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

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Reappropriate:

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.

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Was 2014 a banner year for Asian on network television?

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NBC News:

On paper, it looked like a rough year for Asian-Pacific Islanders on network television: The Mindy Project was on the verge of cancellation. NBC axed Community, and confirmed the end of Parks and Recreation for 2015. Sandra Oh officially left Grey’s Anatomy. Glee edged closer and closer to the end of its run while slowly pushing its Asian characters out of the credits.

According to an annual report on television diversity released by GLAAD, the number of Asian-Pacific Islanders on network television had been on the rise.

In the 2013-2014 season, 6% of broadcast series regular characters were Asian-Pacific Islander, but in the upcoming year, only 4% of characters will be Asian–the only ethnic group to see a decrease in diversity from the previous year.

Image: Ken Jeong, Danny Pudi
Ken Jeong, left, and Danny Pudi attend the “Community” panel on Day 5 of Comic-Con International.

Aside from the need for more representation despite the real progress we’ve made, I was disappointed that we lost some really great Asian-American representation this past year,Philip Chung, co-founder and blogger at YOMYOMF, said, listing Oh and Community’s Danny Pudi and Ken Jeong as examples.

But while the number of Asian characters appears to be shrinking next season, the quality of roles, Chung points out, has noticeably changed. Asian-Pacific Islanders in 2014 were cast in more prominent roles than the previous year, giving actors like John Cho, Ming-Na Wen, and Nasim Pedrad (who previously made headlines as Saturday Night Live’s first west Asian cast member) opportunities to step beyond smaller supporting and guest appearances on TV.

Image: John Cho
John Cho’s casting in a romantic, male lead on ABC’s “Selfie” was revolutionary. But the show was cancelled after just seven episodes.

The leaps forward in casting choices have not come without their setbacks. After months of anticipation among critics and bloggers about the casting of John Cho, an Asian male, to play the lead in a romantic sitcom, his show Selfie was canceled after just seven episodes.

It’s rare to see an Asian-American male as a lead in a comedy, especially one that has romantic possibilities,” said 8Asians editor Joz Wang, who called Selfie’s cancellation the biggest disappointment for Asian Americans on TV in 2014. “While the show didn’t catch on as quickly as the network would have wanted, many Asian Americans watched the show specifically for John Cho.”

“Getting [a show] about an Asian American family on the air is a frickin’ miracle.”

Even though Cho never received top billing in Selfie, many felt ABC’s choice to cast him as the show’s male romantic lead was long overdue. His elevation to “leading man material” appeared to be the first step in seeing more Asian-Pacific Islanders as true television stars, not just supporting characters.

To date, few Asian actors have ever been cast in lead roles on a network level. The first to break through was Pat Morita, in the 1976 show “Mr. T and Tina” (it was considered a flop, and went off the air after five episodes).

PAT MORITA
Pat Morita led the way for Asian Americans on television. Four decades later, how much has changed?

Today, Lucy Liu plays a prominent character in Elementary, though not the lead, as does Kal Penn in the upcoming CBS drama Battle Creek. Even Hawaii Five-O, which Wang noted has been “great because it’s set in Hawaii and there are many opportunities for Asian-American actors,” stars two Caucasian leads. “All the Asian Americans still play second fiddle in terms of billing,” said Wang.

The last network show to cast an Asian male with top billing was CBS’ Martial Law starring Sammo Hung in 1998. Hung, who spoke little English, had just a few lines in each episode, and was reportedly paid half of what his co-star Arsenio Hall made.

Image: Lucy Liu
Lucy Liu plays Joan Watson on the CBS drama “Elementary.”

Currently, the total number of Asian actors to receive top billing on a network primetime series is one: Mindy Kaling. Since the 2012 premiere of The Mindy Project, Kaling has received praise for being the first woman of color to write and star in her own show since Wanda Sykes in 2003.

But Kaling has come under fire for what some see as her failure to leverage her influence for push for more diversity on network television.

In a letter to Fox, Media Action Network for Asian Americans President Guy Aoki said the show lacked diversity–particularly when it came to romantic interests. “We are concerned that in the course of two seasons, [Kaling’s] character, Dr. Lahiri, has had a ‘white-only’ dating policy involving about a dozen men,” Aoki wrote. “And except for this season’s addition of African American Xosha Roquemore the cast continues to be all white…She’s creating the impression that by surrounding her character with mostly white people and dating only white men that Lahiri’s become more accepted by the white population.”

Kaling defended the show at a SXSW panel early in the year, saying, “I have four series regulars that are women on my show, and no one asks any of the shows I adore — and I won’t name them because they’re my friends — why no leads on their shows are women of color, and I’m the one that gets lobbied about these things.”

Despite any criticism and low ratings, Kaling herself saw a year filled with successes in her own career, from being named a Glamour Woman of the Year to the announcement of her second book, Why Not Me?, which will be released next year. In November, Fox also added six episodes of The Mindy Project, stretching the season from 15 episodes to 21, and fueling speculation that the show will be renewed for a fourth season.

