Touch of gold

5 films vie for the film festival's
Golden Maile Award


In 1994, the Hawai'i International Film Festival inaugurated the Golden Maile Awards -- now sponsored by First Hawaiian Bank -- to recognize the outstanding cinematic achievements in our film festival. An international jury bestows these awards on films exhibit unique artistry and technical excellence, best promote cultural understanding.

This year, the films nominated for the honor in the Best Feature Film category are: "Eyes of a Beauty" (China/PRC), "KT" (Japan), "Mr. & Mrs. Iyer" (India), "Somewhere Over the Dreamland" (Taiwan) and "Women's Prison" (Iran).

Two of the nominees are reviewed here. A review of "Women's Prison" will run in tomorrow's Today section, and "Somewhere Over the Dreamland" will run on Thursday. No tape or advance screening was provided for "KT."

Best Documentary nominees are: "Daughter From Yan'an" (Japan), "A Dream in Hanoi: A True Story of Love, Stage Fright and Noodle" (USA/Vietnam), "Georgie Girl" (New Zealand), "Spellbound" (USA) and "A Wedding in Ramallah" (Australia).

The award winners will be announced by HIFF on Thursday, with the winning feature film to be screened at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Dole Cannery 10 theater and the documentary award winner at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Doris Duke at the Academy.

For more information and film synopses, visit our Web site or

Today's reviews:
"Eyes of a Beauty" | "Mr. & Mrs. Iyer"
"My Life As McDull"


Hawai'i International Film Festival

When: Through Sunday on Oahu
Schedules: Pick up copies at Dole Signature Theatres and at Starbucks and Blockbuster locations;
Theaters: Signature Dole Cannery, the Doris Duke at the Academy, Consolidated's Waikiki Twins 2 theater and Blaisdell Center
Tickets: Per film, $7 general; $6 (children, military, students and 62 and older); $1 discount for matinees
Call: 528-4433

Neighbor islands

When: Friday through Nov. 10
Locations: Kauai Community College Performing Arts Center (808-823-8444); Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theatre, Maui Community College Ka Lama No. 103 and Ritz-Carlton Kapalua (808-573-4242); Kaunakakai School on Molokai (808-553-3455); and University of Hawaii at Hilo Campus Center, Palace Theatre and Keauhou Cinema on the Big Island (808-969-9412 in East Hawaii and 808-322-2323 in West Hawaii)

HIFF Web site
HIFF screening schedule

Beyond the Mailes

Other award categories at the Hawai'i International Film Festival:

The Blockbuster Video Audience Award: Winner chosen by public vote.

The Aloha Airlines Hawai'i Film & Videomaker Award: This showcases the talents of the Hawaii film and video community. Since 1990 this award has given local filmmakers recognition to help encourage the film industry's growth. The award winner will be shown at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at the Doris Duke at the Academy.

The Film in Hawai'i Award: Presented by the State of Hawaii to the film or TV entity that has significantly contributed to promoting the local film industry. The recipient may be a filmmaker, star, or a production company that has helped build Hawaii's reputation as a film location.

NETPAC Award: Given at select film festivals to promote Asian cinema by spotlighting exceptional works and/or new talent. HIFF is the only festival in North America with permission to present the NETPAC Award. NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) was founded in 1990 by the Asia journal Cinemaya, and UNESCO. The award winner will be selected from all first and second directorial efforts of Asian feature films playing at this year's festival.

The Eastman Kodak Award for Excellence in Cinematography: Peter Pau is the recipient for his work embracing Eastern and Western film styles, with his camerawork on "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" earning him a Oscar for Best Cinematography, 2000.

The judges

Chris Lee: Co-chairman, University of Hawaii cinematic and digital arts degree program/University of Hawaii film school; former Columbia-TriStar studios president.
Keiko Araki: Pia Film Festival director
Mabel L. Cheung: Director of "The Illegal Immigrants," "City of Glass" and "Beijing Rocks."
Richard Chew: A documentary cameraman and editor.
Ahmed Lateef: The Hollywood Foreign Press Association representative is an award-winning director of TV commercials.

China's Golden Maile nominee, "Eyes of a Beauty," stars Qianqian Yang as a teenager who yearns for life in Hong Kong.

‘Eyes’ puts historical beauty
in tale of 3 modern women

"Eyes of a Beauty"
Playing at 1 p.m. Thursday at Waikiki Twins 2

Review by Christina Chun

Chinese history is full of events memorialized in literature and paintings. But history often ignores the secret selves of its characters. In "Eyes of a Beauty," director Guan Hu explores the personality of legendary beauty Xi Shi through the patient unveiling of three modern-day women.

Axi (Qianqian Yang) is a cheerful and photogenic rural teenager planning an escape to Shanghai with her boyfriend. Shi Yu (Yili Ma) is a pretty 26-year-old high school teacher trying to walk a proper, filial path despite her unhappiness. Lian Wen (Yiqun Huang) is a beautiful but aging opera singer facing the downhill slide of her personal and professional life.

Xi Shi herself is a fourth character. She is virtually ignored in the English release because her story is sung in fits by opera performer Lian Wen, and these parts are left untranslated.

These "missing" scenes create chasms in the story line. We can only know Xi Shi indirectly from the marks she left on everyday life, such as lending her name to a type of tea and torreya nuts.

