I admit it, I’m been kind of obsessed with the film ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ since seeing it in a pre-screening in August: I’ve been following tweets on #CrazyRichAsians, reviews on YouTube (and I’m amazed at how many people do reviews on YouTube), and have religiously followed the box office numbers daily.
And I really like the soundtrack, as I mention in my review of the film – so much that I bought the MP3 album off of Amazon and have been listening to the album constantly. My favorite song from the film is the cover of ‘Yellow’ by Katherine Ho.
When I looked for more information about Katherine Ho, Wikipedia said she was on season 10 of The Voice and was a 19-year-old sophomore at USC, but she didn’t seem to be very active on her social media channels (YouTube | Instagram | Twitter). So I was really excited to read more about her in The Los Angeles Times:
After chemistry class on a recent weekday, sophomore Katherine Ho sat at an outdoor table in USC Village, and shared the chain of events that made the pre-med student’s rendition of Coldplay’s “Yellow” appear during the climactic scene in the box-office topping movie “Crazy Rich Asians.” … A first-generation Chinese American from Woodland Hills, the 19-year-old is a lifelong singer who has performed on the NBC singing competition show “The Voice.” She is also minoring in songwriting at USC. … Despite the fact that she was starting her second semester as a freshman — and was already overwhelmed with studies — late one night, she got her dad on the phone to perfect the Mandarin lyrics for “Yellow,” working line by line through meanings and inflections.
But I was even more excited to see Katherine Ho being interviewed by Nicki Sun on YouTube (as embedded above). I don’t think I had heard of Sun before, but I think I came across her during my #CrazyRichAsians Twitter search and followed her when she tweeted a link to her interview.
In her 27-minute interview, Sun asks Ho more about her background and how she got to do the cover for “Yellow,” and then she details and translates the Mandarin lyrics of the song. Ho also discusses growing up Chinese American, going to Chinese school and speaking Chinese to her parents and mixing it up with English (like me; my listening is better than my speaking, but Ho’s Chinese is way better than mine). Ho is pre-med by choice (not being forced by her parents) and minoring in song writing.
As I tweeted to Sun, it’s instances like this that makes me wish I lived in Los Angeles, to get the opportunity to interview artists like Ho!
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A Simple Favor (2018)
Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding. Written by Jessica Sharzer (based on the novel by Darcey Bell). Directed by Paul Feig.
A Simple Favor is being marketed as a thriller, but it’s really more of a mystery, so if you’re put off by thrillers (as I am), be assured that it’s not very scary and not very violent, and it doesn’t have edge-of-your-seat moments the way thrillers usually do.
Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie, a widowed mother who puts her name next to three jobs for her young son’s class party sign-up sheet while the other parents say mean things about her behind her back. When she’s not volunteering for class mom activities, she produces a vlog for other moms.
She meets Emily, the beautiful mother of her son’s classmate. Stephanie and Emily become friends, but for Stephanie it’s a very uneasy friendship. Emily is wealthier, more successful, and more adventurous than she is, and where Stephanie is eager to please and quick to apologize, Emily seems to disdain any attitude that doesn’t begin with oneself. She admonishes Stephanie for saying “I’m sorry,” and threatens to punch her in the face if Stephanie ever says it again.
Emily disappears a week after she befriends Stephanie, and the rest of the film involves finding out what happened to her.
It’s fun in the way a good puzzle mystery is fun, engaging all the way and difficult to predict. Every character seems at times likeable and despicable, with nice performances by Kendrick, Lively, and Henry Golding as Sean, Stephanie’s husband.
Early promo materials (including trailers) featured only Kendrick and Lively, but the success of Crazy Rich Asians, which stars Golding, had the studio releasing new promos highlighting all three principal actors. This is not meaningless: there’s no way to tell if it’s lasting, but there has already been a Crazy Rich Asians diversity effect even on films already completed before its release.
Anna Kendrick is my second-favorite actress over the past several years, so there’s a huge bias here, but if you also find her charming, you’ll want to see this film. If not, deduct a few points and see it anyway for a good two hours of engaging escapism.
