SDAFF 2015: THE RETURN OF FANT-ASIA, ZOMBIES AND MORE

16th Annual - SDAFF LogoWe’ve just finished Halloween, gained an extra hour on the proverbial space time continuum and El Nino is going to hit Southern California with inclemency worse than Sharknado 4. What more could possibly make So-Cal the place to be? As nature warns Pacific Coast residents to buy flood insurance, San Diego announces the arrival anon of  the 16th Annual San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF), which will flood the city with 130+ films from 20 Asiatic countries over a 10-day period, November 5-14. Of note, SDAFF is now considered to be the largest showcase of Asian cinema on the West Coast and this year’s festival is featuring some far out fantastical films.
Though Korean American Lee Ann Kim, the Pacific Arts Movement and SDAFF’s founder and executive director, has parlayed more of the SDAFF’s film programming into the hands of artistic director Brian Hu, in this time of more correct eating habits, she’s become somewhat of a cinematic vegetarian. Kim tranquilly analogizes, “My involvement in the festival is that there are so many ingredients in the salad and I’m basically the dressing…once it’s tossed, it tastes fantastic. I connect the dots and make sure that people have the right resources and right direction.”
The Assassin - 1One of this year’s directions is the heralded return of SDAFF’s love affair with fant-Asia films, the only festival this year that will deliver movies wrapped in a glorious array of genres that is sure to rock your soul, craze your brain and increase your blood pressure to 150/freaked out. To me, the ultimate in fant-Asia is cutting edge period piece, martial arts extravaganzas, and what better film is there to begin the fant-Asia aspect than with a movie in the running for an Academy Award for best foreign language picture, Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Assassin (2015). Other times this has happened for kung fu films is with King Hu’s Come Drink With Me (1966), Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Zhang Yimou’s Hero (2002) and House of Flying Daggers (2004), and Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster (2013). The difference being for Taiwanese auteur director Hou, is that he received the Best Director award at Cannes this year for Assassin, as accolade-giving critics worldwide have averred that it’s not your typical wu xia epic.
With Taiwanese roots and in his fifth year with SDAFF, Chinese American Hu gleefully elaborates, “In the past we’ve tried to show martial arts films that promote different kinds of artistry, like special effects, wire work, use of 3-D and of course fight choreography. So we can see how these filmmakers are thinking when it comes to this genre and how they can do something innovative with it.
The Assassin -2 -yin-niang“Audiences will watch this film because it has such a bad-ass title. Yet it’s a film that’s daring as it almost has no action, almost no dialogue, almost no story, but it has an incredible amount of visual beauty and powerful ways of developing characters through peeking at them. As you watch it, you get a feeling that this is probably what it looked like during the Tang Dynasty and what it was like to spend 10 minutes with someone from that era. Martial arts films are typically wall-to-wall action, but Assassin reminds us that action happens in the context of loneliness, sadness and social pressures that lead you into a dark corner. Hou says that assassins get in there really close, kill, then get out of there and that’s it. No posing. This is what makes this a beautiful film.”
Sounds to me like the fights are what we used to see in old Akira Kurosawa samurai films and in the Shaw Brothers auteur director Chu Yuan’s kung fu classics of the 1970s. If you’ve seen Toshiro Mifune in Kurosawa’s Sanjuro (1962), the big finale duel is one simple sword-slashing strike to his opponent’s heart.
Deadman InfernoYakuza vs. Zombies pretty much samuraizes what to expect with the Xtreme Japanese film Deadman Inferno or as it is called in Japanese, Z Island. Z stands for Zeni, a place where opposing families of yakuzas, promiscuous karate teen girls, a dorky doctor, a reggae-rocking angler and a castaway cop all attempt to Gilligan Island around running zombies…and in a nutshell, zat is zee problem.
Hu shares that it’s been a while since SDAFF has screened this kind of film mainly because the genre is clichéd, extremely misogynistic and they just kept piling up to the point that their novelty wore off. “However,” he joyfully reveals, “Deadman is hilarious and touching, because it’s about a family coming together because of zombies and they’re all forced to stand up for each other. In regard to this genre of films, there’s a lot of funny and random humor in Deadman and it’s also the film you’ve been waiting for. It’s not as ultra violent like past productions but it gives you all the kicks you need.”
TheWhisperingStar_mainWEB-1540x866According to Hu, Asian cinema isn’t always known for sci-fi fantasy film, so what happens is that fantasy now seeps into other genres. The Japanese film Whispering Star is about a delivery-robot who goes all UPS (Unidentified Person in Space) and browns from planet to planet dropping off packages for human clients. Roosting behind her intergalactic console like a delivery pigeon waiting to send messages via tweets, delivery fem-bot fantasizes about the world of humans, so close in parallel dementia, yet so far apart in space and far away in each others memories.
