RogerEbert.com and Asian Pacific American Heritage Month 2020 Edition

The year 2020 started off on a joyous note as Asia and Asian Americans seemed to be making progress. “Crazy Rich Asians” had brought welcome attention to Asian Americans on and off screen in 2018, “The Farewell” had received critical acclaim in 2019 and the Korean movie “Parasite” made Oscar history in February 2020.

Yet #ThisIs2016 wasn’t that long ago.  The New York Times’ then-deputy Metro editor, Michael Luo (He is currently editor of NewYorker.com.) started that hashtag after a confrontation on a Manhattan sidewalk.

Lately,  I can’t stop thinking about a time when Asian Americans were warned not to visit Detroit after a Chinese American man named Vincent Chin was murdered by men who thought he was Japanese in 1982. Now, I wonder if there is anywhere Asian Americans are safe in the US, outside of Hawaii. In Los Angeles County, Asian Americans  make up about 10 percent of the population. They are 16 percent in Pasadena, 47 percent in Monterey Park and 53 percent in San Marino. Yet last month, I’ve spoke with two people who have experienced first-hand the rise of anti-Asian sentiment in Los Angeles: Tzi Ma and Rosalind Chao.

Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month 2020 has become harder because of COVID-19.  Online Hulu and Amazon Prime Video have some provided subscribers with a list of offerings, but below are lists of books and movies generated by myself and other Asians Americans.

Jana J. Monji

My short stories are included in “Bold Words: A Century of Asian American Writing” and in the “Asian American Literary Review “(Spring 2012).

“American Experience: The Chinese Exclusion Act” (2018)

“Asian Americans” (2020)

“Diamonds in the Rough: The Legacy of Japanese-American Baseball” (2004)

“Great Performances: The Year of the Dragon” (1975) with George Takei

“The Joy Luck Club” (1993)

“Hollywood Chinese” (2007)

“Searching” (2018)

“The Slanted Screen” (2006) by Jeff Adachi pointed me to the James Shigeta 1961 movie, “Bridge to the Sun,” and the story of Gwen Terasaki.

“A Thousand Pieces of Gold” (1991)

“What’s Wrong with Frank Chin?” (2005)

“Who Killed Vincent Chin?” (1987)

“You Don’t Know Jack” (2009) by Jeff Adachi. The film reminded me about “Barney Miller” and introduced me to Jack Soo’s Motown recording of “For Once in My Life.”

Rosalind Chao

Chao was recurring in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” as Keiko O’Brien. She is in the upcoming “Mulan.”

“Chan Is Missing” (1982) by Wayne Wang

“Eat a Bowl of Tea” (1989) by Wayne Wang

“The Joy Luck Club” (1993)

“Pen15” web TV series on Hulu

“Plus One” (2019) Written and directed by Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer.

“Tigertail” (2020)

“A Thousand Pieces of Gold” (1991)

Frank Chin 

Chin was one of the editors for the Asian American anthology, “Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian-American Writers” (1974) and “The Big Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American Literature (1991). Chin wrote an essay called “Come All Ye Asian American Writers of the Real and the Fake,” in which he criticizes Maxine Hong Kingston (“The Woman Warrior”), David Henry Hwang (“M. Butterfly”) and Amy Tan (“The Joy Luck Club”). 

“La Bataille” (1923) with Sessue Hayakawa

“The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957) for which Sessue Hayakawa received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

“Chinaman’s Chance” (1972) directed by Ene Riisna.

“Hell to Eternity” (1960) with Sessue Hayakawa

“The Last of the Line” (1914) with Sessue Hayakawa

“Tokyo Joe” (1949) with Sessue Hayakawa

“What’s Wrong with Frank Chin?” (2005) by Curtis Choy

Judy Chu

Chu is the Representative for California’s 27th congressional district, and the first Chinese American woman elected to Congress.

“Always Be My Maybe” (2019): “We have to have a little humor.”

“The Farewell” (2019)

“Little America” (2020)

“Tigertail” (2020)

Books:

“Duty & Honor: A Tribute to Chinese American World War II Veterans of Southern California.” (1998) Chu’s father mentioned.

“My Country Versus Me” by Wen Ho Lee with Helen Zia (2001)

Arthur Dong

Founder of DeepFocus Productions, Dong received an Oscar nomination for his documentary short “Sewing Woman” (1984), a film about his mother’s immigration from China to the US. He received a Peabody Award for “Coming Out Under Fire” which documents the military’s policy toward gays during World War II. His 2007 documentary “Hollywood Chinese” won a Golden Horse Award for Best Documentary. In 2015, his “The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor” won the Audience Award at the VC Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. He just published “Hollywood Chinese: The Chinese in American Feature Films.”

