Ninjas, gangsters and ghosts, oh my!

Celebrating 30 years of Asian American film, the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF), presented by the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), will screen approximately 120 films in 12 theaters located throughout the San Francisco Bay Area from Thursday, March 8 through Sunday, March 18. For a full schedule, visit CAAMedia.org. The times and programming are subject to change. Tickets are available online or in person at the SFIAAFF box office at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas.

The Crumbles
The characters, 20-something friends/bandmates in Los Angeles, grow on you steadily over the course of the film. While it takes a little while to pick up, once you get to know the people in it, and become attuned to subtle character developments, the film becomes deeply enjoyable and rewarding. While there is plenty of potential for clichéd drama, the film respects its characters too much to go for cheap conflict or sentiment. Charming cast, confidently crafted.
The film screens at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas in San Francisco’s Japantown, located at 1881 Post St., Saturday, March 10 at 3:15 p.m. and Wednesday, March 14 at 6 p.m.

Salad Days
There’s a lot of quirkiness in this film, and while that aspect can be entertaining at times, it’s at its best when the characters are having conversations about what really matter to them. The film also gets surprisingly heavy, but there are great points in which it combines its quirkiness and darkness to produce some nice black comedy. I think in the end, it’s more than the sum of its parts, as it’s the questions it poses and its themes about human connection, deception, and missing what’s right under your nose, linger in one’s head longer than any individual scene or character.
The film screens at the SF Film Society Cinema at New People in San Francisco’s Japantown, 1746 Post St., Sunday, March 11 at 5 p.m. and Monday, March 12 at 8:45 p.m.

Ninja Kids
This film is incredibly direct in a number of ways, from the opening shot, in which the main character enters the screen and says he is “off to ninja school.” This is a manga adaptation, and the visual language is translated directly — punches to the face result in big, cartoon lumps. The film feels more like a series of comedy sketches, than anything else, but they tend to work, alternating between extremely broad humor involving silly costumes and dog doo, to more subtle jokes that are mostly dependent on the actors’ delivery and timing. The kids at the heart of the film are tremendously charming, to the point that the outtakes that run through the credits are a real highlight.
The film screens at the Castro Theater, 429 Castro St. in San Francisco, Sunday, March 11 at 12:30 p.m. and at Camera 3 Cinemas, 288 South Second St. in San Jose, Saturday, March 17 at 12:30 p.m.

Bang Bang
If there is a more realistic film about Asian American gangs, I haven’t seen it. While it suffers from some questionable stylization in some sequences, it offers a rare look into the realities of life for many urban Asian Pacific Islander youth. The film does a good job of exploring race, class, and masculinity in mostly subtle ways. It gets dramatic and exciting, but never melodramatic or exploitative.
The film screens at the Berkeley Pacific Film Archive Theater, located at 2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, Calif. Friday, March 9 at 8:50 p.m. and Saturday, March 10, at the SF Film Society Cinema at New People in San Francisco’s Japantown, located at 1746 Post St., at 6:45 p.m.

I Am a Ghost
Due to word count restrictions, I’ll just say: Go see this — if you don’t scare easily. Not that it’s a scare-a-minute, “look out behind you!” movie. It’s a psychological mystery told from the perspective of a ghost, Emily, who relives the same few events in a continuous loop. A medium, who speaks as a disembodied voice, is Emily’s only companion. She tries to help Emily into the next world, but in doing so, reveals unexpected horrors.
The film screens at the SF Film Society Cinema at New People in San Francisco’s Japantown, located at 1746 Post St. Friday, March 9 at 9:10 p.m., at the Berkeley Pacific Film Archive Theater, located at 2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, Calif., and Saturday, March 10 at 6:10 p.m. at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, in San Francisco’s Japantown, located at 1881 Post St. on Tuesday, March 13 at 4:30 p.m.

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