Dave Rice 12:38 p.m., May 21
SDAFF tonight: 2 by H. P. Mendoza
"Yes, We're Open" and "I Am a Ghost" screen at UltraStar Mission Valley at Hazard Center
Friends of the San Diego Asian Film Festival will no doubt remember screenwriter H.P. Mendoza and director Richard Wong’s Colma: the Musical, winner of the festival’s 2006 Jury Award. Mendoza’s directorial nod, Fruit Fly, played SDAFF ‘09.
The two return this year with the hot, sexy, and consistently hilarious romantic comedy, Yes, We’re Open in addition to Mendoza’s second directorial effort, I Am a Ghost.
If you live in Colma, California, the “graveyard capital of the world” where the dead outnumber the living 1,500 to 1, there isn’t a whole hell of a lot to do but sing the blues. Why not work it out on paper, write a catchy set of tunes and transform the hell that is your life into a low-budget musical that would make Edgar G. Ulmer proud?
That’s exactly what screenwriter/lyricist/actor and future director H. P. Mendoza did. The material was originally conceived as an indie pop album for a San Francisco stage show. Mendoza sent his friend Richard Wong one of the songs asking whether it was worthy of a posting on the composer’s MySpace account.
Wong was so impressed, the tune instantly became the catalyst for Colma, his feature film debut. In a week, Mendoza assembled a first draft and as “a sort of hopelessly romantic summer project,” Wong cobbled together $15,000 to film this bouncy, poison pen love letter to the city that spawned him.
Yes, We’re Open begins with a spirited musical montage and closes with a tune that in a perfect world would take home this year’s best original song Oscar. Mendoza and Wong aren’t interested in retracing past glories; if anything, H. P. is set on working in as many genres as possible as evidenced by his romcom and horror thriller debuting on the same night.
SDAFF favorites Lynn Chen and Parry Shen star as Sylvia and Luke, a frightfully “modern couple” trying to iron out a few wrinkles in the bedroom. The opening shot reveals much about the relationship dynamic. As he gently works his lips around her nose and mouth, Shen sparks a call-and-response game of “I love you.” As his affirmations become increasingly direct, Chen’s take on a more patronizing tone. What’s an obnoxious jerk to do but shatter the mood with a Quizno’s-fueled greptz?
When confronted with the prospect of a pair of improbably hot swingers (Sheetal Sheth and Kerry McCrohan) the couple’s new age philosophy is put to the test. The results are a romance-avowing confirmation that true love conquers as well as a lesson for all on the fine line that exists between assholism and douchebaggery.
One knock: as much as Mendoza and Wong long to cover all genres, interweaving a mock, black-and-white pre-code melodrama throughout the picture added nothing. They obviously didn’t have the financial means to pull it off and the point of the narrative parallels were lost on this viewer.
I Am a Ghost is basically a one-character, one-haunted house picture with a twist: the story takes place from the point-of-view of the specter. With the help of an unseen psychic medium (Jeannie Barroga), Emily (Anna Ishida) has to relive each day until she is able to move on to "the next place." If the concept of Groundhog Day with a shrink, a few unexpected shivers, and impeccable production design interests you, make a beeline for UltraStar Mission Valley at Hazard Center.
Yes, We're Open shows tonight at 8:35 pm with the cast and crew scheduled to attend. Mendoza will also be on hand when I am a Ghost screens at 9:15 pm. (There's a repeat performance on Tuesday, November 6 at 8 pm.) General admission tickets are $11.50. Click for more information.