Entertainment Weekly just reported new Star Wars casting news now that Episode VIII has begun production, and one of the new names caught our attention. Kelly Marie Tran, a San Diego native and UCLA alum who has trained in improv with iO West, Second City, and the Upright Citizen’s Brigade, was among the newly announced cast included with the production anouncement. You might have seen some of her past work with College Humor, Comedy Bang! Bang!, and Funny or Die (check out this EW article for a more in depth look at her body of work). The fact that her announcement came alongside Benecio Del Toro and Laura Dern gives us hope that she’ll have a prominent role in the new movie.
For the longest time, the Asian community didn’t have much in terms of representation from the Star Wars franchise. Sure we had the samurai aesthetics of Darth Vader’s armor, and LT. Telsji, the ill-fated Y-Wing pilot who got in 2 lines before being blown away during the Battle of Endor, for whom NPR did a great piece on, but it always felt like we were grasping at straws when it came to feeling represented. The prequels didn’t help much when it gave us a bunch of bad guy aliens with terrible Asian accents, that one Jedi with the weird forehead and Fu Manchu beard, and turning lightsaber combat into space wushu.
All that was why it was refreshing to see a whole bunch of Asians in the cast of Episode VII, especially Ken Leung as Admiral Statura and Jessica Henwick as X-Wing pilot Jess Pava (this generation’s Wedge Antilles), two characters who weren’t caricatures, had vital roles, and didn’t die after 2 lines.
While we don’t have any details about whether Tran will be playing an actual person, droid, or CG alien a la Lupita Nyong’o, episode VIII just became way more interesting than it already was (which was already pretty dang interesting). We’ll definitely be following this story as it develops over the next two years until the movie’s 2017 release.
Are you excited about the casting news? What kind of character do you think she’ll play? Let us know in the comments!
On January 8, 2016, U.S. theaters premiered The Forest, a horror movie about the Aokigahara forest in Japan. Also known as the “Suicide forest” or “Sea of Trees,” the forest is well known worldwide as a place where many go to commit suicide. The film, which stars Game of Thrones actress Natalie Dormer, fared moderately well, making $22.4 million as of January 17 against a budget $10 million.
This isn’t the first horror film that has been made with mental health or suicide as a central through line. Films like Shutter Island and Sucker Punch have made topics like manic depression and schizophrenia attractive plot points for horror, thriller and action movies.
Nor is it the first movie or media representation about the Aokigahara forest, which has been portrayed in numerous films, video games, and novels. Throughout many of these representations, the forest is depicted as alluringly mysterious, almost mythic, due to the suicides that take place in it.
But let’s get something straight: we don’t need another horror movie that exploits suicide as a convenient storyline and uses a very real epidemic as a mere tool for plot advancement.
The Forest’s use of the Aokigahara forest as the phantasmal backdrop to a Western horror film perpetuates the stigma against mental health specificallyas it relates to Japanese and to Asian and Asian American communities as a whole. It fictionalizes and horrifically glorifies an epidemic that Japan has struggled to address and Japanese people face daily.
What’s more is that The Forest is steeped in Orientalism, thereby not only exploiting but silencing the suicide epidemic in Japan. The premise of the film is presented through the lens of a white woman who, despite being warned by the Japanese characters in the film, ventures into the forest to save her suicidal sister. In this way, the film relies on the silencing of the Japanese characters so that the white woman’s view of the forest is shaped by her own ignorant perceptions of “foreign” terrain, effectively “Other-ing” the forest and Japanese people.
So, in sum, The Forest not only eroticizes the Aokigahara and the things in it, but it also fails to recognize—and, quite frankly, blatantly ignores—why the forest exists.
