Saturday, April 19, 2008


First published in The Jakarta Post, Saturday, April 19, 2008


Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Amsterdam

It was timely for the "CinemAsia" film festival to screen Asian movies in the Netherlands (April 2-13) -- a country where multiculturalism has recently faced a deep crisis due to Geert Wilders' anti-Islam movie.

With Indonesian Joko Anwar's thriller Kala and Dimas Djayadiningrat's jesting comedy Quickie Express participating in the festival, it was hopefully an eye-opener for Dutch society to see the Southeast Asian country with the largest Muslim population in the world bring the once taboo topics of sex and homosexuality to the big screen.

The festival, which screened more than 50 films from countries spanning the globe, offered rare evidence of booming talent which is crossing cultural and geographic borders.

"Asian cinema used to be so ethnocentric -- Japanese films were made with Japanese actors in Japan," festival director Doris Yeung told The Jakarta Post.

Now, beside films produced in home countries, the Asian diaspora are working industriously to depict a cultural intersection of dilemma and stereotypes, as insightful stories to be told to the world.

This is not to reinforce the Asian stereotypes such as Chinese cooks or martial arts practitioners, but rather to contribute to a more nuanced, less stereotypical depiction of Asian communities living outside Asia.

"Because of this, CinemAsia FilmLab offered three young talented Dutch filmmakers with Asian backgrounds an opportunity to present their work at the festival," CinemAsia board member Reza Kartose said.

He referred to Tati Wirahadiraksa, Hesdy Lonwijk and Vivian Wenli Lin.

Tati Wirahadiraksa, who is half-Indonesian and half-Dutch, directed a documentary titled Images from Another World. The film is about a Chinese-Indonesian woman who migrated to the Netherlands from Indonesia, struggling to reshape her own Asian-Dutch identity.

Efforts to deconstruct the stereotypes were even evident on the very first day, with the screening of slapstick comedy Finishing the Game by Justin Lin (U.S.). Lin directed a mockumentary of the making of The Game of Death, Bruce Lee's final film.

Set in the 1970s, he satirizes the typecasting of Asians in film by humorously showcasing the troubles encountered in the making of the film. Everybody -- tall, short, even Caucasian -- has an equal opportunity to become "Bruce Lee".

"I was happy to take part in it because I didn't need to master kung fu," main actor Roger Fan said (followed by audience laughter) during a Q&A session after the screening.

The second day presented Dark Matter (Chen Shi-zheng, U.S./China), The Most Distant Course (Iin jin jie, Taiwan) and The Drummer (Kenneth, Hong Kong/Taiwan).

Dark Matter is about sharp Chinese physics student Xing's research -- which leads him to a snare of academic resentment at an American university. The Most Distant Course tells a story of a young Taiwanese man who sends his lover tapes of sounds he records on his journeys through stunning Taiwan scenery. The Drummer is about a man who takes up Chinese Zen drumming.

The third day screened a moving documentary, China's Stolen Children (Jezza Neumann (China/U.K.), comedy Getting Home (Zhang Yang, China), Hong Kong style action romance Blood Brothers (Alexie Tan, Hong Kong) and a Japanese night life tale The Great Happiness Space --Tale of an Osaka Love Thief (Jake Clennell, Japan).

The fourth day saw a Taiwanese interpretation of the classic French film Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge (Hou Hsiano Hsien, France/Taiwan) and a Japanese drama AYSL -- Park and Love Hotel (Izuru Kamasaka, Japan).

The fifth day presented CinemAsia Mix Shorts and CinemaAsiaFilmLab, which included the documentary, Images from Another World.

Indonesia's short 10-minute flick, The Matchmaker, directed by Cinzia Puspita Rini was also shown on the eleventh day.

And the closing day honored Indonesia's Kala and Quickie Express. Kala, which has been screened at 27 film festivals all over the world, is considered the country's first futuristic noir thriller.

"Kala is superb, and demonstrates that Indonesia's movies have the potential to compete with Western movies," movie enthusiast Matthias Fischer said.

Quickie Express, which is about a male escort service company, made audiences laugh at every turn.

"It would delight Dutch audiences here ... Quickie Express should be shown in commercial theaters," said Felicitas Speth von Schulzburg, from the International Performing Arts Institute.

Kala's director, Joko Anwar, said he would be pleased if his movie could penetrate the market here.

"But it would me more effective for Indonesian film makers to collect their energy together, rather than going to film festivals individually, which seems to be the case now," said Ekky Imanjaya from Amsterdam University's Department of Media and Culture.

Djauhari Oratmangun, from the Indonesian Embassy (which also supported the festival as part of the Visit Indonesia 2008 campaign) said the embassy was more than ready to facilitate a large Indonesian film festival in the Netherlands -- an opportunity which should be tapped by Indonesia's film industry.

Asked whether Asian movies can penetrate the Dutch mainstream film culture, Martin Egter from television outlet NOS Journaal said there is still a gap between Asian and Dutch movies.

"Only those who can feel the pulse of Asian cultures will enjoy their movies," he said.

"So, we need more rigorous promotion," said Hong Kong-born Dutch actor Aaron Wan, adding that the festival contributed to the endorsement of Asian movies within the Netherlands' increasingly multicultural society.

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