Once on This Island, now playing at the Circle in the Square Theatre (W. 50th), is an utter delight. Your heart will swell and weep and swell again before the night’s over. The musical, set on a Caribbean island, follows Ti Moune, a young girl who’s fallen in love with someone from the other side of the island. Kept apart by class and culture, Ti Moune is guided by the gods on a remarkable journey. An amazing and diverse cast is captivating and engaging. And there’s a live goat on stage to boot.
I first heard about this revival because of Lea Salonga, who plays one of the gods. If you don’t already know who she is, I’m not going to tell you, except to say that I would see her in anything. But as amazing as she is, the whole cast of Once On This Island really blew me away. From the debut performances of Haley Kilgore playing Ti Moune (girl, those vocal cords are no joke) and Isaac Powell as her love Daniel, to Alex Newell’s blow the house down number “Mama Will Provide” and the tenor that hums in your soul from Quentin Earl Darrington, to the “Storytellers” who round out the cast.
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Fresh Off the Boat, Season 4, Episode 10: “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
Original airdate December 12, 2017.
Synopsis: Deirdre’s college roomie Holly (it’s Paula Abdul!) is visiting, and since she’s a “performance and movement” instructor, she offers to coach the homeowners’ association carolers. Jessica (who still takes Christmas very seriously) doesn’t think most of her neighbors sing very well, so she insists that Holly conduct tryouts, limiting this year’s group to six participants. Although Jessica sings very well and does a great audition, Holly doesn’t include her in the group because Jessica doesn’t have enough Christmas spirit.
Louis and Honey have fallen in love with Titanic, and since they can’t get their familes to join them at the cinema, they go together. Marvin is suspicious of Honey, since she promised to save Titanic for when they can watch it together at home on video.
In the best thing about the episode, Nicole asks Eddie to meet her at a cafe, where she’s crushing on Jackie, one of the baristas. Nicole doesn’t know how to approach her (It’s Diamond White, from season two of The X Factor), so Eddie tries to help her out. In a silly gag, Emery and Alison each pop out of nowhere when it’s convenient for the story, each eager to help Nicole as well.
Right On: The Nicole story is really sweet, and I love the way her three friends help her out with every indication that Nicole’s crush being a girl is no big deal. The over-caffeinated gag is kind of dumb, but the strategy of using coffee cups to get attention is cute. I know I’m not alone in trying to read into the little things the cute baristas at my local cafe write on my cups!
Some lines I enjoyed:
“I can taste the laziness. We all can!” (Jessica)
“Did you hear me ascend the ladder? I climbed up over Celine — I stepped on the shoulders of that French Canadian angel and I kissed the heavens!” (Jessica)
“That kind of negative energy is toxic to a group. Just look what happened to Oasis!” (Holly)
Bogus: The Honey-Marvin-Louis story is soooooo dumb. It adds nothing to this episode, and while I love the cultural references, there must be something better to do with this. If it’s all a setup for the baby announcement, it’s even dumber. Honestly, although I love (love!) Honey, I don’t think anyone really cares whether she’s having a baby or not. In the context of this show, it’s kind of meaningless. And I hate to say this, but everyone knows that one of the truest signs of a shark-jump in a TV sitcom is the introduction of new kid characters because the original kids are growing up. Is there one show that got better when new kids were added? Please don’t let this be Cousin Oliver Syndrome.
FOB moment: The return of Chinese Santa, in flashback and as a disguise for Louis.
Soundtrack flashback: “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler (1983, sung by Evan). “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion (1997, sung by Jessica).
Final grade, this episode: This episode is saved by a solid Deirdre presence and the kids in the cafe. Otherwise it’s annoying, and I am normally a sucker for Christmas episodes on sitcoms. Add the gratuitous group carol as the closing credits close, and yeesh. C+.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….
…Asians finally became a key part of the STAR WARS saga.
TL;DR: The Tico Sisters rock my galaxy.
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI opens in U.S. theaters on December 15, and in this installment of “Episode VIII,” we finally get to meet mechanic Rose Tico, played by actress Kelly Marie Tran.
