Asian Films Play "I've Got a Secret" at San Jose'sCinequest 2009

by Celeste Heiter, Mar 8, 2009 | Destinations: Indonesia / Japan / China / India / Israel / Pakistan / Turkey
Tandoori Love

Tandoori Love

Tandoori Love

Each year, ThingsAsian features reviews of all the Asian and Asia-related films entered for competition in San Jose's Cinequest Film Festival. This year, there were thirteen entries available for screening, and at least one of the characters in each film has a compelling secret that is key to its outcome. Read the reviews below to discover the clues to these fascinating mysteries.

Tandoori Love

Director Oliver Paulus
Producer Cobra Film Ag, Valerie Fischer
Writer Oliver Paulus, Stefan Hillebrand
Cast Lavinia Wilson, Martin Schick, Vijay Raaz
Country Switzerland

From the very first frame, there's no mistaking that in this tasty truffle of a film, food is the language of love. Set in the Swiss Alps, where an Indian film crew has set up on location to make a Bollywood musical, the romance centers around the Hirschen, a chalet-style inn owned by Markus, a culinary entrepreneur whose curmudgeonly mother pulls the puppet strings. But Markus has finally claimed his place at the helm of the Hirschen, and just when it looks as if life can't get any better, his soon-to-be fiancée Sonja has a love-at-first-sight encounter at the supermarket with Rajah, private chef to the film production's leading lady.

Tandoori Love is a delightful fusion of Bollywood fanfare and old-world European tradition, with a cast of fresh young faces to play out this little comedy of errors. Complete with bouncy pop-music dance interludes that are de rigueur in nearly every Indian production, and microcosmic culinary montages so intimately seductive that they leap off the screen and onto your lips, Tandoori Love is absolutely delicious!

All About Dad

Director Mark Tran
Producer Mark Tran, Todd Banhazl
Executive Producer Barnaby Dallas, Ned Kopp, Nick Martinez
Cast David Huynh, Chi Pham, Yen Ly, Steven Cloyes, Nanrisa Lee, Yvonne Troung, Hunter Vo, Minh Do, Eric Callero
Country USA

It's spring break, and four college-age children have converged on the Do family home for a week in the suburbs of Sacramento. Mr. Do, who was once a lieutenant in the Vietnamese army, has done his best to raise his children as ambitious scholars and devout Catholics.Mr. Do spends his free time tending his lawn and garden, where much to his frustration, a sapling tree doesn't grow quite straight, and his next-door neighbor, a Vietnam vet suffering from post-traumatic stress, refuses to trim his hedges to Do's satisfaction.

His frustrations are mirrored within the household, where his headstrong children are beginning to express dreams and desires that don't meet with their father's expectations. Eldest daughter Linh can't quite work up the courage to break the news that her fiancé is Buddhist. Eldest son Dinh has a mystery girlfriend. Younger daughter Xuan has just taken her medical board exam, but has repressed creative desires. And younger son Ty wants to ditch his biology major for a career as a filmmaker. Awkward family debates take place around the dinner table, as Mr. Do makes a futile attempt to persuade his children to see things his way, until that crooked tree helps him arrive at an elegant solution to his complicated dilemma.

With its heartfelt performances, and universally relevant theme, All About Dad is a small yet masterful family portrait that is sure to resonate with audiences from any culture.

The Market
Director Ben Hopkins
Producer Roshanak Behesht Nedjad
Writer Ben Hopkins
Cast Tatanç Ayaydin, Genco Erkal, Senay Aydin, Hakan Sahin, Rojin
Country Khazakstan, Turkey, Germany, United Kingdom
Language Turkish (English subtitles)

It's a dog-eat-dog world on the Turkish black market, where Mihram hustles 24/7 to feed his pregnant wife and young daughter. He prides himself on being able to find anything for anyone, yet somehow manages to maintain a certain measure of honor, despite the constant lure of Mustafah, the puppet master of a contraband cartel. Mihram dreams of slipping the bonds of the black market to open his own mobile network franchise, but he needs 50 million lira (about $50 US) for the license. And although this may seem like a modest sum to anyone in a modern, industrialized nation, to a small-time black market merchant in Turkey, it's a nearly impossible dream.

But when Mihram's family physician pays him a visit to ask a favor of him to help her replace a shipment of stolen vaccine, Mihram hatches a plan to go on a less-than-honest mission to turn her 70 million lira into enough money to replace the stolen vaccine, with enough left over to launch his mobile network franchise.

