8 Asians

Full disclosure: I’m a friend and have a lot of mutual friends with Jane Kim, and know her initially through a former 8Asians blogger (who used to be roommates with her). I think I may have donated to some of her past campaigns as well (though I generally don’t for people I can’t vote for).

I’ve blogged about Jane before, and attended her campaign kickoff when she first ran for San Francisco District 6 city supervisor back in 2010, and was impressed with her impassioned speech – made me proud to be a Democrat. Jane is now running for the California State Senate, for District 11 (the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area). And she recently shared her first campaign ad on Facebook which is now available on YouTube, titled “Fight”:

“Throughout Jane Kim’s career, she has made it her priority to stand up for working families and residents who might not otherwise have a voice in government. We need representatives in Sacramento who will fight for all of us. Join Jane Kim’s fight for California’s families at http://www.JaneKim.org.”

8Asians_Jane_Kim_for_CA_State_Senate_commercial

And fight she does! The ad shows her changing from her professional attire, putting her heeled shoes into her locker, and the her practicing Taekwondo and kicking ass! And informs the viewer that she has a black belt in Taekwondo and is fighting for the middle class. A nice contrast to what one might think of a stereotypically meek Asian woman and she’s ready to fight for the common man and woman in the California statehouse. If there was an AngryAsianWoman.com blog/site, I’d hope that person would use this image from her commercial as her site logo (as the site logo for AngryAsianMan.com is a Bruce Lee action figure):

8Asians_Jane_Kim_for_CA_State_Senate_kicking_commercial

When I first saw Jane’s commercial posted, I really wanted the soundtrack to be that of Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song”:

But I imagine getting the rights to that song would be pretty expensive … I don’t know much about Jane’s political race and opponents, but I doubt that any of them will fight as hard for what’s right for her constituents.  I certainly wouldn’t want to fight Jane – I only two semesters of  Taekwondo in college for my Physical Education requirement (the classes had the most flexible schedules – classes 7 days a week) and never tried getting beyond white belt …

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Film Review: ‘Pali Road’

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Pali Road (2016)
With Michelle Chen, Sun Kang, Jackson Rathbone, and Henry Ian Cusick. Directed by Jonathan Lim. Written by Doc Pedrolie and Victoria Arch.

pali_road_1Lily is a young physician doing her residency at a hospital on Oahu. Her boyfriend Neil is a very nice teacher who wants to marry her; her ex-boyfriend Mitch is a slimy doctor she works for, who also seems to want to marry her. When Lily wakes up in the hospital after a bad car accident, she’s shocked to learn that she’s married to Mitch, she has a six-year-old son, and Neil doesn’t exist. Her parents, her best friend, and Mitch are supportive and understanding as she recovers from the crash, but they have no memory of Neil. According to everyone around her, this life in this enormous house with this family is the life she’s been living, but who’s Neil? Lily begins to doubt her own memories, and to question her sanity as real-world evidence of her relationship with Neil eludes her.

pali_road_2It’s a pretty good idea for a story, and the relationships established between the principal characters in early scenes makes it easy to root for Neil and to despise Mitch, whose every utterance sounds insincere and disingenuous. Mitch is that guy you knew in school who had all the teachers and parents fooled into thinking he was a golden boy, but whom none of the kids could stand because he was such a fraud. You almost don’t care how things work out in this film, as long as Mitch doesn’t end up with Lily.

pali_road_3A promising first act is followed by a slog of a second act, and most of it is the fault of director Jonathan Lim. The pacing is awful, the dialog is slow and drawn out, and the tension is cheapened by an overly dramatic, unnecessary score. Edits and visual effects are strange and distracting, and everything just takes too long to get where it’s going. Lily experiences some genuinely intriguing stuff as she struggles to find some connection between her memory and her reality, and the story elements are suspenseful enough without manipulative camera work, cheap effects, and an unexplainable police officer who, without any explanation, does things no officer except some stock character from a 1950s B-movie would ever do.

I hate to say this, because I would love it if everyone would see Pali Road and help it make tons of money so more films would be produced in my home state, but while the resolution is thoughtful and somewhat satisfying, the pivot on which it turns is so cheap that I never considered it as a possibility. That’s right: the explanation is predictable to the point of unpredictability, because who would think they could get away with it?