I say “finally” because it has been more than 2 years since the infamous Comic-Con Q&A where Ryan and Corinne asked J.J. Abrams point-blank if there would be Asians in STAR WARS (see video and transcript in John’s original post).
And it has been over a year since Kelly Marie Tran was announced as a key member of the cast.
While there have been a number of other Asian faces in minor roles in STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (Episode VII), Tran’s character– Rose Tico– is the kind of character who has the storyline and screen time that has previously only been seen in other STAR WARS films with other ethnicities, droids, or aliens of different kinds.
It’s actually because of her sister, Paige Tico (actress Veronica Ngo), that we actually meet Rose. But hey, I said there would be no spoilers here, so all you need to know is that both sisters are awesome and even if you’re not Asian, you might feel like cheering for them when they’re on screen.
Sorry to disappoint, if you’re here for an actual real review with no spoilers, this is all you get right now. I do think it’s worth it to go to the theater and see Tran and Ngo on the big screen, because aside from them, there are some fights and battles and stuff. In space… ooops, did I say too much? I will say that it is absolutely exhilarating to see an Asian American face on-screen with such a meaningful storyline and with some actual character development. And if you care about the non-Asians in that universe, yeah they’re there, too.
I’ll end this post with some of my favorite pictures from the world premiere which was held in Los Angeles, where stars Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro were joined by writer/director Rian Johnson and producers Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman for a walk down the red carpet where they greeted enthusiastic fans at the world premiere of Lucasfilm’s STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI.
I haven’t seen this television commercial yet, but a friend sent me this link after he saw this Samsung Galaxy Note 8 commercial while watching an NFL football game on a Sunday evening on NBC:
“There’s a new way to share how you feel with Live Message on the new Samsung Galaxy Note8.”
After some research, I discovered this commercial debuted during the most recent Emmy Awards.
This is one of the rare commercials that highlights an Asian American male romantic lead in an inter-racial relationship with a white woman. As I’ve often mentioned, I think McDonald’s “Egg McMuffin of Boyfriends” commercial was the first one that caught my I that I blogged about.
Overall, I really like the commercial. It’s very cute in a hopeless romantic kind of way and is effective in showing a feature of the phone that I never knew about. The actress and commercial kind of reminds me of the Zooey Deschanel and the movie (500) Days of Summer, and the commercial’s song is kind of catchy (Peggy Lee’s Similau (See-Me-Lo) 1949). Can’t find any info on the actor …
From the YouTube comments, someone identified the actress as Cyrina Fiallo, and apparently has done quite a few commercials from a quick Google search.
The second most liked comment on YouTube was: “What kind of psychopath uses a $800 device without a case.” which I thought was hilarious – because it’s true!
During opening weekend, I took my daughter to see the new Disney/Pixar movie, Coco. It’s a movie she’s been looking forward to seeing for almost a year, since the trailers for the new movie came out quite some time ago. I didn’t have much expectations for the movie, as I figured it would be similar to a previous animated film, Book of Life, another film centered around Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. But the movie is completely different, and definitely worth a viewing. As I watched the film Coco with my 12 year old, I began to realize that many of the practices and beliefs that were being practiced by the Mexican families were similar if not identical to many practices that we performed for my deceased ancestors as a Chinese/Taiwanese immigrant family in the United States.
Before I make the comparisons, I’ll remind readers that discussing the dead, or customs and practices around death is generally considered taboo in Chinese culture. But I have previously broken this taboo by writing about Chinese funerary customs, so I’ll wander again into dangerous waters. If you’re from a Chinese family, you might want to refrain from talking about this topic with the elders in your family. In fact ghosts and the supernatural are generally still considered forbidden topics in mainland China, and it was a surprise that Coco made it past Chinese censors without any edits.
One of the major Chinese holidays is also known as 盂蘭節 or Ghost Festival. The holiday is sometimes called Chinese Halloween, and is very similar to the Mexican Day of the Dead. I remember when I was growing up, that my mom would set up an altar on major Chinese holidays, like the Ghost Festival, and the center of the altar would have the photographs of the deceased ancestors. We would burn incense, and joss paper and lay out food offerings, typically oranges and cooked rice with other dishes for the deceased, so they would have food and money in the afterlife. We would eat the food it had been left out for a long time, long enough for the deceased to partake their portion of the food. It’s common for Chinese to burn paper replicas of cars, boats, houses, etc. for the deceased to have these things in the afterlife.
