April 25, 2019 at 1:37 pm PDT | by John Paul King
Asian Pacific Film Festival blooms with queer offerings

‘Engaged,’ follows Darren as he stumbles to engage to his partner Elliot. (Photo courtesy Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival)

One of the best things about being a movie lover in Los Angeles is the rich, diverse array of film festivals that convene in our city every year. We get to experience the cinematic expressions of artists all over the world and we’re afforded the opportunity to see things that most other cities will never see, at least on the big screen.

One of the most revered of these is the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, dedicated to showcasing films by and about Asians and Pacific Islanders around the world. Named by MovieMaker Magazine as one of “The 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World, 2017,” it makes its 35th annual return to L.A. from May 2-10, when it will be screening a wide variety of movies as various venues around the city.

This year’s festival showcases several short films in its LGBTQ category and while there are a multitude of worthy entries participating in the festival overall, it’s some of these that might be of particular interest to Blade readers.

“Halwa” is a short by co-writer/directors Gayatri Bajpai and Nirav Bhakta about an empty-nester who attempts to find some joy in her broken marriage, until she learns about the passing of her childhood companion’s spouse on Facebook. Having been disconnected from this woman for over 30 years over a misunderstanding, she finds the courage to reach out to send her condolences. They reconnect, sparking friction when her controlling husband finds out.

“Swimming,” from director Anna Chi, follows an American-born Chinese teenager trying to handle her possible homosexuality, who struggles when her 3-month-old half-sister seems to have stolen the attention of the entire family.

“Zero One” is a coming-of-age story from director Nick Neon about a young man who visits home for the first time in years with nothing to show for his time overseas. Old tensions come to a head when he confronts his homophobic sister over a deeply dysfunctional family dinner, before he learns that the first step to finding your path is admitting you are lost.

“Rani” comes from writer/director Hammad Rizvi, and focuses on its title character, a socially outcast transgender woman as she sets out to take care of an abandoned child in the streets of Pakistan. Determined to do the right thing, she persists amid waves of challenges.

“Gentleman Spa” is director Yu Jhi-han’s film about Hao, a chubby gay man, who works as a janitor at a gay spa. For him, romantic relationships are an unreachable dream. One day, an attractive customer, Kai, walks into the place, and Hao has the opportunity to massage him. However, things do not go as smoothly as Hao expected.

“Engaged” is a film from David Scala, which follows Darren, who keeps trying and failing to propose to his boyfriend Elliot. When their relationship is put into an uncomfortable spotlight during a friend’s outrageous engagement party, Darren realizes he actually might be self-sabotaging himself due to unresolved insecurities about his sexuality.

“Glorious Mrs. Kim” is an exploration by director Monica Cho of the gap between immigrants who leave their identities behind to adapt to a foreign country, versus their children, who as second generations, freely pursue what they want. It raises questions about whether the Internet’s community-building nature can be relevant for older immigrants and LGBTQ acceptance.

“Spinsterhood” is a short from Jhanvi Motla, exploring the clash between cultures, beliefs and generations. Sara Chatterjee, a 29-year-old first generation, Indian-American, is terrified of coming out to her parents. Meanwhile, her parents are horrified she’s single at 29. Sara navigates coming-out, Indian traditions and her parent’s obsessive matchmaking.

In addition to the shorts, there are a few LGBTQ features.

“Leitis in Waiting” is a documentary about Joey Mataele and the Tonga Leitis, an intrepid group of native transgender women fighting a rising tide of religious fundamentalism in their South Pacific Kingdom. Their emotional journey reveals what it means to be different in a society ruled by tradition. 

“NORMAL.” is the story of a couple’s struggle to find an intimate connection when a husband is unable to have sex with his wife after watching her give birth to their child. Director Mragendra Singh’s uses his feature film debut to explore the evolving notion of returning to the status quo, of adjusting to life when the specifics of being “normal” have changed.

“Song Lang” is director Leon Le’s “stylized paean to cải lương (a form of modern Vietnamese folk opera)” which is also “a queer romance and gangster film.” Set in Vietnam in late 1980s, it’s the story of a thuggish debt collector who becomes fixated on a young performer in a troupe that owes him money, leading to an unlikely quasi-courtship that takes root just as fate intervenes.

For a complete list of films at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, along with information on venues and tickets, visit festival.vcmedia.org.

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