Suite Suite Chinatown

Suite Suite Chinatown
Thursday, July 7, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Winnipeg Cinemathque

Introduced by Aram Siu Wai Collier

In Suite Suite Chinatown, seven artistically diverse, award-winning Chinese Canadian filmmakers from the Greater Toronto Area were asked by the Reel Asian festival, “What is your Chinatown?” Their responses are woven into an interesting multi-genre cinematic vision of Chinatown where anything is possible and the unexpected shall be expected.

Suite Suite Chinatown proffers a place where disposable materials take on mythic qualities; where family histories and personal memories unfold in pixilated layers; where the history of any Chinatowns anywhere can be turned on and off like a light switch. Despite their different approaches to the Chinatown theme, these second-generation filmmakers are unified by a nostalgic concern for Chinatown’s past, present and future.

Chinatown Overture by Howie Shia and Lilian Chan
Lipsync by Howie Shia and Lilian Chan
Pretty Lucky by Serena Lee
Auntie and Uncles by Heather Keung
Elizabeth Street by Lesley Loksi Chan
Plastic Future by Aram Siu Wai Collier
HOW TO PARTY by Joyce Wong

with A New Year Cake by Aram Siu Wai Collier


From Uptown Magazine July 7, 2011

A cinematic exploration of identity and place
Diverse short film program Suite Suite Chinatown examines culture, family and other universal themes through the eyes of seven Chinese-Canadian filmmakers

Neighbourhoods can be much more than mere neighbourhoods. In Roman Polanski’s 1974 classic Chinatown, the titular corner of L.A. was synonymous with oh so much more for cynical private eye J.J. Gittes. And for seven Chinese-Canadian filmmakers, the meanings vary even more widely.

“‘Chinatown’ is not a literal concept,” explains Aram Siu Wai Collier, the project director and editor of Suite Suite Chinatown, a program of artistically diverse shorts playing Cinematheque tonight. Sure, things begin with an animated film prominently featuring a literal Chinatown gate, based on San Francisco’s own.

But the question thrown out by the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival to the participating artists, all hailing from the Greater Toronto Area, was: What is your Chinatown?

“What ties all of the participants’ work together is our shared cultural background,” Collier continues. “But everyone was pretty surprised when they saw each other’s films screened together.

“It was, however, precisely a variety of perspectives we were after.”

That opening short, Chinatown Overture, by Howie Shia and Lilian Chan, sets the tone: evoking classical Chinese ink drawings, the image smears and runs before our eyes as if immersed in water. Whatever ideas, emotions and memories are bound up in Chinatown, we see that, as a notion, it’s one that’s subject to flux.

Showcasing experimental filmmaking, video and animation, Suite Suite Chinatown is alternately moody, funny, eerie, cheerful, lyrical and bittersweet, with an insinuating soundtrack — courtesy of musical director Arthur Yeung — that compels throughout. The visuals range from the brute and direct to the densely, sophisticatedly layered.

Interspersed throughout are further animated shorts by Shia and Chan, whose instructional films on how to speak Mandarin (as performed by a native Cantonese speaker) and Cantonese (as performed by a native Mandarin speaker) provide comic relief.

“To an extent, it was a humorous consideration of how the language sounds to non-Chinese speakers,” Shia says. “But it also comes from growing up as a Chinese-speaking person and being aware of different dialects and accents.

“The larger point is, the Chinese community is not some monolithic thing: there’s diversity within it.”

Then there’s Serena Lee’s Pretty Lucky, which is a veritable riot of “Asian” images: kung fu films, festivals and dragon dances, and karaoke video graphics. Traditional aesthetics, adapted to the artist’s own purposes, are also present in Joyce Wong’s interactive How to Party and Make Good Balloon, which the filmmaker says reflects trends in contemporary Asian cinema and design.

“There’s a lot of nostalgia,” Wong says. “My own grandparents were certainly very traditional in keeping certain traditions, history and values alive.”

“When you’re raised with certain images, stories and celebrations, they become part of you, for sure,” explains the San Francisco-raised Collier, whose own film A New Year Cake has that city’s Chinatown Lunar New Year celebrations for a backdrop.

“But there’s also the idea of what we all take from our families. And our respective upbringings have all affected us in one way or another.”

– Kenton Smith


~ by cineflyer on July 3, 2011.

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