Among the some 30 films screening at the Asian Film Festival of Dallas this weekend, at both the Magnolia Theater and the Dallas Museum of Art, there are several that merit essential-viewing status: Takashi Miike's nutty Gozu, which even David Lynch might find a tad confounding; Juh-hwan Jeong's closing-night Save the Green Planet, a paranoid sci-fi-comedy-something-or-other about a man who believes earth's about to be overthrown by aliens; Wai Keung Lau and Siu Fai Mak's Infernal Affairs II, the thrilling yet occasionally inscrutable prequel to, duh, Infernal Affairs; and Ramona Diaz's Imelda, a trenchant and accidentally hysterical doc about the Filipino leader. (Come to think of it, the entire schedule is killer, no filler, down to the inclusion of an old Wong Kar-Wai movie, 1991's Days of Being Wild.)
But of all the offerings, none's more worthy of attention than Ian Gamazon and Neill Dela Llana's Cavite, a small movie deserving an enormous audience. Gamazon, who co-everythinged with Llana, plays a 32-year-old Filipino named Adam, who lives in San Diego but barely exists. He's a late-night security guard whose girlfriend informs him, over the phone, she's going to have an abortion and leave him for a co-worker. All that changes when he arrives in the Philippines to visit his family and finds in his backpack a strange cell phone and pictures of his mother and sister, bound and gagged. The voice on the phone, menacing yet calming, informs Adam that if he doesn't do as he's told, his family will die.
It turns out the voice belongs to a member of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist organization trying to wrest the country from the government using unwilling bombers to do their dirty deeds. The voice wants the Americanized immigrant to see his homeland as it really is: His is a nasty scavenger hunt that finds him slogging through squalid squatters' camps and horrific cockfights and violent neighborhoods. I've seen Cavitethree times now in the span of 36 hours, first to appreciate the thrilling bare-bones narrative (Blair Witch Projectmeets Phone Booth, only much, much better), then to marvel at the ingenuity of two young filmmakers spinning gold out of tinfoil, then to gawk at the masterful craft of a movie that looks as though it had been made by old pros. It's astounding, a wonderful part of a wonderful film fest that gets better every single year.