Issues of economic struggle and its fallout form the core of many of the best films screening in this year’s Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival celebrates its 25th anniversary with an exceptionally strong program. Opening night’s film Children of Invention, a lean, low-budget work from director Tze Chun, based on his 2007 short Window Breaker, explores the desperation that drives a divorced Chinese mother of two to fall for the get-rich-quick-schemes that plunge her deeper into debt. The gifted child actors — off-the-charts cute, refreshingly free of Hollywood precociousness — solidly anchor the film (which is set in Boston), but it’s Chun’s insights into the ways that poverty (complicated by factors of immigration, cultural gender biases and con artists exploiting desperation) erodes spirit that give Children its political and emotional heft. Christopher Wong’s fast-moving, hugely enjoyable documentary Whatever It Takes tracks the first year of a small, embattled South Bronx high school and its novice principal Edward Tom, a business-world hotshot turned educator. Though a third-act turnaround by one troubled student comes off as Hollywood-style redemption (too much information has been left on the editing-room floor), the film offers an absorbing look at the attributes and foibles of a local hero navigating the social and cultural landmines of the modern American public school. On a completely different, irresistible wavelength is Love Exposure, Sion Sono’s hypnotically demented journey through religious fanaticism and Japan’s guerrilla porn subcultures, as experienced by a hero who engages in a little gender-fuck. When gentle spirit Yu sees the peaceful home he shares with his widower priest father usurped by a horny parishioner, Yu tries to recover his father’s affections by becoming the consummate sinner. Soon he’s battling a cult, trying to court a baby dyke, and working for a big-name porn company. In the midst of his shape-shifting plot lines, Sono also flips narrative point of view to keep the viewer guessing, and it’s all a thrill until a disappointingly retro resolution regarding lesbian sexuality. Also recommended is Tadashi Nakamura’s hugely moving short A Song for Ourselves, which celebrates the life and legacy of the late Asian-American musician-activist Chris Iijima, an unsung hero of America’s progressive political movement. The film illuminates the roles Asians played in the 1960s civil rights movement, forging political alliances while asserting their own identities, while the portrait of Iijima himself — his oldest son’s anguish at not having his father around; his wife’s teary confession that the world makes no sense without him; his own words on how he came to create himself — will make your heart ache. (Directors Guild of America & Sunset 5; through Thurs., May 7. www.vconline.org)
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