Movie Interview: Not everyone kung-fu fights

By Kyle Francis

Other than kung-fu movies, horror flicks and the odd revenge drama, Asian cinema goes largely unwatched by the majority of North American moviegoers. Every now and then a movie like Hero does a mystical back-flip into the mainstream, but most Asian movies big enough to make it to North American shores don’t get watched by anybody but those adventurous enough to take in a late night showing at the Uptown. Enter Ben Tsui, a Chinese-Canadian with a dream and a film festival.

“This is the first annual [Calgary Asian Film Festival],” says Tsui, the festival coordinator. “There were a couple other ones before under different names, but this is the first annual Calgary Asian Film Festival [that has been] officially named.”

The Asian Heritage Foundation of Southern Alberta and Cue Magazine put on the CAFF as part of the larger celebration of Asian Heritage Month. In addition to the film festival, other festivities include a writers workshop with some prominent Asian-Canadian writers, and a symphony by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. Like the rest of the gala, honouring Asian heritage is just as important to Tsui as putting on a memorable show.

“It’s a celebration of film making by Asian artists,” excitedly exclaims Tsui. “We’re all Canadian, but we should enjoy our roots as well. That’s what this film festival is about.”

Asian or not, there is always a concern independent film festivals won’t appeal enough to the masses. As much ass as the Korean-made Old Boy kicked, it’s cerebral style and cultural barriers still posed a problem for the casual viewer. Rather than sticking to the vibe theatres like the Uptown have set for Asian cinema, Tsui would rather the CAFF be entertaining first, and thoughtful second.

“Films classified as ‘Asian’ tend to be genre-bending, so most of us don’t like super art films. It’s fine to have a message behind everything, but it better still be entertaining or we aren’t watching it,” informs Tsui of the festival’s content. “[Asian cinema] is already mainstream in a sense, but they don’t know how to market it. That’s why I’d like to see an Asian film festival every year–sort of as an educational device for people who want to learn more about Asian cinema.”

With the help of prominent North American directors like Quentin Tarantino, Asian cinema has seen its share of the limelight increase lately, but the ignorant masses still tend to dismiss Asian cinema as a bunch of under-funded, unintentionally hilarious sci-fi flicks with an extra helping of camp. The CAFF hopes to shatter this stereotype, toutingsuch offerings as Rex Steele: Nazi Smasher, and Birthday Boy, two Asian-made and award winning shorts on the animation line up.

“There are so many different types of film that we do well, and we try to showcase all of that at the festival,” stresses Tsui. “We’re more than just kung-fu.”

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