Mental health is a taboo topic in many Asian communities that is often shamed into silence. If The Forest is not going to talk about mental health in a meaningful or respectful way, here are some facts to provide context behind the mental health and suicide epidemic in Japan:
Suicide has long been “glorified” in Japanese history, but Japan is desperately trying to combat this stigma. Called seppuku, suicide has historically been viewed in Japan as an honorable way of taking responsibility rather than as a selfish act. The Japanese government has committed itself to undoing this view and drastically reducing the suicide rate—and it is effectively doing so, with suicides hitting an all-time low in the past 18 years. However, Japan still claims more suicides than any other developed country in the world.
Mental health problems are impacting the country so heavily that businesses are being obliged to check the mental health of their workers regularly. As a potential solution to an increase in stress and mental health disorders nationwide, Japanese workers will be required to take a test once a year, with questions about their stress levels and workloads. Furthermore, employers will not be allowed to fire or punish workers who indicate high stress levels on this test. Rather, they will be required to reduce workers’ stress through decreased hours and an improved work environment.
Mental health is affecting Japanese youth as well, as evidenced by Japanese “invisible youth,” a group of teenagers called the “hikikomori” who refuse to come out of their bedrooms. Most “hikikomori,” which means “withdrawn” in Japanese, are male teenagers who are burdened by societal and parental expectations to succeed. Speaking to this weight of expectations is the fact that more Japanese teens commit suicide on September 1—before the first day of school in Japan—than on any other day of the year.
The cultural stigma against mental health also heavily impacts Asian Americans, who are less likely to seek help when it comes to mental health. For example, Asian stereotypes, such as the notion that all Asians do well in school, can perpetuate the mental health stigma and the view of Asians as the “model minority,” thereby adversely affecting Asian Americans’ perceptions of mental health.
But if what sells is the blindly contemptuous portrayal of a serious and fatal problem, it’s time to reassess our behavior and values—not only as moviegoers or media consumers, but as empathetic humans.
New media, especially platforms like YouTube, WordPress, and Instagram, have redefined the entertainment industry and have allowed even the average person to create and distribute their art. Ten years ago, being a Blogger, YouTuber, Vine-famous, or even “big on Instagram” weren’t credible past-times, much less viable careers. Now in 2015, PewDiePie has earned $12 million dollars last year playing video games on YouTube, web-based sketch comedy group Smosh released a movie, and YouTube beauty guru Michelle Phan has her own book and cosmetic line.
One person who has been on the frontlines of this evolution of storytelling is actor, writer, and filmmaker Chris Dinh. Most recognizable for his work with WongFu Productions, Dinh also has done a number of independent work with friend Viet Nguyen. Most recently Dinh and Nguyen released their crowd-funded movie, Crush the Skull, a full length feature based on their shorts series with the same name.
“I’m trying to find my thing too. The thing that makes me laugh. It tends to be in that dark comedy realm. Super dark and hopefully fun. It’s just meant to be a fun ride.” Chris Dinh
While Dinh visited Boston for a Crush the Skull screening at the Boston Asian American Film Festival, Kollaboration got to sit down and talk to him about what he thought of new media and the future of storytelling.
Kollab: How do you define new media?
Chris: If I had to define it, it’s anything that is… I almost want to say anything that is digital, but not only digital, but anything that has been created organically out of a need to just express a person’s interest or passions. It can not only be YouTube, but now there’s Vine and there’s Instagram and Snapchat. Anything that you can just pick up and do yourself and tell a story that can reach an audience.
Kollab: Why did you get into new media with YouTube and all that?
Chirs: I was working at a traditional production company, it wasn’t indie, but it still worked in the traditional ways. And it’s a very slow moving system and I just felt like we would spend all this time in development, but we were never shooting anything. Then I saw how quickly people were uploading YouTube videos, and I just felt like it was exciting. I wanted to be a part of it somehow, I didn’t know how, I just wanted to be a part of it.
Kollab: How did you end up a part of it?
Chris: So I got into it because there was a film festival in New York, this really cool group of Asian Americans started it, and they started this cool thing called the 72 Hour Shoot-Out. It’s a competition, they give you perimeters, you shoot and deliver a short film within 72 hours. That was one of the first short films that we did that was digital for me, and that was my first taste of the online world. Shortly after that I met the WongFu guys and it was the right place at the right time kind of stuff. They were doing what I wanted to do, so I just wanted to hang out with them and do whatever they wanted to do.
