By Luis Monteagudo Jr.
Kicking off its 19th year, the San Diego Asian Film Festival has become the “crazy rich” festival of cinematic celebrations.
It began small with a few films in one theater but when the festival returns this Thursday, Nov. 8, it will showcase celebrities, galas and more than 160 films from over 20 countries in five locations, from Balboa Park to Mira Mesa.
Still, Brian Hu, Artistic Director of Pacific Arts Movement, which organizes the festival, said it hasn’t strayed far from its roots.
“After a summer where ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and ‘Searching’ proved that Asian Americans can be box office gold, this year’s festival reminds us that none of that progress would be possible without the independent film festival as an incubator of new ideas and fresh voices,” said Hu. “This is where you will find the filmmakers of tomorrow, as well as the filmmakers who will always be too daring and too indie for Hollywood.”
It’s also where film buffs will find movies they may never get a chance to see. Eight films are making their North American premiere, seven are making their U.S. debut and 10 are being shown on the West Coast for the first time.
Among those are “Ramen Shop,” the closing night film, a love story about a Japanese chef’s search for his Singaporean mother’s soup recipe and his discovery of forbidden love and family drama along the way.
Food is a big theme this year as the opening night selection is “Little Forest,” a comedy based on a popular manga about a young Korean woman who returns to her rural hometown seeking to reinvent her life. If that sounds like it will make you hungry, admission to the film includes a reception afterward where the audience will be able to taste a seasonal Korean menu.
But, as usual, with dozens of films being screened, there is something for everyone.
There are a dozen short films, including the longstanding “Reel Voices” documentaries by local high school students. This year, they tackle such diverse subjects as mental health, cultural identity and homelessness.
There are Asian pop films, from zombies to a mystery Kung Fu theatre. And there is the masters series featuring films with well-known directors and actors.
The festival runs Nov. 8- to17. Tickets are available online at www.sdaff.org and also the festival’s main theater, the Ultrastar Mission Valley Cinema at Hazard Center, for films being screened there.
Other screenings will be held at the San Diego Natural History Museum, UC San Diego, Digital Gym Cinema in El Cajon, Edwards Cinemas in Mira Mesa, and the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park.
Luis Monteagudo Jr. is a freelance writer and pop culture enthusiast who has attended Comic-Con for more than 20 years. He has written for The San Diego Union-Tribune, USA Today and numerous other publications.