Then there’s the Korean romantic fantasy Beauty Inside that poses the scenario; imagine waking up every morning with a different face and then imagine falling in love with somebody, only to know that their first impression will be the last. It’s Groundhog Day (1993) meets 50 First Dates (2004). The Korean comedic fantasy Wonderful Nightmare spices with Heaven Can Wait (1978) gimchi when a city’s top attorney dies in an accident, but is given a second chance at life if she can trade places with an ordinary mother for one month.
20-USE-COVERWEB-1540x866Hu posits, “Whispering Star is really an art film that uses sci-fi to express it’s own idea of humanity. Beauty Inside is a Korean romantic comedy, which these days are a dime a dozen, but they use a fantasy scenario to liven up the genre. It’s a high concept, geek gimmicky set up and asks the question, if you’re a different face everyday, how can you go on a second date? Yet it’s such an achievement in direction because the director had to orchestrate so many performances as one character and make them seem like one character by so many different actors…man, woman, old and young…and then make us feel that we are watching the same person. It’s an incredible way of having us empathize with a certain perspective of love and how we as the audience spend time with a character that must ask herself, ‘Can I fall in love with someone that has a different face every day.’ To have us empathize with this kind of romantic possibility is so brilliant.”
Love and Peace copyKorea strikes again with a body switching Heaven can Wait (1978) thematic device in Wonderful Nightmare, with a Seoul twist where Gangnam Style is perhaps more popular that Chubby Checker’s The Twist. And speaking of music let’s not forget Japan’s Love and Peace. Hu chimes in, “This film converges on the rock operas of the 1970’s and ’80s…there’s something very sci-fi-ish with David Bowie, and this film evokes all of that with it’s Japanese sensibility of fraudness. Yes, it has talking turtles, cats and all kinds of other things that can talk too. It’s a lot of fun, it’s bonkers, and has great music. Director Sion Sono wrote the songs himself and it’s something he’s wanted to do for decades.”
Finally, three and a half fant-Asia films on the fringe. Directed by Vietnamese American Viet Nguyen, the comedy horror thriller Crush the Skull is about a couple in love that needs some fast cash and thus they break into a house that has no exit, no cell phone reception and no explanation for the torture pit they discover. Hu smilingly shares, “It’s seriously scary, wickedly off-kilter, and the funniest Asian American film in years.”
Atomic-Heart_10small-1500x866Don’t look now, but Iran explodes into the festival with director Ali Ahmadzade’s surreal loose comedy where fantasy and sci-fi seep into the film in a highly unusual way…it’s a blast but not a bomb. Atomic Heart is about two drunk party girls trying to drive home after a big night on the town who fail miserably as laced with Farsi trash talking, they have a zany run-in with a Saddam Hussein look-a-like but a saving run-out with a George Clooney doppleganger. It’s a culture that’s out of our minds and world, but a film that gets into our hearts and soul.
Beware the oleo…wait that’s butter…I mean the olio of the experimental, hybrid documentary of Daniel Hui’s Snakeskin that spreads contemporary and future Singapore like margarine on toast. With a queer eye from a 2066 cult member surviving guy that melds with a Malay cinema actress, the Shaw Brothers studios, and enforcers, and  exiles/ghosts, and activists…oh my, who are all ineptly but affably infantile, Snakeskin may rattle your thoughts and constrict your mind so much that I recommend you take an anti-hissss-tamine to the theater.
SWAP-770x433And finally the Filipino film Swap, which is not so much a fant-Asia film as it is a suspense thriller that is a must see for filmmakers looking for something uniquely edgy with cinematic savvy not often seen in film history. Hu explains, “This is a weird story. As it turns out, in one night I was watching two Filipino films both of which were single take movies. One wasn’t successful but with Swap, something new was  happening here. There’s been single take films but this one is full of flashbacks and dream sequences. You can only imagine how the actors are rapidly changing clothes off screen and getting sets ready on the run. The filmmakers will be at the festival and we all want to know how many takes did it take to get it right. The crazy thing is, Swap is based upon the director’s own history of being a kidnapped baby back in the ’80s.”
Fearless festival leader Kim adds, “How does this experience of being kidnapped as a child manifest it’s way into such a film? You have to say to yourself that these artists, don’t just do it for fun but do it because they have to do it…they have to do it.”
Deadman Inferno-2For information regarding films, dates and times, and how to get to their respective venues please visit http://festival.sdaff.org/2015/. One neat thing that SDAFF has, and it’s something that no other film festival in the world does, is that there will be an interactive booth from Saturday, November 7 through Monday, November 9, where filmgoers can get a free Chi Reading for their health and well being.
Kim’s final words, “Over the years, I’ve noticed that our audiences, like life-changing, inspiring and uplifting stories. Who doesn’t? They do well at the festival and that tells me that we have the right audience because our organization is not only here to entertain and inspire, but to also build a more passionate society, and part of that is to give inspiration, and to expose audiences and open their minds to more new experiences. I’ve been through multiple generations of people here at Pac-arts and I’m grateful for this work, and I believe I’m in the right place at the right time right now. The people that we have here are so special to me and this festival is our love letter to the community.”