Kollab: Crush the Skull was made entirely with new media, you started with YouTube and then you went on to Kickstarter to make the film. Was there anything about that process that surprised you?
Chris: What’s surprising about that is how hard it is. Actually, I don’t know if it was surprising, because I knew it would be really hard. Because we had just done the WongFu campaign, and then I was going out there and doing another campaign right after that. It made me feel weird to keep asking for support, I felt bad about it. But timing wise, we had no other options, we had to. But we had some amazing people come through to support us. It was both tough, and inspiring. Because you’re like, ‘Oh mygosh, we’re not going to make it,’ and then people came through for us, and then we feel super inspired by that.
“Something that maybe Asian American who have a really negative opinion of Asian american films. Like for some they just get turned off when they hear that term, and so maybe capturing some of them like, ‘Hey it could be fun! You should support it.’ The more you support it, the more fun films like this can exist.” Chris Dinh
Kollab: Being a part of independent films like Crush the Skull, you do so many different roles. Do you prefer it that way, or do you wish you had a larger crew?
Chris: I wish I had a larger crew who wore many hats. (But) it’s really fun for me. I grew up watching Charlie Chaplin, and I was so inspired to read and learn that he was the same way. They were kind of like the YouTubers of the day. They were doing everything, producing, writing, casting, composing, how cool was that? It’s so rewarding to be able to do.
Kollab: With all these platforms, the market is almost too saturated. Do you think it’s still worth it, or should they start through the traditional route?
Chris: I think that you should try everything. Maybe you tell your stories best through Vine, or YouTube, or a novel, or poetry. There’s so many ways to express yourself, it’s so cool to see what works for you. Yes there’s a lot of saturation, but there’s communities that are being created and I think that put it out there and find your community. But it’s definitely worth it to share your story.
Kollab: Because of your presence on YouTube and social media, it’s a very different connection to fans. How would you describe your relationship with fans?
Chris: I like how easy it is, and I hope that anyone who follows our stuff can just come up and say hi. Storytelling is supposed to be a way to connect with people, and it would be weird if it was like, ‘Yeah, I want to tell stories and connect with you, but I don’t want you to feel comfortable enough to come say hi.’ (At the BAFF panel on new media) when we were talking about creating our own space, people feel like they’re just consuming it, but it’s actually participating. It’s so important, not only making that content, but just the act of clicking on it and watching. That’s all a part of creating that space together for all of us to share our stories. For me, that’s how I see the relationship (with fans). We’re all in it together, and we’re creating the space together.
Kollab: Regardless of the platform, why is storytelling and creating a shared space so important?
Chris: I hope I don’t sound crazy, but someone once said that when language was created, it was when we created time travel. I always found that really fascinating because I think storytelling is very much a part of being human. You share a story because you want someone to share in that experience with you, and sometimes it’s just about sharing in that experience. Sometimes it’s I want you to know more about me, or I want to know more about you so we can become closer. We try to tell these stories so you can step into my shoes for a little bit so you can know what life is like for me or what life is like for you. I think it’s all about understanding each other a little better and stories are a great way to spread empathy.
“Empathy is how we’re going to find and settle these big huge conflicts in the world today. When we always see these other groups as “the other,” we’ll never be able to find peace or resolution. I think that’s what story is all about, in all these forms. It’s all about sharing stories so that we can relate to each other and share in these experiences.” Chris Dinh
Kollab: Now that all these new platforms are available, what do you hope to see for the future of media?