Similarly on the Day of the Dead, in Coco, there’s a strong importance to having the photograph of the family ancestor placed in the family ofrenda. The belief in Coco, is that if your photograph is not in the family ofrenda, you won’t be able to pass over on the Day of the Dead to visit your relatives. You’re essentially forgotten. In Coco, if you’re forgotten, your spirit will disappear from the afterlife and cease to exist when the last person who remembers you dies in the real world.
Similar to Chinese culture, the Mexicans lay out food for the deceased, so they’ll have food in the afterlife. The amount of food the deceased have in the afterlife varies by how much they were remembered and offered food in the real world. So a popular singer, like the character Ernesto de la Cruz in the movie Coco, had an abundance of food in the afterlife from all his devoted living fans, while Hector, who was forgotten had none.
By the end of the movie, these similarities between the two cultures got me wondering if they arose from the same source. My guess is yes, since at the end of the movie Coco, there was a disclaimer saying the beliefs around the Day of the Dead, had roots in Mexican and indigenous peoples. And with the knowledge that indigenous peoples traveled from Asia to settle in the Americas, I think we’re fairly safe in assuming these beliefs have a common beginning.
In case you haven’t seen Coco yet, won’t spoil any more of the movie for you, but I will say it’s one of the best kids movies I’ve seen in a while, and well worth the price of admission.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 4, Episode 9: “Slide Effect”
Original airdate December 5, 2017.
Synopsis: Eddie’s friends each sign up for school activities. Trent’s the newest member of the Safety Patrol, while the others get into the school play, the book club, and the cheerleading team. Eddie doesn’t like the image they project, and when Trent writes him up for breaking the dress code, he pushes back in order to cultivate what he hopes is his bad boy persona. This impresses the second-coolest group on campus, a trio of “hackers,” older guys who play Hacky Sack.
Jessica’s working on proofs for her novel, A Case of a Knife to the Brain, which is apparently set for publication. She can’t handle the pressure of being on the edge of her dreams’ realization while the prospect of failure remains in place. The stress extends to selecting an author’s photo for her book jacket, and Honey volunteers to photograph her.
Way: Yay for an episode that doesn’t try to cram everyone into a story. Louis, Emery, and Evan are background players here, and Grandma’s not in the episode at all. It’s okay! It’s been four seasons. We know who the Huangs are and we don’t have to see them deeply involved in every episode. It makes for better storytelling, especially since Eddie and Jessica are the best characters.
Trent comes to the door in a robe, with a towel wrapped around his head, and holding a plate of Oreos, saying, “I don’t want you to see me like this.” It’s one of a few laugh-aloud moments. And thank goodness for a high-school principal who doesn’t seem like a cartoon. The Louis gag where he’s on the phone with pollsters is funny, and the payoff in the last one, where he’s speaking to Grandma on the phone, is borderline hilarious.
No way: Nothing much to complain about. I didn’t enjoy the Rent/Brent bit, but that’s more because of awkwardness than any transgression in storytelling.
FOB moment: “I guess it’s true. Asian dads don’t say I love you.”
Soundtrack flashback: A parody of “Bad Boys” by Inner Circle (1987) where the refrain goes “Good boys, good boys; whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they friends with you?” “The Distance” by Cake (1996). And a parody of “Seasons of Love” from Rent (1996).
That Cake song brings back a ton of memories of my first year as a teacher. I bought the Fashion Nugget album in the year between my undergraduate studies and the beginning of my teaching career, and I discovered that it was very good music to listen to on endless repeat while grading endless papers. That was a rough, lonely year (you have no idea what a first-year teacher goes through unless you lived it or were married to someone who lived it), and I will always be grateful to Cake for helping me through.
A few days after my review for the last episode, someone named Taint Kirk messaged me on FB and said the mystery Gwar song was “Penguin Attack,” which I said I would confirm but still haven’t. I accidentally deleted the episode, so it’s going to take a bit before I do. But shout-out and thank you either way!
