Expanding your horizons is a pretty popular pastime nowadays, and plenty of folks decided to spend this past Sunday, blazing cultural trails at the Angelika Dallas, for the centerpiece showcase of the 13th annual Asian Film Festival of Dallas.
The theater began to fill as showtime neared. Some moviegoers were eating miso braised pork or soy roasted shitake mushrooms, wrapped in steamed buns - think the Asian version of tacos - provided free of charge to the crowd awaiting the centerpiece film, Samurai Hustle.
Other movie goers guarded their spots in line with stoic excitement. The cacophony of several languages spoken at once grew louder as the line grew longer. Festival veterans, yuppie newcomers and Asians expats looking for a slice of nostalgia waited with grins and laughter.
By the time we settled in our seats, I overheard one woman comment on how many white people were in the crowd."People think it's going to be all Kung-Fu movies and anime," 12 year AFFD veteran, Phillip Robinson told me about the festival.
And while this year came with its share of action packed fight scenes and zany anime features like, The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow, which was a tale of a satellite that turns into a magical girl and an aspiring musician turned moo-cow by, get this, "dark magic" - well, that's only the tip of the cinematic iceberg.
Samurai Hustle, is a high speed comedy affair, that while distinctly Japanese, felt rather similar to big budget Hollywood comedies.The film follows the enigmatic leader of a poor northern clan in feudal Japan, Masaatsu Naito (Kuranosuke Sasaki). Having just returned after his bi-annual trek to the capital city Edo, Naito and his men are immediately ordered to return to the capital, or face death and more important, eternal humiliation.
The catch is they only have five days to make the eight to ten day march to the capital (hence the hustle), and to make matters worse, the clan is dead broke. Naito and his samurai's plans run awry, as everything from ruthless ninja to nosey brothel owners complicate their mad dash for redemption.
The film was a fun ride, but it felt surprisingly familiar for me. There was even a lovable monkey character, a la The Hangover, and don't get me started on the side story involving Naito's struggle with closing the bathroom door.
The appeal of Samurai Hustle to those unfamiliar with Asian cinema was not lost on me, but if you're look for something more adventurous - and less decidedly Western - Man From Reno, might be up your alley.
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The film was produced in part by AFFD co-founder Mye Hoang, and involves clashing cultures and romantic intrigue between a mysterious Japanese traveler and a mystery novelist.
"[AFFD is] growing more and more diverse, especially in Dallas, and yet Hollywood is not making movies that reflect that diversity," Hoang says. "If they do cast an Asian person it's usually like, someone playing the Chinese take-out guy or an Asian prostitute ... They just want to be cast as human beings."
For ticket info and show times, head to asianfilmdallas.com. Don't miss out on seeing some of the best Asian movies this side of the Mississippi.
Be sure to check out the festival's closing night (July 17) film, As the Light Goes Out, which is essentially Rescue Me in Cantonese. Hong Kong fire fighters Ho Wing-Sam (Nicholas Tse), Yip Chi-Fai (Andy Oh) and Chill (Shawn Yue) are fallen out friends faced with a burning maze of office politics and family woes as all of Hong Kong is plunged into darkness.