The Walking Dead's Greg Nicotero – The CFQ Interview

Greg Nicotero (in glasses and plaid shirt) preps a zombie for his moment in the spotlight on THE WALKING DEAD.
Greg Nicotero (in glasses and plaid shirt) preps a zombie for his moment in the spotlight on THE WALKING DEAD.

Sometimes doing the job is reward in itself. That’s what it was like for me to talk with Greg Nicotero. From DAWN OF THE DEAD to BREAKING BAD, from ARMY OF DARKNESS to OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, from HOSTEL to SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR, his vivid and creative makeup effects work has brought the fantastic, the grotesque, and the sometimes-just-plain-realistic to a dazzling kaleidoscope of film and TV projects.
That includes THE WALKING DEAD, the blockbuster TV series which scooped up a couple of primetime Emmy awards for Nicotero’s work in bringing the flesh-hungry walkers to gruesome… uh, life? Death? Anyway, in honor of the release of the complete fourth season on DVD and Blu-ray this Tuesday, we got some time with Greg to talk about the finer points of zombie nurturing and care. Click on the player to hear the show.

SHARKNADO 2's Dante Palminteri – The CFQ Interview

(l to r) Ian Ziering, Dante Palminteri, and Vivica A. Fox hope the Big Apple won't take a bite out of them in SHARKNADO 2: THE SECOND ONE.
(l to r) Ian Ziering, Dante Palminteri, and Vivica A. Fox hope the Big Apple won't take a bite out of them in SHARKNADO 2: THE SECOND ONE.