Chris: This is where I’m going to start sounding crazy. I think the future is going to be really crazy. We’re going to be able to get to a point— and it sounds like it’s really super futuristic, but it’s not because we’re super close— I’m going to be able to wear a virtual reality helmet and almost live the experience of my parents. Someone will be able to program that world so I can see what it was like growing up in Vietnam, or stepping onto the boat for the first time to escape. Language is a beautiful thing, but one day when we can totally step inside someone’s stories, literally step in through technology, then I’m going to appreciate my parent’s stories in a totally different way. I think that’s subconsciously what we’re trying to achieve in storytelling and technology. Until you can really experience it, I think that’s the future. That’s crazy talk, but at the core, that’s what story is.
Kollab: Any last general advice or words of encouragement?
Chris: For any storyteller out there who wants to start telling stories, on whatever platform that they choose, my advice would be to take it as seriously as, let’s say a doctor takes med school. All the people who are doing it at the highest levels consider any of the various ways to tell stories see it as a profession and as serious as medicine or law, or business. It’s going to be as difficult as any of those other fields, so treat it accordingly. That’ll help you have a long future in it. We see a lot of the fun outcomes, but what you don’t se is that they take it very seriously. It’s a pretty difficult journey, so be ready for that.
A month ago, Kollab Blogger Lily Rugo attended the Boston Asian American Film Festival. Here is her recap on the films she watched and her recommendations!
The Boston Asian American Film Festival (BAAFF) wrapped up another successful year of bringing guests and films from all over the world for the seventh year!
The festival was held Oct. 22-25 and showcased a variety of feature length films and shorts. The feature films included Seoul Searching, Miss India America, Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi, The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, and My Life in China. Their Shorts series each had a theme that related back to home, and each screening was usually followed by a Q&A with either the director, an actor, writer, or producer.
I really enjoyed the films I saw. For the full 2015 line up, visit BAAFF.org. For a quick look into what I enjoyed most, here’s my recap:
Shorts: Redefining Home— East of Hollywood; D. Asian; My Hot Mom Gandhi; My Sister Swallowed the Zoo; Next Like; Distance Between
Overall, these shorts were fun and established the festival’s theme of home well. One film continued the video trend of categorizing people with clever analogies, in this case likening girls to social media sites like “the Twitter girl” versus “the Facebook girl.” One was a bit too artistic for me to fully appreciate, showing a series of photos and videos flashing by while a daughter talked to her mother over the phone. I thought “Distance Between” was the most heartfelt in this series, a new take on a dad passing on words of wisdom to his son.
The highlight was “East of Hollywood,” a 30-minute short film satirizing the struggles Asian American actors face in the entertainment industry. Based on lead actor and co-writer/director Michael Tow’s true experiences, the film exaggerates the stereotypes and tropes Asians face, or in this case, must lean in to as they try to break the bamboo ceiling in Hollywood . “East of Hollywood” is a local project that had its premiere at BAAFF and will hopefully be continued on in a longer film.
Shorts: Queer at Home— Dol (First Birthday); Paper Wrap Fire; Ordinary Family; FU377; Coming Home; Draft Day; Brokeback That Ass Up
I found these more enlightening and in-depth than the Redefining Home series. I appreciated the stop motion of “FU377” and comedic drama in “Ordinary Family.” Most of them ended without a neat little bow, as I expect was the point, and loved the honesty of each short. My favorite was “Draft Day” about the Thai military draft required of all males when they turn 21. The short follows two transgender girls throughout their drafting process and explores how Thailand has adapted to the transgender community.
Crush the Skull
Dear Chris Dinh: You lied to me. I asked if your movie would be gory and here we are. I had seen both the online shorts, “Crush the Skull” and “Crush the Skull II,” and I was excited to see the film they made—even though I spent most of the movie hiding behind my jacket. Crush the Skull, the feature length film, has a different plot than the online shorts, but it’s keeps to the same genre of dark comedy and campy violence. The story follows a group of burglars as they break into a secluded house thinking it will be easy and their last job. Little do they expect for it actually be their last as it turns out the owner is home—and a deranged serial killer. I enjoyed the references to the original shorts and the usage of the same actors, jokes, and situations– not to mention the classic line “crush the skull” that has to end up somewhere. I’m not a big horror movie person—I even screamed at one point during the movie—but I would suggest Crush the Skull for a fun night with friends.