Kaling won’t carry the mantle for Asian network primetime leads alone much longer. She will soon be joined by Korean-American actor Randall Park, who will star in ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat–the first network show to feature an all-Asian American cast since Margaret Cho‘s 1994 series All-American Girl, which was canceled after one season. Following a slate of recurring roles on television (including The Mindy Project), Park will receive top billing when the series premieres in 2015.

Getting a television series on the air is an incredible feat,” Park wrote in a post for KoreAm Journal online in June. “Getting one with no bankable name stars in today’s television climate is damn near impossible. Getting one about an Asian American family on the air is a frickin’ miracle.”

Image: Randall Park
Randall Park plays the father figure in the new ABC comedy “Fresh Off the Boat.”

The series, based on the memoir of celebrity chef Eddie Huang, has received its share of praise and criticism since ABC added it to its mid-season lineup. Park is one of the targets of the early backlash because his character is Taiwanese (not Korean like Park is) and speaks with an accent (which Park does not naturally have).

But in the same KoreAm post, Park acknowledged he raised that same issue himself, but was repeatedly assured he was the right actor for the role.

Hopefully audiences and the network will give it a chance.”

In an ideal world, I would never have to play a character with an accent,” he wrote. “But this is a character based on a real person. So it’s something that I have to honor and try to perfect as the series moves forward.”

Early viewers of the pilot have been defensive of the series, hoping to save it from suffering the same fate as All-American Girl and Selfie. “I thought it was very funny and despite some of the early backlash from people who haven’t yet seen the show,” YOMYOMF’s Chung said. “Hopefully audiences and the network will give it a chance.”

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The ‘Harold and Kumar’ Animated Series Is Really Happening

 

NBC: 

 

Harold and Kumar — a.k.a. everyone’s favorite Asian stoner duo — are getting the animation treatment.

Some marquee names associated with the films — including star Kal Penn (who plays Kumar), actor David Krumholtz and producer Jon Hurwitz — tweeted several photos from the new cartoon’s very first table read this week.

 

Had a wildly inappropriate morning,” wrote Penn in a tweet accompanied by a few photos of his character’s animated version.

Since the release of the first film “Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle” a decade ago, the movies have earned cult classic status among fans and millions in box office bucks. Critically, the it was called “delightfully stupid,” but also “one of the few recent comedies that persuasively, and intelligently, engage the social realities of contemporary multicultural America,” by The New York Times’ A.O. Scott.

The network Adult Swim announced back in 2012 that it was working on the “Untitled Animated Harold & Kumar Project.”

The one thing the actors were vague about was when the series would actually debut. But fans can breathe a sigh of relief, actress Paula Garces assured her Twitter followers that it would be “sooner than u think!

 

Kal Penn and John Cho
 
Kal Penn (as Kumar) and John Cho (as Harold) are back in character for an upcoming animated series.
Link

Fall network TV shows star more Asian Americans

 

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Asian Fortune News:

 

The number of Asian American actors on network television shows will increase this fall season. John Cho will star in ABC’s comedy “Selfie,” which is described as a modern version of “My Fair Lady.” On CBS, Kal Penn will appear in “Battle Creek,” a show about detectives working in a small town, and Maggie Q was cast in a new thriller entitled “Stalker.”

A new comedy show based on chef Eddie Huang’s memoir will be on ABC and is the first sitcom in two decades that focuses on an Asian American family. “Fresh Off The Boat” will star Randall Park and Constance Wu and features the culture shock 12-year-old Eddie experiences after moving to Orlando from D.C.’s Chinatown. In addition, CBS picked up “Scorpion,” which will be directed by Justin Lin, who is known for the “Fast and Furious” franchise.

 

Check out this link:

Fall network TV shows star more Asian Americans

Video

Kal Penn addresses DePauw’s Class of 2014

Actor Kal Penn of Harold and Kumar and House fame spoke to graduates of DePauw Sunday with both humor and sage wisdom.

He apologized to the parents in the audience, explaining he was not CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

He also surmised that many of the graduates were hung over based on what he saw walking through campus the night before. “I’m specifically speaking to row 12,” he said.

But Penn didn’t go all Kumar on the graduates.

He gave them some sound advice about what to expect after leaving campus.

Continue to read books, encourage the arts, talk with people who disagree with you, do crazy things, be selfless, share moments of love, remember what matters, do not make it rain,” he said.

He recalls being bitter being relegated to go-fer jobs as he tried to make a career in Hollywood, but he says now “I realize I learned a lot. I don’t think there’s such a thing as a waste of time, I just had the wrong attitude.”

Penn even warned them about some of the content they see on TV.

Contrary to what TV sells us, fame is not a profession. Be careful not to confuse fame and status and money with actual things that actually matter — like happiness and humanity and kindness.”

Link

Kal Penn to star in TV drama ‘Battle Creek’

 

House alum Kal Penn is reuniting with hit medical drama’s creator David Shore on Battle Creek. Penn is the first actor cast in the high-profile CBS series from Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan and Shore.