It’s raining sharks, hallelujah! Or maybe whether you’re making that exclamation depends on how highly refined your appreciation of irony is. Yes, SHARKNADO 2: THE SECOND ONE is here, moving the mayhem to New York (to the producers’ credit, largely the real New York), larding the proceedings with copious cameos (hallloooo Andy Dick, Perez Hilton, Al Roker, etc, etc.), and wasting no time in throwing airborne maneaters at hapless victims (why are there sharknados? Who cares — look, SHARKS!).
One of the major players trying to avoid becoming shark bait is Dante Palminteri, son of Chazz and making his major(?) film debut with this role. In this exclusive interview, he takes us behind the scenes of this landmark cinematic event, certain to be the most monumental film of Summer 2014. Okay, my ironyometer just shorted out, sorry. I’m going to go watch HARLAN COUNTY, USA to recover.

Rigor Mortis Director Juno Mak – The CFQ Interview

Chin Siu-Ho discovers that urban renewal ain't all it's cracked up to be in RIGOR MORTIS
Chin Siu-Ho discovers that urban renewal ain't all it's cracked up to be in RIGOR MORTIS

Even in the anything-to-get-your-adrenaline-pumping world of Hong Kong cinema, RIGOR MORTIS stands out. The story of a famous actor, Chin Siu-Ho (played by actual famous actor Chin Siu-Ho — your heard us), who has to contend with a seedy apartment building whose walls reverberate with echoes of his most famous film, the hopping vampire horror-comedy MR. VAMPIRE — including mysterious spirits, a mystical warrior-cum-resterateur (played by MR. VAMPIRE cast-mate Anthony “Friend” Chan), and, yes, a hopping vampire — the film plays as both a tribute to, and a dark and dizzyingly intense reimagining of, a beloved sub-genre. Director Juno Mak makes his feature film debut with this visually stunning, shockingly violent, and at times surprisingly moving, effort, and we were eager to discuss the roots of the project in the legendary MR. VAMPIRE franchise, and the challenges of creating this effects-laden feast. Click on the player to hear the show.

Doug Jones – The CFQ Interview

Doug Jones demnstrates the difficulties of being a wandering minstrel in the post-apocalyptic US in DUST OF WAR.
Doug Jones demonstrates the difficulties of being a wandering minstrel in the post-apocalyptic US in DUST OF WAR.

The speaker of the Louisiana State Senate. An agoraphobic starfish. Two copies of Playboy with their centerfolds torn out. These are probably the only things actor Doug Jones hasn’t been in his variegated career. In makeup and out, whether playing an amphibious scholar, a benevolent alien, or a mute, demonic organ harvester, Jones has managed to create roles that have been at once vivid, evocative, and memorable.
It happens to be a good time for Jones. Not only was there the recent video release of the ultra-violent grindhouse action film, RAZE — in which Jones plays the entitled overseer of an all-female death-match — but the complete third season disc set of FALLING SKIES, where Jones is the alien ambassador Cochise, has just come out, and now Jones appears as a wandering (and canny) minstrel in the dizzyingly eclectic post-apocalyptic/ROAD WARRIOResque/alien invasion/western, DUST OF WAR, which just became available on VOD. We’re thrilled to be able to talk with Doug Jones about all of this, and more, as we kick off our second season of THE CFQ INTERVIEW. Click on the player to hear the show.

EAGLEHEART: PARADISE RISING's Jason Woliner & Andrew Weinberg: The CFQ Interview

Just a typical day at the office for Chris Elliott in EAGLEHEART: PARADISE RISING.
Just a typical day at the office for Chris Elliott in EAGLEHEART: PARADISE RISING.