Shorts: Home in America— Closeness; Leadway; Giap’s Last Day at the Ironing Board Factory; Finding Cleveland; Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight: The Japanese War Brides; El Chino
Home in America was the heaviest of the Shorts series. I even cried a bit. All of the shorts related back to home and connection to roots and family. Each of them made me think either about my own family or contemplate the situations the subjects of the shorts were going through.
One of my favorites, Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight: The Japanese War Brides, told three amazing stories about women who married American soldiers at the end of World War II. The director’s plan on developing the documentary into a longer piece, and more information on how to support the project can be found on their website. But the biggest takeaway for me was how recent the Vietnam War was in my lifetime. Learning about it in history class makes it seem so long ago, but these shorts made me realize that past events still hold a strong impact on today’s families. If you have the time, I recommend all of these shorts.
Off the Menu
Probably one of my favorites in the festival, it was like a good meal: filling, nothing too fancy, and heartwarming. The director, Grace Lee, started with joking about why Asians take so many photos of food then developed the idea into a documentary. For the most part Off the Menu doesn’t focus on food as product, but the ways it brings people together and represents larger aspects in life like community and heritage. Lee explores the rise of sushi as a trend, how a chef at a new restaurant in New York City incorporates its family, Hawaiian traditions, and the community langar meal served at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. It’s a simple movie, but I loved it and thought Lee did a great job finding different aspects of food in people’s lives across America.
Miss India America
Another favorite of mine, I thought the director and writer did a really good job with this film. Miss India America follows recent high school graduate and winner of everything Lily Prasad as she sets her mind to win Miss India National. Of course the journey is one big learning experience for Lily, but it doesn’t rely on too many tropes of the coming-of-age story. My favorite part about Miss India America is that I wasn’t rooting for the main character to win (she does enough of that herself), but that I’m rooting for her to change.
Also, New Girl actress Hannah Simone has a supporting role when she could have easily been the lead—and I’m glad she wasn’t. The lead actress Tiya Sicar did very well, and looked like the average girl who enters a beauty pageant, not a pageant queen playing the average girl. I highly recommend Miss India America. Follow this link for the movie’s website. If you try Googling it, you might just find yourself on Miss India’s real website.
Congratulations to the staff at the Boston Asian American Film Festival on another successful year. I really enjoyed all the films I got to see and learned a lot from the following Q&A sessions. Best of luck next year!
And guess what? Moana is a Native Hawaiian princess… who will be played by an actual Native Hawaiian girl, 14-year old Auli’i Cravalho.
While the decision is hardly innovative (letting people of color play people of color? How revolutionary!), it’s a big deal. Given the underrepresentation as well as the misrepresentation of people of color, Disney’s latest move is an important milestone in not only the company’s history, but also in that of film and TV.
Here are five simple reasons why casting decisions like Disney’s Moana are much needed:
1. Recurring media representations of any given group of people over time will affect the way we perceive those people.
For example, according to shows like Baywatch or even Spongebob Squarepants, we may believe that lifeguards have the luxurious task of strutting around all day, basking in the sun while folks swoon over them. In reality, lifeguards sit in a chair 4-5 hours a day until disaster strikes. Luxurious? Probably not.
A more serious example is the common stereotyping of Asians in the media – see O-Ren Ishii in Kill Bill as the Dragon Lady and Christina Yang in Grey’s Anatomy as the model minority.
2. Withholding the right to self-representation has historically been a form of oppression in the media, especially for people of color.
Case and point: the long history of yellow face in Hollywood. Asian actors were actually restricted from playing major roles even if the character was of Asian descent in order to secure jobs for white actors.
Although there are certainly fewer instances of this intentional oppression today, we’re still tackling the acceptability of white actors playing people of color. When non-white cultural narratives are already so hard to come by, these opportunities that do exist shouldn’t be denied to actors and actresses of color.
That being said: thank you, Disney, for recognizing this truth by conducting an open casting call to find the next Moana.
