Asian-American films from far away ... and next door 

Opening Thursday and running through March 20, the 29th annual San Francisco International Asian American International Film Festival is screening some 100 feature films and documentaries from China, Vietnam, South Korea, India, Thailand and other countries. It also includes local films from or about Asian Americans in places ranging from the Mongolian desert to The City.

Screenings are at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Landmark Clay Theatre, Castro Theatre and VIZ Cinema in San Francisco, and in San Jose and Berkeley. Tickets for most events are $10 to $12. For details, call (415) 865-1588 or visit

A few recommendations:

“West is West” — Andy De Emmony’s “West Is West,” the sequel to “East is East,” opens the festival. Like its predessor, it deals with the lives of Pakistani emigrants to England.

Part drama, part comedy, the movie features Om Puri as a Pakistani father returning to rural Punjab from Manchester with his rebellious, thoroughly Westernized son. The son tries to cope with life in Punjab, while the father faces a past he left behind decades ago. [7 p.m. Thursday, Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., S.F., followed by opening-day party in the Asian Art Museum, Larkin and McAllister streets, S.F.]

“Raavanan” — From the Bollywood mill of big, colorful adventure and comedy films with spectacular dance numbers, this film directed by Mani Ratnam is bigger and more spectacular than others, and has better music.

Overblown, silly and excessive, it’s so big — think “Avatar” without blue people — it’s not to be missed.

Invoking stories from the Sanskrit epic “Ramayana” — about Rama (an incarnation of the Hindu preserver-God Vishnu), whose wife is abducted by a demon king — the movie depicts jungle warfare between modern-day oppressors and the oppressed, then bursts into song and dance.

While farcical, it’s accurately been called “virtuoso kinetic filmmaking in whirling brilliant colors” and features excessive and fun music by composer A.R. Rahman.

The cast is remarkable. Vikram, as the bandit king, is brilliantly multitalented. His opponent is a police inspector, played by matinee idol (and minor thespian) Prithviraj. Bollywood favorite Aishwarya Rai, only 37 but a star for nearly two decades, plays the inspector’s wife. [9:30 p.m. Sunday, Castro Theatre]

“Surrogate Valentine” — Closing the festival both in San Francisco and San Jose, David Boyle’s “mock-rockumentary” is about a guitar teacher by day and indie rocker by night. Composer-performer Goh Nakamura, who embodies what the fictitious indie rocker Goh is, plays the character.

He embarks on a strange, compelling journey, taking a Hollywood actor along and reconnecting with a friend, played by Lynn Chen, star of Boyle’s previous SFIAAFF hit,  “White Rice.” [7 p.m. March 17, Sundance Kabuki Cinema,1881 Post St., S.F.; 3:30 p.m. March 20, Camera 12 Cinemas, 201 S. Second St., San Jose]

“Upaj” — Another music-related film, this world premiere — the title means “improvisation” — is a brief, fascinating documentary about the intersection of Indian Katakh and American tap dance. Local Katakh dance master Chitresh Das, 63, and New York tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith, 23, link up for the India Jazz Suites tour, an artistic collaboration going beyond barriers of age, race and culture.

Shot backstage and on the streets of India and the U.S., the film documents the tour and the ups and downs of the dancers’ relationship.  [7 p.m. March 18, Montgomery Theater, 271 South Market St., San Jose; the stars of film film will perform after the screening]

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
Pin It

Speaking of Entertainment

More by Janos Gereben

Latest in Movies

© 2019 The San Francisco Examiner

Website powered by Foundation