Korean/Asian Film Festival–Opening Night

The combined Korean American and Asian Film Festival opened last night at the Castro with Genghis Khan: To the Ends of the Earth and Sea. I was there.

The opening party was quiet and subdued–at least it was by the time I arrived, a little after 7:00. It may have been hopping when it started at 6:00.

The show began at 8:00 with the Castro’s traditional organ concert, ending as always with “San Francisco.” Then, after a brief introduction and some unintentional comedy revolving around removing the podium, the movie began.

I never knew Genghis Khan was such a nice guy. In Takashi Sorimachi’s performance, he frets a lot about doing what’s right, respects women, and only goes to war to bring peace. Well, we westerners think of Genghis Khan as a mass murderer, but in Mongolia he’s the father of the nation.

The funny thing is: Mongolians didn’t make this movie. The Japanese did, so we have Japanese actors, speaking Japanese, playing Mongolians. It makes as much sense as Colin Farrell speaking English as Alexander the Great–who is no more deserving of hero worship than is Khan. And it makes considerably more sense than John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror.

Genghis Khan: To the Ends of the Earth and Sea is much better than The Conqueror, and is even better than that backhanded compliment seems to imply. Yes, it’s silly in that big, melodramatic way historical epics often are, bending over backwards to make its subject both a wondrous hero and a likeable human being. But it also heaps on the pleasures of the genre–fancy speeches, simplified history, casts of thousands, and plenty of spectacle. (I’m glad I saw this at the Castro–it’s definitely a big-screen experience.)

And stunts. I’ve never seen so many impressive horse-riding (and horse-falling-of-off) stunts in a single movie. It’s amazing, but it’s also upsetting. I don’t know if Japan or Mongolia (where the film was shot) has anything like a Humane Society watching over production to make sure that animals aren’t exploited, but judging from this movie, I doubt it. I suspect a lot of horses lost their lives here.

The festival continues through the 18th. Nothing else this spectacular, but I suspect you’ll find a lot there that’s considerably more intelligent.