8 Asians

Rise to glory

In 1985, right in hair metal’s best years, Loudness released its first album on an American label, it’s fifth album overall.  Until then, the band from Osaka was really known only in Japan.  I was sixteen, fascinated by the genre, and frustrated by my awareness of artists I had no way of checking out.  There were all these bands in metal mags and in the bins at Tower Records, but there was no way for me to hear them without gambling on stuff I didn’t know anything about.

It was a lonely passion in those days before the web.

Then suddenly there was Loudness, one of those bands in the imports rack, releasing an awesomely titled album in America, Thunder in the East, and featuring the Rising Sun as its cover art.  I bought it on cassette, sound unheard.  I mostly liked it, sorta, and tried to convert my friends.

“C’mon guys.  It rocks.  And these guys are Japanese.”  I got an acknowledgment from them that the lead guitarist, Akira Takasaki, was a total shredder, but at my little private school in Honolulu, I was the only person wearing a Loudness tee.  Man, I had to skip lunches for a week to save up for that.

It’s thirty-three years later, and the band is still at it.  Loudness has been through multiple lineup changes, but since 2001 or so has recorded with the original group, which continues today minus original drummer Munetaka Higuchi, who died ten years ago.

Rise to Glory is the group’s twenty-eighth or thirtieth studio album, depending on how you count them (two of their albums have separate, Japanese-sung and English-sung versions), and it’s a pretty good return to the sound that thundered in the east all those years ago.*

I’m still alive

Masayoshi Yamashita: bass
Akira Takasaki: guitar, keyboards, synthesizers
Minoru Niihara: vocals
Masayuki Suzuki: drums


  1. 8118 (instrumental) (1:49)
  2. Soul on Fire (5:50)
  3. I’m Still Alive (3:18)
  4. Go for Broke (4:55)
  5. Until I See the Light (4:43)
  6. The Voice (4:31)
  7. Massive Tornado (4:56)
  8. Kama Sutra (instrumental) (3:19)
  9. Rise to Glory (4:17)
  10. Why and For Whom (6:00)
  11. No Limits (5:09)
  12. Rain (6:19)
  13. Let’s All Rock (6:00)

Released January 26, 2018 on earMUSIC
Produced by Loudness

Why and for whom

Rise to Glory is accessible the way all pop metal is, but its appeal is mostly to middle-aged fans like me who still pay attention to Ratt and Def Leppard all these years later.  It’s heavily riff-driven, melodic, catchy, and mostly a showcase for shredmaster Akira Takasaki’s guitar chops, which are considerable and almost always interesting.  The album reminds me most of early-80s Scorpions with a little bit of Ratt thrown in.  It’s mostly riff riff riff riff, but with occasional slow grooves and some thoughtful composition.

Listeners inclined to give it more than five spins will appreciate some of the musically mature flavor the band throws into the mix, something completely absent the efforts of their twenty-something selves nearly forty years ago, which tended to skim the ocean’s surface.  Bass lines go dark and heavy.  Brief acoustic guitar fills, often mixed way back, are little treats for the attentive listener.  And always there are Takasaki’s varied, mostly classical-influenced solos and fills with dashes of funk, pop, and Japanese folk, the heart and soul of the Loudness experience.

The vocals are an acquired taste.  There’s nothing wrong with the quality of singer Minoru Niihara’s singing; there’s just a Japanese-accented English that non-Japanese listeners have to find some way to deal with, combined with the band’s writing lyrics in its second language.  Niihara is kind of a dork on stage, and it comes through more than a little in his singing.  But this is true of a lot of great metal bands from Germany, Italy, and Scandinavia.  My advice is to get used to the voice, tolerate the weird lyrics, and enjoy the whole picture, because Rise to Glory is mostly a fun, interesting ride.

No Limits

Best song: “Kama Sutra,” an instrumental.  Sorry, Minoru.
Second-best song: “Until I See the Light.”
Most singable: “Go for Broke,” although what it’s about I have no idea.
Headbang to: “Massive Tornado” and “Why and for Whom.”
Meh: “Rise to Glory.”
Song to make you wanna get the band back together (don’t do it!): “The Voice.”
Best lyric: “Reach the sky / You’re a brave samurai / There ain’t nothing than can stand in your way” (“Until I See the Light”)
Best moment: The spacy guitar fills beginning at about 2:30 in “Kama Sutra.”

