9 Asian American coming-of-age movies that aren’t The Joy Luck Club



Last week, Colorlines published a list of 9 coming-of-age movies starring (and focusing on) people of color. While I usually enjoy most articles that Colorlines puts out, I was frankly a little disappointed in the Asian American representation in the list: our sole entry was Wayne Wang’s adaptation of the Joy Luck Club, also the second oldest (behind Boys ‘N Tha Hood) on the list.

Don’t get me twisted: I appreciate the effort to include Asian Americans on this list of POC coming-of-age films, and Joy Luck Club deserves respect as one of the first, and most mainstream, of Asian American films. But, Joy Luck Club is also more than 22 years old, ambiguous in its navigation of the line between exploration and exoticization of Chinese history, culture and tropes, and highly controversial within the community with regard to its portrayal of Asian and Asian American men. And, I say that as a fan who grew up on Joy Luck Club.

Asian American film has flourished in the last 22 years since the release of the Joy Luck Club film adaptation; there are so many more films in this genre than Wayne Wang’s (clearly important) familial and feminist epic.

Here are 9 Asian American coming-of-age films (in no particular order) that aren’t the Joy Luck Club. How many have you seen?


1. The Debut (2001)

Directed and co-written by Gene Cajayon, and starring Dante Basco (“Rufio! Rufio! Rufio!”), The Debut explores the relationship between young Filipino American aspiring artist, Ben Mercado, and his immigrant father Roland (Tirso Cruz III); the conflict threatens to ruin sister Rose’s (Bernadette Balagtas) eighteenth birthday party.


2. The Namesake (2006)

Starring actor turned Obama staffer Kal PennThe Namesake explores questions of identity and family between immigrant parents Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli (Irrfan Khan and Tabu), and their American-born children including older son, Gogol (Penn), whose rejection of his name symbolizes his attempts to disconnect from his Indian American history and heritage.

Based on a novel by Jhumpa Lahiri and directed by Mira Nair, this film is easily the best in Kal Penn’s filmography, and worth renting.


3. Better Luck Tomorrow (2002)

The first film acquired by MTV Films, Better Luck Tomorrow was a debut movie for director Justin Lin (who was recently tapped to direct Star Trek 3) and also first introduced the world to the character of Han (played by Sung Kang), whom many speculate is the same Han to appear in the Fast And Furious franchise.

The film focuses on Ben Manibag (Parry Shen), a typical high-achieving Asian American high school student whose small acts of rebellion in the form of petty theft escalate out of control to murder.


4. The Motel (2006)

Directed by Michael Kang and starring Sung Kang with young actor Jeffrey Chayau, the film explores adolescence and sexuality through the eyes of 13-year-old Ernest Chin (Chayau), whose life is turned upside down when he meets and befriends the motel’s newest guest, the jaded and angry Sam Kim (Kang).


5. The People I’ve Slept With (2009)

This film is loosely a coming-of-age story, since it is an exploration of a woman’s shifting relationship with her sexuality and her femininity. Asian American films that explore questions of sexuality are a distinct sub-genre within Asian American film, and inclusion of The People I’ve Slept With is in some ways a placeholder for this entire category of movie; others of note include Charlotte Sometimes (by Eric Byler) and Yes, We’re OpenThe People I’ve Slept With is a comedy directed by Quentin Lee and starring Karina Anna Cheung as young Angela Yang, who enjoys sex but discovers she is pregnant and so must revisit her sexual partners to figure out who the father is.


6. Saving Face (2004)

In this film written and directed by Alice Wu, Wilhelmina struggles to reestablish a relationship with her 48-year-old mother Hwei-Lan Gao (Joan Chen), after Hwei-Lan is kicked out of her father’s house for being pregnant out-of-wedlock; over the course of the film, both Wil and her mother struggle with Wil’s closeted homosexuality and her budding romance with the daughter of one of Hwei-Lan’s friends, Vivian (Lynn Chen). Both Wil and Hwei-Lan grapple with their place in Flushing’s Chinese American community, while still trying to “save face”.


7. Catfish in Black Bean Sauce (1999)

Written, produced, directed by and starring Chi Muoi LoCatfish in Black Bean Sauce focuses on the identities of a Vietnamese American brother and sister who are adopted by an African American family in the South, and the resulting familial and interracial tensions. Those who are interested in films positioned at the intersection of Asian and Black interrelationships might also be interested in checking out Mississippi Marsala, which tells the story of star-crossed lovers Mina (Sarita Choudhury) and Demetrius (an incredibly young Denzel Washington).

