Asian American film fest: fresh! 

Film festivals should be the inverse of standard classical-music programming. In concert halls, you often get new music sandwiched between two familiar works. A good film festival will provide new experiences with just a touch of the familiar. By that criteria, the upcoming 26th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, which runs March 13-23, is likely to earn the "festival" designation in fact, not only in name.

In an announcement at the Sundance Cinema Kabuki today, festival directors Chi-hui Yang and Taro Goto ran through a list of 120 films they have selected, presenting a veritable plethora of novelty. From Japan to the Philippines, from India to Korea, from China to Asian-American filmmakers, there are official premieres and de facto first experiences galore.

Fully one-third of the program, 40 films and videos, come from Chinese and Chinese-American artists, featuring Wayne Wang among the latter. Wang's latest work, "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers," a Chinese-American father-daughter drama, opens the festival at the Castro Theatre. (A gala reception at the Asian Art Museum will follow.)

Wang started his career here with quirky, small-budget films such as "Chan Is Missing," before going on to a Hollywood career ("The Joy Luck Club," "Maid in Manhattan").

Returning to independent filmmaking, Wang, who appeared at the press conference, said he's returning to a more thoughtful, leisurely way of telling stories, not being bound by "Hollywood pacing.".

Several of Wang's earlier films will get a reprise screening, along with a roundtable featuring the director.

Along with a tribute to the late Taiwanese director Edward Yang ("Yi Yi," "The Terrorizer"), new works will be offered from the island: Alexi Tan's "Blood Brother," and Hou Hsiao-hsien's "Flight of the Red Balloon," the latter a sequel to the 1959 French classic "The Red Balloon," with Juliette Binoche, who will participate in the San Francisco festival.

There will be a strong presence of Korean works, with 18 films, including Michael Kang's "West 32nd," a legal action film/romance in New York's Koreatown, with John Cho and Grace Park of "Battlestar Galactica."

Cho, star of "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle," will also be seen at the festival in the new "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo," a comedy about the ugly discrimination many Asian-Americans have experienced since 9/11.

Jessica Yu, winner of an Oscar for her documentary "Breathing Lessons," will show her first feature at the festival: "Ping Pong Playa"; Gina Kim, an environmental studies lecturer at Harvard, and writer of "Invisible Light," checks in with "Never Forever," an interracial romance; and Yamashita Nobuhiro (whose "Linda Linda Linda" was a favorite here) is represented by "A Gentle Breeze in the Village," about the lives of children in a small Japanese town.

IF YOU GO

S.F. International Asian American Film Festival

Where: Kabuki, 1881 Post St., Clay, 2261 Fillmore St., Castro, 429 Castro St., San Francisco; as well as Berkeley and San Jose

When: March 13 through March 23

Tickets: $10-$11 for most screenings; more for special events; discount packages available

Contact: (415) 865-1588 or www.asianamericanmedia.org

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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