Clever love letter, flawed film

Webisodes in search of a through line: “Awesome” works best when riffing on its absurd premise.  Photo courtesy of the filmmakers & AAIFF
Webisodes in search of a through line: “Awesome” works best when riffing on its absurd premise. Photo courtesy of the filmmakers & AAIFF

BY SEAN EGAN  |  This feature from the National Film Society boasts a clever, meta premise and a game cast, but never quite capitalizes on those assets. It tells the tale of two eager Asian-American filmmakers who round up some of their favorite Asian actors famous for their villainous roles in action movies, in order to take down a dangerous crime syndicate.

At The Asian American
International Film Festival
Written by Milton Liu
Directed by Patrick Epino and Stephen Dypiangco
Runtime: 54 minutes
Fri., July 25, at 6 p.m. at City Cinemas Village East (Second Ave. & 12th St.)
Sat., July 26, at 2 p.m. at Made in NY Media Center (30 John St., Brooklyn)
Tickets: $13
$11 for students/seniors/disabled
Visit aaiff.org/2014/schedule
A director/producer/writer Q&A follows each screening

The story never really develops beyond this clever hook though, and the whole thing seems stretched thin even over the meager running time. Indeed, the project is, in actuality, a season of a web series edited together — and its clear that the nonsensical plot was not designed to be scrutinized in the way one unbroken sitting compels you to do. And like a lot of web series looking for viral success, the humor is too often broad and sophomoric in a way that doesn’t really land.

‘Awesome’ is so-so, but has some kick to it

When the series stops trying so hard with its telegraphed laughs, and simply lets the goofy absurdity of its premise and cast be, it works way better. The cast of Asian badasses has an infectious energy when bouncing off of one another and riffing on their onscreen personas (Randall Park, in particular, has crack comedic timing). Also infectious is the earnest sense of excitement the filmmakers bring to working with these actors. Their un-ironic love of these mostly forgotten bit-players touches on important ideas about representation in media, and makes the whole thing a tribute way more affecting than it has any right to be. As a comedy, and as a film, “Awesome Asian Bad Guys” frequently misses the mark and feels underdeveloped — but as a love letter, it works just fine.

This film is preceded by Robbie Ikegami’s 16-minute “Pull Over To Kill” — about two Japanese Yakuza hitmen who, while driving through the California desert, learn they’ve been double crossed.