What’s your 20 in 2020?

Samuel Lee shot his movie without a script or crew. | Photo courtesy of the Vancouver Asian Film Festival

Perhaps there is no better phrase to capture the spirit of 2020 than “what’s your 20?” – a film industry vernacular meaning ”what is your location.”

Expanding on the meaning of this special theme, the 24th Vancouver Asian Film Festival (VAFF) hopes to explore issues related to people’s physical and mental states while shedding light on bigger social issues through human stories of aspirations and struggles. All, of course, with the lens zoomed in on the
Asian experience.

VAFF expands

Spurred by the growth of the video-on-demand format since the pandemic, this year’s VAFF will run for nine days online instead of the previous four-day festival. With an aim to support Canadian creators, VAFF boasts half of this year’s films from Canada and half from overseas.

“We have 18 programs and 46 films this year including feature-length and short films. Because of the pandemic, what we want to make sure is we need comedy this year,” VAFF director Lynne Lee says.

Lynne recommends two international features in this category: Secret Zoo from South Korea, about a young corporate lawyer running a zoo, and Little Miss Period from Japan, about how women deal with their
monthly visitors.

The festival opened on Halloween night with the Korean box office hit The Closet, which explores the issue of child neglect, and it will close with a spotlight film Beyond the Dream from Hong Kong that tells of a love story between a recovering schizophrenic and his counsellor with hidden secrets.

“We try to have a wide range of voices that we don’t usually get to see. A lot of films are still probing social issues and are reflective of our society at the current stage,” says Lynne.

The Gyopo experience

Many films have been made that explore the immigrant experience in a new country, but few have been made about second-generation immigrants going back to ancestral homeland seeking connection and identity. Gyopo, a Korean term for Koreans born and raised overseas, is one such film, made by Korean-Canadian director Samuel
Kiehoon Lee.

With a penchant for experimental art videos and a number of shorts previously shown in international film festivals, Samuel made Gyopo his first feature-length work and has already been nominated for a VAFF award.

The film is a hyperlink narrative of a glimpse of one day for a group of loosely-associated Korean ex-pats in Seoul, telling their stories of leaving and arriving, with romance, sex and anything in-between, as well as living the hippy ex-pat lifestyle on the surface of a society where they blend in but don’t belong.

With a cast of 50 people and most of the ex-pats being Lee’s friends and personal contacts, the film is a dramatized fiction based on facts and, as Lee explains, a collection of real stories in Seoul.

“People all have their own journeys of identities. A lot of the characters are trying to figure out who they are; that is something I was going through when I was there. It is funny as an Asian person growing up in the North American context. You leave because you feel like a minority, but when you go to Korea you are a different kind of minority,” says Samuel, who lived in Seoul for more than a decade before returning to Canada.

Shot mostly in black and white with bouts of colours here and there, Samuel uses guerrilla filming techniques combined with styles of video art, documentary and drama, resulting in a production of a unique artistic vision. Creating an interesting contrast with the modern and transient expat story, the film features a soundtrack of old Korean songs from the 70s and 80s.

“The music reminds me of being a gyopo, that there is a whole separate world that I am never a part of because I didn’t grow up in Korea and none of these is my history,” Samuel says.

Calling it a labour of love, the film took him four years to finish. With no script and no crew, Samuel says he had to lug around the equipment all by himself while being the director, the cinematographer and the sound recorder, as well as an actor.

With Asian directors accounting for just about one per cent in the North American film industry according to Lynne, VAFF also aims to support Asian film professionals through a number of industry panel events during the festival.

“There was this myth that there is no box office, so people don’t make films featuring Asians. The truth is a lot of filmmakers in North America are not of diverse backgrounds. I think the world has changed – now people recognize there is a demand – and you need people behind the camera to also be those people who can tell stories authentically,” Lynne says.

For more information, please visit www.festival.vaff.org