“The Curse of Quon Gwon” (1917)

“The Curse of Quon Gwon” is considered the earliest-known Asian American feature film, and one of the few American silent films directed by a woman. It was produced in Oakland, California by San Francisco-born Marion Wong, who also directed, wrote and acted in the film. According to surviving reels and scant records, it tells a story of Chinese Americans who grapple with questions of reverence to cultural heritage. The film never found wide distribution, but was selected for inclusion in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry of historical and culturally significant American films.

“Blossom Time” (aka “Romance of the Songsters”), 1933.

Directed and produced by Joseph Sunn Jue in San Francisco, this feature film told a love story between Cantonese opera performers and is considered one of the first Cantonese-dialect films ever made. The success of Blossom Time kick-started Jue and his Grandview Film Company towards a successful productivity in both Hong Kong and in San Francisco, where he was responsible for over 25 films that told Chinese American stories, all made during the late 1930s-40s in his Chinatown studio.

“Heartaches” (aka “Sum Hun”), 1936

Directed by Frank Tang and produced by Esther Eng under her San Francisco
Chinatown-based company, the Kwong Ngai Talking Pictures Company (Cathay
Pictures), Heartaches follows the romance between a Chinese American aviator and a Cantonese opera performer. The feature film is the first-known Chinese language film shot in Hollywood. The San Francisco-born Eng, a pioneer filmmaker who lived and worked openly as a lesbian, directed some eleven films during the 1930s-40s, both in Hong Kong and in San Francisco. After filmmaking, Eng ran a string of successful restaurants in New York City.

“Charlie Chan in Honolulu,” 1939

One of over forty films in the Charlie Chan series, which are often maligned by cultural critics for its yellow face casting, Charlie Chan in Honolulu includes scenes that highlight Chan’s Chinese American offspring. These scenes, portrayed by Chinese American actors, feature themes of assimilation and generational conflicts that play out in endearing and humorous moments, traits that were unusually insightful for Hollywood films of the era. Central to the plot is Chan’s son, James, portrayed by Victor Sen Yung, who viewers may recall as the master of ceremonies who sang “Gliding Through My Memoree”  in “Flower Drum Song,” and as Hop Sing in the “Bonanza” TV series.

“King of Chinatown,” 1939

Different from her previous exoticized and sexualized roles, iconic actress Anna May Wong portrays Dr. Mary Ling in King of Chinatown, a character inspired by real-life pioneer Chinese American physician, Dr. Margaret Chung, of San Francisco. Appearing with Wong was Korean American actor Philip Ahn; the two worked together earlier in the 1937 film, Daughter of Shanghai, and both films featured the actors playing three-dimensional characters, which were atypical of Hollywood productions during that time.

Geeta Gandbhir

Director and producer of “Asian Americans” and won a shared (with Samuel D. Pollard and Arielle Amsalem) primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Picture Editing for Nonfiction Programming for “By the People: The Election of Barack Obama” (2009) and (shared with Samuel D. Pollard and Nancy Novack) “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts” (2006).

“American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs” (2013)

“Crazy Rich Asians” (2018)

“Enter the Dragon” (1973)

“The Farewell” (2019)

“Gook” (2017)

“Mississippi Masala” (1991)

“Refugee” (2000)

Books
“The Sympathizer” (2015)

“Pachinko” (2017)

“Patron Saints of Nothing” (2019)

“Internment” (2019)

“The Leavers” (2017)

Manjusha Kulkarni

Kulkarni is the executive director of A3PCON, the Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council, a coalition of community-based organizations that advocates for the rights and needs of the Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) Community in the greater Los Angeles area, with a particular focus on low income, immigrant, refugee and other disadvantaged sectors of the population. A3PCON has a “Stop AAPI Hate” incident report webpage.