Go for broke

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“We’re gonna do our best!”

This is video from one of the 2016 Monsters of Rock cruises.  It’s a nice example of how the band still rocks live, despite Minoru Niihara being kind of a doofus.  Sure, it’s weird seeing men pushing 60 dressing and playing like this, but the music is still great!  “Crazy Nights” is the first track off Thunder in the East, and therefore my very first exposure to this band (and many others’ first exposure), who will always have a special place in my heart.  Akira still shreds!


* The band explained in an interview in Hit Parader in the 80s that when you’re a Japanese band, the whole album-tour-rest cycle is really short.  An album takes the same amount of time to write and record, but touring the country only takes a month or so, and this is why the group is so prolific.

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Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi is such a delightful YA novel, I can’t even tell you. Penny is starting college in Austin, TX hoping to be a writer. Sam works at a cafe and sleeps there too, stuck on his ex and having put aside his dreams of becoming a documentary filmmaker.

Sam and Penny meet (surprise). Through a funny turn of events, they start texting, but don’t interact IRL again for awhile. As you can imagine, hijinks ensue, as do honesty, hilarity, and drama.

The novel switches between Sam and Penny chapters, each getting a distinct and truly enjoyable voice. There is so much spunk and so much snark, I loved every bit of it. (I mean, in the first ten pages, there’s a list of things one can do in response to some racist BS that includes: “Slap the ever-living shit out of her with the other half of a pistachio donut.” I was hooked.)

And Choi’s not afraid to deal with big issues too. How technology affects our relationships. #momstuff. Things not told to other people. It’s not just about their friendship, but also about each growing up, growing into themselves.

Emergency Contact is smart, refreshing, honest, and most importantly, fun to read.


I think about you so so so so much I forget to eat

Chhom Nimol and Senon Williams. 10-30-10.

“California psychedelic surf rock with lyrics sung in Khmer?  Sure!  Why not?”  I downloaded Dengue Fever’s third full-length album, Venus on Earth, and by the end of the first spin, I was repeating aloud, “Where has this been all my life?”

Once upon a time eMusic was the online digital music store unlike the others.  Because it didn’t have deals with the major labels, it pushed indie and fringe artists, some on the fringe because that’s where their music was, some because they hadn’t yet been discovered by the masses who would someday embrace them.  For a monthly subscription, music lovers received download credits for an impressive range of excellent music.

Because so much of the music I love is right in that wheelhouse, eMusic was one of my favorite things ever.  I had long lists of artists I wanted to check out each month and my “save for later” queue was maxed at 100 albums.  The number of credits I received was generous; my plan meant that mp3s were about $.49 each, or half the price for the same tracks on iTunes.  The low price meant that many of eMusic’s faithful were willing to be adventurous.  We’d look at the “most downloaded” lists, the staff picks, and the year-end highest-rated albums by eMusic subscribers lists, and say, “Sure!  Why not?”

This is how I first heard about Dengue Fever, on one of these “subscribers’ favorites” lists.  Venus on Earth was my third-favorite album of 2008 (it was a very competitive year!)* and Dengue Fever has remained a favorite.

I’m too geared to fall asleep

Because it was Halloween eve.

As gimmicky as the premise may sound, the biggest reason for Dengue Fever’s rabid fanbase is its excellent musicianship.  This band rocks, and seeing them live, you kind of wish you could slow everything down so you don’t miss anything.  Lead guitarist (and sometime lead singer) Zac Holtzman is strangely charismatic even in a band laden with charisma.  His brother Ethan Holtzman on keys, saxophonist David Ralicke, drummer Paul Dreux Smith, and bassist Senon Williams are all more than the backing band.  One of the things I love about this group is that it’s not afraid of lots of soloing, and everyone gets his chance.  Repeatedly.

Senon Williams took this photo of Nimol and a lumpy me. I’m all crooked because I fell in love that night.

The biggest reason to fall utterly in love with Dengue Fever, however, is lead singer Chhom Nimol.  If you’ve seen or heard anything like her in American rock music, I need to know where you hang out on Friday nights, because I need me some of that.

The band’s sound has grown more inclusive over the years, adding other styles to the Cambodian-Californian pop-rock origins.  Senon Williams says on the Dengue Fever website, “Before it was partly Cambodian and partly indie rock.  Now it’s one hundred percent both.”