So, the Netflix teenage romance film ‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’ (TATBILB), based on a novel of the same name by Korean American author Jenny Han, debuted on Friday, August 17th, the same opening weekend as ‘Crazy Rich Asians.’ “Asian August” has been a busy month, and I’ve written reviews for ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and ‘Searching.” Now finally, I will discuss this film.
To be honest, I had never heard of the book, author or film until I started looking on Twitter about Asian Americans being excited about both ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and ‘TATBILB.’ Then I read this opinion piece in the New York Times the day the film came out on Netflix, by author Jenny Han, titled, “An Asian-American Teen Idol Onscreen, Finally,” in which the writer says,
When I sold my first middle-grade novel in 2005, it wasn’t that common to put an author photo on the back flap, but 24-year-old Korean-American me insisted. I wanted Asian girls to see my face. And more than that, I wanted them to see what is possible.
My young-adult novel, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” is about a girl who writes secret love letters to boys when she wants to get over them. They’re for her eyes only — except one day, they all get sent out. Even before the book came out in 2014, there was interest in making a movie. But the interest died as soon as I made it clear the lead had to be Asian-American. One producer said to me, as long as the actress captures the spirit of the character, age and race don’t matter. I said, well, her spirit is Asian-American. That was the end of that.
I loved this and wanted to watch the film. I think with the success of ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ hopefully the practice of whitewashing / racebending, which has been common in Hollywood productions in the past, might be fading away.
The Netflix description of the movie says, “When her secret love letters somehow get mailed to each of her five crushes, Lara Jean finds her quiet high school existence turned upside down.”
I enjoyed this teen romance film, but felt it was fairly predictable. What I enjoyed most was the very strong performance by lead actress Lana Condor, who is excellent playing Lara Jean.
The biggest criticism I’ve read, and I agree a little, is that none of Lara Jean’s crushes are Asian American, though one is an African American. The film takes place in the Portland, Oregon region, where the Asian American population is approximately 7 percent (Oregon overall is almost 4 percent).
When I grew up in western Massachusetts, there were very few Asian Americans in my high school and I didn’t have crushes on any of the Asian American girls, just some white ones. Given limited choices, that’s the reality.
IndieWire’s Hanh Nguyen interviewed who said, “I understand the frustration and I share that frustration of wanting to see more Asian American men in media. For this, all I can say is this is the story that I wrote.”
Han’s novel doesn’t spell out the race of each of the characters, but some of the descriptions (i.e. blond hair) and the names read as typically white: Josh Sanderson, Peter Kavinsky, John Ambrose McClaren, Kenny Donati, and Lucas Krapf. Furthermore, in the movie, four of the five boys are portrayed by white actors, while Lucas Krapf is renamed Lucas James and portrayed by black actor Trezzo Mahoro.
Maybe Han didn’t want to push her luck, given that she held steadfast on making sure that the girl was going to be an Asian American girl. But it’s still a little disappointing.
Other than that, I’d say the film is an enjoyable teen romance that most teenage girls would love. The film has a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (with a total of 43 reviews).
Love Yourself: Answer by BTS
Big Hit Entertainment 2018
The new BTS compilation album (with 7 new tracks!) dropped August 24, and if you know even one person who’s a BTS fan, you knew about it probably a couple of weeks in advance because BTSers could not shut up. I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure anticipation of the new album even brought one of my friends out of Twitter hibernation.
Until a few years ago, I was a high-school teacher, so I’ve seen boy-band crazes come and go, but there has never been anything like this BTS thing. Among those in my life who can’t stop are a retired middle-school teacher, the esteemed restaurant critic of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, and one of my college friends who took her daughter (or daughters? I’m a bad friend) to Los Angeles to see the group in concert. I’m in my late 40s, and each of these women is in that neighborhood, something I only mention to highlight the fact that something very unusual is going on here. This did not happen with N*Sync.
I’ve heard snippets, you know? Never a whole song, but little bits of music in people’s Instagram stories, and nothing stood out for me. It was K-pop and it sounded like K-pop and it didn’t sound to me any better or worse than any other K-pop.
I get it. For those unfamiliar with a genre, it all sounds the same. I’m a metalhead and I realize that to casual observers, all my favorite metal bands sound the same (that is, mostly terrible) when nothing could be further from the truth.