And although the story is rather playfully told, good and evil are intricately bound, and kismet and karma play against each other as Mihram's scheme unfolds. He did the wrong thing for all the right reasons, and in the end can only say, "Let's not ask where the moon gets its light."

Tokyo Sonata

Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Producer Yukie Kito, Wouter Barendrecht
ExecutiveProducer Yasushi Kotani, Michael J.Werner
Cast Teruyuki Kagawa, Kyoko Koizumi, Haruka Igawa, YuKoyanagi, Kai Inowaki, Kanji Tsuda, Koji Yakusho
Country Japan, Netherlands, Hong Kong
Language Japanese (English subtitles)

Ever since he was downsized out of his position as a salaryman at a Japanese medical equipment company, keeping up appearances has become a full-time job for Ryuhei Sasaki. He gets up every morning, puts on his suit, and, unbeknownst to his wife, he heads off to the unemployment line instead of the office, and at lunchtime, he lines up with the homeless for a free meal. Coincidentally, he runs into Kurosu, a former classmate in the same predicament who has quite an elaborate ruse going himself, and together they go about their daily masquerade. Meanwhile, in the Sasaki household, his wife Megumi, and sons Takashi and Kenji have secrets of their own.

Tokyo Sonata is a subtle yet compelling study in quiet desperation, as an already fragmented family slowly falls apart. And although the secrets they keep are meant to protect their own dreams and each other, it is the secrets that may destroy them altogether, unless the best kept one of all brings redemption.

The Forest

DirectorAshvin Kumar
Producer Ashvin Kumar
Executive Producer Dr. Vijay Mallya, Mohammed Juma
Cast Javed Jaaferi, Ankur Vikal,Nandana Sen, Saleem Ali Zaidi, Tarun Kumar
USA/United Kingdom
Language English

A love triangle sets the stage for this psychological thriller, in which Pritam and his wife Radha secure a permit to spend the night at a wild game preserve in the Indian jungle, with Radha's jealous former lover Abhishek as their guide. And as if that weren't disturbing enough, there are rumors that a leopard is on the prowl. After an afternoon on safari, Pritam and Abhishek spend the early hours of the evening sizing each other up, and arrive at an uneasy truce. Around midnight, despite the menace of a hungry leopard, Abhishek decides to have sport with Pritam by sending him hunting in the jungle, which also gives him the opportunity for a little one-on-one time with Radha. With the mounting tension around secrets, sex, and survival, the night is headed toward a bloody crescendo.

Within the context of this compelling human drama, there is also a primal message that casts a shameful spotlight on the wanton destruction of some of earth's most magnificent creatures, which may soon be rendered extinct. But until then, the laws of the jungle are powerful and mysterious, and will prevail despite the meddlesome hand of man.

For My Father

Director Dror Zahavi
Shlomo Mograbi, Zvi Spielmann, Heike Wiehle-Timm, Eviatar Dotan, Rami Damri
Writer Ido Dror, Yonatan Dror
Cast Shredi Gagrin, Hilli Yalon, Shlomo Wishinski, Michael Moshonov
Country Israel, Germany
Language Hebrew and Arabic (English subtitles)

Tarek is a man on a mission. He's disillusioned, he's angry, and he's wired to go off in a Tel Aviv marketplace. But when his faulty detonation switch fails, Tarek is stranded in a Jewish neighborhood during Shabbat, waiting for a replacement part from Mr. Katz, owner of the local fix-it shop. Katz offers Tarek a place to spend the night, and in exchange, he agrees to patch a hole in Katz's roof. In the interim, he meets Keren, an attractive Jewish shopkeeper who is estranged from her family, and learns, perhaps for the first time, what it means to care for someone who shares neither his religious beliefs, nor his politics.

In that short forty-eight hours, getting to know this endearing cast of locals puts a human face on Tarek's mission, and forces him to reexamine his motives. And in its own subtle and sympathetic way, For My Father demonstrates that there is more than one side to every story, and that if one is willing to stop and listen, there is always another way.

