Director Justin Lin (Annapolis, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) will be dropping in on the 11th annual Vancouver Asian Film Festival, 10 years after his appearance at the inaugural fest. The cinematic smorgasbord takes place at the Cinemark Tinseltown from Thursday to Sunday (November 1 to 4) with a packed menu of goodies for hungry moviegoers. As one of the main courses, Lin will be bringing along his latest project, Finishing the Game, a comedy about Bruce Lee's final movie, Game of Death, in which a Lee double was cast to finish the role after the actor died.
"I've had this idea ever since I saw Game of Death when I was 10," Lin told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview from San Francisco. "I remember watching it and having no concept of what a body double was. I just remember seeing the real Bruce Lee and then all of a sudden this guy that looked like him walked around for 60 minutes and then [Lee] came back for the final act. Through the years, I found out the back story and was fascinated. The people who owned this footage were exploiting the crap out of it."
Lin is best known for his breakthrough independent film, Better Luck Tomorrow, which gained a nomination for the grand jury prize at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival and featured an all-Asian cast. MTV picked up the movie and Roger Ebert defended it when Lin was accused of making an amoral film about Asian Americans; for Lin, the movie unlocked doors. "My life changed and I could get any meeting I wanted in Hollywood," he said.
Despite the big films he has since directed, Lin said he turned down multimillion-dollar offers to produce Finishing the Game after realizing that the studios wanted to turn it into a martial-arts film, which was not his original concept. Lin then made the movie on his own terms, back in the indie realm: "That's the reality of Asian-American cinema right now. We're not even making low-budget films–we're making no-budget films. We're Third World cinema."
Lin continued: "With more money comes more complications. I'm not here to dog it; I actually enjoy the process and I learn from it, but it also makes me appreciate more of the indie projects. It's a privilege to be able to make an indie film."
After his Hollywood success, Lin said, he once attended a meeting where he was shown a pie chart of audience percentages. There were sectors for African-Americans, Caucasians, and Latinos. When he asked where the Asian contingent was, he was told Asian spending patterns at the movies were similar to those of Caucasians, so Asians were lumped in with them. "If there's no audience for that film, then there's no cinema," he says.
As one of the few Asian-American directors, Lin said, he does feel burdened somewhat. "I think there's a lot of pressure. My responsibility to the community is to be empowered to do whatever I want to do. We should not impose a different set of rules on Asian-American artists than we do to white artists or African-American artists."
He does see the importance of festivals like VAFF. "Films with Asian North Americans are still lacking. These festivals bring unique Asian points of view into a community that might otherwise not see these movies. It's up to the audience to decide whether or not to support independent Asian films; if they do that, and if there are enough of us, we can see it thrive and become a cinema."
This February, Lin will be heralding another The Fast and the Furious installment, returning with original stars Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. But first he will speak to a VAFF audience on Saturday (November 3) during the In the Director's Chair With Justin Lin program, which will also feature an appearance by actor Roger Fan (Better Luck Tomorrow, Finishing the Game).
In addition, the Canadian-born Ho Tam is in the Artist Spotlight, and queer director Quentin Lee (Drift, Ethan Mao)–who attended VAFF with Lin 10 years ago to screen their codirected Shopping for Fangs–will present his personal documentary 0506HK.
A delectable treat for manga enthusiasts is the adaptation of Death Note 1, a live-action, campy crime thriller involving a mystical notebook that is already a blockbuster in its native Japan.
And if you've saved room for dessert, check out Margaret Cho, who is back on the big screen and teamed up with Gale Harold (Queer As Folk) in Falling for Grace, a romantic comedy about mistaken identities and little white lies.
With more than 41 films to choose from, this year's festival is bound to have something for everyone's taste buds. Tickets and passes can be purchased on-line at www.vaff.org . On-site tickets and memberships are also available at the VAFF registration desk before each screening.