The ninth annual Silk Screen Film Festival opens Friday with a party at the Rivers Club, Downtown, and flickers to life Saturday with the first of two dozen features playing through May 4.
Here's a sampling of movies screening the first week of the celebration of Asian films and filmmakers with origins in Asian cultures:
"Confessions of a Murder"
This Korean movie could never be remade in the United States without some fictional tweaks to the criminal justice system. That is because a man steps forward to confess he is a serial killer in a tell-all book, "I Am the Murderer," after the statute of limitations has expired.
A police detective (Jeong Jae-young), who still bears the scar from being slashed in the face by the masked murderer, is outraged and then suspicious that the writer is not guilty. As that dramatic dynamic plays out, the victims' families plot their revenge in this action thriller with a wild "Fast and Furious"-style chase in which someone bounces out of an ambulance and onto the hood of one speeding car and then the next.
"Confession of Murder" is more than a whodunit; it's a scathing look at the media and public's twisted infatuation with celebrities, even ones with blood on their hands. When a TV producer hesitates about trying to book the cop and author together, he's told: "If he kills on live television, it'll be an exclusive, a major one!"
It's exaggerated, energetic and entertaining (not to mention violent, with unnerving shots of bloody knives), with a couple of smart surprises even mystery devotees may not see coming.
In Korean with English subtitles.
Every film festival seems to program at least one film designed to make moviegoers hungry, and "Jadoo" is it for Silk Screen.
The comedy is about rival restaurateurs -- and brothers -- who had a falling out two decades ago. They split the family recipe book in half and went their separate ways with the elder sibling getting the secrets to the starters and the younger for the main courses.
When London lawyer Shalini (Amara Karan), daughter to one chef and niece to the other, gets engaged to a trauma surgeon (Tom Mison), it's not his ethnic background that becomes the sticking point. Shalini wants the feuding family members to prepare her wedding banquet together; if they refuse, she won't have a Hindi ceremony and celebration.
Award-winning actress and cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey, who appears as herself, says it best in talking about food courses and brothers: "The balance between them is so perfect I honestly can't imagine having one without the other."
The English-language film, adapted from director-writer Amit Gupta's play for BBC Radio 4, keeps the mood light even when the tempers flare. It's pleasant, if predictable, and suggests of anyone with an appetite: "God has blessed everyone with the potential to be Indian."
"A Time in Quchi"
Bao (Liangyu Yang) arrives in rural Quchi in Taiwan as a city kid wedded to his phone and tablet and unhappy at the prospect of spending the summer with his widowed grandfather (Kuan Yun-loong).
The elder is appalled by the 10-year-old's tattered socks and shoes and acknowledgement that he sometimes fixes his own meals, due to the schedules of his about-to-divorce parents. "You two are so busy working. All you think about is making money," the grandfather scolds his son.
Bao is sullen, bored and lonely at first but he slowly warms to the rhythms of the country, the small school nearby and his grandfather's ways. Unexpected events, including one sorrowful turn involving a classmate, force him to mature and to see life and loss in a new way.
At 109 minutes, "A Time in Quchi" moves slowly, too slowly, at times but the children -- who include Bao's nettlesome little sister -- are utterly natural. The language and setting may be foreign but generational differences, fractured families and children longing to feel as if they belong are universal.
In Mandarin and Min Nan with English subtitles.
"The Garden of Words"
"A Chorus Line" famously had the song "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three."
This feature might be summarized as: "Story: Three; Looks: Ten." The animation is lovely but "Garden of Words" seems aimed at teenagers much like Takao, a 15-year-old Japanese boy who regularly skips school to sketch shoe designs in a park that serves as a city oasis.
He misses class when it's raining and his favorite pavilion is also occupied by a mysterious woman who seems to exist on a diet of beer and chocolate bars. Takao, who has an older brother but is pretty much on his own, romantically imagines that the stranger represents every secret the adult working world holds.
The teen decides to design and construct a pair of shoes for the woman, "to make her want to get up and walk and find her way."
From director Makoto Shinkai, "Garden" features generically rendered people but near-photographic animation of the park modeled on Shijuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo. Shafts of sunlight pierce through dense leafy trees, skies glow pink and blue or turn ominously gunmetal gray, and the city is a tangle of cars, trains, traffic lights and concrete buildings.
The tale turns improbable and inappropriate when the identity of the young woman is revealed. At just 48 minutes long (it's being shown with the 17-minute short, "Cheong") it's like a spiky sandal that looks beautiful on the rack and foot but lacks support to go the daily distance.