These are people whose opinions I value on wide ranges of topics including music and art. One early-30s blogger I’ve become online acquaintances with turned me on to emo-screamo band Thursday, and I dig a lot of the music she likes, but now she’s all about BTS.
Two weekends ago I made a commitment to give it the fairest shot I could. I was going to listen to Love Yourself: Answer all weekend long, and only this album.
And I didn’t care for it, but by the end of the weekend, I could name (and even sing along with) a couple of tracks I actually like, and most of the time the rest of the songs weren’t bad.
Andrew Yang’s headline speech at the 2018 Iowa Wing Ding: “The opposite of a Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math.”
This past spring, a Facebook friend posted a meet-and-greet event for Andrew Yang, a Taiwanese American running for president (yes, president of the United States) in 2020. I emphasize 2020, since I was kind of surprised someone would be running so early (Obama didn’t start running until February 2007 – almost two years before November 2008).
Unfortunately, I had a conflict and didn’t get a chance until July for another meet-and-greet, where I met Yang and scheduled a face-to-face, in-person interview.
I don’t think I had ever heard of Yang until that meet-and-greet post on Facebook, or if I had, I might have dismissed him, since I usually keep up on Asian American politicians – especially if they run for president.
Prior to interviewing Yang, I did some research and found an interesting New York Times article profiling him, interestingly titled “His 2020 Campaign Message: The Robots Are Coming.” Continue Reading »
Heroine’s Journey brings an end to Sarah Kuhn’s delightful Asian American superheroine trilogy. In the first of the series, Heroine Complex, we meet Evie Tanaka, assistant to superheroine Aveda Jupiter. In the second, Heroine Worship, we explore Aveda Jupiter aka Annie Chang’s inner self. And here in the last, we traverse between worlds with Bea Tanaka, Evie’s younger sister, as she tries to, well, what else, save the world from demon destruction. Bea’s superpower is that she can project emotions, controlling how others are feeling.
This final installment reminds me why I loved the original Heroine Complex so much. It’s got tons of great Asian American female characters, a stubborn but relatable title character, some sizzling hot romance scenes, and giant demonic unicorns. It’s got mother-daughter stuff, repressed emotions, katsu, and lots of rule breaking.
Incredibly fun to read and engaging, this book is in the “missed my subway stop while reading” category, so you know it’s a good one.
by Tim Lounibos
It’s an amazing time
The past several weeks have been absolutely amazing for the Asian American entertainment industry. Crazy Rich Asians blew past $100 million at the box office in less than three weeks, becoming the most successful rom-com in almost a decade on its way to surely cracking the top ten all-time list for that genre.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a huge success on Netflix to the point where it has actually raised the popularity of the Japanese yogurt drink Yakult and the stock value of the company who produces it.
Searching had the second highest per-screen box office average in its opening week, trailing only CRA, and more than doubled its distributor’s box office expectations.
As a result, Hollywood has begun greenlighting Asian American projects left and right, and is being more inclusive in casting Asian American actors in general. It’s an amazing time, one to be celebrated.
Yet, thoughts of African American actor Geoffrey Owens dominate my mind.
His recent Trader Joe’s job-shaming has brought attention to how difficult it is today to make a living as an actor. The general public, for the most part, has a very skewed perspective. If people watch actors in the movies or on shows and recognize them in public, they conclude that those actors are well off—that they’re living the high life. If you’re an actor who’s made it to the top of the profession, this very well could be the case (at least, while you’re at that top); but for the vast majority of actors, this is sadly and laughingly not the situation—and for Asian American actors in particular, well, let me share my story.
Six Evolutions — Bach: Cello Suites by Yo-Yo Ma
Sony Classical, 2018
And cello to you, too
The master cellist writes on his website:
Bach’s Cello Suites have been my constant musical companions. For almost six decades, they have given me sustenance, comfort, and joy during times of stress, celebration, and loss. What power does this music possess that even today, after three hundred years, it continues to help us navigate through troubled times? Now that I’m in my sixties, I realize that my sense of time has changed, both in life and in music, at once expanded and compressed. Music, like all of culture, helps us to understand our environment, each other, and ourselves. Culture helps us to imagine a better future. Culture helps turn ‘them’ into ‘us.’ And these things have never been more important.