I saw them in concert on Halloween eve in 2010, and they were amazing.  It was a street fair, and through their set the street was packed with the celebrants you would expect, but right after the show, a small mob of middle-aged Cambodian women waited for their turn to chat in (I’m assuming) Khmer with Nimol.  She seemed thrilled to speak with them and I wondered if this happens at every Dengue Fever show.

Just go see them.

The first thing that I do is throw my arms around you

Start with “Tiger Phone Card,” probably the band’s most accessible track.  It’s sung in English, and it’s about a long distance relationship (Phnom Penh and New York City).  It’s got that psycho-surf sound in all the instruments, but Nimol’s vocals slide around on that exotic Cambodian scale.  I’m embedding the album version, but if you kind of dig this, check out the many live recordings of this song on YouTube.

And never let go

Then you’ll want to hear “Sni Bong,” from the band’s self-titled debut album.  It’s probably Dengue Fever’s most popular song sung in Khmer.

Open up to me and tell me that you love me

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A couple of months ago, the South Coast Repertory staged an original play by Lauren YeeCambodian Rock Band inspired by and featuring the music of Dengue Fever.  This promo video is pretty great.  Did any of our readers see this?  Was it as awesome as it sounds?

* The best was the Gaslight Anthem’s The ‘59 Sound, and the second best was Crooked Still’s Still Crooked.

One of the things I have really enjoyed after having moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1999 has been attending the San Francisco Asian American International Film Festival, which is now known as CAAMFest, now its 36th year.

This year’s opening night premiere was a documentary – AN AMERICAN STORY: NORMAN MINETA – about groundbreaking elected official and civil servant, Japanese American Norman Mineta – the first Asian American elected to San Jose, California City Council, first Asian American elected to be mayor of San Jose (first Asian American mayor of any major city in the continental United States), first Asian American Congressman elected in the continental United States, first Asian American to serve as a cabinet member to serve a President (AND also both in a Democratic and Republican administration). AND first Asian American to have an airport named after him (Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport).

Prior to the documentary’s premiere, Claudine Cheng and Willie Brown presented Norman Mineta with the APA Heritage Award for Lifetime Impact:

After watching the documentary, I realized that although I had kind of known about many of Mineta’s accomplishments, seeing his story told in its totality was amazing. (This slightly differed from my experience watching a documentary about Patsy Mink, another amazing Asian American, but someone I knew nothing about until a CAAMFEST screening). Mineta is a truly ground-and-glass-ceiling-breaking Asian American that all Americans should learn about.

The San Francisco Chronicle described the documentary and Mineta as:

“His life in politics, skillfully captured by director Dianne Fukami, stands in stark contrast to the current White House occupant. As a 10-term U.S. representative from Silicon Valley, Mineta kept his ego in check while passing seminal legislation, notably a bill granting reparations to Japanese Americans like his family who were incarcerated during World War II. His motto was “If you don’t care who gets the credit, you can do many things.””

After the screening, there was a Q&A session with Norman Mineta and the filmmakers:

There’s an effort to build upon documentary and develop educational material around Norman Mineta’s story, known as The Mineta Legacy Project. This reminds me of what Fred T. Korematsu Institute is doing since its inception. And after the Q&A, there was the annual gala party, held again at San Francisco Asian Art Museum, where I had the great honor to meet and get a photo with Mineta himself:

The gala is always a festive scene at a great venue:

Aaaaaaaaand EXhale.

I’m often optimistic to a fault.  A Pollyanna.  An extreme benefit-of-the-doubt-giver.  Yet if I’d had to bet, I would have lost this one.  I thought things were looking horribly grim for Fresh Off the Boat’s chances at a fall return.

First there was an uncharacteristic lack of advance late-season info about upcoming episodes.  Disney-ABC’s media site, which usually has synopses, promo video, still photos, and behind-the-scenes photos for the next two or three shows, was unusually quiet.

I’ve reviewed for 8A each episode through the show’s run, something that requires a bit of planning.  Suddenly without my advance info, I couldn’t find word anywhere about why the well was dry.

Then there was the abrupt ending to season 4.  Heading into the 19th episode’s broadcast, FOtB‘s actors on Twitter congratulated each other on another fun season, with ABC hyping it as the season finale.  This is after a 24-episode season 2 and a 23-episode season 3.

