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March 06, 2018

Colorado Dragon Film Festival 2018

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As Variety might put it, the Colorado Dragon Film Festival was in its third frame. The film festival is done loosely in conjunction with the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival which has been around since 2001. That activity takes place in the Summer. The film festival took place over this past weekend, March 2 through 4. But there were two big changes that I thought would be good - first, showing the films in an actual movie theater rather than a concert hall with projected DVDs, and second, having the festival at the newish Alamo Drafthouse Sloan's Lake in West Denver, in the vicinity of the Boat Festival.

Now all that's needed is more of an audience. Maybe it's the context, but the larger theaters used in the Denver Film Festival get filled for the joylessness of Kim Ki-Duk. Some of the films programmed by Jason Suzuki at the Dragon Film Festival might be capital A Art films, but others are solid commercial entries worth consideration, the kind of films that almost never get seen or given stateside distribution because they are not considered arty enough, nor extreme, nor made by one of the handful of directors who's become a brand name. Other cities have hosted festivals devoted to Asian films similar to what was presented here, so maybe it's a matter of time in growing an audience.

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I only saw four films this year. Part of it was based on the titles that interested me the most, but also, I don't have the stamina to cover even weekend long film festivals. Keep in mind that I'm so old, I remember seeing television commercials for a new movie called Rodan just a little over sixty years ago - my introduction to a country called Japan as well as Asian cinema.

While it may not have been intentional, the films seen all fell under the category of coming of age or life lesson stories, centered on teenagers or in one case, an older pre-teen, all female. The Filipino Birdshot by Mikhail Red was inspired by a couple of true incidences. Taking place in the rural countryside, Maya, the daughter of a caretaker, is taught to hunt birds with an old shotgun, with the goal of teaching her self-sufficiency. A lost chance under her father's supervision is followed with Maya taking off on her own, wandering into a bird sanctuary where she kills a rare eagle. Simultaneous to this, a rookie cop is investigating the disappearance of ten farmers from an abandoned bus that was destined for Manila. The two cross paths in a tragedy built on lies and corruption. Red's film, his second feature, was the Filipino entry for the foreign language film Oscar.

Naoko Ogigami's Close-Knit was inspired by the filmmaker's comparison of treatment of transgenders in the United States and Japan. Eleven year old Tomo, left to her own devices by her chronically irresponsible mother, is taken in by her young uncle and his transgender girlfriend, Rinko. The film is a gentle, sometimes comic, critique of transphobia and homophobia in Japan. In Rinko, Tomo finds the idealized mother who prepares formally arranged box lunches, and can also be a formidable video game competitor. Ogigami was able to cast popular actor Toma Ikuta as Rinko. Film journalist Mark Schilling discussed the film and Ogigami's career with the audience. With recent articles about female filmmakers, Ogigami is one of several directors who needs to be better known in the west.

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Angels wear White

Angels wear White takes place in the Chinese beach resort town of Xiamen. On this particular stretch of the beach is a giant statue of Marilyn Monroe in her iconic pose in The Seven Year Itch. Mia, a fifteen year old girl, works at a hotel, mostly in clean up and general maintenance. She also works the reception desk when a middle aged man books rooms for himself and two young girls. Vivian Qu's second film is a look at sexual abuse, objectification and commodification. In that regard, having the statue of Monroe is perfect as her only perceived value was as a sexual object. Virtually everyone in this film is compromised, with money and power influencing everyone's actions. Fourteen year old Taiwanese actress Vicky Chen was nominated for Best Actress for the Golden Horse Awards, while Vivian Qu won for Best Director.

Nattawut Poonpiriya's second film, Bad Genius was inspired by a student test scandal in China. Lynn, the scholastically prodigious daughter of a school teacher, has been recruited to be a student at an exclusive high school. Finding that she can get paid by her wealthy classmates, Lynn develops a code using hand signals for answering multiple choice questions. In spite of her being discovered, Lynn attempts a complicated scheme involving the taking of an international student test, available to select students under strict security. Nattawut has said that he was inspired by Hollywood films such as The Conversation and The Parallax View in making this film like a thriller. His debut film, Countdown, from 2012, was about Thai students in New York City facing a New Year's Eve deadline with a drug dealer. Model Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying successfully carries her debut lead role as Lynn. The actor who plays Lynn's father, Thaneth Warakulnukroh, also starred in the Singaporean produced Thai language film, Pop Aye, as the man taking a road trip with his pet elephant.

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Bad Genius

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 6, 2018 10:18 AM