She must be important. The setting of the movie is in Zhuji, a small town in southern China, where she was born. Even the title, "Eyes of a Beauty," could also be translated into "Eyes of Xi Shi." Axi's sales pitch mentions her, and later we see how it relates to Shi Yu's predicament. There are the ever-present torreya nuts that Lian Wen likes so much, which are also known as "eyes of Xi Shi."

Just a warning: You may want to challenge yourself to see how much of the story you can grasp before reading the following synopsis of the opera:

Xi Shi was one of the four most beautiful women in Chinese history. She is credited with the destruction of a kingdom, but that achievement was brought about at great personal sacrifice and submission to Confucian morality. This is chronicled in the story of "Xi Shi Cuts the Hawser," the unexplained opera featured in the film.

More than 2,000 years ago, there was a war between the kingdoms of Yue and Wu. The armies of Wu defeated Yue and captured the king, his queen and Gen. Fanli. These three were forced to raise horses under dreadful conditions.

Gen. Fanli had previously met Xi Shi, a weaver's daughter, while she was washing silk in a river. They fell in love and admired each other for many years.

The royal couple and the general were eventually released, but the king of Yue rejected his palace and lived in a shack with his wife to remind himself daily of his humiliation.

Gen. Fanli was the king of Yue's loyal subject. He knew the king of Wu was prone to extravagance and dissipation. Fanli planned to subvert the king of Wu's rule by sending the gift of a beautiful woman to seduce him and scatter his wealth and vitality.

He entrusted Xi Shi with this task. Though she loved him, morality dictated she should go to the king of Wu.

Despite tears, on the day of departure, she resolutely cut the rope binding her boat to the wharf.

So the film's heroines silent motivations and parallels are illuminated and enforced by the opera above. Does Axi escape from her village? Did Shi Yu sacrifice her true love? What will Lian Wen do after her divorce? If you were wondering at any point, look for clues in the story of Xi Shi.

As Lian Wen says, there is a little of the legendary beauty in every woman. In the end of "Eyes of a Beauty" contemporary Chinese women show what the historical Xi Shi might have been like and vice versa.

It's just too bad the opera wasn't translated.

"Mr. & Mrs. Iyer," a film from India, is a nominee for the Hawai'i International Film Festival's Golden Maile Award.

Tale of love and hate
plays out in crowded bus

Review by Christina Chun

Tamil Brahmin Mrs. Meenakshi Iyer (Konkona Sensharma) and her baby Santhanam leave for Calcutta on the same little red and white bus as helpful photographer Raja Chowdhary (Rahul Bose). Having met just before entering the bus, she leans on his steady arm for help with her unusually fussy son.

When their bus driver encounters a roadblock, he decides to take a misty mountainous shortcut. The bus is stopped and boarded by rioting Hindu villagers looking for Muslims to punish. The furious thugs test the male passengers by asking their names and having them drop their pants. Those missing their foreskin are singled out as being hideously Muslim.

Against this treacherous backdrop, fiercely Orthodox Hindu Meenakshi finds out that temperate Raja is Muslim. "I drank his water!" she cries, in a bout of self-loathing. Even so, she saves his life by claiming they are a Hindu couple.

Director and screenwriter Aparna Sen has composed a touching journey of kindness, trust and fragile love across religious lines. Kindness and humanity are not exclusive to any one religious group. It's a concept easily transferable to the relationships between Israelis and Pakistanis along the Gaza Strip, Catholics and Protestants in Belfast, or Christians and Muslims in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

It's a good message, though its execution comes with serious flaws.

The little red and white bus is a miniature India, as crowded as the real one, with people from differing faiths and generations. Hindi is spoken occasionally. British English, however, is the main vehicle of communication. It renders the film's English subtitles redundant and distracting.

The next day, after the death of an old man and his wife, life on the bus is cheerfully back to normal. Somewhat later, Meenakshi witnesses a brutal killing. Raja comforts her, repeating, "Forget it, forget it, it's OK." Is our indifference to nearby violence and our ability to forget desirable? Sen seems to think so, but doesn't confront the issue.

As in many good Indian films, beautiful music is an integral part of the supporting scheme. However, I found at least one romantic forest scene to be heavy-handed, with an abrupt swelling of ecstatic melodies and fuzzy filters dropping over the camera lens for that glamorous studio portrait feeling.

I was jolted out of my suspension of disbelief. "Ooohkaaay," my companion snickered, rolling his eyes.

The movie could have done well without its overtly romantic blundering. Meenakshi and Raja's relationship develops quite naturally on its own without romance being forced upon them by the production staff.

Konkona Sensharma, the director's daughter, overacts her role in places as Meenakshi, with a high voice and whiny, self-serving dialogue that made me want to slap her several times. This may have been a difference in cultural ideals of feminine beauty and personality. That aside, she adequately performs her purpose as the evolving main character.

"Cool Bombay boy" Rahul Bose is creditable as Meenakshi's foil, yet too unruffled as Raja. It's his compassionate voice that delivers director Sen's ultimate message.

Final verdict: The ending is taken to its logical conclusion, splits delicately and leaves us feeling bereft but wiser. While the film feeds us its message clumsily loaded with too much sugar, Mr. & Mrs. Iyer is still an enjoyable mix of tension and humor, fear and acceptance.

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