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.



Breaking the Asian myth: No, not ALL Asians are short

Sacramento Kings v Houston Rockets

Audrey Magazine:

As title of this series suggests, our Breaking the Asian Myth stories seek to challenge absurd stereotypes about the Asian community. So far we’ve looked into the ridiculous assumption that all Asian women have the same kind of hair, the impossible belief that Asians can’t get fat, and even the dangerous theory that Asian women need not worry about breast cancer. Yeah, my eyes hurt from all the eyerolling too.

In reality, the umbrella term “Asian” is composed of many, many ethnicities so no one should assume we all have the exact same features. However, it seems no matter how many times we have to clarify that these assumptions don’t apply to all of us (No mister, I can’t explain to you what your Chinese tattoo means… seeing as I’m not even Chinese), we still have a load of overgeneralizations thrown at us on a daily basis.

One such overgeneralization that I’ve heard all my life is the idea that all Asians are short. Being a proud member of the fun-sized community myself, I admit that there are quite a number of us. But is that enough to justify the pure shock and disbelief Asians get when they actually are tall? I don’t know about that.

So here’s some love for all of you who are tired of people constantly pointing out that you’re tall for an Asian, and feel left out when you tower over the rest of us. You’re not alone! Check out some of our favorite Asian celebs who certainly break this Asian Myth.

Yao Ming — 7’6”

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Dave Bautista — 6’6″




Dwayne Johnson — 6’5″




Jeremy Lin — 6’4″




Daniel Henney — 6’2″




Sung Kang — 6’1″




Kimora Lee Simmons — 6’0”




Liu Wen — 5’11”




Tao Okamoto — 5’10”




Sui He — 5’10”

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Sun Fei Fei — 5’10”




Grace Park 5’9”


Deepika Padukone 5’9”





Sung Kang named to cast of new Fox series

Actor Sung Kang of Better Luck Tomorrow and Fast & Furious fame has been named to the cast of the new Fox series Gang Related, reports Hit Fix.

According to Fox, Gang Related is a gritty new action drama starring Ramon Rodriguez as detective Ryan Lopez, the head of Los Angeles’ elite gang task force.

Sung Kang plays Tae Kim, a member of that elite team. The show will debut after the first part of the season finale of American Idol on May 20.

Chris Morgan who wrote Fast Five is also a driving force behind Gang Related.

Check out this link:

Sung Kang named to cast of new Fox series


Top 20 Asian Guys With the Most Swag

10) Sung Kang


He’s one of the few Asian guys that scores with the hot White girl. Sung Kang gets the girl in Fast and Furious, the gorgeous Gal Godot. Sung’s relationship with director Justin Lin has paid off, as Justin has become a well sought after director and has placed Kang into great positive roles for Asian American men.

What you can learn from him: Make strong connections with people that will help you become better.

9) Harry Shum Jr.


Harry Shum Jr. is the Asian heartthrob on the hit TV show Glee. Besides being sexy on TV, Shum is also a talented dancer, as evidenced by his role on movies such as Step Up 3D. Lately, he’s also been doing tons of collaborations with Wong Fu Productions.

What you can learn from him: Dancers have swag. A lot of it.

8) Daniel Dae Kim


Daniel Dae Kim is one of the few leading guys on American TV that is considered a hunk. Becoming well known on Lost, Daniel Dae Kim now is one of the main characters on Hawaii Five-O. With a killer body and sexy smile, Daniel Dae Kim is making waves into the American entertainment industry.

What you can learn from him: Become the hunk that women dream about. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Korean guy with tiny eyes.

7) Bruno Mars


Did you even know this guy was Asian? Bruno Mars is indeed half Filipino on his mother’s side. He’s become the object of many girl’s fantasies with his romantic lyrics, which paint him as a seriously sensitive & romantic guy, but his troubles with the law also paint him as a badboy. A deadly combination.

What you can learn from him: Girls love romantic badboys.

6) Rain


He’d be ranked higher on this list if he wasn’t stuck doing military duty.

The super sexy Rain has been making girls panties drop for years. He’s taken now, though, by none other than the gorgeous Kim Tae Hee, just one of the most pretty and in-demand actresses in Korea.