Rather than list the tracks, I’ll quickly explain what this is, in case it’s confusing. I just learned some of this stuff this past week in preparation to write this review, so please, if I get any of it wrong, let me know in the comments!
There are six Bach cello suites:
Suite no. 1 in G Major
Suite no. 2 in D Minor
Suite no. 3 in C Major
Suite no. 4 in E-Flat Major
Suite no. 5 in C Minor
Suite no. 6 in D Major.
The tracklists include the Bach catalogue number for each suite, abbreviated BWV 107 through BWV 112. BWV stands for Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, or “Bach works catalogue.”
Each suite is made of six movements: a prelude, and then five movements based on types of baroque dances. So all six suites go prelude, allemande, courante, sarabande, two minuets, gigue.
This all makes for suuuuuuper long and confusing track titles. Track 5, for example, is “Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: V. Menuets I & II.” For some reason the tracks on Amazon music are nearly twice as long, repeating the “Unaccomanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007” part! Still despite this crazy nomenclature, with the info here, everything makes a lot more sense!
I’m not smart enough about this music to say much more than that it’s just beautiful. My record library includes music featuring a lot of cello, including the neo-bluegrass group Crooked Still, the Scottish dance music of Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas, and the heavy metal of Apocalyptica. But as much as that music makes my heart swoon, none of it makes it want to leap up and explode like the playing of Yo-Yo Ma. I cannot tell you why. His Japanese Melodies album was in constant rotation in my red pickup truck when I was in college, and his Hush album with Bobby McFerrin can sometimes make me cry.
This album is better than those. No, I can’t explain it. And I can’t recognize any of the individual movements without looking at the tracklist. And I can’t tell you anything about why these are masterworks other than they are Bach compositions. I can just say it’s beautiful.
Here’s Yo-Yo Ma on The Late Show with David Letterman in 1994. The first part of this is the gigue from Bach Cello Suite No. 3 (track 18 on disc one of this album!). I had this on VHS and watched it like a million times. This video is my upload.
“Baby Steps” is a film released in 2015, written, directed and staring Barney Cheng. He plays the lead character, Danny Lee, a Taiwanese-American living in Los Angeles with a Caucasian boyfriend, Tate. They’ve decided to have a child, through surrogacy, although Tate is a little less invested in the idea than Danny. Added to the mix is Danny’s mother, who’s convinced she’s never going to have a grandchild, while all her friends are celebrating the births of their “Sūnzi 孫子”(grandchildren).
I hadn’t heard of this movie prior to last week, when my sister sent me a link to it, thinking I’d be interested in watching it. I have to admit that my first thought when reading the description was, “why did it take so long for a movie to come out about a gay mixed-race couple going on a surrogacy journey?” You have to understand, my husband and I started our surrogacy journey back in late 2003, more than a decade earlier than the release of this film, and our daughter from surrogacy just turned 13.
It was fascinating to watch the various events around surrogacy unfold for Danny, as I had some similar experiences with surrogacy and with my own parents. There was a large difference though, I was lucky by comparison in that I was older when I reached the point in my life when I was able to, and ready to, have a child. In “Baby Steps,” when Danny’s mother finally finds out her son is planning to have a child via surrogacy, she inserts herself into the process in unexpected ways, producing funny and memorable scenes, ones that are crazy, yet believable if you have an Asian mom.
Given my experience with the surrogacy progress, some scenes did seem completely unbelievable (usually the egg donor is anonymous, so I was surprised to see them meeting various egg donors), and I was left wondering how they negotiated all the legal issues of having the birth in Taiwan. But leaving the practical issues aside, the movie had funny, serious, and sad scenes, and many brought out plenty of empathy for Danny’s (and Tate’s) situation. Perhaps even more believable was Danny’s Ma’s stance on her gay son, keeping his sexuality hidden from her friends, and eventually her determination to do everything possible to find the right surrogate to carry her grandchild.
One other side note, the movie did remind me a bit of “The Wedding Banquet“, the 1993 movie directed by Ang Lee. It was the first movie I ever saw to feature a Asian-Caucasian mixed race gay couple. While the films were created a generation apart, there’s definitely a similarity to them in style and content. Both should be on your viewing list if you’re a gay Asian American and should probably make your list even if you’re not.