3. Disney princesses are role models for many young girls – and not every girl looks like Snow White.
The Disney Princess effect suggests that many young girls model themselves and their actions after princesses they see in Disney movies. So what happens if a girl of color notices that barely any of the princesses look like her? She’ll likely aspire to look and become more like her role model – who will most likely be white.
A note to media makers and creators everywhere: Culture is complex. In order to be accurately portrayed, it needs to be represented by someone with the lived experience of being from that culture. The actress or actor thus will feel more accountable for the intentionality behind his or her character’s portrayal. Otherwise, the portrayal is susceptible to simplification – or stereotyping, which does nobody any good.
5. Because of the reasons above, it doesn’t matter if a character is animated or not – it’s still representation.
Looking at you, M. Night Shyamalan. When accused of whitewashing in his film The Last Airbender, Shyamalan defended himself by saying, “The great thing about anime is that it’s ambiguous.” Never mind the fact that, as per Shyamalan’s casting choices, Dev Patel plays the film’s villain Zuko and just so happens to be the only brown person in the entire film.
But that doesn’t mean that narratives of people of color should be exploited through faulty representation. Disney has been so guilty of this (see Pocahantas, Mulan, Aladdin and The Princess and the Frog) but they’ve proven they can do better and we have our fingers crossed with Moana.
San Jose, home to the third largest Asian American population in the United States, recently played host to the annual CAAMFest San Jose film festival. From September 17-20, screenings, Q&As, and even an artist presentation marked the film festival’s 13th year in the South Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Friday’s opening night at the Camera 3 Cinema, usually reserved for showcasing films, features an unprecedented screening of a TV show, Fresh off the Boat. The family sitcom made history as not only the second show to star an Asian American family since Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl, but also the first to be renewed for a second season. Stephen Gong, executive director of the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), highlighted the show’s significance to the community, stating how Fresh off the Boat is both a phenomenon that is funny but with truth to it.
A large audience attended this first screening, notably a number of kids with their parents. The attendees were treated to the final episode of Season 1, as well as an early screening of the Season 2 premiere. Needless to say, laughs filled the room at all the right moments.
Melvin Mar, executive producer of Fresh off the Boat, was the night’s special guest, and after the screening, he joined CAAM Festival Director Masashi Niwano onstage for a discussion and a Q&A. Mar went in-depth on how he went from being fresh out of Cal Poly Pomona, not knowing what direction to take, to interning for Fox and DreamWorks, before eventually finding himself in a position where he was able to pitch an idea for a sitcom surrounding an Asian American family. As far as what to expect from the second season, he specifically highlighted how we’ll see the character of Grandma Huang (Lucille Soong) expanded more, as well as an upcoming Chinese New Year episode later this winter.
The Opening Night Gala followed afterwards at the San Jose Museum of Art. Richie Menchavez of the Asian American online radio station, Traktivist, served as the DJ for the evening with a playlist largely made up of 90’s music. Deviled eggs, mini cupcakes, beer and wine were consumed as attendees mingled with one another, having a good time, as well as even hitting the dance floor at one point. The night ended on a good note.
Saturday continued on with CAAMFest’s programming beginning with In Football We Trust. The documentary follows four NFL hopefuls, all of Polynesian descent, in Salt Lake City, Utah as they navigate their way to the ultimate glory, while with dealing with intergenerational gang violence, poverty, and their families’ expectations.
Co-director Tony Vainuku was in attendance and discussed with Niwano afterwards for the moderately sized audience how he conceptualized the idea for the documentary from his uncle’s experience, who was also once an NFL hopeful. He explained how filming for the documentary went about, in particular when it came to gaining the trust from both the subjects and their families. In addition, he also explained how actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who was completely moved by the film, is coming onboard as a producer for the film’s wider release next year.
Barney Cheng’s directorial debut, Baby Steps, followed afterwards, as the good-sized number of attendees were treated to a comedy-drama that follows Danny (Cheng) as he and his American partner are on a mission to find a surrogate mother, all the while he deals with his own mother/excited grandmother-to-be.
