Asian American Film Festival Preview

With the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival less than two weeks away, this seems like a good time to fill you in on the four films screening that I’ve seen:

A Thousand Years Of Good Prayers: It’s a bit silly to review the opening night selection as a movie; you’re not going to pay $35 just to see a film that will soon open wide. But I’ll point out that this is Wayne Wang’s return to Chinese-American subject matter, and a triumphant return it is. Wang and writer Yiyun Lee let the drama build slowly in this story of a Chinese father visiting his now-American daughter after her recent divorce. But there’s more separating them than culture and an ocean. I’ll tell you more when the film gets its regular release. Castro, Thursday, March 13, 7:00

Wings of Defeat: What makes a man not just risk his life but give it up for his country? According to Risa Morimoto and Linda Hoaglund’s documentary about the Kamikaze pilots of World War II, it takes patriotism, peer pressure, camaraderie, and a fascist government controlling information. Wings of Defeat avoids the visual banality of many documentaries through battle footage, reproduced propaganda, and simple animation. Sundance, Friday, March 14, 7:00; Camera Cinemas 12, Saturday, March 22, Noon

The Killing of a Chinese Cookie: Most Americans may think of fortune cookies as a common Chinese food, but few people in China know about them. Probably inspired by a Japanese delicacy, they were invented by a Japanese immigrant in California (there’s some controversy as to just which immigrant and where in California). Such are the facts Derek Shimoda shares in this whimsical documentary. The Killing of a Chinese Cookie is often funny, occasionally informative, sometimes boring, and all too frequently self-consciously cute. Clay, Saturday, March 15, 2:00; Camera Cinemas 12, Sunday, March 23, noon

Ping Pong Playa: This sports comedy doesn’t add much to the overworked formula, and much of what it adds isn’t an improvement. For instance, the loser protagonist isn’t lovable; he’s just a jerk. Some of the jokes hit home, but just as many fall flat. To make matters worse, the two white villains are played as broad gay male stereotypes–and not even funny gay male stereotypes. Clay, Friday, March 14, 6:45; Sundance, Monday, March 17, 9:30; Camera Cinemas 12, Saturday, March 22, 2:15