See it anyway, because Michelle Chen’s acting is pretty good, because the Hawaii scenery is exactly what you’d expect and then not exactly what you’d expect, and because it’s fun to see what Lily has to go through. Just go in with low expectations and comfortable shoes.

4 out of 10.

Pali Road opens in theaters (including the Kahala theater in Honolulu) on Friday, April 29.

Pali Road is also the closing night film of the 2016 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF), tonight, Thursday, April 28.

Fresh Off the Boat, Season 2, Episode 20: “Hi, My Name Is…”
Original airdate April 26, 2016.

fotb s02e20 1Microsynopsis: The Huang family goes to the bank together so Evan can open his first bank account, but the process is slowed when Evan can’t decide whether to use his American or Chinese name. In an effort to convince Evan that names don’t really matter, Jessica and Louis share stories of how they chose their American names and how they chose each of the boys’ names.

Good: Here’s an episode that deals with an aspect of everyday Asian American life seldom explored on television, and it’s about time. Most of my friends from Hong Kong were named by their English-school teachers in what seems to have been a random selection from a names list. One of my best friends was named Grace (no, she’s not Korean) because it was the only feminine American name her mother knew. In the math league my high school competes in, a competitor will occasionally be stripped of his or her points because the name he or she writes on the test papers doesn’t match the name the teacher submitted on the roster, a penalty suffered more by Chinese students than others. There is so much unmined material just in this one concept that it’s a wonder it hasn’t been explored in mainstream television.

I know this is stupid, but my favorite thing in this show is how Eddie suggests that when he launches his empire, he’s going to pick a “dope-ass name,” and the name is almost a homophone for “dope-ass.” Such a stupid, clever bit of wordplay. Other highlights: another subtitled conversation between Jessica and her sister Connie, and a sweet pep talk from Grandma to Evan.

fotb s02e20 2Bad: I think it’s about time we put a moratorium on projectile vomiting for comedic effect.

FOB moment: This is another episode whose whole premise is an FOB moment.

Soundtrack flashback: “Ramblin’ Man” by The Allman Brothers Band (1973). “You Gots to Chill” by EPMD (1988).

Final grade, this episode: Ah, what a fun, silly, entertaining episode shining a light on an interesting part of Asian American life. B+.

NothingEverDies

The second book out from author Viet Thanh Nguyen, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, is a sharp non-fiction work that deals in the theoretical world of remembrance, forgetting, humanity, and its lack. Nguyen is much in the news these days after his first book, The Sympathizer, won a Pulitzer–an excellent and witty novel of politics, intrigue, and one man’s twisted war  experience.

Nothing Ever Dies is also an excellent book, but written in a different style for a different purpose. In many ways, it complements The Sympathizer, approaching some of the same topics but from a scholarly angle. Weaving together philosophy, history, personal narrative, and other strains, Nguyen asks readers to carefully consider how war is remembered–by victors, by losers, by humans, and by history. The Vietnam War is the centerpiece. Though covering complex topics, Nguyen’s writing is accessible and flows smoothly (no surprise from a skilled novelist). It is the ideas behind the words that force your brain to work–to be thoughtful and critical of your own perceptions. As he explains in the opening lines of the introduction:

This is a book on war, memory, and identity. It proceeds from the idea that all wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory.

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There’s a new Indigogo fundraising for a documentary about the “Love Boat” – titled “Before Tinder, there was the Taiwan Love Boat”– asking for contributions of $20 to $5,000, with various levels of rewards for your level of contribution. And for a limited time (until the Indiegogo campaign reaches $14,000), those contributions will be matched by an anonymous donor

As I had blogged about before, when I first started writing for 8Asians, I wondered until how long it would be that I would be writing about the “Love Boat” (as well as another 8Asians blogger did as well). For those who aren’t Chinese or Taiwanese American (or even if you are), the “Love Boat” is a Taiwanese government sponsored Chinese language and cultural study tour of Taiwan for overseas Chinese and Taiwanese, from the U.S. and Canada as well as from what I recall, a separate European one.

