By Dr. Craig D. Reid
It’s that time of the year again, and if you’re a fan of Asian films like I am, then that eclectic far out martial skill called the 10,000 bee technique should not be bugging you but alarming you to the magnetic, electric and eccentric buzz of Fant-Asia and martial arts movies that will haze, pseudo-faze and amaze you at this years 12th Annual San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF), which eeks and freaks within a whopping 9-days from October 20-28, 2011 in San Diego, California. For the first time in festival’s history, the SDAFF headlines two of the biggest names in the history of kung fu films with a twist of mental disparity and spiritual clarity.
It doesn’t matter what film franchise you chose in Western movies, whether it’s James Bond, a Marvel/DC comicbook hero brought to “life” or even STAR WARS, no “franchise” compares to the real life legends and heroes of the Shaolin Temple, that have been a mainstay of Chinese cinema since 1928, when the silent film FANG SHI-YU, BATTLES IN THE BOXING RING, a movie about one of the legendary Ten Tigers of Shaolin, Fang Shi-yu, premiered in Shanghai.
Thus in helping to keep the myths and legends alive and well in San Diego, SDAFF chose to feature the latest epic film about the fabled Shaolin Temple, China’s birthplace of Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism, SHAOLIN. It’s also Chan’s first trip back to a Shaolin Temple-themed film in 33 years since his kung fu comedy SPIRITUAL KUNG FU (1978).
Although a supporting character, Chan’s role is focal to the film and fairly noteworthy. Think of it as Chan goes Ch’an. He also injects a wee typical bit of necessary Chan humor as the film often leans toward the suffering that comes with the territory of the story.
Set during the Warlord era (1916-1928) that began after the death of Yuan Shi-kai in the early Republic of China, which began in 1912 after the end of China’s last dynasty, SHAOLIN tells the semi-true story of when the Shaolin Temple is once again inadvertently trapped between opposing powers vying for the control of China.
In this case, when two opposing warlords, General Hou Jie (Andy Lau) and General Huo Long, are fighting for power in Tengfeng, Henan Province, the death nell for Huo on the grounds of Shaolin, starts the path of enlightenment for Hou, who initially chides at the benevolent and philosophical Buddhist tenets of Shaolin, and all that the monks stand for in martial arts and life.
When Hou’s trusted comrade-at-arms General Tsao Man (Nicholas Tse) turns traitor and tries to assassinate Hou and his family because Hou refuses to give in to foreign plans to build a railroad through Tengfeng, knowing that it’s part of the foreigner’s plan to dissect China and rob China of its cultural riches, Hou seeks refuge in Shaolin. When all is lost, Hou is rescued by simpleton cook Wu Dao (Jackie Chan), whose reverence for Shaolin and all that it stands for moves Hou to repent his past and seek enlightenment at Shaolin by becoming a monk. Through martial arts, spiritual balance, and philosophical guidance, Hou releases his hate against Tsao, finds peace and dedicates his life to helping others. Unfortunately, this all catches the angry heart, the greedy mind and blind gut of Tsao that is set on destroying Shaolin and killing Hou.
It’s time for the Shaolin monks to take issue, protect the people of China and release their legendary martial skills to stop the further plundering of their past as “a monk’s got to do what a monk’s got to do,” as they go High Noon on Tsao’s and his terrible trigger men. And martial they go as there is more than 30 minutes of martial arts action, a good deal of it mostly taking place at the $1.47 million Shaolin Temple built in Zhejiang province so the production could avoid messing up or damaging any part of the real Shaolin Temple. As the Qi would have it, there are two showings of the film: Saturday, Oct. 22 at prime time 7:00 pm; and Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 8:30 pm.
Who is the other star? Yep, Jet Li. But this time he’s not a martial artist but a father to an adolescent struggling with autism in OCEAN HEAVEN. We’ll see if all his years of acting training in Hollywood has paid off, something that really started with UNLEASHED (2005)
The SDAFF is much more than just a conglomeration of Asian-themed films, it is indeed a social phenomenon geared toward giving non-Asians a more well rounded taste of Asian filmmaking as well as to create a symbol of unity, a way to bring together the many different Asian American ethnicities, who don’t see themselves as a single entity compared to the African American and Hispanic communities, not only in San Diego, but nationwide as a whole.
