SFIAAFF: Take one - Page 2

A quick guide to some Asian American Fest features

(Cheryl Eddy) March 14, 6:45 p.m., Clay; March 17, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki; March 22, 2:15 p.m., Camera.

Santa Mesa (Ron Morales, USA/Philippines, 2008) Ron Morales's first feature focuses on 12-year-old Hector (Jacob Kiron Shalov) and his efforts to fit in when he's forced to leave the United States (where he was born and raised) to be with his grandmother Lita (celebrated Filipino actor Angie Ferro) in Manila, Philippines, after his mother's death. Despite Shalov's awkward performance and some uneasy sentimental scenes, Mesa's yellow-hued cinematography attractively portrays the colorful, throbbing city, and the young boy's eagerness to internalize his surroundings without knowing how to speak Tagalog is brave and touching. (Komodore) March 15, 7 p.m., Clay; March 22, 4:30 p.m., Camera.

>3 Days to Forever (Riri Raza, Indonesia, 2007) After a night of partying makes Ambar (Adinia Wirasti) miss a flight to her sister's wedding, she hitches along with cousin Yusuf (Nicholas Saputra), who's in charge of driving a set of delicate dishes to the event. Drugs, detours planned and accidental, and frank talk about what it's like to be a rebellious teen in Indonesia (Ambar's sister is getting married because her parents caught her having sex) — and an uncertain teen, period — color this road movie. 3 Days to Forever echoes 2001's Y tu mamá también's racy tone and the-journey-is-the-life-lesson message, and boasts similarly photogenic young leads. Bonus for armchair travelers: it also makes Indonesia look like the most magical place on earth. (Cheryl Eddy) March 14, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki; March 18, 9:30 p.m., Clay; March 23, 2:15 p.m., Castro.

Traveling with Yoshitomo Nara (Koji Sakebe, Japan, 2007) Punk's not dead! And neither are the wide-eyed little girls, drowsy dogs, and the other indelibly etched creatures that populate Yoshitomo Nara's oeuvre: they're alive and evolving in Nara's studio. Koji Sakabe and his crew tail the artist as he travels to public appearances at museums and radio stations where he's treated like a rock star; as he creates a massive village installation in his hometown of Hirosaki, Japan; and then follow Nara back to his studio, where he conjures his avatars of cuteness all by his lonesome. That's where things get interesting: watching the bashful yet driven enigma study his own paintings, one hand on his camouflage-encased hip, and then home in with a brush on a fillip in a wide-eyed tot's 'do. (Kimberly Chun) March 16, 12:30 p.m., Clay; March 23, 2 p.m., Camera.

The Unseeable (Wisit Sasanatieng, Thailand, 2006) For those whose eyes are still adjusting from the ultraviolet palette of Wisit Sasanatieng's stunning debut, the genre-bending 1999 western Tears of the Black Tiger, the clammy greens and dusky grays that hang over The Unseeable feel like so much dust on the lens that can't be wiped off. Unfortunately, you can still see everything coming from a mile away in this ghost tale of a country mouse trapped in (where else?) a decaying mansion. At least the magical touches of 2005's Citizen Dog seem like genuine quirks in the fabric of reality. Here, the supernatural is an excuse to trot out tired new Asian horror staples like the crazy old lady or spooky child, and the multiple twists of the Shining-aping finale only work to make an already shaky premise all the more hamstrung. (Matt Sussman) March 16, 9:45 p.m., Kabuki; March 21, 9:15 p.m., PFA; March 23, 4:45 p.m., Camera.

>> Complete Asian American Film Fest coverage

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