The project, from Sony TV, centers on a detective and an FBI agent with very different world views who are teamed up to clean up the semi-mean streets of Battle Creek, MI. Penn will play another local detective who initially has reservations about the newly arrived FBI agent. Penn, repped by Gersh, Industry Entertainment and Michael Fuller, explored multiple pilot offers before setting onBattle Creek because of his relationship with Shore on House where Penn co-starred for two seasons before leaving for a position in the White House.

Battle Creek brings him back at CBS where he starred on comedy series We Are Men this past season and previously recurred on How I Met Your Mother. Originally created by Gilligan at CBS in 2002, Battle Creek was tweaked by him and Shore. The two executive produce, with Shore serving as showrunner.

Check out this link:

Kal Penn to star in TV drama ‘Battle Creek’

Link

Five Films Where the Asian Male Lead Gets the Girl

 

Korean star Jang Dong-Gun made his American film debut this past weekend in the martial arts Western The Warrior’s Way. A number of Asian Americans have pointed out that Jang gets to share an on-screen kiss with co-star Kate Bosworth—a rarity in Hollywood for an Asian male to be both a lead and a romantic lead (watch almost any American film starring Chow Yun Fat, Jackie Chan or Jet Li to see how chaste their relationships with their leading ladies are).

But as rare as this is, this isn’t a “first” as I’ve heard some folks proclaim. Hollywood has indeed produced other films where the Asian male lead does get the girl (sometimes even “defeating” his white rival in the process). Here are five of them in no particular order:

1) THE CRIMSON KIMONO (1959)

No other non-Asian probably did more to advance three-dimensional portrayals of Asians and Asian Americans in Hollywood than director Samuel Fuller and nowhere else did he do it as well than in this gritty, crime noir set against the backdrop of L.A.’s Little TokyoJames Shigeta and Glenn Corbett are best friends and LAPD detectives investigating the death of a stripper. Beautiful Victoria Shaw is the witness who steals the hearts of both men; creating a racially tinged tension in their friendship for the first time. Since this is a Hollywood movie where an Asian American man and a white man both vie for the same white woman, it’s obvious who’ll win in the end, right? Well, luckily, this is Fuller who never did the obvious. Shaw realizes she loves Shigeta and the two even share a passionate and controversial (at the time of its release) kiss in the middle of the Little Tokyo Nisei Week parade.

2) HAROLD AND KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY (2008)

John Cho and Kal Penn are back in this hilarious sequel to Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle as the titular stoners who are mistaken for terrorists and find themselves on the run. The plot may be kicked off when the two friends embark on a plane trip so Cho’s Harold can track down and win the love of his hot neighbor Paula Garces, but Cho isn’t the only one to have a love interest this time around. Penn must also stop the impending wedding of former flame Danneel Harris who is engaged to rich douchebag Eric Winter. Not only do both dudes win their respective girls, but they also get to romp around the magical city of Amsterdam in the process. Some guys have all the luck.

3) FLOWER DRUM SONG (1961)

The Crimson Kimono wasn’t the only Hollywood flick where James Shigeta gets the girl. In fact, he probably got more play on screen than any other Asian American leading man in movies like Bridge to the Sun and this musical based on the Rodgers and Hammerstein (The Sound of Music) Broadway stage hit where he gets to romance both Nancy Kwan and Academy Award-winning actress Miyoshi Umeki. And it’s not only Shigeta who gets in on the action, the late character actor Jack Soo also finds himself some lovin’. In the turbulent 1960s, Asian American activists found fault with Flower Drum Song for its stereotyped view of American Chinatown life. While there may be some truth to that, this is also a fun and even progressive film that showed Asian Americans could sing, dance and have as good a time as anyone else. And any Hollywood movie where the only white people who appear are either extras or a token thief with two lines of dialogue is more slyly subversive than it might appear on the surface.

4) DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY (1993)

This biopic of the late, great martial arts superstar features then newcomers Jason Scott Lee and Lauren Holly as Lee (no relation) and wife Linda and doesn’t back away from exploring the different facets of their relationship including both the racism they experienced and a healthy sexual life. Like Shigeta, Jason Scott Lee would have a brief run as a Hollywood romantic lead in films like Map of the Human Heart, but it’s here where he really showed audiences that an Asian male could headline a Hollywood project and be sexy, strong and charismatic. Too bad that’s a lesson that hasn’t been taken to heart in the intervening years since this movie’s release.

5) DAUGHTER OF SHANGHAI (1937)

Chinese American Anna May Wong stars as the daughter of a Chinatown merchant who is killed by illegal immigrant smugglers. Korean American Philip Ahn is the FBI agent who teams up with her to successfully bring down the international smuggling ring. What’s pretty amazing is that this is a studio film from the 1930s that features two Asian American actors as the heroic leads (Ahn is an American FBI agent) and the white characters as the villains. Reflecting the social mores of the time, the relationship between Ahn and Wong is pretty chaste by today’s standards (off screen, the two were longtime family friends), but when Ahn asks Wong to marry him at the end of the movie and she accepts, it carries a real impact. At a screening of the film at UCLA a few years back, the audience erupted into thunderous applause at that moment, which shows how powerful it still is but, sadly, how far we haven’t come since then either.

 Check out this link:

Five Films Where the Asian Male Lead Gets the Girl