San Diego Asian Film Festival brings Taiwan Showcase to UCSD

Lee Kang-sheng, director and actor, in “Single Belief.” (Courtesy of Pacific Arts Movement)

Film is a magnificently creative way to share stories from all sorts of perspectives. However, here in the United States, we often limit our view to those films produced with an American, specifically white American, perspective. The San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF) attempts to broaden that view to feature films often stuck in the peripheral.

SDAFF was founded in 2000 and is now “the largest exhibition of Asian cinema in the western United States.” This year, the festival showed over 140 films from 15 different countries. For the past five years, the SDAFF has hosted the Taiwan Film Showcase at UC San Diego, bringing the festival to the students for free. With America’s past of the Yellow Peril Movement and the continued history of yellow face, the SDAFF is central to the future of East Asian representation in America.

This year, on November 6, the Taiwan Film Showcase premiered seven intriguing films and tackled a variety of different genres. We got the chance to experience two pieces, one entitled White Lies, Black Lies, and the other a collection of short films named Shorts: Taiwan Adrift.

White Lies, Black Lies was one of the seven films shown at the Taiwan Film Showcase at UCSD. Directed by Lou Yi-an, the film takes its audience on a wild journey to uncover the truth about the murder of the wife of Su Junjie, the main character. Chen Ting-ni, journalist and old childhood friend of the two suspects, is on the hunt to find out the truth.

The first scene of the film has Su Junjie’s wife lying on the basement floor of The Rainbow Salon, their wig and hair model shop. The scene, and subsequently the rest of the film, is dramatized by heavy bass simulating the nervous beating of a heart. After a two minute sequence of her choking on the blood escaping from her slit throat, Su Junjie takes her to the hospital. But after the police start to question him, he flees the hospital while his wife is still in the operating room. To complicate things further, Chou Xiaochen, his married lover, is seen with him moments after he flees. The question that then lingers over the premise of the film is, “If he is innocent, why did he flee?” Director Lou Yi-an and crew created an impressive film that kept us on the edge of our seat, constantly questioning what will happen next. The dramatic score and contrast between light and darkness keeps with the theme of “white lies” and “black lies.” The police, the audience, and Chen travel through Taiwan to see how the past relates to the present and whether the truth they know is the truth they seek.

Along with full-length films, the Taiwanese showcase also premiered a compilation of short films entitled Shorts: Taiwan Adrift. These short films all focus on economic and cultural aspects of Taiwan, though each of the individual films have completely separate storylines. The first film of the sequence, “Coin Boy,” revolves around a boy, Tai, who pays a school fee in all coins because his father runs arcade games for a living. At first, Tai stands up for himself and confidently states, “Coins are money, too.” However, with classmates making fun of him, Tai gets both embarrassed and frustrated about the situation. “Coin Boy” is a lighthearted tale that highlights the importance of social acceptance through money and the denied opportunities non-conformity may bring.

Another short film that revolves around economic problems is called “Arnie.” This film is centered around Filipino seamen in Taiwan, a subculture that sheds light on cross-cultural relations in Asia. Arnie, a seaman, wants to propose to a woman he is talking to online. With a limited amount of money and social resources, he barters with an older woman for an engagement ring. Arnie finally succeeds, only to find out his girlfriend is having an affair. With rocky camera movements resembling that of a ship, “Arnie” comments on the difficult lifestyle of a small, underrepresented Taiwanese population.

Lee Kang-sheng, director and actor, in “Single Belief.” (Courtesy of Pacific Arts Movement)

Lee Kang-sheng, director and actor, in “Single Belief.” (Courtesy of Pacific Arts Movement)

The last film of the compilation, “Single Belief,” is a moving piece of art. Both the camera and the main character remain still, while one aspect of the background shows movement. The director, Lee Kang-sheng, also plays the main (and only) character. He poses as a mannequin in different areas of Taiwan while a simple voice-over describes his perspective on place and time. A narrative revolved around individuality, “Single Belief” is a vibrant display of staying grounded throughout the passing of time and changing landscapes.

It is obvious why these extraordinary films were presented at the SDAFF – they tell relatable stories from different perspectives and allow the audience to immerse themselves in the lifestyles of different cultures. Festivals like the SDAFF speak to to America’s underrepresented communities whose art has yet to be acknowledged in mainstream media. The Taiwan Film Showcase at UCSD and the greater SDAFF are both essential in diversifying the stories told by the film industry and are crucial to the future of film here in the United States and around the world.

Ana Magallanes is an editor of Arts and Entertainment for The Triton. She can be reached at ae@triton.news. Amarachi Metu is a Arts and Entertainment writer for The Triton. She can be reached at ametu@ucsd.edu.