Final grade, this episode: Honestly, it was kind of a boring episode despite its pleasant tone and Nice Guy Eddie. B.
Maggie Shen King’s debut novel An Excess Male is a thrilling ride through a dystopia future where there is many more than one excess male. Some time in the not so distant future, China has so many men, that families include multiple husbands–husbands who must compete in an ultra-competitive, dowry-driven market to ever get married at all.
The novel follows four main characters, shifting perspectives with each chapter. The first is Wei-guo, a bachelor who has finally saved up enough to wed, but only as a third husband. The other three are the family of Hann, his brother XX, and their wife May-Ling. All four are caught up in the regulations governing society: the Willfully Sterile (registered homosexuals who are forbidden from marriage and other relationships), the Lost Boys (men with developmental disabilities who are also forbidden from marriage), detailed marriage contracts, a system where families pay doctors under the table to have girls so they can make money–a particular breed of social engineering that feels within the realm of possibility. The novel slowly unfolds the facets of this uneasy society as tensions mount and each of the four must make life-changing decisions about their futures, either together or apart. An Excess Male provokes questions of morality and rights, liberty and love, family and loyalty, but in a fast-paced drama. It’s quick, enjoyable read that dives into a smartly-conceived and imaginative future where all is not as it seems.
“Hear stories of health and inspiration in the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community. The Check Up, Check In podcast will explore unique perspectives and stories about what health means, and how communities are advancing health equity and justice. This podcast — brought to you by the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum — will enlighten, move, and empower you.
Check out this preview with upcoming Season 1 guests Agents of SHIELD’s Chloe Bennet and Funny Or Die’s Brad Jenkins.”
When you get a chance, please check the podcast out.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 4, Episode 8: “The Vouch”
Original airdate November 21, 2017.
Synopsis: Jessica finally completes her novel, A Case of a Knife to the Brain, and Louis hates it but doesn’t want to hurt her feelings or discourage her. She puts him in a difficult spot, asking him to pass her manuscript to Kenny Rogers, who will be in Orlando to visit Kenny Rogers’s Michael Bolton’s Cattleman’s Ranch. Eddie and his friends go in together on a 300-CD disc changer, and conflict arises when Eddie disapproves of the music the others want to store in it.
Y: Some lines I enjoyed, some of them because it’s the last week of NaNoWriMo:
“How am I supposed to write without coffee?”
“Don’t push your vegetable agenda on me.”
“I can’t believe I finished a novel. I feel like a runner at the end of a marathon, except words are my miles.”
“The Republic of Texas” (on Kenny Rogers’s return address label)
“More than thirty-five hundred songs inside a machine that’s only seventeen inches long by eight inches wide by nine inches deep, and she only weighs twenty pounds!”
N: I don’t have anything to complain about with this episode. Must be the spirit of Thanksgiving.
FOB moment: “Jessica, there is a character in your book that somehow manages to get murdered twice! It doesn’t make any sense!”
“And a Chinese immigrant opening a western-themed steakhouse in central Florida does?”
Soundtrack flashback: “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” by Busta Rhymes (1997). “Circle of Life,” from the soundtrack for The Lion King by Elton John (1994). “Book of Days” by Enya (1991). There are two songs I couldn’t nail down: something with the lyrics or title “ride or die,” and something by Gwar. I like Gwar a lot, but the sample was too short for even a guy with metal ears like mine to peg. If you can identify either of these tunes in the comments, I’d be most grateful!
It was nice to have so many flashbacks in this one episode after a couple of weeks where there weren’t any.
Final grade, this episode: I can’t explain it, but I really enjoyed this episode even though nothing about it was outstanding. B+.
Stolen Oranges, a new novel by Max Yeh, is a whirlwind of a historical tale, recounting a series of letters written between Miguel Cervantes (of Don Quixote fame) and a Ming emperor as told by their discoverer–a Chinese American historian. I was first drawn to this novel by the back cover description: “this dazzling meditation on the intricacies of memory, language, and time.” And when it showed up at my doorstep, by the small size of the book itself, about the size of my hand.
