It's not often that Asian or Asian-American movies get picked up for distribution in theaters, on cable systems or on demand. If you want to see Asian characters, stories and themes, you have to visit specialty DVD kiosks, order the films online or wait for another Harold and Kumar sequel.
Unless you're in the Twin Cities this week, that is. Minnesota Film Arts hosts the Minneapolis-St. Paul Asian Film Festival Nov. 3-13 at the St. Anthony Main Theatre in Minneapolis. The series, the first pan-Asian cavalcade presented in the region, offers 36 films ranging from zany comedy to family drama, with entries from the United States, Canada, China, the Koreas, India and Japan.
Pulling together a festival representing that many cultures, languages and film industries is a formidable task, admitted Asian film aficionado Adam Chau, who programmed the entries by North American filmmakers of Asian descent.
"What we have in common is that we're seen as foreigners, we're seen as immigrants," he said. "We're not really embedded in American culture. For generations there's been this xenophobia we've had to deal with. So there is a lot of focus on these stereotypes and how they affect us."
Part of how those stereotypes are challenged comes from the images we see in our culture, Chau said.
"Reflection is very powerful in defining who people are or who they can be as individuals. They say art imitates life. What does it say if art doesn't represent you? Asian-American film now is not so much about identity as it is saying, 'Hey, this is what I do and I happen to be Asian-American.' "
A bedhopping bachelorette
A prime example for Chau is Quentin Lee's "The People I've Slept With," a bawdy L.A.-based farce that has scored with audiences at festivals nationwide. "It's just a good film," Chau said. "It's funny, and it plays to a lot of different communities, from Asian to LGBT."
Karin Anna Chung plays a sexually adventurous single woman who gets pregnant and recruits her gay best pal in a quest to figure out the father's identity. While the emphasis is on mattress-bouncing fun, the film toys with stereotypes of Asian women's sexuality and features a handsome Asian-American romantic lead ("CSI's" Archie Kao). (9:15 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Nov. 10. In English.)
Striking a socially serious and regionally significant note is "Open Season," an inquiry into the 2005 homicide conviction of Chai Vang. The Hmong refugee fatally shot six white men and wounded two others in Wisconsin as part of a racially charged deer-hunting dispute. The incident, and Vang's conviction, created shock and tension in Minnesota's Asian community, and friction with Wisconsin hunters who frequently warned Asian hunters off public land under the pretext that they were trespassing on private property.
Co-directed by Twin Cities documentary filmmakers Mark Tang and Lu Lippold, the hourlong film features courtroom videotapes, interviews with the families of Vang and his victims, and commentary by legal professionals on both sides of the case. Some observers call for vengeance, others plead for understanding, but it remains unclear whether the killings were a case of self-defense or homicidal aggression. (7 p.m. Thursday. In English and subtitled Hmong.)
The Danish production "The Red Chapel" unreels like "Borat" in North Korea. Under the pretext of honoring Kim Jong Il with a vaudeville act, two Danish-Korean comics and their "manager" enter the most isolated nation on Earth and mock the dictatorship before its officials' uncomprehending eyes.
The film is an exercise in grotesque black comedy. Director/co-star Mads Brugger offers a sardonic narration as his two-man comedy troupe presents its surreally awful skits. Their dysfunctional performance is a mirror image of the scripted and programmed official events the North Koreans staged to welcome the visitors. It's postmodern irony at its most acid, with a very high degree-of-difficulty rating. If the subversive comics were caught, they'd certainly do prison time at the least. (5 p.m. Friday and 7:15 p.m. Nov. 10. In English and subtitled Korean and Danish.)
For pure laughs and thrills, it would be hard to top "Crazy Racer," an action comedy that melds the go-for-broke style of a Guy Ritchie caper with the knockabout madness of "Kung Fu Hustle." Rubberfaced Huang Bo plays a professional cycling also-ran turned bike messenger who is swept into a cyclone of overlapping scams. Burial-services hucksters, quack pharmaceutical barons, inept assassins and battle-ax wives literally collide in an avalanche of cascading coincidences. There were chunks of culturally specific humor I didn't comprehend, but the impeccably timed and staged physical comedy is universal. (9:30 p.m. Friday and 9:40 Nov. 11. In subtitled Mandarin.)
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186