Founded in 1957, the San Francisco International Film Festival is the longest-running film festival in the Americas. Held each spring for two weeks, the International is an extraordinary showcase of cinematic discovery and innovation in the country’s most beautiful city, featuring some 150 films and live events with more than 100 filmmakers in attendance and nearly two dozen awards presented for cinematic excellence. The Festival attracts an annual audience of more than 80,000. The San Francisco International Film Festival runs through May 6th.
We’ll be presenting capsule reviews for some of the movies currently playing while others will receive the standard review treatment.
Bodyguards & Assassins
Director: Teddy Chen
Country: Hong Kong
Hong Kong in the early 1900’s is a political system in turmoil. A revolution builds in the backstreets and pachinko parlors as citizens at all levels of society are forced to decide where their loyalties reside. Amidst the speeches and debates comes word that a hero of the revolution is to be assassinated by nefarious agents as he passes through a particular area. A ragtag group of working men and women (including the always fantastic Donnie Yen) determined to prevent it stand up to protect not only one man’s life but also the future of China.
This feels like two films, and that’s not just because it runs over two hours. The first half is a dramatic lesson in Chinese history and politics as the players are introduced, the allegiances defined, and intrigue established. The second half though is an all out action romp that plays like a martial arts fueled remake of Bruce Willis’ 16 Blocks. The target of assassination has to go safely from point A to point B with several individuals and organizations trying to stop him. The action is fast and beautifully choreographed, and special note should be given to the set designers who actually built an entire block of streets, buildings, alleyways, and rooftops for the fights to play against and across.
Director: Mike Ott
Two Japanese siblings on a road trip across Southern California experience car trouble and find themselves stuck for a couple days in the small and dusty town of Littlerock. Atsuko (Atsuko Okaysuka) speaks zero English while her brother, Rintaro (Rintaro Sawamoto), gets by with a basic grasp of the language. They see America in different ways and when the time comes to move on Atsuko decides to stay. She forms friendships with locals, some deeper than others, and through them discovers that constant communication is no guarantee of comprehension.
Writer/director Ott’s intimate look at strangers in a strange land benefits most from some beautiful but low-key cinematography and a quiet but emotive performance by Okaysuka as the girl who wants so badly to understand. The supporting roles are a mixed bag both in their character as well as the actors’ performances. Ott’s screenplay hints at different story possibilities resulting in a middle stretch that seems to meander a bit in search of something to focus on. But the the film’s final fifteen minutes do a fine job driving home a point teased throughout the constant and mindless chatter and leave the viewer with a better understanding of what it means to be an outsider.
Check out the official site for the San Francisco International Film Festival for complete a schedule of showings and other special events. Click here to read more coverage of SFIFF.