Movies:
“Always Be My Maybe” (2019)
“The Farewell” (2019)
“The Joy Luck Club” (1993)
“Meet the Patels” (2014)
“Namesake” (2016)
“The Problem with Apu” (2017)
Books:
“Interpreter of Maladies” (1999) by Jhumpa Lahiri
“Unaccustomed Earth” (2008) by Jhumpa Lahiri
“The Joy Luck Club” (1989)
“The Making of Asian America” (2015) by Erika Lee
“Desis Divided” (2016) by Sangay K. Mishra
Tzi Ma 
Ma stars in the Netflix film, “Tigertail.”  He played the father of the main character in last year’s “The Farewell” and in this year’s live-action “Mulan.” He is also featured in the campaign, Wash the Hate.
“The Sand Pebbles” (1966)
“The Hawaiians” (1970)
“The Joy Luck Club” (1993)
“Chan Is Missing” (1982)
“The Great Wall” (2016)
“Hiro Hata: Raise the Banner” (1980)
“Flower Drum Song” (1961)
Renee Tajima-Peña
Tajima-Peña is an Oscar-nominated director (shared with Christine Choy) for “Who Killed Vincent Chin? and the winner for Best Documentary for the same movie at the Hawaii International Film Festival and the International Documentary Association. She is one of the producers of the PBS documentary series “Asian Americans.”
“Better Luck Tomorrow” (2002) by Justin Lin
“Chan Is Missing” (1982) by Wayne Wang
“Delano Manongs” (2014) by Marissa Aroy
“The Dragon Painter” (1919) with Sessue Hayakawa
“Enter the Dragon” (1973) with Bruce Lee
“Journey from the Fall” (2006) by Ham Tran
“Mississippi Masala” (1991) by Mira Naim
All the Grandview Pictures movies that Arthur Dong is unearthing.
Books:
“America Is in the Heart” by Carlos Bulosan
“Moving the Image” Visual Communications
“The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen
“The Making of Asian America” by Erika Lee
“Bengali Harlem” by Vivek Bald
“Serve the People” by Karen Ishizuka

Nayan B. Shah

Nayan Shah is Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at University of Southern California and the author of “Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality and the Law in the North American West” (University of California Press, 2011) and “Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown” (University of California Press, 2001). He is one of the featured experts on the PBS documentary series, “Asian Americans.”

“Better Luck Tomorrow” (2002)
“Chan is Missing” (1982)
“Chutney Popcorn” (1999) by Nisha Galantra
“Colma: The Musical” (2006) by Richard Wong
“Cosmopolitan” (2003) Nisha Galantra
“Gook”  (2017) by Justin Chon
“The Grace Lee Project” (2005) by Grace Lee
“The Half of It” (2020) by Alice Wu
“Late Night” (2019) by Nisha Galantra
“Meet the Patels” (2014) by Ravi Patel and Geeta Patel
“Mississippi Masala” (1991)
“The Motel” (2005) by Michael Kang
“The Namesake” (2006)
“Saving Face” (2004) by Alice Wu
“Spa Night” (2016)  by Andrew Ahn
“Strawberry Fields” (1997) by Rea Tajiri
 “Taxi-Vala/Auto-biography” (1996) by Vivek Bald
“Touch of Pink” (2004) by Ian Rashid
“Who Killed Vincent Chin” (1987)
Gurinder Chadha films -“Blinded by the Light”  and “Bend It Like Beckham” because “even if they are based in UK, but there’s a US angle.”
Dinh Thai
Thai has won several awards for his short film, “Monday,” including the HBO APA Visionaries (2017), the IFS Award (2017) for Best Independent Short and the NBC Universal Short Film Festival for Outstanding Director and Next Generation Filmmaker Award.  As part of the NBC Emerging Director Program, he directed the season finale for “New Amsterdam.”
“Better Luck Tomorrow” (2002): A touchstone film about Asian-American rebellion that has yet to be eclipsed.
“The Farewell” (2019): Appreciated the film’s portrayal of a Chinese-American character having to deal with Chinese traditions that are seemingly foreign to her.
“Gook” (2017): The duality of racial divide and interconnectivity resonates loudly!
“Ms. Purple” (2019): It’s dark tone and poetic storytelling reveals universal emotions rarely seen in Asian-American films.
“Searching” (2018): A visual ride that captives with its thematic storytelling technique.

Alan Yang

Yang was a writer and producer for NBC’s “Parks and Recreation.” He is co-creator with Aziz Ansari of “Master of None” for which he shares an Emmy. He is writer/director of “Tigertail.” Because Yang felt, “There were almost no movies with Asian Americans when I was growing up. We weren’t in the movies.” He preferred to list movies that were influential.

“The Assassin” (2015) by  Hou Hsiao-Hsien

“Burning” (2018) by Lee Chang-dong

“Happy Together” (1997) by Wong Kar-wai

“In the Mood for Love” (2000) by Wong Kar-wai

“Late Spring” (1949) by Yasujirō Ozu

“Shoplifters” (2018) by Hirokazu Kore-eda

“Yi Yi” (2000) by Edward Yang

 

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