Felicia Lowe’s Chinese Couplets and Ham Tran’s Hollow– both of which were screened at CAAMFest last March- were the final two films for the day and the Centerpiece party was held that evening at the Nomikai Bar.
Sunday marked the last day of CAAMFest San Jose, beginning with a free screening of the web series Lucky Chow at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose and closed out with a screening of Vikas Bahl’s critically acclaimed Queen at Camera 3.
Sunday afternoon was when the centerpiece presentation took place with a focus on comic book writer/filmmaker Greg Pak, moderated by graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang. Accompanied by a slideshow, Pak first discussed his film career with works like Robot Stories, before going onward to his works he has done for companies like Marvel and DC Comics. He showed the step-by-step process of his illustrator’s work for his upcoming Kingsway West, pictures of his character Amadeus Cho as the new Hulk, and previews from his children’s books, ABC Disgusting and The Princess Who Saved Herself.
In discussion with Yang, Pak went even further into his background, explaining how while he grew up enjoying comics, he never thought of writing comic books as a career. Looking into the future, he is now considering a wide assortment of projects; some of them, he said, would actually work better as films than comic books.
The presentation wrapped up with musician Goh Nakamura performing a song from the soundtrack for Kingsway West called “Sonia,” as well as a cover of the Beatles’ “Red Balloons.”
It was another successful CAAMFest San Jose for the staff and volunteers! Now, they continue onwards with preparations for CAAMFest 2016.
Do you like Asians? Do you like bad guys? Do you like… ASIAN BAD GUYS? Released earlier this summer, Awesome Asian Bad Guys is the first feature-length film by The National Film Society. NFS Directors, Patrick Epino and Steven Dypiangco, directed and starred in the film along with industry veterans Tamlyn Tomita, Al Leong, Yuji Okumoto, and George Cheung (also starring a pre-Fresh off the Boat Randall Park). The film pays tribute to Asian American actors and actresses who have had roles as bad guys in classic movies. And honestly, they had me when I saw Tamlyn Tomita and Dante Basco on the ads.
I was very eager to watch this film because of my own frustrations with the lack of representation for Asian Americans in media. It seems like there haven’t been many American-made feature length movies with Asian Americans that have made an impression in the mainstream, even though, as the film’s successful Kickstarter has demonstrated, there is certainly a demand for it. I came in with high expectations and while I didn’t find the film perfect, it did leave me with some impressions & thoughts.
Here are few of the stronger ones:
Classic Asian American Film Stars Re-Introduced
One of the things that this film did really well is bring Asian American film stars back to the spotlight. Being unfamiliar with their work myself, it was really cool to learn about these actors and their impact on Steven and Patrick as film buffs and people in general. Who among us hasn’t grown a mustache or went on a week-long juice cleanse to imitate our idols?
The National Film Society as Comedic Leads
The lightness and humor in this film were great. Steven and Patrick are very likeable guys, as I learned from watching their YouTube channel. Their self-deprecating sense of humor is quirky and fun, so it was nice to see it shine through in the film. Some of my personal favorites: Patrick and Tamlyn’s budding romance, Yuji Okumoto’s insults like “poop stain,” “useless pukes,” and “nipple dick,” Aaron Takahashi mistaking Steven for Lou Diamond Phillips.
Awesome (Asian) Fight Scenes
I also was pretty impressed with the fight scenes, which were well-choreographed and just a little bit silly (in a good way).
But who are the Real Bad Guys?
It was kind of a bummer that a (Spoiler Alert!) major plot point in the film involved a plot by the film’s villain, Aaron Takahashi (playing himself, like most of the cast), to kill other talented Asian American artists, blaming them for taking roles that he should have won. We all know that there are a multitude of reasons as to why APAs are not quite visible in popular culture. I wish Awesome Asian Bad Guys confronted some of the real reasons why Asian American actors and actresses are pigeonholed into small roles as bad guys and why they’re forgotten about.
