Film Review: ‘Blinded by the Light’

I’m not big Bruce Springsteen fan, but am a big fan of the film ‘Bend It Like Beckham,’ which Gurinder Chadha directed so I was definitely going to see ‘Blinded by the Light’ where Chadha is credited directing and being a writer on the film. In my opinion, the film does not disappoint.

The film is about:

“… the story of Javed (Viveik Kalra), a British teen of Pakistani descent growing up in the town of Luton, England, in 1987. Amidst the racial and economic turmoil of the times, he writes poetry as a means to escape the intolerance of his hometown and the inflexibility of his traditional father. But when a classmate introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen, Javed sees parallels to his working-class life in the powerful lyrics. As Javed discovers a cathartic outlet for his own pent-up dreams, he also begins to find the courage to express himself in his own unique voice.

Inspired by a true story, based on Sarfraz Manzoor’s acclaimed memoir Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll, “Blinded by the Light” was directed by Gurinder Chadha from a screenplay written by Manzoor, Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges.”

I had first starting hearing about this film only when I started reading more about the film, ‘The Farewell,’ and that ‘Blinded by the Light’ was also a Sundance favorite and was coming out in August.

I could really relate to Javed at times, with his frustrations of his family’s circumstances and his immigrant father’s expectations. What was enlightening was seeing the depiction of an economically challenged Britain in the late 1980s and the racism of the then-popular Nationalist Front – connotations of modern Brexit sentiment of today. Of course, having grown up the Eighties, the music beyond Springsteen’s was nostalgic.

That said, not being a huge Springsteen, I really loved how the film embraced his songs to express Javed’s emotions – especially the first scene where he discovers Springsteen and the lyrics that express his frustrations of the world and his seemingly unattainable dreams. Made me think I should listen to more Springsteen.

On another note, it’s simply quite amazing to think that there are two British films released this year in the United States starring British Southeast Asians in leading roles, with ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Blinded by the Light.’

The backstory as to how Springsteen came to give his support for this film is an interesting story as well:

Like similar homage “Yesterday,” where a struggling Indian musician in London stumbles upon a world without the Beatles, “Blinded by the Light” is a paean to the power — lyrically and musically — of Springsteen, who might as well live in a parallel universe but communicates in this one with the movie’s writer hero …

“Turned out ‘Bend it Like Beckham’ was one of [Bruce’s wife] Patti Scialfa’s favorite films,” says Chadha. “I think Bruce was touched that we approached his music from a unique cultural point-of-view.”

Worried about adding Bruce’s music to the film, Chadha was encouraged by the Springsteen camp to begin writing the screenplay and ‘something would be figured out,’ given the film’s modest budget.  “They liked the idea,” she says. “We tried to make the music work for our story rather than exploit it.  Picking the songs was quite a forensic task. I only used the ones which captured the character’s journey. I set out to make a movie with integrity, that would live up to that legacy — not only Bruce’s music but what he stands for, what he represents. I had to stop seeing him as a rock star, but someone who wrote these songs for my movie.””

CBS Morning News also does a nice profile (and background on the film) about the co-writer and inspiration for the film, writer Sarfraz Manzoor:

It makes me wonder if there’s something about the British film industry that is more receptive to Asian American film leads? Then again, I recently heard that John Cho’s ‘Searching’ did so well, that there’s going to be a sequel (with different characters)

Maybe the film industry only cares about one color = green, the color of [U.S.] money.

At the time of this writing, ‘Blinded by the Light’ has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 90% – I recommend you see the film!

‘The Farewell,’ starring Awkwafina, Opens Nationwide August 2nd

To be honest, I was not really aware of the film ‘The Farewell‘ prior to a week to its opening in Los Angeles and New York City (opening July 12th), when I started seeing #GoldOpen type postings in those cities.  I’m kind of ashamed of that considering I’d like to think that I am usually on top of these things, especially since the film stars Awkwafina and was so well reviewed earlier this year at Sundance (and as of this writing, the film has maintained its 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (out of 164 reviews) – as well as the fact that the film was screened in San Francisco by CAAM and also at the SF International Film Festival – with Director Lulu Wang was in attendance at both screenings.