These are dark days indeed for US Marshall Chris Monsanto (Chris Elliott). He’s devastated over the loss of his partner, Brett Mobley (Brett Gelman), in a tragic wood chipper incident, and forced to deal with the suspicions of his colleague, Susie Wagner (Maria Thayer), that he was responsible for the death (because he was). But duty calls, there are criminals and terrorists to catch (or more likely, just to shoot dead), and not even incriminating post-mortem memory scans, global warming, or the fact that headquarters seems to be transforming, Cronenberg-like, into some kind of giant organism intent on absorbing the older members of the force into its walls, can stay Monsanto from his crucial mission.
Adult Swim’s cop-show satire, EAGLEHEART: PARADISE RISING, has returned for its third season, complete with a dramatic, new subtitle and an ambitious, season-long narrative arc.  Which doesn’t mean that the stars are any less trigger-happy, the crimes any less rococo (a counterfeiting operation relying on the regenerative abilities of starfish?) or that the producers have stinted on the surreal humor  (they actually seem to have doubled-down). I got to sit down with director Jason Woliner and co-creator Andrew Weinberg to discuss tight shooting schedules, mistimed gore effects, and occasional tangents into classic stage drama. Click on the player to hear the show.

Larry Fessenden & Rob Kuhns on BIRTH OF THE LIVING DEAD: Inside the Fantastique [FULL VIDEO]

From the societal upheavals of the 1960’s to the not-all-that-more-quiescent twenty-first century, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD has managed to chill the blood of horror lovers everywhere and simultaneously cast an unsettling light on the media, racial politics, and the American way of life in general. Now there’s a new documentary, BIRTH OF THE LIVING DEAD, that uses clips, interviews, and some evocative animation by artist Gary Pullin to not only tell the tale of how George Romero and crew took a shoestring budget and managed to create a film the rewrote the rules of horror, but also explore how this humble tale of the walking dead still manages to resonate today.
Cinefantastique Online’s Dan Persons sits down with BIRTH’s Executive Producer Larry Fessenden and director Rob Kuhns to talk about what NIGHT means to them, the genesis and influences of their project, and what they hope it will say about Romero’s legacy.

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Larry Fessenden & Rob Kuhns on BIRTH OF THE LIVING DEAD: Inside the Fantastique [AUDIO ONLY]

The art of Gary Pullin brings you behind-the-scenes in BIRTH OF THE LIVING DEAD.
The art of Gary Pullin brings you behind-the-scenes in BIRTH OF THE LIVING DEAD.

From the societal upheavals of the 1960’s to the not-all-that-more-quiescent twenty-first century, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD has managed to chill the blood of horror lovers everywhere and simultaneously cast an unsettling light on the media, racial politics, and the American way of life in general. Now there’s a new documentary, BIRTH OF THE LIVING DEAD, that uses clips, interviews, and some evocative animation by artist Gary Pullin to not only tell the tale of how George Romero and crew took a shoestring budget and managed to create a film the rewrote the rules of horror, but also explore how this humble tale of the walking dead still manages to resonate today.
Cinefantastique Online’s Dan Persons sits down with BIRTH’s Executive Producer Larry Fessenden and director Rob Kuhns to talk about what NIGHT means to them, the genesis and influences of their project, and what they hope it will say about Romero’s legacy.

CHINA, IL's Brad Neely and Daniel Weidenfeld: The CFQ Interview

Ronald Reagan is alive and disturbingly lucid in CHINA, IL.
Ronald Reagan is alive and disturbingly lucid in CHINA, IL.

Continuing its mission of lowering the standards of higher education, Adult Swim’s CHINA, IL is presently offering up its second season every Sunday night. Now expanded to a full half hour, the larger canvas has allowed creator/producer/composer/voice talent Brad Neely and executive producer Daniel Weidenfeld room to expand the adventures of the faculty and student populace of possibly the worst college ever, which doesn’t mean that things have gotten any less weird: Already, desperate professor Frank Smith has discovered himself capable of HIGHLANDER-like transformations; his brother Steve has gotten himself immersed in the Furry Underground, feline division; and sweet-natured, perennial undergrad Baby Cakes has decided to start up his own line of oddly flavored power bars. Things are definitely getting odd on the quad.
I got to talk with Neely and Weidenfeld about the show’s genesis; the challenges presented in its new, 30 minute running time; and the complexities of meeting each episode’s musical demands. Click on the player to hear the show.