Below is a clip from Catfish in Black Bean Sauce, because the trailer on YouTube is of such poor quality, it’s practically unwatchable.


8. Ocean of Pearls (2008)

Co-written by and directed by Sarab Singh Neelam, the film focuses on the story of Dr. Amrit Singh (Omid Abtahi), a young Sikh Canadian surgeon who moves to Detroit from Toronto. The move, which forces Amrit to leave behind his family and his Indian Canadian girlfriend, prompts him to face deeply personal questions regarding racism and assimilation, his Sikh heritage, as well as the unfairness of the American medical system.


9. Strawberry Fields (1997)

A low-budget independent film co-written and directed by Rea Tajiri, the film stars Suzy Nakamura as Irene Kawai, a young teenager growing up in the midst of anti-war protests in the 1970’s. Haunted by the sudden death of her sister, Irene discovers a picture of her grandfather growing up in a Japanese American internment camp, and embarks on a  road trip to Arizona to find the spot at Poston War Relocation Camp where the photo was taken. Sadly, the trailer for Strawberry Fields doesn’t exist on YouTube.




Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Fest presents “Awesome Asian Bad Guys” (May 3rd and 9th)



In Los Angeles this weekend or next? Head over to the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Fest as they present screenings of “Awesome Asian Bad Guys” on May 3rd and 9th. 



The “fourth wall” comes crashing down, in a BIG way, in AWESOME ASIAN BAD GUYS, the brainchild of internet sensations Patrick Epino (VOID, Festival 2005) and Stephen Dypiangco. Having met nearly four years ago during Festival Week 2010, Epino — an alumnus of San Francisco State University’s Cinematic Arts program and Visual Communications’ own Armed With a Camera Fellowship — and NYU Film School graduate Dypiangco established the online destination, The National Film Society, as a means of promoting face-to-face dialogue with Asian Pacific American independent and mainstream entertainment professionals on all things pertinent to APA cinema.

As the film starts, our loveable, awkward duo wrap up yet another installment of NFS for upload. Only problem is, the episode is ruined when a trespasser somehow walks through the living room door and photo-bombs the shoot. The interloper turns out to be none other than veteran actress Tamlyn Tomita, who avails upon the guys to assemble a team of veteran Asian American bad-guy actors for the purpose of avenging a dastardly wrong, executed by one Aaron Takahashi (Aaron Takahashi), the leader of the ruthless Wang Chung crime syndicate. Unfortunately, the motley crew of “legendary” Asian American heavies they put together — Al Leong, Yuji Okumoto, George Cheung and Randall Park (whose sole purpose seems to be the “useless” and not-quite-awesome Asian Bad Guy) — can’t stand each other.

Filled with a rapid-fire string of in-jokes and stereotypes turned on its collective heads, this rollicking send-up of just about every kind of genre and schlock-cinema beloved by our NFS heroes plays it strictly for laughs. Oh yes, every obligatory KARATE KID 2 reference, every DIE HARD throw-away line, every fake ROCKY training sequence, and so much more are crammed into the film, courtesy of a screenplay by award-winning writer/producer Milton Liu (JESUS HENRY CHRIST, Festival 2004). It’s hard to imagine that AWESOME ASIAN BAD GUYS was created as a six-episode web series — with a story so deliciously dopey, implausible, and just-plain silly, why couldn’t this heartfelt effort be enjoyed on the big screen first?


Saturday, May 03 9:45 PM Directors Guild of America 1
Friday, May 09 9:45 PM Tateuchi Democracy Forum

The project features Al Leong (Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Big Trouble in Little China), Yuji Okumoto (The Karate Kid, Part II) and George Cheung (Rambo: First Blood Part II). Also starring Dante Basco, Jasmin Currey, Stephen Dypiangco, Patrick Epino, Randall Park, Aaron Takahashi, and Tamlyn Tomita.


Check out this link:

Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Fest presents “Awesome Asian Bad Guys” (May 3rd and 9th)




Was 1993 Hollywood’s Year of Asian America?

For a brief blip in time it seemed like it might be possible: Twenty years ago in 1993, Hollywood released what seemed like a record number of Asian or Asian American-centric films. Was this the dawning of a new era?

We had Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, The Joy Luck Club, M. Butterfly, Map Of The Human Heart, Golden Gate, Heaven and Earth, and Rising Sun

Check out this link:

Was 1993 Hollywood’s Year of Asian America?