San Diego Asian Film Festival

If you are a major fan of Asian films like me, then perhaps that buzz you hear behind you is not a swarm of bees filled with the rage of alarm pheromone fury chasing you, but the electric, eclectic fizzing sibilation of the fast approaching 2007, San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF), which will be held in San Diego, October 11th – 18th.

THE VICTIM - a Thai film about an actress haunted by the ghost of a murder victim she is playing in a film.

Although Asia’s most successful genre is martial arts, over the past 10 years, one could argue that macabre Japanese, Korean and even Thai horror movies have now slithered, oozed and floated into the American consciousness. Then of course there is a consistent hypnotized fan base in the U.S. that have been sucked into the freaky world of Japanese anime, something tht (you may not have realized) subliminally began when you were a kid watching KIMBA THE WHITE LION or ASTROBOY.
So what better way to indulge yourself with the latest and coolest Asian cinemateque creations in horror, anime, and more, than at San Diego’s hippest film festival, the SDAFF?

Indeed, opening night features the achingly beautiful, 5CM PER SECOND, a Japanese anime film named for the speed at which cherry blossom petals fall. The film consists of three segments that follow a boy’s life from middle school through his adult doldrums working as a computer programmer. It is essentially about the struggles we face against time, space, people and love. According to Anime Advocates and ActiveAnime, director Makoto Shinkai has been labeled the new Hayao Miyazak.
Then beware the Canadian/Philippine supernatural thriller ANG PANAMA, a chilling spectacle that takes its inspiration from Filipino folklore, where Filipino Canadian siblings Johnny and Anna travel back to the Philippines for their grandmother’s funeral. Their inheritance? Her country estate. The problem? Death, monsters and creepy horror. Also beware the mentally challenged resident with psychic abilities.
Lee Ann Kim, a first generation Korean American, is currently an anchor for KGTV (the San Diego ABC TV affiliated) and the executive director of the San Diego Film Foundation, which she founded in 2000 with the Asian American Journalists Association of San Diego. She told Cinefantastique Online: “The idea of this festival was to bring people of all different backgrounds together, Asian and non-Asian, and we do so by bringing in films that are of top-notch quality, different, diverse, and well rounded.
“Asian American communities are segmented and the Film Festival is socially important within and without the community, where we can reach the broadest audience possible. You see, within our community, we don’t know each other but I feel our film festival helps us to redefine what it means to be Asian American and we’re still trying to figure that out in America because the mentality is such that we identify with the country we come from, the language our parents spoke, rather than seeing ourselves as brothers and sisters and seeing ourselves as American first.
“We’re also getting larger non-Asian audiences, which is great. Last year about 15-20% of the audience was non-Asian. Although it’s an Asian Film Festival, it’s not exclusive for Asians; I want it to be inclusive for everybody. Sometimes, I’ll laugh, when people ask me – and it pinpoints one of the problems in American society – they’ll ask, ‘I am not Asian – am I allowed to go to the Asian film festival?’ All the film are either in English or with subtitles, so everybody can enjoy them.”
The complete schedule is available at, with valuable information on discounted tickets, free parking, and when and where the films will be shown. Patrons can also participate in panels (like with James Kyson Lee from HEROES) parties, and meet more than 100 filmmakers, actors, and industry guests. And no one in their right mind can afford to miss an afternoon with George Takei with the program, THE TREK OF GEORGE TAKEI: AN INTIMATE DISCUSSION, moderated by Kim.
And what is there for life after George?
There is HEAVEN IS TOO FAR AWAY, a collection of short films that deal with what happens during the afterlife when you don’t end up in Heaven or Hell, where the calamity of the unknown infiltrates one’s very own roaming soul. There’s a Korean faceless female ghosts who stalk and steals the faces of unlucky souls, an ancient Japanese tattoo artist, who discovers that he is both dead and alive at the same time, and a man lost in a sea of confusion, headaches and strange visions of fish.
The festival also features Korean director Park Chan-wook’s (TALE OF TWO SISTERS, OLDBOY) long awaited I’M A CYBORG BUT THAT’S OKAY. It’s about a girl who believes she’s a cyborg who must avenge her grandmother, only to be admitted to a psychiatric ward, where she meets Il-soon, a handsome young man who thinks he can steal people’s souls. Park solidifies his place as an international film auteur by straying far from his ultra-violence image to create a world that is visually brilliant and peculiarly humorous.
Thai horror entry THE VICTIM features a story about an actress playing the role of a murder victim that was brutally butchered in a bathtub. In the realm of the proverbial fine line between the real and the reel, the actress finds herself in danger of becoming a victim of déjà vu. Is the ghost there to guide the girl or are her motives malevolent?
Come to the SDAFF to find out the answer to this question and discover a whole new generation of Asian horror, with an enigmatic mix of the old.
NOTE: For the record, although Cinefantastique Online is emphasizing the fantasy titles, there are several martial arts films on the menu, one being THE REBEL, touted as the Vietnamese ONG BAK.