Love_Boat_Taiwan

The program started in the late 1960s and started to have a growing reputation more for fun and sometimes for a few, love, and its popularity started to gain during the popularity of the American television show the Love Boat (which debuted in 1977). I’ve also thought the nickname kind of came about while looking at Taiwan on a map, which is sort of a shape of a boat from looking from above, that is in an ocean.

From the documentary press release I received:

“[Filmmaker Valerie] Soe observes, “The Taiwanese government used the Love Boat to get political support from Taiwanese and Chinese American and Canadian college kids, their parents used the trip to try to continue their bloodlines, and the kids used the trip to party and find romance for six weeks in Taiwan. It was a win-win-win situation for everyone concerned.”

A while back, I had seen a newly created Facebook page for the making of the Love Boat documentary – that was using my Study Tour ID card! That is when I contacted the Facebook page administrator to please remove my photo for her Facebook page’s profile photo! Recently, I got a chance to speak over the phone with the Soe and her Indiegogo fundraing campaign.

chientanphotoid8asians

Soe and her family will be spending the summer in Taiwan on a Fulbright Fellowship and use the funds to do key interviews with the Taiwanese government officials who dreamed up and organized the Love Boat, the local counselors who worked on the Love Boat, and the Taiwanese American and Chinese American ex-pats whose summer on the Love Boat convinced them to move to Asia. She’s also going to shoot this year’s edition of the Love Boat in Taiwan – which has apparently been scaled down in size and length since its peak (down to 3 weeks instead of 6 weeks) and officially known as the Expatriate Youth Taiwan Study Tour.

She also mentioned she’d like to do the documentary focused on the perspectives of those Taiwanese and Chinese Americans that had attended as well as their parents and both of their motivations for attending.

Unfortunately, given her busy academic schedule and other obligations, as well as of course doing primary research and interviews, Soe doesn’t anticipate the documentary coming out until some time in 2018. That is one thing that I’ve always been hesitant about in regards to funding Kickstarter or Indigogo or other crowd-sourced campaigns – the delivery date upon any project is often a long way off, and I’m an impatient person!

I’m really glad Soe is producing this documentary – I think it is a critical piece of understand the Taiwanese (and to a degree the Chinese) American experience. Given the short history of Taiwanese American history – which I believe predominately started in the early-to-mid-1960s, the Love Boat is a shared experience or acknowledged by a great number of folks that should be documented.

For more information about the documentaryBefore Tinder, there was the Taiwan Love Boat:

I can’t wait to contribute to the film and eventually watch it!

Dr. Ken, Season 1, Episode 22: “Ken Tries Stand-Up”
Original airdate April 22, 2016.

dr_ken_s01e22 (22)Symptoms:  When Ken is visited by a stand-up comic he knows from college (Jeff Ross), he’s persuaded to give stand-up a try at an open mic. He gets off to a rocky start, but he finds a groove, connects with his audience, and is presented with a chance to attempt the next step. Dave has his sights set on a new, violent video game, but when his parents refuse to buy it for him, his grandfather challenges him to a push-ups contest with the game as a prize. The Welltopia gang deals with some bullying by the HMO’s surgeons, who’ve claimed the lunchroom table normally occupied by Damona, Clark, and Julie.

Diagnosis:  It makes sense for the show to make a move in this direction, since it’s inspired by Ken Jeong’s own life. This is season one’s conclusion, and it serves as a cliffhanger for the summer hiatus. Because it’s a possible transition for its main character (and his family), it feels sort of like an origin story, even in its 22nd installment. It’s not a bad way to finish the season. Ken’s family is more than supportive, and because the seeds have been planted in earlier episodes, none of this feels like it’s out of the blue. Its premise is solid and its execution is fairly believable. It does feel somewhat less than satisfying, as cliffhanges often do, yet for the most part it’s a nice, pleasant episode.

dr_ken_s01e22 (16)Prognosis:  I can’t back this up with anything substantial, but I have a good feeling Dr. Ken will be back for a second season. Although its reviews have been a mixed bag (here and elsewhere), it’s definitely attracted some goodwill and hit a few strong notes, not unlike Ken’s performance at the open mic. Friday night TV tends to lean safe and harmless, which Dr. Ken certainly does, yet it is doing so with a few elements pretty much unheard of just a few years ago. Add its status as a normalization of Asian American representation in a still-underrepresented space, and the balance tilts in favor of another season for Ken, Allison, Molly, and Dave. Here’s hoping.

