This past weekend, New York City played host to the 32nd annual Asian American International Film Festival with great success, despite torrential downpours. Thanks to AAIFF, Mochi was graciously granted screening passes for the two films, “Claustrophobia” and “Fruit Fly.” And granted, while the opening and closing films of this year’s festival don’t sound particularly positive, I assure you, these are two instances where one can’t judge a movie by its title. Kicking things off with a dark, brooding drama (“Claustrophobia”) and ending on a perky, existential musical (“Fruit Fly”), this four-day celebration certainly showcased the free-ranging diversity existing in and within Asian American filmmaking.
As festival openers go, Ivy Ho’s “Claustrophobia” was certainly a darker choice. Ho is one of Hong Kong’s most esteemed and award-winning screenwriters, and in her directorial debut, she tells the story of a secret romantic affair between a young marketing secretary (played by actress Karena Lin) and her boss (played by actor Ekin Cheng). Shown in reverse chronological order, the movie keeps the audience guessing when the moment of infidelity will come, as the awkwardness between the two main characters is maintained at an uncomfortable high. “I always wanted to write suspense stories, but as a woman writer, I was always assigned to write romance. So I tried to combine the two with this [script],” said Ho in a Q&A following the screening.
I confess, the following opinion will be completely swayed by the fact that I wish my life played itself out like a musical. That is to say, I wish “Fruit Fly” director, H. P. Mendoza, would write my life to catchy songs and dance numbers. In his second major self-penned production, the Filipino American paints a quirky portrait of a young Filipino woman named Bethseda (played by actress L.A. Renigan), who tries to find traces of her biological mother in bustling San Francisco. Weaving in elements of a San Franciscan upbringing, gay culture and Asian American identity, Mendoza kept the energy of the film at a sugar-happy high while still infusing a very meaningful message about self-discovery.
Photos courtesy of Asian American International Film Festival