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Asian American Showcase 

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The ninth annual Asian American Showcase, presented by the Foundation for Asian American Independent Media and the Gene Siskel Film Center, runs Friday, April 1, through Thursday, April 14, with screenings at the Film Center. Tickets are $9, $7 for students, and $5 for Film Center members; for more information call 312-846-2600. Following is program information for April 1 through 7; a full festival schedule is available online at www.chicagoreader.com.

FRIDAY 1

The Motel

This leisurely paced tale of adolescent befuddlement owes its appeal primarily to Jeffrey Chyau, endearing as a Chinese-American student writer named--what else--Ernest. When he's not penning stories or bickering with his younger sister, Ernest cleans and pulls night-desk duty at the rooms-by-the-hour motel operated by his stern single mom (Jade Wu). The mood picks up when a charismatic womanizer who's down on his luck (graceful and sexy Sung Kang from Better Luck Tomorrow) checks in and decides to teach the boy to cut loose. There's little originality in the joyrides, first kisses, and clashes with bullies, yet this debut feature by writer-director Michael Kang captures the small triumphs of a boy becoming a man. 76 min. (AG) Also on the program: the director's 12-minute short A Waiter Tomorrow (1998). (8:15)

SATURDAY 2

Monkey Dance

Filmmaker Julie Mallozzi spent three years filming a trio of high school students in blue-collar Lowell, Massachusetts, all children of Cambodians who fled the Khmer Rouge. Her engaging video (2004, 65 min.) tracks them through graduation and beyond as they grapple with the usual adolescent issues as well as the burden of trying to assimilate and still honor their parents' culture. Also focusing on a first-generation Cambodian is Michael Siv's Who I Became (2003, 20 min.), about a troubled young man who grew up in San Francisco's perilous Tenderloin district. Immersed in the local street culture, he seems destined to land in prison until the end, when an apprenticeship program in construction reconnects him to his culture's strong work ethic. Three short video documentaries complete the program, which runs 106 minutes. (JK) Mallozzi will attend the screening. (3:00)

Hey Good Lookin'

Short works about women and beauty. Jason Moore's American Seoul (2004) features a Korean-American punk girl who explains how Asian women adapt to the U.S. In Li-Anne Huang's elegant Singapore Girl, a woman training to be a flight attendant discovers what she'll have to sacrifice for her career--her self-respect. Elizabeth E. Lee's Good for Her, about the cosmetic surgery boom in South Korea, is interesting but repetitive. By contrast, Karen Lin's seven-minute Perfection economically captures the pressure exerted on women to look good. Also on the program: Debbie Lum's Chinese Beauty. 95 min. (HSa) (5:30)

Slow Jam King

A would-be gangsta, who's Filipino-American, and his more levelheaded pal, who's African-American, kidnap a perfume salesman who loves country music and drive from New Jersey to Nashville. As in all road movies, they meet colorful oddballs, find romance, and learn about themselves. This harmless comedy by Steven Mallorca comments wryly on America's weird hybrid culture, but the characters are too broadly drawn and the story drags in the last third, just when it should be hitting comic warp speed. 109 min. (HSa) DV projection. Mallorca will attend the Saturday screening. (7:45)

No, Seriously

A program of comic shorts, the best of which are Jimmy Tsai's goofy TV spots for Venom Sportswear and Ming Lo's Pax Importi Modellus: The Rise of the Import Model, a Christopher Guest-style lampoon of trade shows and their fetishistic treatment of Asian women. Jeffrey Lei's mockumentary Dick Ho: Asian Male Porn Star satirizes the absence of Asian male sexuality in American films. It's a one-joke movie, funniest when real-life porn veterans Annie Sprinkle, Kay Parker, and Sharon Mitchell recall the fictional title character. And Taipei 101: A Travelogue of Symptoms (Sensitive Version) is James Hong's profane video diary of his visit to the title skyscraper, when a bad fever left him paranoid about SARS and ruminating on the ugly American. 100 min. (AG) (10:15)

SUNDAY 3

Blue Hour

Written, produced, directed, shot, edited, and scored by Francisco Aliwalas, this low-budget video looks more expensive than it is. To help a friend pay off a gambling debt, a man agrees to participate in an obscure mind-control experiment and becomes ensnared in a shadowy group called the Foundation. Aliwalas is attempting something more than a paranoid thriller, using an assortment of jump cuts, montage, and psychedelic imagery to dramatize the main character's disorientation. But by the end you may feel as if you've been down a few rabbit holes too many. 88 min. (JK) Aliwalas will attend the Sunday screening. (3:00)

From a Silk Cocoon

This somber documentary (57 min.) by Satsuki Ina and Stephen Holsapple uses the experiences of Ina's parents to examine the psychological toll of being sent to an American internment camp during World War II. It's hampered only by the repetitive flute music and the low-key voice-over readings from diaries, letters, and haiku. It screens with John Esaki's Stand Up for Justice (2004, 33 min.), which effectively dramatizes the plight of interned Japanese-Americans through the real-life story of Ralph Lazo. A Hispanic high school student in Los Angeles, Lazo protested the internment program by joining his buddies and their families inside one of the camps. (AG) Also on the program: Tadashi Nakamura's 18-minute video documentary Yellow Brotherhood (2004). (5:15)

MONDAY 4

Chinese Restaurants: Song of the Exile

This novel 2004 video documentary by Cheuk Kwan of Canada profiles far-flung Chinese emigres who have survived by opening ethnic restaurants: an evangelical Christian who was welcomed to Israel after the fall of Saigon, a family of Chinese Muslims who have adapted well to life in Turkey, and a widow in South Africa who carries on her late husband's business in her own slapdash style. Kwan's technique is rudimentary and his narrative rhythm predictable (he segues into a history lesson midway through each segment), but his highly original premise allows for both travelogue and anthropology. 79 min. (AG) Also on the program: Grace Lee's 23-minute Best of the Wurst (2004). (6:00)

Blue Hour

See listing for Sun 4/3. (8:15)

WEDNESDAY 6

R In the Shadow of Gold Mountain

Chinese immigrants helped to build the Canadian Pacific Railroad, but once it was completed the federal government passed the Chinese Head Tax and the Exclusion Act (1885-1947), which charged all Chinese a hefty immigration fee and forced families into decades of debt and separation. For this video documentary (2004, 44 min.), Karen Cho interviewed several elderly Chinese-Canadians who were affected by the law, several of whom doggedly seek financial restitution. Also screening is Rex Chen's succinct video documentary The Fight to Free David Wong (39 min.), about a Chinese immigrant to the U.S. who may have been wrongfully convicted of murdering a fellow prison inmate. Two more short documentaries complete the program, which runs 115 minutes. (JK) (6:00)

THURSDAY 7

Hey Good Lookin'

See listing for Sat 4/2. (6:00)

Slow Jam King

See listing for Sat 4/2. (8:00)

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Agenda Teaser

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