The Compassionate One 

Director Alexander Naumov
Producer Alexander Seridenko
Sergei Baklanov, Roman Stivkin, Anton Degtyarev
Writer Alexander Naumov
Cast Alexander Seridenko, Timur Bokancha, Alexei Maklakov, Valery Garkalin, Kamilla Vlasenkova, Natalya Kurdyubova, Karen Badalov, Pak Hyok Su
Country Russia
Language Russian (English subtitles)

Not all is as it seems inthis cultural crossover in which Rikkhartha, a Buddhist monk, by a series of random coincidences, identifies a Russian police officer who supervises a Moscow drunk tank as the incarnation of the Dalai Lama. When the media gets wind of the story, the officer, known only as the Senior Lieutenant, needs a place to chill out for a few days. His haven of choice: the village of Kutuzofsk, where Vasya Paramonov, one of his drunk tank regulars, owns an apartment inhabited by his eccentric daughter. And what starts out as pure skepticism takes shape as a real possibility when the Senior Lieutenant begins to work his own brand of miracles.

With its whimsical premise and oddball cast of characters, The Compassionate One is an improbable yet refreshingly original comedy in the genre of Cosi, and Waking Ned Devine. And in its own unique way, it manages to be at once both thought-provokingly profound and buoyantly entertaining. And...within its script is one of the best proverbs ever spoken: "Whoever is destined to be hanged shall not be drowned."

The Photograph

Director Nan Achnas
Nan Achnas, Shanty Harmayn, Paquita Widjaja-Afief, Natacha Devillers
Nan Achnas
Cast Johan Lim Kay Tong, Sita Shanty, Surosos Lukman Sardi, Rosi Indy Barends
Country Indonesia
Language Indonesian (English subtitles)

Sita is a young Indonesian woman who has been turned out of her sister's house, which is crowded with visiting family members who have come for the wedding of Tini. With no place else to go, Sita manages to talk Mr. Johan, an ailing portrait photographer, into letting her stay in the attic of his home studio. In an attempt to earn enough money to send home to support her daughter Yani and a grandmother in need of an expensive operation, Sita has been working as a nightclub singer and reluctant prostitute, and is already deeply in debt to Suroso, her tyrant of a pimp.

Over time, as Sita and Mr. Johan become better acquainted, she begins to help out around the house and studio in lieu of rent, and observes his failing health and his mysterious daily ritual of burning incense and making offerings at the same spot on a railway now overgrown with weeds. She also learns that Mr. Johan is avidly seeking an apprentice to become his successor at the photography studio. Although unspoken, both Sita and Mr. Johan have a mission in life, and in their own unlikely way, ultimately manage to fulfill each other's deepest need.


Özcan Alper
Producer F.Serkan Acar
Writer Özcan Alper
Cast Onur Saylak, Raife Yenigül, Megi Kobaladze, Serkan Keskin, Nino Lejava, Sibel Öz, Cihan Çamkerten, SerhanPirpir, Yasar Güven
Country Germany/Turkey
Language Turkish, Georgian, and Hemsin (English subtitles)

Ten years is a long timein a Turkish prison, but Yusef has paid his debt for the acts of political anarchy he committed in college. And now he has come home to the hill country with a secret, and little to say about his time away. In his absence, life has gone on without him. His father has died, his mother has aged, and his friends and college classmates are all married with children. In a village populated mostly by the elders, Yusef's friend Mikhail is his only connection to his former life. Together they pass the time, reminiscing on trips into town, and outings to the highlands and the seaside.

On an evening at a local pub with Mikhail, Yusef meets Eka, a homesick German prostitute with a young daughter back home in the care of her mother. Two wounded souls, Yusef and Eka form a pensive bond that helps them pass the time that weighs so heavily on their days. But in an unspoken way, they both know that it will take much morethan that to fill the abyss within. 

Ramchand Pakistani
Mehreen Jabbar
Javed Jabbar
Javed Jabbar
Nandita Das, Rashid Farooqui, Syed Fazal Hussain, Maria Wasti, Noman Ijaz
Country Pakistan
Urdu, Hindi (English subtitles)

Shankar, his wife Champa, and their eight-year-old son Ramchand, members of a Hindu caste of untouchables, live an idyllic life in the village of Bhimra, at the eastern border of Pakistan. Shankar is a farmer and teacher, Champa makes a comfortable home for her family, and mischievous, spoiled, headstrong son Ramchand would rather herd goats all day than go to school. One morning, after a disagreement with his mother, Ramchand storms off to pout and unwittingly wanders across the border into India, where he is immediately taken captive by the military guards. And when his father comes looking for him, he is taken prisoner as well. Shankar and Ramchand are transported to a prison, where they are placed in a cell with a group of unregistered inmates, some of whom have been imprisoned for years while awaiting paperwork to be processed for their release.

