Following up on Rita’s picks for the SF Int’l Asian American Film Festival, I’d like to offer the results of my own calculations:

Addition: The tortured artist might be a cliche, just like the troubled rock star. But when you add the two together and the artist attains rock star status (well, punk rock, anyway) you get someone like David Choe, the subject of Dirty Hands. Choe is the bad boy of street art, and his long-time friend Harry Kim has been capturing his turbulent life on video for the past eight years, a period that includes the lowest point of his life — four months in solitary confinement in a Tokyo jail — along with some of his greatest commercial triumphs. From that footage, Kim put together a thorough portrait of Choe, and gives us a good look at Choe’s wild (and often quasi-pornographic) output, so this film is an excellent way to learn about one of the most significant artists working today. Harry Kim will be present at the screenings.

Division: A little while back I wrote about Project Kashmir, and the recommendation still holds: two American friends, one Muslim and the other Hindu, travel to war-torn Kashmir with cameras in hand and try to make sense of the centuries-old divide and the continuing violence. On the way, the women — who will be present at the screenings — often find themselves on opposite sides of the ancient clash. 

Multiplication: You Don’t Know Jack is a heartfelt portrait of Jack Soo (birth name Goro Suzuki), an actor who refused to take stereotypical roles in the 1950s through the 1970s, multiplying exponentially the scope for Asian Americans in mainstream movies and television. The Oakland native started out in entertainment during World War II in the Topaz, Utah internment camp, and once he got out he adopted his stage name and passed for Chinese in order to avoid anti-Japanese sentiment and persecution. He always intended to use his birth name once he got a big role, but when his breakthrough came in the musical Flower Drum Song, the producers refused to bill him as Suzuki (too many Japanese actors in a story set in San Francisco’s Chinatown) and so he got stuck with Jack Soo. From there he went on to roles on television, most famously on Barney Miller, and became known as the first “Asian American hipster” — a guy who could easily have run with the Rat Pack. (And he could sing better than Dean Martin!) Director (and Appeal cover boy) Jeff Adachi will also be on hand when the film rolls.

Subtraction: There is no subtraction, only more addition, with five other documentary features and several shorts on offer, some of which the Appeal will be reviewing in the coming week or so. Stay tuned!

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