Rx:  I prescribe some small amount of bed rest for everyone involved. They worked hard, accomplishing a few meaningful, hopefully lasting things. Then, with plenty of off-season time for reflection, consider the validity of the show’s positive and negative reviews. It’s easy to look at the positives and say “they get it,” and to look at the negatives and say “they don’t,” but what if there’s something to be done about the show’s shortcomings, and what if a few adjustments could nudge the needle upward?

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In this week’s Post Show and Tell, Joz Wang and her guest co-host Captain Lavender talk about representation, dog-eating jokes, and video game violence. Albert Tsai delivers another nice Tsai-nopsis.

9780802123459So many congratulations to Viet Thanh Nguyen who just won the Pulitzer Price in fiction for his debut novel, The Sympathizer! I was jumping up and down in my office chair when I saw the news yesterday.

I devoured this book last year when I reviewed it for 8Asians and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s got a particular wry tone and perspective that make it dramatic in big and small ways, always carrying readers forward whether we like the narrator or not. I haven’t read the other finalists, but I have read this one, and if you haven’t had a chance to pick it up, I highly recommend it. And now you don’t have to trust my word, there’s a whole committee of brilliant people who are also singing its praises.

I’ve been very much in Nguyen’s mind this past week, finishing up his second book, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War. I would have been excited in any case, but this made me extra stoked. Nothing Ever Dies is a different, if complementary, critical work — look out for the review next week.

 

Ro Khanna Speaking at Santa Clara, California campaign office opening

One of the most closely watched Congressional races in 2014, especially from an Asian American and Democratic Party perspective, was when Indian American Ro Khanna challenged long-time incumbent Japanese American and Asian American community leader Congressman Mike Honda.

I covered that race closely, having the opportunity to interview Khanna (my outreach to Honda’s team didn’t go anywhere), attend a few Honda fundraisers – primarily to meet actor & activist George Takei and former U.S. ambassador to China and Governor of Washington Gary Locke, and attend the television debate between them. Ultimately, Congressman Honda prevailed – though barely, defeating Khanna 51.8% to 48.2%.

Well, Khanna is ready for a re-match and announced his run around June of 2015.

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Dr. Ken, Season 1, Episode 21: “Korean Men’s Club”
Original airdate April 15, 2016.

dr_ken_s01e21 (13)Symptoms:  At Allison’s urging, Ken joins a Korean men’s civic group, but rather than community service, the club is dedicated to doing “absolutely nothing” with a no-telling-wives rule. Molly enlists Dave’s tutelage in attracting a nerdy boy at school. Pat’s living in his office because his wife got everything in the divorce settlement, but he’s got his eye on Clark’s building, much to Clark’s chagrin.

Diagnosis:  Asian men’s civic clubs (some, like this one, more social than civic) are a thing, and it’s cool to see one as a plot device. It’s true that the Park family is like every other American family in a thousand ways, but there are a few cultural differences in Asian American culture, and stories like this can do a lot for believability, not to mention awareness. Yet somehow, very little of the main story is very funny. Most of the laughs in this episode come from the Welltopia gang, especially Clark and Julie. The Molly-Dave interactions are cute (especially Molly’s “Now that I’ve got him nerd-hooked, it’s time to start my own process”), but it’s extremely unlikely that a seventeen-year-old American girl, even one as insulated in her own world as Molly seems to be, would be completely unfamiliar with Harry Potter, the X-Men, and Japanese anime (she calls them “Chinese cartoon movies”). I get that it serves the plot, but there’s got to be a more believable way to set all this up. She’s smart and she’s sharp. When she says to Ken, “I don’t know why you’re doing all this–you already got into college,” it’s a lot more consistent with her general (semi-cynical) awareness. It’s not a bad episode; it’s just not very memorable.