Prison life is difficult, tedious and crowded, and although they are not starved or beaten, they are still made painfully aware of their ‘untouchable' social status. Ramchand is assigned to attend to the quarters of a female military officer who makes him bathe before entering, and will not allow him to touch her or her personal belongings. Back home in Bhimra, Champa waits faithfully for her husband and son to return, until her brother-in-law Suresh coerces her to go with the villagers to work on a plantation to pay off the mounting family debts. With doubt bordering on desperation, and untold miles separating her from her loved ones, she wonders if they will ever be reunited.

Based on a true story, Ramchand Pakistani is an even-handed yet heartbreaking story, told with pathos and purpose. While the circumstances are deserving of outrage, the family accepts its fate with grace and humility, without giving up hope. And with defiant dignity, Ramchand teaches his captors the meaning of compassion.


Director Nandita Das
Harindra M. Singh, ShailendraM. Singh
Shuchi Kothari, Nandita Das
Naseeruddin Shah, Paresh Rawal,Deepti Naval, Sanjay Suri, Nowaz
English, Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati(English subtitles)

Tensions run high in the streets of Gujarat, India, where Hindu vigilantes have looted and burned the homes and businesses of their Muslim neighbors. The film zooms in on several families whose lives were affected. Muneera has just returned with her husband Hanif to the charred remains of the place they used to call home, and the husband of her best friend Jyoti, a Hindu, is suspected of the arson. Arati, the wife of Sanjay, an arrogant and disreputable Hindu businessman, is suffering a mental breakdown over the sadness and guilt she feels for the plight of the Muslims. Kahn Saheb, a venerable Muslim music teacher, wonders why no one comes for his weekly gatherings. Anu, a Hindu woman, is married to Sameer, a Muslim, who must keep his identity concealed for his own safety. Moshin, a young boy orphaned by the violence, wanders the streets of Gujarat in search of his missing father. And Hanif and Munna, two Muslims, have formed a vigilante group of their own to seek revenge for the injustices they have suffered.

These are the stories of just a few of the survivors of the volatile clash that took place in March 2002, in which more than 3,000 Muslims were killed. In a sincere effort to put a human face on the innocent victims of an often faceless conflict, without being preachy or inflammatory, Firaaq casts a powerful spotlight on the senselessness of hatred and prejudice.

Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf
Kurando Mitsutake
Kurando Mitsutake, Chiaki Yanagimoto
Kurando Mitsutake, John Migdal
Kurando Mitsutake, Jeffrey James Lippold, Domiziano Arcangeli, Amanda Plummer
United States
English, Japanese (English subtitles)

It's The Good, the Bad,and the Ugly, it's Kill Bill, it's the Seven Samurai...all rolled into one! The title character started out as an ordinary family man, and life was a dream until that fateful day when he lost his wife, his daughter, and his eyesight at the hands of Nathan Flesher, a villainous, blood-thirsty psychopath. It's eight years later, Nathan Flesher is being released from prison, and it's time for revenge. Now known only as The Blind Wolf, the Samurai Avenger sets out on a quest to settle the score, but along the way, he must first defeat the seven samurai assassins hired to kill him.

Disguised as the worst example of its genre, Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf is a masterpiece of kitsch, with characters so one-dimensional, a plot so simplistic, irony so conspicuous, special effects so artless, and like a four-car pile-up on the L.A. expressway, it's so astonishing you can't take your eyes off it. But the true irony is, that this film is so bad, it's pure genius. 

Why Am I Doing This?
Tom Huang
N.D. Brown, Tom Huang, Jeff Lam
Producer Trey Haley, Brian A. Roberts
Tom Huang
Anthony Montgomery, Tom Huang,Gerry Bednob, Dion Basco, Emma Caulfield, Lynn Chen, Valarie Pettiford, Sheetal Sheth, Joe Torry, Tamlyn Tomita
United States

Tony Chang and Lester Niles are best friends. Tony is a Chinese American actor, and Lester is an African-American comedian, neither of whom has gotten his big break. Together they tirelessly go about the business of auditions and open-mic nights, all the while working full-time to pay the bills, navigating their way through awkward family situations, and suffering the slings and arrows of romantic relationships. 

It's a storyline that has been told as far back as the nineteenth century with Puccini's La Bohème, but what makes Why Am I Doing This? so fresh and original, is the humor, candor, and artistry with which it is crafted. The characters are genuine, the comedy is wry and subtle, and the performances so unselfconscious and unaffected that it's almost like being there.

What a splendid conclusion to two fascinating weeks of independent Asian film!

For further information on the films and the festival, visit the Cinequest website.