When he first started, no one thought he had a chance because they deemed him “too ugly” because of his small eyes. Instead of backing down he kept working on his skills and finally broke through. Now he’s one of hte most sought after men in Korea.

What you can learn from him: Don’t let other people’s negative opinions bring you down. Rise above them.

5) TOP


The first member of Big Bang on the list.

TOP is one of the three most popular members of Big Bang, so it’s fitting to see him in your top 5. TOP has made major contributions to the fashion world. His wacky fashion and weird hairstyles take guts to pull off, and he does it very well.

What you can learn from him: Don’t be afraid to experiment with yourself, especially in style.

4) Donnie Yen


Donnie Yen has been blowing up as of late, and that’s because he’s got an intensity that other action stars don’t have.

Jackie Chan is too busy making a fool of himself in his movies, and while that’s not a bad thing for entertainment purposes, it doesn’t make him seem like a tough guy. He’s more of a innocent fool who knows how to fight really well.

Donnie Yen, on the other hand, is a badass.

What you can learn from him: Don’t be weak. Know how to stand up for yourself. Be a tougher, more masculine you.

3) Tae Yang


The 2nd member of Big Bang makes the list because damn, this little guy has swag.

Standing only 5’ 3”, this K-pop star has girls swooning over him. True, it might be hard to tell how short he is on TV, but still, this little guy is having no problems with the ladies.

Besides that, like other members of Big Bang, Tae Yang been an extremely influential force in fashion, entertainment, and music.

What you can learn from him: Don’t let things like height slow you down.

2) G-Dragon


Although definitely flamboyant, you have to respect G-dragon’s hustle.

This guy has major swag, and it’s evident with the way he’s influenced fashion, not only in Korea, but around the world.

Big Bang is also blowing up as one of the biggest Asian boy bands in Korea, and it’s slowly making it’s way into the mainstream American media as well. G-Dragon, being the leader, has led their group into being major influencers in the world of music, fashion, and entertainment.

What you can learn from him: Haters gonna hate, but you have to be better than them.

1) Bruce Lee


Not only was Bruce one of the first internationally recognized Asians, he might possibly be the most well known Asian name in the world.

Although some might say he plays to the Asian stereotype of the “kung fu master,” Lee transcended that. He was a masculine role model for Asian men in a time when there were no Asian men in Hollywood media.

With a ripped body, amazing discipline, and a ridiculous work ethic, Lee dominated the martial arts entertainment industry with his movies.

What you can learn from him: Bruce Lee has the whole package. Charisma, looks, and skills. Having swag ultimately is about having all of these traits. It’s a holistic self-improvement process that will make you into a better man. A man who is attractive to women, confident in his abilities, and a leader amongst other men.

Check out this link:


Linsanity gets its red carpet Hollywood premiere

Linsanity Premiere

The documentary Linsanity got the red carpet treatment at its Hollywood premiere this week, and director Evan Leong admitted he was a little stunned by it all.

I never thought I’d put on a tux and walk down the red carpet with Jeremy Lin,” director Evan Leong said.

The premiere took place at the newly renovated TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman’s Chinese Theater) on Thursday night, followed by an after-party at the Roosevelt Hotel. Guests included Lin, Fast and Furious director Justin Lin, NBA coach Mike D’Antoni, OWN journalist Lisa LingHawaii Five-O star Brian YangBetter Luck Tomorrow/Fast and Furious star Sung Kang, and others.

Linsanity, which got its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, gets its wide screen debut in select cities across the country on October 2nd.

Check out this link:

Linsanity gets its red carpet Hollywood premiere



From Better Luck Tomorrow to K-Town: Asian Americans and Los Angeles in 21st Century Media

Here is a great article on the KCET (Southern California’s PBS entity) website regarding the path of Asian Americans in film and tv over the last 15 years, including interviews with directors Quentin Lee and Justin Lin. As many know, Justin Lin (who has directed four films in the Fast and the Furious franchise) made his initial mark as the director of the groundbreaking Generaxian-X film, Better Luck Tomorrow (featuring The Fast and the FuriousSung Kang, and Star Trek‘s  John Cho).

Check out this link:

From Better Luck Tomorrow to K-Town: Asian Americans and Los Angeles in 21st Century Media