Then, because I was pathetically slow to connect them myself, the dots finally connected themselves for me.

Roseanne was coming back for a short, late-season run, complete with its original cast.  On ABC.  On Tuesday night.  At 8:30.

In FOtB’s slot.

I didn’t watch the two-episode return because I was working on something else.  The next morning, it was all anyone could talk about.  Eighteen million viewers for Roseanne.

That’s fourteen and a half million more than FOtB drew for episode 19 the week before.

Okay.  No reason to panic, right?  I mean, there’s plenty of room on the weekly schedule for two sit-com families.  I said it aloud, but even I didn’t believe it.  My heart prepared itself to find something else to cheer for; my fingers to find something else to type about.

“What about music reviews?” I asked jozjozjoz one evening.  “Maybe I could do that.”

Randall Park shot a video literally pleading for a renewalOthers chimed in.  It was not looking good.

Then Roseanne Connor cracked a joke about Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat, hitting a nerve like classic Roseanne.  I wasn’t as insulted by it as many others, but I saw where people were coming from.  Former FOtB writer Kourtney Kang laid it out very well in a guest column for the Hollywood Reporter.

Maybe in a world where unfair representation were merely a memory, the joke would have slipped past anyone’s notice.  But America’s only major-network, prime time, Asian American sitcom family was teetering on the precipice, and Mrs. Connor was not only kicking it over with a privileged toe, but joking about it at a time when we’re especially sensitive to the way many in this country would use our Asian-ness to question our American-ness.

Was the mild controversy good for FOtB’s chances or bad?  I hoped it put ABC in an awkward position, almost demanding that it bring the show back for another season if only to avoid the appearance of the Connors throwing the Huangs under the boat.  I want to believe there are principles in play, but maybe it all comes down to 18 million and 3.6 million, and maybe affirmative programming action isn’t really a thing.

I’ll probably never know whether this was ever part of the conversation at ABC, but after leaving FOtB’s fans hanging for so many weeks, the news came out Friday.  Season 5.

I’ll repeat what I’ve written many times (usually while reviewing a Dr. Ken episode).  For all the big-picture reasons I want AA-centric shows to succeed, I don’t want them to get a free pass.  I want the shows to succeed because they’re excellent, because there’s no reason for them not to be.  While I was sad to see Dr. Ken fail, it did get a fair shot and never took full advantage of its opportunity.  FOtB, however, despite slipping into a rut or two last season, is still creative, interesting, and (best of all!) subversive.  Up to a point I’m not smart enough to define, these by themselves are a fair trade-off for a few million viewers.

Especially the subversion.

Now that it’s coming back, I’m begging the writers to go tapioca-balls-to-the-wall with creativity and subversion.  It’s playing with its second life now.  Fresh Off the Boat should go into each episode begging to be thrown off the air, the way season 1 Eddie would do.  Better to blow it all up than to be turned away at the border.



To date in the United States, you could only go to a Din Tai Fung in either California or the Greater Seattle region. Now, it looks like the restaurant brand will be expanding into Portland, Oregon:

“Often lauded as the maker of the “world’s greatest dumplings,” Taiwanese dim sum restaurant Din Tai Fung seems to be planning its first Oregon location in the Washington Square mall. Over the past months several readers have emailed Eater saying that the dumpling shop intends to open an Oregon location, and Din Tai Fung has filed a business license with the Oregon Secretary of State’s office. When Eater contacted corporate HQ, a rep didn’t deny the rumors, saying: “We decline to comment at this time. Could you check back with us in a month for updates?” No one from Washington Square has responded to multiple requests for comment.

Din Tai Fung currently has 11 locations in the United States, specifically in California and Seattle. The restaurant is known for its long wait times, polished and modern decor, and its text book xiao long bao (soup dumplings) with fillings like truffle pork and pork and crab.”

I’ve only been to Portland once (a few days after the 2016 election …) and did check out their Chinatown, which I have to say, was kind of rundown … Not to say that a Chinatown’s cuisine is any indicator of Asian cuisine in general …

But from what I have heard from others who have lived in Portland, the Chinese and Taiwanese food scene there is not the greatest. So congrats to Portland on getting a Din Tai Fung sometime in the future.