By Nako Narter
What does it mean to be an Asian American child in Trump’s America? New episodes are still rolling out for comedian Kristina Wong’s Radical Cram School, a web series featuring not merely a cast of Asian kids, but a diverse cast of Asian kids, with one identifying as gender fluid, and nearly half of mixed race. This series is this generation’s (and for lack of precedent, every generation’s) answer to how to be resilient to the racist and misogynist rhetoric of our times.
This groundbreaking new series is equal parts cathartic and informative, a window into the minds of our children who don’t always have a chance to speak up, and a spotlight on bright and eager young minds. For parents, older siblings, cousins, and babysitters who want to know how to facilitate conversations about ethnic and gender identity with kids, this web series spells it out through puppet shows, music, and games.
While the kids in the series are young (ages 7 to 11), they’re wise beyond their years and certainly old enough to notice that they aren’t seeing people like them on TV or in movies, to have had a few confusing race-based encounters, and to have questions and opinions of their own.
Issues such as intersectionality, wage inequality, and structural racism can be tricky topics to tackle, but they don’t have to be. Giving these girls a chance to vent and affirm each other, they are able to empower each other and us to be proud of who they are.
Episodes are launched weekly on Facebook, but you can watch all six episodes on YouTube.
Nako Narter is a senior majoring in writing for film and television at Emerson College. She is originally from the Bay Area and has read forty books so far this year.
Be the Cowboy by Mitski
Dead Oceans, 2018
I haven’t told anyone
Mitzki (Miyawaki)’s new album dropped August 17 and I planned to review it last week, but you know. Crazy Rich Asians. This one got a ton of advance buzz, partly because of a couple of advance singles but also because it feels like it’s time for everyone who doesn’t know Mitski to get on.
That pretty friend is finally yours
Someone who loves me now
The songs are short: at 3:59, “Two Slow Dancers” is the longest by far, and most songs stay around the two-minute mark. This makes the album move quickly, almost frantically, yet they’re varied enough that each song sticks out in a way I wouldn’t have predicted. I want to drive around the entire island of Oahu with the top down and this album on repeat.
Be the Cowboy‘s sound is indie as heck. It’s going to remind you a bit of the Duke Spirit, a bit of the Raveonettes, and in the less rocking songs, a lot of Zooey Deschanel in She & Him. There’s a lot of great retro rock organ with distant, singing in a shower, reverberating vocal production with a lot of muted drumming on what sounds sometimes like a three-piece kit.
I imagine many will disagree with me, but Mitski’s at her best when she’s rocking out. “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” and “A Pearl” stand out this way.
Although it’s probably not for everyone, this is some good stuff, and it would be a shame to let it fly under the radar, which it could easily do.
I’ll take anything you want to give me
Best song: “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?”
Second-best song: “Remember My Name”
Fourteenth-best song: “Two Slow Dancers”
Best moment: Oh man, I love the electric guitar on “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” which has a really cool downward bend that sounds like a spaceship giving up. This is tied with the sigh Mitski opens “Me and My Husband” with.
Best lyric: It seems like too easy a choice, but I keep going back to “Nobody butters me up like you / and nobody f*cks me like me,” in “Lonesome Love,” one of the Zooey-sounding songs. The repeated “Why am I lonely for lonesome love?” to end the song may be in a twelve-way tie for second.
Song to make you text your ex (don’t do it!): “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?”
Song to make you write song lyrics out of something you put in your Xanga when you were 16 (do it!): “Lonesome Love.”
The city where you’re from
So as part of “Asian August,” I (you can read my review of “Crazy Rich Asians here”) got to see Searching as part of a #goldopen effort to promote the film, which opened this past weekend (but first debuted at Sundance) in a very limited release – nine theaters (and opens nationally Friday, August 31st) actually starring John Cho (#starringJohnCho). From the film’s website:
“After David Kim (John Cho)’s 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a local investigation is opened and a detective is assigned to the case. But 37 hours later and without a single lead, David decides to search the one place no one has looked yet, where all secrets are kept today: his daughter’s laptop. In a hyper-modern thriller told via the technology devices we use every day to communicate, David must trace is daughter’s digital footprints before she disappears forever.”