Nine years is an eternity for a niche film festival. Longevity means that the organizers are doing something -- programming, organization, outreach -- at a consistently high level.
So take a bow, Asian Film Festival of Dallas, even though the big 10-year anniversary is still a year away. Kicking off Friday with five features and an opening-night reception, the festival will show 33 features and 21 shorts during the next seven days. Action movies will be well-represented, but the event opens and closes with romantic comedies that couldn't be more different.
Friday night's main attraction is Au Revoir Taipei, a delightfully droll and gentle crime story with multiple romances spouting at its core. Directed by Arvin Chen, this Taiwanese valentine has ambitious but inept criminals to go with its young lovers, none of whom seem to know how to close the deal.
Our very soft-spoken hero is Kai (Jack Yao), a bright teen pining for his girlfriend. She's in Paris, and Kai spends most of his free time devouring language books at the bookstore, where he catches the eye of a pretty young clerk (Amber Kuo). Desperate to make it to France, Kai lets an avuncular gangster (Frankie Kao) do him a favor that leads to some minimalist shenanigans.
The hoods in Au Revoir Taipei wear matching orange jumpsuits and act as bored as suburban kids hanging out at the local convenience store. They couldn't bust a grape in a food fight, and Chen has a great deal of fun depicting his criminal element as a bunch of directionless pussycats. If Au Revoir Taipei is a safe opening-night film, it's also a pleasant one.
I wasn't as enamored of its bookend. Festival closer The People I've Slept With too often mistakes subversion for originality, though writer-director Quentin Lee's cast stays appealing despite a tone better fit for a raunchy sitcom.
The good news? You still have an entire week and 32 more features to choose from.