Lee Ann Kim, a first generation Korean American, executive director of the San Diego Film Foundation, which she founded in 2000 with the Asian American Journalists Association of San Diego, gleefully shares with the-filmfiles.com, “We got SHAOLIN kind of late and we’re actually still waiting to hear about the action film LET THE BULLETS FLY (thus perhaps the TBA slots on the last day of the festival). The film festival, it is an awesome way to bring people of all different background together, Asian and non-Asian and we do so by bringing in films that are of top-notch quality, different, diverse, and well rounded.
“With this year’s program, it’s one day longer than last year, we have 160+ films from 21 countries, 60 features, 100 short films, 9 short film programs, and over all about 80 programs. I feel like our programming this year is more challenging as we’re showing more critically acclaimed films from filmmakers we’ve never shown before.
“We have this new thriller film by Park Chan-wook that was shot on iPhones (Night Fishing and Influenza). I haven’t seen the film yet, because there were no screeners because it played at Cannes and so after Cannes they assumed the film will be picked up.
“We’re also doing some stuff that is off the beaten path and film presentations that brings communities together. This year our cause is Japan. During our spring showcase we raised $15,000.00 toward recovery efforts. We’re not actively raising money but actively keeping Japan in our minds. It’s so far away and what the people in Japan really need is beyond dollars. It will take decades of hard work to rebuild the community and we want to make sure that people in their own way can give back. For us we’re trying to keep the film community alive in Japan and that’s important to us. It’s a huge cinema industry, which has been semi-devastated because of what happened over there. One of our Spotlight on Japan program films that really is about brining the communities (USA and Japan) together is The Power of Two, which is about cystic fibrosis.”
FREEZE. WHAT? Kim notices my eye pop out like something out of an old style Sonny Chiba film. The words cystic fibrosis had stunned me onto a different plane…and I’m not talking about an F-14. So why was I stunned more than a phaser attack?
Well, when I was 16, my doctor told me that I would be dead in five years due to the deadly effects of cystic fibrosis, the number one genetic killer disease in the world that affects the lung and/or pancreas. When one has the disease in both, life expectancy is even lower. I have it in both. So at the time, I was taking 30 pills/day, undergoing up to two hours of painful therapy a day and in the hospital every three months.
In the late 1970s, and my last ditch effort to avoid death, I moved to the Republic of China (now Taiwan) and by becoming a stuntman in Chinese kung fu films, I met a man that taught me the then little known art of Qigong. Five months after learning Qigong and to this day, I’ve been off all medications and therapies since. To demonstrate my lungs were truly strong, and my digestive tract could take the strain, in 1986, I walked 3000.2 miles (marathon/day for 115 days at a 4.3 mph pace).
Kim’s eyes now pop out responding, “Oh no, wow, I didn’t know. I also didn’t know anything about CF until I watched this film. It’s about twin sisters that are half Japanese and their mission is to build awareness of CF but also to encourage Asians to become organ donors, because culturally Asian people tend not to do. This is a film that I personally championed because it is not a film festival film, but for us it is because it is a rare opportunity, to shed light on this disease, but also from a positive social angle to encourage discourse within a community that would not have learned about this stuff otherwise.
“The movies shows that in Japan there is just such an extraordinary waiting list of people waiting for organs and there is nobody donating, nobody. And so that in itself to me was valuable, just as valuable as the whole film itself.”
Talk about a breath of fresh air.
For information in regard to the films, dates, time, cool stuff about the SDAFF and how to get to the Ultrastar Cinemas Mission Valley Hazard Center, please visit www.sdaff.org. Also, if you’re up for an insanely amazing experience in health, there will an interactive Qi Healing booth that will be offering free Qi Reading, Pull Out the Pain demonstrations and a Feng Shui reading that will tell you if you’re afraid to earn lots of money or not.
Kim closes with a few final words. “It seems that the theme for this year’s festival is one of love. But the main cause of this year’s festival is Japan. During our spring showcase we raised $15,000.00 toward recovery efforts. We’re not actively raising money but actively keeping Japan in our minds. It’s so far away and what the people in Japan really need is beyond dollars. It will take decades of hard work to rebuild the community and we want to make sure that people in their own way can give back. Japan has a huge cinema industry, which has been semi-devastated because of what happened over there. With we’re trying to keep the film community alive in Japan and that’s important to us”