While adding a little bit of depth to the film’s message would have made it a real winner in my eyes, when all is said and done, “Awesome Asian Bad Guys” is a really fun and humorous take on the classic underdog story. And with a possible sequel in the works (based of the cliffhanger ending), who knows? Maybe we will see all the Awesome Asian Bad Guys working together again to kick some Hollywood producer ass next time.
Awesome Asian bad guys is available to purchase on-demand at http://nationalfilmsociety.com/
With a new year comes new movies, new characters, and new opportunities to watch our favorite thespians and discover new ones. Here’s a small sampling (you get a break this time, Mindy, Harry, Lucy, Steve, Jamie, and Randall!) of Asian Americans to watch in 2015:
1. Chloe Bennet
With “Avengers: Age of Ultron” releasing in May 2015, Marvel fans will be watching the tied-in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” closely for clues and teasers. Bennet’s Skye began season one mostly supporting the plotlines of Clark Gregg and Ming-Na Wen’s characters, but has steadily progressed to carry the emotional weight of the show. Her quick-witted, authority-defying portrayal stands out among the stern personalities that make up most of the cast.
2. Katie Chang
Katie Chang was phenomenal as the lead in 2013’s “The Bling Ring” (a.k.a., the most beautiful and entertaining movie of 2013 that 80% of your besties missed). Look for the Chicago native in 2015 in indie “Anesthesia,” starring Kristen Stewart, and high school comedy “The Outskirts,” starring Victoria Justice and Eden Sher.
3. Maggie Q
As Tori in that other dystopian YA blockbuster series (seriously, “Hunger Games?” Four movies and zero Asians?), Maggie Q had some of the best moments in “Divergent,” albeit way too brief. “Insurgent” drops in November. Her CBS freshman drama, “Stalker,” is unfortunately getting the axe in March.
4. John Cho
“Selfie” received a fair amount of buzz when it launched, with Cho starring along Karen Gillan in a lighthearted opposites-attract workplace comedy. Though ABC decided viewers weren’t enamored enough to air it past episode 7, the remaining six episodes are releasing on Hulu. Cho will appear in “Get A Job” in 2015 with a who’s who of comedic talent, including Anna Kendrick, Miles Teller, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse.
5. Ki Hong Lee
People Magazine’s #4 Sexiest Man Alive made his big screen debut this past year as a lead in “The Maze Runner.” He reprises his role in “The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials” this September. Look for him also in “The Stanford Prison Experiment.”
6. Constance Wu
Admit it: you’ve watched the “Fresh Off the Boat” trailer multiple times, haven’t you? With the ABC series premiering on February 4, all eyes will be on Wu, Randall Park, and Hudson Yang to see how this sitcom where all of the principals are Asian American will connect with audiences. Wu has appeared in a number of projects in recent years, including the dark comedy “EastSiders.”
7. Kimiko Glenn
“Orange Is the New Black” is scheduled to return for season three in June. Glenn and her castmates were recently nominated for the Golden Globe for best television series, comedy or musical, and the SAG Award for outstanding performance by an ensemble in a comedy series.
8. Jordan Rodrigues
Jordan Rodrigues is originally from Sydney and now resides in Los Angeles. The smoking hot fan-favorite actor was introduced to a wider audience this past year in “The Fosters” as Mat, the guitar-playing love interest to Mariana. “The Fosters” returns on January 19 on ABC Family. Rodrigues is also set to appear in “Breaking Through,” a dance movie produced by John Legend.
9. Arden Cho
Arden Cho returns as part of the main cast of “Teen Wolf,” MTV’s high school drama featuring various supernatural species. She plays Kira, a sword-wielding high school student who also happens to be a Kitsune, or fox spirit. The show’s fifth season kicks off this June.
After nearly 30 years of enchanting audiences all over the world with breathtaking animation and groundbreaking films, Studio Ghibli’s animation department will be taking a hiatus from making future productions.