L.A. Asian Pacific Film Fest to Celebrate 33 Years (Part 1)

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Highlights include 15th-anniversary screening Justin Lin's "Better Luck Tomorrow."

Visual Communications (VC), the nation’s premier Asian Pacific American media arts center, announced its program of films and events for the 33rd edition of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF), running April 27 to May 4.

This annual film celebration is presented across Los Angeles from Hollywood to Little Tokyo to the Arts District to Koreatown to Westwood to West Hollywood, and to Buena Park in Orange County.

VC proudly celebrates 33 years as Southern California’s largest and most prestigious film festival of its kind. The LAAPFF launches the pre-celebration of Asian Pacific Heritage Month through a slate of over 180 films from both Asian Pacific American and Asian international artists. For over three decades, the festival has presented close to 4,000 films by Asian Pacific American and Asian international talent. This year, a record 45 feature films and 139 shorts from over 750 submissions will be showcased.

This year’s LAAPFF represents the growing multitude of talent from this diverse creative community, and serves as a reminder of how the Asian American film community continues to thrive and inspire. With terms like “whitewashing” and “inclusion” being at the forefront of discussions in Hollywood, the festival takes on not only presenting the best of Asian American film, but also the mission of inspiring new filmmakers/storytellers to create, while taking a retro look at the beginnings of a global cinematic genre.

Opening NIght

Justin Lin’s “Better Luck Tomorrow.”

This year’s opening event is the 15th anniversary special gala presentation of director/writer Justin Lin’s uncut 35mm Sundance original version of the landmark film “Better Luck Tomorrow.” Now known for the “Fast and Furious” and “Star Trek” franchises, Lin will present this rarely seen version of the film that launched his career at Sundance 2002, when it was championed by the late iconic film critic Roger Ebert and then picked up by MTV Films and Paramount Classics for theatrical distribution nationwide.

“Better Luck Tomorrow” centers on an accomplished high school student, Ben (Parry Shen), who seems to excel at almost everything except winning over his dream girl, Stephanie (Karin Anna Cheung). When he begins an unlikely friendship with trouble-seeking tough guy Daric (Roger Fan), Ben becomes involved in petty crime that gets increasingly dangerous, with his various illegal ventures extending to include Stephanie and her wealthy beau, Steve (John Cho). The cast also includes Sung Kang and Jason Tobin.

The film pushed the boundaries on the “model minority” discussion and inspired Asian American audiences across the nation to come out to the cinema, while positioning Lin as a “filmmaker to watch,” as recognized by industry publication Variety that year.

Members of the cast and crew will be in attendance for Q&A. “Better Luck Tomorrow” screens Opening Night, Thursday, April 27, at 7 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

“In the context of a shifting America, we proudly present an intro/retrospective look at Justin Lin’s ‘Better Luck Tomorrow,’ a landmark film for Asian American cinema in 2002,” says VC Executive Director Francis Cullado. “Through the festival overall, we seek to create spaces for connection and add to the dialogues of change. And we ask ourselves, how far have we come? And how much further do we need to go?”

Centerpiece Presentation

Justin Chon’s “Gook.”

The Festival Centerpiece Presentation features the 2017 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award winning film “Gook” from actor-turned-filmmaker Justin Chon. This insightful film takes place on April 29, 1992 in Los Angeles, the day the Rodney King verdict was announced and the infamous L.A. Riots began.

Chon’s film centers on Eli and Daniel, two Korean American brothers, who own a struggling shoe store and have an unlikely friendship with Kamilla, a street-wise 11-year-old African American girl. It’s just another typical day at the store until the King verdict is read and riots break out through the city. With the chaos moving towards them, the trio is forced to defend the store while contemplating the future of their own personal dreams and the true meaning of family.

“Gook” will be presented on Saturday, April 29, at the Aratani Theatre at the JACCC in Little Tokyo. The festival is commemorating the 25th anniversary of the L.A. Uprising with this gala screening featuring the filmmaker, crew and cast. This screening will top off a day of films, events, community discussions and art presentations memorializing this historic Los Angeles event.

“We are extremely excited to have ‘Gook’ as our centerpiece film,” says David Magdael, festival co-director. “ Justin Chon has been one of the hardest-working actors out there and has been in a number of films at our past fests. Watching him grow into a formidable writer/director/actor with this film makes us all proud and hopeful.

“This film has come at a time when we truly need our voices and our stories out there, while addressing hot-button issues such as race and community in an America that is quickly changing and becoming extremely polarized. And screening this film on the 25th anniversary of this major Los Angeles event is only fitting. This film is a catalyst for discussion, and Chon is an artist on the rise representing the next generation of our artists telling our stories.”

Closing Night

Kogonada’s “Columbus.”

Closing out the festival is the L.A. premiere of the acclaimed 2017 Sundance hit film “Columbus” from director Kogonada – a proud immigrant, born in Seoul and raised in the Midwest. This engaging feature directorial debut stars John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Parker Posey, Rory Culkin and Michelle Forbes.

The film centers on Casey (Richardson), who lives with her mother in a little-known Midwestern town haunted by the promise of modernism. Jin (Cho), a visitor from the other side of the world, attends to his dying father. Burdened by the future, they find respite in one another and the architecture that surrounds them.

“Having ‘Columbus’ as our Closing Night film presents our audiences dual opportunities to celebrate a maturation of Asian Pacific American cinema,” said Abraham Ferrer, festival co-director and senior programmer. “To have a daring, yet satisfying new work from Kogonada, a filmmaker who himself is a ‘new’ pioneer of visual storytelling, is a coup. And, the opportunity to present longtime film festival veteran John Cho as he carries this new film in an atypical, commanding leading role is humanizing, life-affirming, and challenging all at the same time.

“We are excited to be presenting the film, and we are heartened to expand the parameters of our special #StarringJohnCho tribute spotlight on this excellent Asian Pacific American acting luminary.”

“Columbus” screens on Thursday, May 4, at the Directors Guild of America in West Hollywood with the filmmaker along with his cast and crew in attendance for Q&A.

For complete program information and to purchase tickets, visit http://festival.vconline.org.

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