To be honest, I’m kind of surprised that Din Tai Fung is expanding into Portland when they haven’t even penetrated the East Coast. Portland is a relatively small market. But maybe Din Tai Fung wants to establish their brand on the West Coast first?

State Change EP (2018) by Priska

You’ve got something to say

Priska’s new EP dropped Tuesday.  Here’s what she said on FB:

“I’m so excited and proud to share this project with you all. I wrote the majority of this album during a very pivotal time in my life where I went through a series of changes that transformed how I approached life. I was genuinely afraid of embarking on this project, I wasn’t sure if it would be ‘good enough’… or if it would be good at all.

“And you know what, making this album was hard as hell, digging through the dredges of my past and trying to piece together the good, the bad, the hard won, and the tremendous loss: it seemed utterly impossible. But in releasing this now, I know that this is a project that reveals a part of my story and reflects exactly where I am… and that is what I’m most proud of.”

I know I just reviewed a Priska single and video a month ago, and there are so many great artists worth talking about that I do not want to fixate on a few favorites (which Priska is becoming), but I didn’t know four weeks ago that there was a new EP coming, and an EP is much more what I want to do with these reviews, so here we are, partly because of that and partly because I’m hoping to be timely.

Which is going to be an issue May 25, when two albums are dropping on the same day.

Apologies for my weird scheduling, but no apologies for circling back to this artist.

Pulling on my heartstrings

The tracks.

  1. Gold in the River (4:45)
  2. Fly the Coop (4:23)
  3. State Change (3:29)
  4. In the Dark (4:22)
  5. Don’t Go Quietly (6:16)

I can’t find any credits, but if I do I will edit this post with the info.

Tell the truth ’bout what you’ve seen

Well heck.  This is a great collection of songs.  I’ve had it on endless repeat since I got out of bed Tuesday morning, and was so happy the first time through that I didn’t wait for the third song before I messaged jozjozjoz to say how good it was.

“Gold in the River” starts it off with a nice, galloping beat that reminded me of that scene in Rocky IV when Rocky gets into his car and drives around pondering everything that’s led to his defeat at the hands of Ivan Drago, while Robert Tepper’s “No Easy Way Out” plays over a video montage.  I even muted the audio and played Priska’s song over the video on YouTube.  It’s not really a great fit for the movie, but it’s a better song than the Tepper song, by miles.

I have very few quibbles with this EP, and they’re all very small.  My least favorite parts are the moments where Priska’s vocals go into growly, guttural mode.  They’re definitely more Motown than Mayhem, but I find them oddly distracting.  I get over them quickly because the rest of the vocals on this track are terrific.

The song is also really nicely orchestrated and mixed.  The drums sound too electronic for my tastes, but there’s a wonderful clanging gong sound that makes up for it, and the BGVs are yummy.

“Fly the Coop” is next, and it makes for a great one-two punch.  I liked the song when I reviewed it last month, but I like it even more now in context.

Priska slows things down for the next two tracks, “State Change” and “In the Dark,” and these tracks took me until the fifth listen-through (or thereabouts) to grow on me.  One gets the sense that the real theme of the collection is here in these songs.  I find the imagery in “In the Dark” interesting but maybe not as lyrical as in the rest of the songs (“You will find me in the dark / sittin’ on my hands / not quite sure where to park / not quite sure how to bend / to wherever you are”), but “State Change?”  Come on.  When have we ever had this metaphor in folky pop music?  It’s a great song for the middle of the album, as the collection’s mood finds its nadir and then gradually emerges into light:

Don’t go so fast
keep time, keep pace
and wait for me to catch up
Fight fire with fear
hold on my dear
and promise me you won’t give up.

The EP ends with “Don’t Go Quietly,” which I talked about in September 2016.  It’s a nice conclusion.

I will find you in the dark

Best song: “Gold in the River”
2nd best song: “Fly the Coop”
Most singable: “Fly the Coop”
Song to make you text your ex (don’t do it!): “State Change”
Flick your Bic for: “Don’t Go Quietly”
Best lyric: “I know there was gold in the river that night, when you stole me away” (“Gold in the River”)
Best moment:  Still that note Priska hits on “Coo-oo-oop” in “Fly the Coop!”  Dreamy.

$4.95 on Amazon.  Go get it.