I hadn’t even opened the book yet. Yeh’s story begins with the Chinese American historian, who is writing a historical book (which is to say that it reads like non-fiction, though it is fiction), introducing the circumstances that led him to discover and then translate a series of letters between Cervantes and Emperor Wanli. It is, in a particular style of history writing, a bit dense at times, but worth meandering through even if one, such as I, lack understanding of nearly all references to Don Quixote. But I found the gems to be in these letters that go back and forth. Both the Emperor and Cervantes’ letters offer ruminations on the promised topics of memory, language, and time in manner that is deeply philosophical, somewhat long-winded, yet mostly accessible.
Take this passage on words and language as an example:
Words are an empty palace we are born into, the hills and corridors to which, nooks and crannies, windows and doorways, were long ago constructed by innumerable and unknown builders and planners and workmen whose unknown and unknowable intentions and meanings are set in stone and wood and whose spaces form our whole lives, while we live so conformed under the illusion that we are ever building the palace the way we want it.
Perhaps out of context it is slightly less legible, but peppered throughout these fictional letters are intriguing nuggets about humanity. Though technically a novel, it is much more akin to a philosophy book, even more so than a history book. This is not what I would call an easy or fast read, but Stolen Oranges is rewarding for those interested in a well-executed deep dive into ideas and theories about language and being.
Recently, I interviewed my friend Dr. Ravi Chandra, who recently published his book, Facebuddha: Transcendence in the Age of Social Networks:
Facebuddha is a rich memoir of relationships, online and off, and an exploration of the psychology of social networks through a Buddhist lens.
In the brief interview, Dr. Chandra discusses his observations, thoughts and experiences regarding the use of social media. I also asked him about his thoughts on President Trump and his use of social media, primarily Twitter.
Specific to Dr. Chandra‘s professional background, he’s a San Francisco-based psychiatrist and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and blogs regularly for Psychology Today (The Pacific Heart).
Dr. Chandra also discusses his book and thoughts in front of the “thumbs up” sign at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California:
“On 10/31/17, the 500th anniversary of Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Castle Church door, psychiatrist Ravi Chandra “nailed” his new book about the psychology of social networks through a Buddhist lens to the door of our social media church at Facebook HQ, to protest what social media is doing to our minds and hearts, and calling for a return to relationship, community and compassion.”
You can learn more about the book also from the book trailer (which I noticed recently, is a thing now …)
If you’re interest in the book, you cab buy Facebuddha here:
Also available at your local independent bookstore.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 4, Episode 7: “The Day After Thanksgiving”
Original airdate November 14, 2017.
Synopsis: Grandma: still taking an ESL course. Louis: invites the ESL teacher to Thanksgiving dinner. Jessica: agrees to host Thanksgiving dinner so she and Honey can use Grandma’s chair on Black Friday. Eddie and Emery: take Evan to his first R-rated movie (I Know What You Did Last Summer). Evan: gets spooked and takes a little trip to the dark side. Barney: is cut up during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade much to Evan’s horror.
Thumbs up: I love it when there are multiple scenes with just the three boys. Their acting and chemistry are really enjoyable, and this is Ian Chen’s best acting yet.
I’m going to avoid speaking very much about George Takei for a while, but I’ll say that it’s good to see him in another episode, in the way it was good to see Margaret Cho in those episodes of Dr. Ken and Sullivan & Son. There’s something of a debt to be acknowledged.
Honey’s drunken phone message is funny. And there’s some good arguing with Jessica and Louis. And Louis rocks a pretty nice aloha shirt (we do not call them Hawaiian shirts in Hawaii). I mean classy nice, the kind you’d see men wearing in downtown Honolulu instead of suits, ties, and jackets.
Thumbs down: The professor stuff is a bit over the top, which I know is intentional, but it’s so over the top I had difficulty watching it. I like the rationale behind the Jessica-Grandma stuff, but it feels abrupt and forced, although that might be worth it for the “I only keep an eye on my enemies” line, which made me laugh.
FOB moment: Grandma is still taking an ESL class.
Soundtrack flashback: “I Love You” by Barney (1988 ish?), sung by Evan.
Final grade, this episode: Eh. It’s aight. I looked it up and the Barney mishap actually happened on Thanksgiving 1997, the year in which this episode is set. Other balloons suffered similar or worse. B-minus.