dr_ken_s01e21 (7)Prognosis:  I watched a few other sitcoms on broadcast TV this past week: The Real O’Neals (a repeat of the series premiere, which I had not seen), Modern Family, Last Man Standing, and of course, Fresh off the Boat (a repeat), just to see (again) how Dr. Ken compares. I know it’s a small sample, but I’d put Dr. Ken right in the middle: it seems to be a fair-to-middling show, with a lot more upside than the two shows it beats (Last Man Standing is just north of awful, and Modern Family for some reason has never hooked me). Everything in the Dr. Ken‘s foundation is solid: good characters, strong acting, and nice chemistry. It just needs some writing that’s worthy of it: writing that’s creative and not lazy, thoughtful and not wacky, physical but not stupid, and relatable but not plain. “Harmless” and “safe” might have a higher success rate on an episode-by-episode basis, but the ceiling is waist-high, which is a waste of the excellent talent assembled here.

Rx:  It doesn’t matter, really. Dr. Ken is either going to make it back for another season or it’s not, and there’s nothing to be done about it now, except hope. At its best, it’s a funny program with a lot to say about an impressive range of life’s weirdness, which I will address after the season’s final episode. I’m hoping for a very strong Season 1 finish. Goodness knows it’s capable, not to mention due.

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In this week’s Post Show and Tell, Joz Wang and her guest co-host Phil Yu discuss the significance of ABC’s two central Asian American families on television, and Albert Tsai chimes in with another Tsai-nopsis. Do check it out.

I remember seeing actor and activist in the beginning if this Taco Bell television commercial campaign for it’s quesalupa’s I think starting around during the Super Bowl. But I think this is the first commercial with Takei being the focus of the commercial.

AACW_Taco_Bell_George_Takei

I actually like Taco Bell’s tacos, but not a real big fan of the rest of the menu. But I guess I should try a quesalupa before passing judgement.

Takei is also in a 0:15 second commercial for “Quesalupa for President”:

I quite like his spoof on Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” hat, but not as good or as funny as John Oliver’s “Make Donald Drumpf Again.”

I’m giving Franny Choi the post title because of her amazing poem responding to the latest in a long string of poems by white people that shouldn’t have been published. Calvin Trillin’s poem “Have They Run Out of Provinces Yet?” ran in the New Yorker last week. I’m not going to quote it, so you can go read it and come back if you like, but the gist is, too many different kinds of Chinese food (each representing a province, Szechuan, Hunan, Fukian), and oh, don’t you long for the days of simple chow mein.

Let’s ignore how Shanghai is not a province and Uighur is not only not a province, but a group of people, and focus on the fear-mongering that’s underlying what some may see as a nice, cheeky poem about Chinese food in the United States. With increased fears, the poet faces a threat. Gee, that sounds like the anti-Asian discourse that has been running under, well, a very sizable portion of American history and Western history too. Hordes of people descending on our American utopia of chow mein. Maybe when you say “they,” you really mean those foodie hipsters, but when I hear “they,” I hear the they implied in us and them. I hear they, the other. I hear they, the scary. I hear they, they don’t belong.

Oh, but Lily, don’t you see? It’s ironic!

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Conan Korea Episode Available Online

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Conan_Korea_DMZWatch episode here.

Last February 2015, comedian Conan O’Brien visited a Korean Spa in Koreantown in LA The Walking Dead actor Steve Yeun and that video of his visit was hilarious (and has gotten over 13 million YouTube views as of this writing).

Back this February (2016), Conan announced that he was going to visit Korea because a South Korean fan named Sunny Lee wrote Conan a letter because she was too busy watching clips of Conan instead of studying for the SATs and also sent a bunch of Korean snacks in the mail. Note – Conan isn’t aired in Korea, but apparently there are plenty of Conan fans vis-a-vis the Internet.

On Saturday, April 9th, Conan aired the special, titled Conan Korea, where: “Thanks to a box of snacks, Conan travels to Korea to learn the language, master Tae Kwon Do, and make some new friends, one of whom is an octopus.”

The episode was overall, fairly entertaining. I especially liked seeing the Steve Yeun segment – when Conan & Steve have a meal (where Steve barely has an idea of what they’re eating …) and also visit the North-South Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ). Also, Steve tells Conan that he’s getting married (and not to the actress who plays his girlfriend/wife on The Walking Dead).