Rating: 8/10

Catch me if you can

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One of the things that I appreciate about the San Francisco Bay Area after I moved here is the rich cultural activities in the area, and that includes the annual Asian American film festival known as CAAMFEST (known prior to 2013 as the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF) – quite a mouthful). The festival is organized by the Center of Asian American Media (CAAM), which is based in San Francisco.

This year kicks off with the premiere of a documentary about Norman Mineta:

““An American Story: Norman Mineta and His Legacy” will have its world premiere Thursday night in San Francisco.

The film about the former San Jose mayor, Congressman and cabinet secretary to two U.S. presidents is the opening night film of the Center for Asian American Media film festival, known as CAAMFest. Mineta, 86, also will be honored by the city of San Francisco on opening night as part of the 40th anniversary festivities for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Mineta’s story really is a classic American tale of success, with the tragic irony that begins it: As an 11-year-old, he was interned with his family at Heart Mountain, Wyo., during World War II. (Even that story has a cinematic twist: Mineta met fellow Boy Scout and future Sen. Alan Simpson there.) In 1971, he became the first Asian-American elected mayor of a major U.S. city and served two decades in Congress, starting in 1975. He was appointed U.S. Secretary of Commerce by President Clinton in 2000 and served as Secretary of Transportation under President George W. Bush in 2001.”

I live near San Jose, and I’m often reminded about Mineta when I fly out of Mineta San Jose International Airport, which is named after him. And I’m a big fan of documentaries and recall seeing Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority at CAAMFest back in 2009 and being blown away about learning her story and surprised that I hadn’t known about her beforehand.

A big change from previous years is that the film festival is now being held in May, to coincide with Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, instead of being held in February or March like it has in the past.

There are a quite a number of films to screened again this year. However, the San Francisco Chronicle has recommended the top 10 films to see this year, including (in alphabetical order):

Also, since 2013, the CAAMFEST organizers have expanded the nature of the festival beyond films to incorporate food and music programs and over time, increasingly more to convey cultural experience through the world’s most innovative Asian and Asian American artists.

This year’s festival theme – “Culture, In Every Sense”- is emphasized throughout the program with expanded music and food sections, a virtual reality project that is also produced by CAAM, and a special closing night performance by Bay Area native, Brenda Wong Aoki.

There’s even a Disoriented Comedy Show, where I’m looking forward seeing comedian Jenny Yang perform and finally meet her in person (I mostly know her for her funny videos posted on Facebook and elsewhere)!

Be sure to check out the CAAMFEST36 festival website as well as online program guide to learn about all the films and events going on.

Bury What We Cannot Take, the latest novel from author Kirstin Chen set in Mao’s China, is a doozy. After 12-year-old Ah Liam reports his grandmother to the Communist Party, the family must flee their little island off the mainland. His mother applies for temporary exit visas to go to Hong Kong where his father lives. But she is told that she can either take Ah Liam or her daughter San San, leaving one behind as proof that they will return.

The impossible decision shakes the family and its members to their core. The novel spins it’s way around this single moment. I had thought this might be the kind of book that spans decades, traversing all the way into some distant future. Instead, it stays rather compact, unraveling in minute details each character’s thoughts, decisions, actions, and internal conflicts. Mother, father, grandmother, son, daughter. One displaced family grappling with this harsh reality and the truth–often ugly, sometimes beautiful–that it reveals in all of them.

At the novel’s heart are questions about the meaning of family–what is real, what is artificial, is family fragile or unbreakable. Bury What We Cannot Take is compellingly written, a fast and entrancing read, but also definitely an emotional doozy.

A little peak behind the curtain over here at 8Asians: we get sent press releases on anything Asian or Asian American—be it a book, movie, comic book, graphic novel or new business. Most of it isn’t worth paying attention to. But when it comes to horror movies, our fearless editor Joz knows how much I love them and forwards them for me to review.

That’s how Gehenna: Where Death Lives ended up in my email. The movie is being released nationally on Friday, May 4, 2018 in theaters and on demand. The film is about five people (three developers, one shady businessman, and a local) who enter a hidden World War II bunker in Saipan, and realize it’s way more than a bunker. The film is the directorial debut of Hiroshi Katagiri, who previously did special effects for Jurassic Park III, Pacific Rim, and others, and stars Doug Jones, the star of the Academy Award winning The Shape of Water.

