Top 10 Picks: Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival 2016

by Tom Nguyen

The 32nd annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) opens Thursday, April 21, with the world premiere of “The Tiger Hunter”, at Aratani Theatre in Little Tokyo, and screens a diverse array of 140 films (34 features and 106 short films) through Thursday, April 28, when it closes with “Pali Road”, at Directors Guild of America.

Here are the Top 10 films I’m looking forward to seeing (in order of appearance at the festival):

“Breathin’: The Eddy Zheng Story” – Documentary about the life of Chinese immigrant Eddy Zheng who’s spent 20 years in prison and empowered himself as an activist for prison reform and youth violence prevention.

“Vampariah” – My picks aren’t all serious! There’s room for a fun midnight screening of a campy horror movie based on Filipino vampire lore that’s also a feminist revenge film.

“Persona Non Grata” (Sugihara Chiune) – This is the story of Sugihara Chiune, also known as the “Japanese Schindler,” who helped thousands of Europeans Jews flee Lithuania by issuing transit visas against Japan’s offficial policy.

“Out Run” – A documentary about Ladlad, the first Filipino LGBT political party, in the mostly conservative Catholic country.

“Tyrus” – A celebration of the life of artist and animator Tyrus Wong, who, despite racially hostile times, was responsible for the groundbreaking visual art of Disney’s Bambi and went on to influence so many with his long creative career.

“Hooligan Sparrow” – Nanfu Wang’s documentary debut feature follows feminist activist Ye Haiyan (aka Sparrow) and her colleagues as they protest a pedophile school principal, all while under the severe surveillance and punishment of Chinese authorities. The footage had to be shot secretly and smuggled outside the country.

“Ten Years” – This collection of five short films, offering dystopian visions of Hong Kong in a future decade, has been banned in China.

“Mother” – Pakistan’s official submission to the Academy Awards follows a train stationmaster in a declining village. The film represents a new wave of Pakistani cinema after 30 years of very little film production in the country.

“Reach for the Sky” – A look at the extreme pressure South Korean students face to get into the best universities. Families pay high fees for after school tutoring and studying daily from sun up to sundown, all culminating in a nationwide exam day that is like a national holiday where companies open 1 hour late and police escort children to their test sites.

“Bad Rap” – Documentary follows 4 Asian American rappers, Dumbfoundead, Awkwafina, Rekstizzy and Lyricks and their difficulties finding mainstream within a hip hop industry that wants to pigeon hole and stereotype them.

And lastly, don’t neglect the many great short films! To help you narrow down the 100+ selections, read the Programmers’ Picks!

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