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.



‘To Be Takei’, A Documentary About ‘Star Trek’ Actor and Social Activist George Takei


To Be Takei is an upcoming documentary directed by filmmaker Jennifer M. Kroot that examines the life of actor, activist, and social media icon George Takei. Best known as the USS Enterprise helmsman Hikaru Sulu on the original Star Trek series, Takei has maintained prominence in recent years as an LGBT activist, popular social media figure, and due to frequent cameo appearances on shows like Futurama and Archer.

The documentary follows the actor’s life from his early years spent in a World War II Japanese American internment camp to his rise as one of the most prominent Asian-American actors on television. The movie is scheduled to release in theaters on August 22nd, 2014.


I was the best helmsman in the galaxy — and put to rest all of those stereotypes about Asian drivers.


To Be Takei

image via George Takei


Ansel Adams’ haunting photos of WWII Japanese American internment from the Manzanar War Relocation Center

Huffington Post:

In 1942, still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government ordered thousands of Japanese Americans to leave their homes behind and take up residence in remote detainment camps. About two thirds of them were U.S. citizens.

The most famous of the camps, located in California’s Owens Valley, was called the Manzanar War Relocation Center.

manzanar street scene winter

Starting in the fall of 1943, photographer Ansel Adams chronicled the day-to-day existence of the people held at Manzanar. He was distressed that the lives of American citizens had been uprooted in such a way, and strove to capture on film the humanity of the detainees as they faced dehumanizing circumstances. “Nothing is more permanent about Manzanar than the dust which has lodged in its tar-papered barracks, except the indelible impression incised on the lives of thousands of its inhabitants,” Adams wrote.

Adams is mostly remembered for his art photography — but what’s less often remembered are his works of documentary photography during the war.

The photographs were exhibited in 1944 at the Museum Of Modern Art, and published in book form under the title “Born Free And Equal: The Story Of Loyal Japanese-Americans.” In the preface to the book, Adams wrote:

This book in no way attempts a sociological analysis of the people and their problem. It is addressed to the average American citizen, and is conceived on a human, emotional basis, accenting the realities of the individual and his environment rather than considering the loyal Japanese-Americans as an abstract, amorphous, minority group… Throughout this book I want the reader to feel he has been with me in Manzanar, has met some of the people, and has known the mood of the Center and its environment — thereby drawing his own conclusions — rather than impose upon him any doctrine or advocate any sociological action.

The U.S. eventually apologized for the internment of Japanese Americans in 1988, and admitted it was “motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” Now, more than 70 years after Adams visited Manzanar, we can still take a tour of the camp through his lens.

Ansel Adams via Library Of Congress

Mrs. Naguchi And Two Children

Ansel Adams via Library Of Congress


Ansel Adams via Library Of Congress

Entrance To Manzanar

Ansel Adams via Library Of Congress

Louise Tami Nakamura
Ansel Adams via Library Of Congress
Mess Line, Noon
Ansel Adams via Library Of Congress
Michael Yonemetsu, [i.e., Yonemitsu] X-Ray Technician


Ansel Adams via Library Of Congress
Nurse Aiko Hamaguchi, Patient Tom Kano


Ansel Adams via Library Of Congress

Pictures And Mementoes On Phonograph Top, Yonemitsu Home 


Ansel Adams via Library Of Congress
Mrs. Kay Kageyama

Ansel Adams via Library Of Congress

Monument In Cemetery
Ansel Adams via Library Of Congress
Farm Workers, Mt. Williamson In Background



Ansel Adams via Library Of Congress
Baton Practice, Florence Kuwata 
Ansel Adams via Library Of Congress
In Biology Class, High School, Kiyo Yoshida, Lillian Watkatsuki, Yoshiko Yamasaki
Ansel Adams via Library Of Congress
Tom Kobayashi
Check out this link:

 Ansel Adams’ haunting photos of WWII Japanese American internment


“To Be Takei” to premiere at Sundance Film Festival

Actor/activist George Takei holds up a Sulu action figure.

Rafu Shimpo:

The documentary “To Be Takei” will have its world premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

Showtimes are Saturday, Jan. 18, at 9 p.m. at the Yarrow Hotel Theatre in Park City; Sunday, Jan. 19, at 12:30 p.m. at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City; Monday, Jan. 20, at 6:30 p.m. at Redstone Cinema 1 in Park City; and Saturday, Jan. 25, at 9 p.m. at Temple Theatre in Park City.

The festival website gives the following description: “George Takei doesn’t shy away from digging into his remarkable career and personal life in Jennifer Kroot’s delightful and incisive film … As a child forced into Japanese American internment camps, the actor-turned-activist reveals the ways that racism affected him well into his early acting career, where he played stereotypical Asian stock characters in film and television shows.

“Even after landing the iconic role of Hikaru Sulu on ‘Star Trek,’ Takei’s sharp eye, coupled with his wicked sense of humor, continued to challenge the status quo well into the 21st century.

“Now at 76, nine years after formally coming out of the closet, Takei and his husband, Brad, have become the poster couple for marriage equality, highlighting homophobia through television interviews and hilarious skits, many of which have gone viral and garnered widespread attention.

“Whether dishing on William Shatner or parodying the now-infamous comments made by Tim Hardaway, Takei proves time and again why his presence in popular culture remains as fresh and necessary as ever.

Kroot directed the documentary feature “It Came from Kuchar,” about the legendary underground filmmaking twins George and Mike Kuchar, which screened at SXSW in 2009. She also wrote, directed, and starred in the gender-bending, sci-fi, narrative feature “Sirens of the 23rd Century” in 2003. She studied film briefly at the San Francisco Art Institute, where she now teaches.

Co-director and editor Bill Weber is a San Francisco–based documentary film editor. He directed and edited the documentary feature “The Cockettes,” which screened at the 2002 Sundance and Berlin film festivals, and co-directed and edited the documentary feature “We Were Here,” which played at the Sundance and Berlin festivals in 2011. He also edited the Academy Award–nominated documentary short film “The Final Inch.”

For reservations and more information, visit www.sundance.org. The film’s website is www.tobetakei.com.

Check out this link:

“To Be Takei” to premiere at Sundance Film Festival