The movie starts a bit slowly but picks up once—and I’m not giving away anything here—they get trapped in the bunker after disrespecting the locals and the local legends. There are just enough jump scares and creepy moments to satisfy a horror fan’s lust for scares. I’m not sure I totally understood the legend underlying the film, but when I figured out the twist in the end it made the whole thing worth watching.

What fascinated me most about the movie though was Saipan. First, it was sooooooooooooo beautiful. I kept asking myself, how did I not know about this place? Once I got past its beauty, I was struck by how little I knew about the island. During the movie, I found myself Googling its history—especially what happened during the second World War. But what blew me away most was that I didn’t even realize it was part of the United States.  In fact, I found a Huffington Post article that called it the most beautiful place in America that no one has heard of. I guess I know where I’m going on my next family vacation.

Follow me on Twitter at @ksakai1.

Our history can complete

Luke McQueen’s website says he was adopted from South Korea at the age of five to Longmont, Colorado. Around the age of ten, he won a local talent competition with an original composition. Throughout grade school and college, music remained a hobby. At the University of Colorado, McQueen studied the safe path of engineering. However, it was also at the university where he accepted the opportunity to be a vocalist in a production of Westside Story. Nevertheless, after graduation, the safety of a corporate gig—ultimately fear—won out.

In late 2013, the realization of being unfulfilled in his job and life, combined with the decision to visit Korea, was the impetus for McQueen to move to Korea, search for his birth family, and change his career to music. There he has been training, songwriting, producing and performing ever since. He performs as a solo artist in and around Seoul.

What a story, right?  I am a sucker for identity issues, and this one stabs me right in the heart.  Personal identity, cultural identity, familial identity, and career identity?  Sign me up for all of that.

I send this message out

McQueen says this is his first music video, and it’s a strong effort.  I’m sucked in from the beginning, as the story plays out in heartstring-tugging symbolism.  However, around the 1:30 mark, where our Korean American girl is bullied, it gets heavy-handed, and that hand gets heavier as the video progresses.  I don’t mind the Korean and American flags or people’s attempts to drape them over the young woman, and while I found the cross bits kind of shocking, they work for me.  The “gook” labeling and the actual, audible scream of our protagonist kind of send the whole thing over the top, though, and I can’t decide how I feel about all those faces singing the lyrics at the end.

I realize my criticisms aren’t very nice, and part of me wants to apologize for them—not for my opinions, but because it’s obvious that this is a very personal song and video, and sometimes a full-on evaluative critique isn’t the most appropriate approach.  I’m receiving the video not merely as personal expression, but as a work of art that demands a response, and this is mine.  If McQueen and I were acquainted, my reception would almost surely be different.

The video makes me appreciate the song more than when I was just hearing the audio via Spotify.  It’s a pretty good song and it’s not a bad video, but I like the first half more than the second!


Director – Sunah Kim
Director of Photography – Ziggy Chicano
Editor – Ewen Tse
Producer – Luke McQueen
Associate Producer – Junon Kim

Still on this path

I meant to review all the singles available on Spotify, but I had to get up in the middle of the night to release a rat I caught in a live trap in my house.  I don’t have wheels right now, so it took a couple of hours out of my early early morning.  This set off a chain of sad events leading to my sleeping through my alarm this morning, which means I have to save my review of the rest of McQueen’s work for some other time.  I’d encouage you to check it out, though.  Start with “I’ll Give You Vertigo,” a nice, funky urban number with a mid-Eighties disco vibe and some sweet guitar fills.  It’s my favorite of his songs.

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The last time I went to a Din Tai Fung opening, it was also at a Westfield Mall – specifically the Valley Fair Mall in San Jose/Santa Clara, California. Well now, another one has opened in Orange County:

“There has been a great deal of anticipation, but Din Tai Fung, the dumpling and noodle chain that is known for its delicious food and four hour waits for a table in Orange County, has finally opened its doors at Westfield, Century City.

The restaurant officially opened on March 23 and now locals will be able to partake of their famous xiao long bao (soup dumplings), which are made fresh on the premises every day.”

A lot of people say that Din Tai Fung is overrated. I don’t care! It’s one of the few Taiwanese brands I think Americans recognize in the U.S. – or at least in California!