CAAMFest features 3 original films by UC Berkeley alumni

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Beverly Pan/Staff

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‘I Can I Will I Did’

“I Can I Will I Did” — directed by Nadine Truong and produced by UC Berkeley alumnus Brian Yang — not only teaches young people how to recover from a severe hazing situation but also effectively teaches the true significance of martial arts.

Since the film’s plot is a cookie-cutter coming of age story that does not contradict expectations, it unfortunately offers few profound insights. But for these shortcomings, the film remains compelling through its complex characters.

Ben (Mike Faist) is not your typical victim of bullying. He knows how to speak up for himself, even when being tormented, and this quality of fortitude makes him an extremely refreshing protagonist. The chemistry between Ben and his equally charming partner Adrienne (Ellie Lee) further denotes the two as an exceptionally memorable dynamic duo.

Most importantly, Ben is able to keep his chin up and not wallow in despair thanks to his solid support system. After being bullied incessantly and losing his ability to walk, Ben loses all hope in his future until he meets Adrienne in the hospital and she introduces him to her grandfather and the sport of taekwondo. Although Adrienne and Master Kang (Ik Jo Kang) appear to be Ben’s saving grace, his foster mother Maria (Selenis Leyva) is his true savior, opening up her arms to him no matter the predicament.

In one heartwarming scene, Ben repays Maria’s kindness and acute perception by reaching out to Sonia (Nixie Strazza), a truly kind girl covered with emotional scars who cowers under a facade — a defense mechanism that’s effective in its realistic attributes.

The interaction between Ben and Sonia demonstrates the film’s core message: the importance of being perceptive to signs of bullying or depression and empathetic to those who have experienced loss. In a smart narrative choice, the film emphasizes the fact that in most cases, bullies have been victims of bullying in the past. Dorian (Jack DiFalco), Ben’s bully, possesses a character design that is much more three-dimensional and complex, allowing him to chase redemption for his past mistakes through taekwondo.

As Master Kang, Ik Jo Kang fantastically portrays a stoic sage who is loyal to his teachings — his delivery regarding the true goals of martial arts hits home. Taekwondo is neither about fighting well nor memorizing movement; it is about self-discipline of the body and achieving peace of the mind.

With its heartwarming plot, thoroughly likable characters (led by the Tony Award-nominated Faist), it is no surprise that “I Can I Will I Did” won an Audience Award at the 2017 Asian American International Film Festival and both Best Feature and Best Supporting Actress for Selenis Leyva at the 2017 Sunscreen Film Festival.

— Sophie Kim

‘Solo’

If there’s one word that sums up UC Berkeley and The Daily Californian alumnus David Liu’s “Solo,” it’s unconvincing. The 12-minute short film, produced by the USC School of Cinematic Arts, revolves around young saxophonist Jeffrey (Max Tepper) and his father Alex (George Tsai) who struggle to rebuild their relationship after Alex’s divorce from Jeffrey’s mother.

The film’s main problem lies in its refusal to explore either of the two main relationships that it presents — Jeffrey’s relationship with his father, of course, but also his relationship with jazz. The film strangely insists upon repeating the notion that these two relationships are the sole components of Jeffrey’s personality, never caring to provide insight into either.

The film cuts between scenes showing Jeffrey at home with Alex and scenes showing him in the hallways at school. Every time he is with his father, the film pushes them into a stilted interaction that is more confusing to watch than it is compelling. Even the most emotionally intense of these confrontations — when Alex and Jeffrey come head to head over jazz — crumbles under the weight of the abundant lack of chemistry that the two share.

The two appear more like strangers in a literal sense than in a metaphorical one, and the film provides no background information on the two to suggest the opposite. The clashes between Jeffrey and Alex are painful to watch precisely because there doesn’t seem to be any reason that they should be happening.

Jeffrey’s time at school is no less awkward to watch. It is during these scenes that his love of jazz is finally revealed. Yet, rather than Jeffrey himself slowly revealing his relationship with jazz, it is his best friend Stephan (Armani Barrett) — the only likable character in the whole film — who keeps having to remind Jeffrey that he does, in fact, like jazz. The film’s credibility is ultimately destroyed by the fact that Jeffrey himself is so hesitant to ever acknowledge his feelings toward jazz.

— Sannidhi Shukla

‘Marvel Presents a New Superhero… Model Minority!’

In less than two minutes, the parody “Marvel Presents a New Superhero… Model Minority!” — written by and starring UC Berkeley alumnus Joy Regullano — presents almost all the issues that come with the label “model minority” in a hilarious and hyperbolic way.

The short film starts off by stating that Marvel is introducing a superhero named Model Minority in response to the demand for a more diverse franchise, implying that Marvel is merely interested in the demand of the audience but not actually concerned with Asian representation. Perhaps this subtle implication is a jab in response to the casting of the white Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in “Doctor Strange,” a decision that prioritized white feminism over representation.

The characters are caricatures who dramatize mundane daily activities such as holding a conversation in the kitchen, smartly poking fun at Marvel’s overblown use of quips.

Although the atmosphere that the film establishes is overall lighthearted, it still manages to highlight the disturbing implications that are embedded within the term “model minority.” On the scale of white privilege, Asians are the highest in rank because of an alleged versatility for assimilation. They are the model minority simply because they are the most similar to the white man.

The film hints at the painfully hilarious audacity of privileged white Americans “giving” Asians their unsolicited approval. It portrays the fact that the “model minority” myth is a tool used to wedge Asians and other minorities apart and create a wall between them.

The film inserts a clever plot twist at the end to highlight the threat that harmonious minorities impose to maintaining dominance in the hierarchy. The term “model minority” is a destructive label created by egotistical white supremacists in attempts to justify their discriminatory behavior.

Although the film’s use of special effects and brief flashes of edited photographs bordered on tacky, they were effective in that they complemented the satire and observational humor. Ultimately, the smart script and facetious line delivery both encourage audiences to classify the term “model minority” as pure bullshit.

— Sophie Kim

Presented by the Center for Asian American Media, the 2018 CAAMFest will run through May 24 in San Francisco and Oakland.

Contact Sophie Kim at [email protected]. Contact Sannidhi Shukla at [email protected].

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