sundance wrap

All right, a few days late (I needed some time to recover)... but let me tell you about the rest of my Sundance experience, as promised. On Sunday afternoon, I had the privelege of attending the world premiere screening of Steven Okazaki's White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a documentary that tells the stories of the survivors of the atomic bomb. Sobering, powerful, and totally mesmerizing, the film doesn't pull refuses to pull any punches and explores the catastrophic results of atomic weapons from those who experienced it firsthand. I saw numerous members of the audience wiping away tears during the course of the film. Afterwards, it received not one, but two standing ovations. In addition to cast and crew, one of the survivors profiled in the film was present for the Q&A, and shared some powerful words. When the survivor of an atomic bombing has something to say, you listen.

Rather than politicizing or laying blame for the bombings, more than anything, the film drives home the necessity of making these stories are known and heard by all, before this generation of survivors is lost and forgotten. They are living proof of the futile suffering caused by nuclear war—an even greater reality today, considering that the world's nations now possess the power to literally destroy the earth and everyone on it. Big props to Okazaki and crew for this moving, important work. I'm told that White Light/Black Rain's will probably have a pretty limited festival run, and then you'll definitely see it on HBO by the end of the year. Heck, I think it has a good chance at making Oscar's short list next year. Seek it out if you can.

Also on Sunday afternoon, I attended the annual APA "Meet the Filmmakers" Reception at China Panda, the only Chinese restaurant in Park City. They throw this party every year, and I'm told this one was the biggest yet. It felt like the biggest yet... because there were like, three thousand people in the room, wall to wall. Okay, more like 300? Crowded and hot as hell. With food that reminded me of the old college days, when the dorm dining hall would attempt to make "Asian food." Still, the reception was a great to place to connect with Asian American folks at Sundance, both old friends and new. I spotted my hero Yul Kwon, winner of Survivor, across the room, but it was so damn crowded I never got the chance to meet him. I just wanted to shake his hand, man. Sad. You rule, Yul.

At midnight, I was one of the fortunate few who attended the world premiere of Justin Lin's Finishing the Game, a mockumentary about the fictional search to find a replacement for Bruce Lee after his sudden death only halfway through filming Game of Death. As a big Bruce fan, and an even bigger fan of the mythology surrounding his films, I'd been looking forward to seeing this for months. But first, I had to go through a minor ordeal to get a ticket to the screening. At Sundance, if you're not one of the mighty elite with advance tickets, or couldn't get your hands on the scarce few tickets that went on sale in the morning, your only feasible option is to wait in the rush line. Two hours prior to the screening, you're supposed to line up so they can give you a number. You come back half an hour before the screening, line up in order, and they let in as many as they can. Sometimes a few, sometimes a lot. Simple, right? Problem is, film fans are crazy about their Sundance screenings, so people seem to line up earlier and earlier. Determined to get into this screening, I show up to get in the rush line extra early, only to find that there is already a line, about thirty people deep. Actually, it isn't so much a line, but it's an unofficial wait list organized by none other than Roger Fan.

Are you on the list? For the sake of order and organization, he literally started a numbered list for folks wanting to see Finishing the Game. The rush line for the previous screening hadn't even gone in yet.

So we eventually get in line, and it's like a big ol' party. Thankfully, we're in this weird dark tunnel, shielded from the 4-degree weather outside. All this for a movie. That's director Justin Lin, above, waiting in the rush line to get extra tickets for his own movie. I was holding number 23—a pretty good spot in line—but big big thanks to Justin, Julie and Roger, who also did everything they could to make sure I got in. Hell yes. I got in.

The screening was a ton of fun. Seemed like half the audience had some kind of connection to the movie (actor, crew, friend of), so everybody was hooting and hollering and being crazy (in a good way) during the entire screening. So, I know you're wondering... is the movie any good? Overall, Finishing the Game is just big goofy fun. Justin and Co. have assembled a clever, slick, well-produced mockumentary with some brilliant moments, and you can tell they had a blast making it. I won't say the movie's perfect. It definitely isn't consistent, and more than a few jokes fall flat... but there are also plenty of shining moments, with some sly commentary on Hollywood and race thrown in. Justin has proven that he straddle a career with both low-budget indie and big-budget studio projects with his credibility intact, and he's brought along all the friends he's met along the way. Familiar faces and cameos populate the film all over the place. Roger Fan and Sung Kang put in some great performances as wannabe Bruce Lee replacements. Also look for guys like Dustin Nguyen, Leonardo Nam, Parry Shen, Brian Tee (almost unrecognizable) and even MC Hammer making appearances. And man, I loved the look and feel of the film, from the fake kung fu movie footage right down to the costuming and bad 1970s hair. I even caught a glimpse of myself, having spent a day on the set as an extra over the summer. Good times.

All in all, it was a great way to end my stay at the Sundance Film Festival. I was on a plane home just hours later. I'm sure Finishing the Game will be making the festival rounds this year, but hopefully it'll get picked up for theatrical distribution, and we'll all be seeing Bruce Lee wannabes on a big screen near you.

Here's a bit of coverage from Sundance on the Hyphen blog: Sundance Scoop. And here's a review of Finishing the Game over at Cinematical: Sundance Review: Finishing the Game. Here's a brief but interesting piece on Monday's APA panel discussion: Asian-American filmmakers panel: Industry can't see past race. And here's an interview with filmmaker Jessica Yu on her latest documentary Protagonist.

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