera on herself as she wages a 7-year journey to get justice for a rape committed by a highly-connected journalist with ties to the prime minister. The protagonist of this film and its director, Shiori Ito, will make an appearance at the festival.

”All Shall Be Well” looks at a wealthy lesbian couple living in Hong Kong. When one woman dies, the survivor initially receives comfort from family and friends but disputes over the funeral and estate causes a rift. The film directed by Ray Yeung picked up an award for best LGBTQ themed feature film at the 74th Berlin International Film Festival.

”The Box Man” from Japan is based on a novel by Kobo Abe and directed by Gakuryu Ishii. It’s a strange, surreal tale in which a cardboard box becomes the perfect camouflage for men who want to withdraw from society.

”City of Wind” is a coming-of-age film from Mongolia about a teenage shaman who falls in love with a girl and starts to question his calling as the community’s spiritual guide.

“Dragon Superman” is an archival film from Taiwan. If you’re tired of all the Western superheroes dominating the silver screen, here’s a refreshing look at a superhero from Asia. When an evil gang threatens the city, it’s up to Dragon Superman to hop on his motorcycle to save the day.

“Evil Does Not Exist” is the long awaited new film by Ryusuke Hamaguchi who nabbed an Academy Award for his previous film, “Drive My Car”. The new film tells the story of a father who lives with his young daughter in a peaceful village but things heat up when residents are confronted with a new real estate project that threatens their pristine ecosystem.

”Girls Will Be Girls” picked up the Audience Award at Sundance and tells the story of an emotional tug-of-war between a mother and daughter set in a boarding school in the Himalayan mountains. Director Shuchi Talati is scheduled to make an in-person appearance for this screening.

”In Flames” is a Pakistani Canadian supernatural thriller set in Karachi and directed by Zarrar Kahn. A young woman is haunted by visions of the past when her father dies, leaving her and her mother vulnerable within the country’s highly patriarchal society.

“In Our Day” is by the ever prolific South Korean director Hong Sang-soo. A look at two people and their cats. An actress in her forties, newly returned the country is staying with her friend and her cat. An aging poet whose health is deteriorating, lives alone after the death of his cat. One day. Both characters receive visits from young aspiring artists who want to interview them about their careers and yes, life itself.

”Iron Mask” by Kim Sung-hwan takes us into the taut world of competition within a kendo dojo. A leading young contender must eventually confront a rising star in this martial arts thriller. When the young man realizes that his rival is the same man who accidentally killed his brother, he must face his own demons as the two train together.

“A Journey in Spring” is by Taiwanese filmmakers Wang Ping-Wen & Peng Tzu-Hui. After his wife dies, an old man must deal with conflicting family relations, regrets and memories evoked by a springtime rain.

”July Rhapsody,” a film from the early 2000s is considered one of filmmaker Ann Hui On-Wah’s best films. It features former acting star Jacky Cheung in his first role in years. A high school Chinese literature teacher finds himself attracted to an intelligent, young female student while his wife reveals their old high school teacher has cancer and she wants to care for him. Tensions bubble under the surface in these fraught relationships.

“Killing Romance” is a South Korean musical romantic thriller by Lee Won-su. A former famous actress joins forces with her super-fan teenage neighbor in an effort to escape a toxic marriage to a evil real estate mogul.

“The Missing” by Filipino director Carl Joseph Papa spins a sci-fi tale about a young man who must confront an evil alien. Using the skill of rotoscope and handmade drawings, this animated feature will carry you away.

”Pigsy” is an animated feature by Taiwanese director Chau Li Wei that is a futuristic re-telling of the classic Chinese novel “Journey to the West.” 

“Tenement” is a horror film by Sokyou Chee. A woman returns to Cambodia in an effort to find her true self after her mother dies. There she discovers a family she has never known and an old building full of troubling secrets.

“Tiger Stripes” is the directorial debut of Amanda Nell Eu. This Malaysian film tells the story of an 11-year old girl who starts to experience physical changes to her body when she goes through puberty. It premiered at Cannes where it won the Critics’ Week Grand Prize.

The cINDIGENOUS Filmmakers program screens 11 films throughout the festival Of particular interest to our viewers are two films detailing the Pacific Islander experience.

“Moloka’i Bound” by Alika Tengan makes its world premiere. it tells the story of an ex-con just out of prison who returns to his family with hopes of reconnecting with his your son and patching up things with his ex and return to the roots of his native culture but nothing comes easy.

“Standing Above the Clouds” by Jalena Keane-lee makes its US premiere and tells the story of three Hawaiian families who seek to protect their sacred mountain from the construction of the world’s largest telescope.

Other films to watch out for include the following.

“Seagrass” by Meredith Hama Brown won the FIPRESCI Prize at the Toronto International Film Festival and nabbed “Best BC Film” at the Vancouver Film Critics Circle Awards in 2023. A dysfunctional biracial couple goes on a group therapy retreat but their failing marriage begins to affect their young daughters as well. The director will attend the screening.

”Merchant Ivory” is a documentary film that looks at the filmmaking team of screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and composer Richard Robbins that were behind some of the most iconic arthouse films of the 80s and 90s.

“The Queen of My Dreams” by Fawzia Mirza tells a mother/daughter love story blending 1960s Karachi, Bollywood and the life of a modern day queer Pakistani Canada.

“Food Riots” directed by Michele Josue follows restauranteur Billy Dec on a journey exploring his roots through Filipino cuisine, family and community.

“Empire Waist” by Claire Ayoub is a coming-of-age comedy in which a plus-sized teenage girl is ridiculed in school but when this clothes-loving teenager busts out with her own fashion designs, things begin to change. Yonsei/mixed race actress Jolene Purdy (“Orange is the New Black”) has a role in this film as a supportive teacher.

“Admissions Granted” by Hao Wu & Miao Wang is a documentary film that looks at the landmark Supreme Court case of Students for Fair Admissions vs Harvard that pitted a coalition of Asian American students against anti-affirmative activists. It looks at the ways Asian Americans have been affected both positively and negatively. The directors will attend the screening. For complete information on all the films and screening times, go to siff.net/fest.

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