Thursday, July 24, 2014

AAIFF ’14: Awesome Asian Bad Guys

You will definitely recognize Al Leong. He was the henchman Sgt. Riggs strangled with his legs while he was administering electroshock torture in the original Lethal Weapon. That is a typical day at the office for Leong. PBS’s National Film Society set out to pay tribute to Leong and his fellow character actors with a web-series that turned into a festival film. Prepare to show all due respect when Stephen Dypiangco & Patrick Epino’s Awesome Asian Bad Guys (trailer here) screens during the 2014 Asian American International Film Festival in New York.

Internet video producers Dypiangco and Epino are on a mission to assemble an Expendables-like team of Asian action movie heavies, who will finally have the chance to be the good guys. They have two good reasons: they must protect Tamlyn Tomita (from the Karate Kid 2) and prevent commercial actor Aaron Takahasi from trying to permanently eliminate all his casting call competition.

The cool thing about AABG is how it deftly satirizes Hollywood’s Asian stereotyping while still lovingly honoring actors like Leong and George Cheung (Rambo II, Rush Hour) for making the best of a less than optimal job market. It is also mind-blowing to hear Tomita plays somebody’s mom on Glee (is that show still on?). Naturally, she makes a great damsel-in-distress and/or femme fatale. 

However, there is just too much of Dypiangco and Epino shticking it up as themselves. Frankly, there probably ought to be more action and less comedy, because that is what an Al Leong fan would want to see. Nevertheless, it is entertaining to watch the Awesome Asian Bad Guys finally get a curtain call.

Since AABG clocks in just under an hour, the AAIFF has paired it with a short featuring two fairly awesome bad guys. A pair of Yakuza are driving deep into the Mojave Desert to bury a body in Robbie Ikegami’s Pull Over to Kill. This will be the final errand for Watanabe, the soon to be retired strawberry farmer, but hot-headed Yasumoto is just starting out as a retainer. Needless to say complications ensue.

Viewers might predict the general trajectory of this two-hander, but Ikegami and cinematographer Alan Vidali make it look awfully stylish. Nor can anyone argue with Tatsuya Ito’s world weary steeliness, as Watanabe. The use of Michiko Hamamura’s “Tabu” and Saori Yuki’s “Yoaki No Scat” also vividly evoke the 1960’s vibe of many classic Yakuza pictures. In fact, POTK could even serve as an effective music video for them, inspiring post-screening downloads. It is a satisfying short that nicely fits with AABG. Recommended as a good festival package, Awesome Asian Bad Guys and Pull Over to Kill screen together tomorrow (7/25) at the Village East and Saturday at the Made in NY Media Center, as part of this year’s AAIFF.