Continue reading “‘The Farewell,’ starring Awkwafina, Opens Nationwide August 2nd”

Asian American Commercial Watch: Audi Presents Science Fair

This Audi Ad features Filipino American actor Jacob Batalon and Tom Holland play their characters from the movie  Spider-Man:  Far from Home.  Despite his sidekick role here and in the movie, I really enjoyed Spider-Man:  Far from Home, particularly the way that Asian American males were portrayed and that he is doing a race-blind role as Ned Leeds.

FYI – the security code that Peter Parker types in is Stan Lee‘s birthday!

For Beatles-singing star Himesh Patel, ‘Yesterday’ represents the future of film

I saw the film ‘Yesterday‘ on its opening weekend and enjoyed the film. What struck me though was when I saw the trailer, that the film had an Indian male lead with a white female counterpart who had unrequited love for that male lead – and had come across this article with this commentary:

““The industry is starting to listen and go, ‘Oh. we can’t just put South Asian guys as doctors or cab drivers or terrorists anymore. People aren’t going to settle for that. We need to start offering these three-dimensional roles that have been traditionally reserved for straight white guys.’” Patel said.

Patel considers his role in “Yesterday”, which wasn’t written with a specific race in mind, an example of this change. He first auditioned in New York a couple years ago, where he was asked to read a monologue and perform a Coldplay song of his choice. (Screenwriter Richard Curtis has said the band’s lead singer, Chris Martin, was originally in mind to play Jack’s mentor before Sheeran was cast.)

As “Yesterday” nears its release, Patel looks back on its press tour. The film didn’t intend to make a statement about race, and the character’s ethnicity isn’t mentioned once. Still, Patel understands the importance his role has for the South Asian community. “We didn’t try to do that. It wasn’t like, ‘We’re going to get an Indian guy to play this role,’” Patel said. “I’m just glad that I happen to be the right guy to play the role and that I happen to be of this background.””

When I watched the trailer, as well as the film, I was really struck at how Patel played an ordinary Brit, with really now direct reference to his race, which I thought was pretty remarkable.

This also reminded me later as to when earlier this year, I binged watched the entire series to date of NBC’s hit show ‘The Good Place,’ where in Seaon 3’s finale, there’s a montage of where Eleanor (Kristen Bell) and Chidi (William Jackson Harper) receive a touching present from Michael (Ted Danson) capturing their relationship over time and race never really being explicitly being an issue ever.

After watching a film like ‘Yesterday,’ it’s kind of encouraging to see race blind casting materializing, and Director Danny Boyle’s choice for casting Patel:

“Boyle said all that mattered was Patel’s talent. “It’s just quality,” he said, adding, “I wouldn’t have cast him if I’d found somebody better. It’s a terrible thing to say, but, you know, it’s true. He was the best. It’s a triumph of talent, really, over other systems of stardom.””

Pretty bold if you ask me to cast an unknown actor to begin with, let alone an unknown South East Asian.

Three Hearts Home: A Story about Adoption, Diving, and Fish

Randy Kosaki is the NOAA’s Deputy Superintendent of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, a notable specialist in Marine Biology, and an adoptee. Three Hearts Home is a short film featuring the story of Kosaki finding and his biological mother and the connection he has with his biological sister, champion freediver and spearfisher Kimi Werner. While there are a number of stories, both real and fictional, about Asian Americans looking for and finding their biological parents and family in Asia, this is a story about finding biological family in America, including how pregnant Asian American teenage girls were treated and the choices that they were forced to make. That’s an Asian American story you don’t hear about much (it does happen – I know Asian American women who had to make these kind of choices growing up, and Disney’s Andi Mack is also a show about this).

A few other things I found appealing about this short: it has a thread about nurture and nature – both Randy and Kimi were raised apart and have radically different careers, but their interests are very similar. You can read about Randy‘s and Kimi‘s perspectives on this in two separate interviews. Also, you don’t hear much about Asian American’s being very “outdoorsy,” and these two are as outdoorsy as you can get. Finally, the story has a relaxed, Hawaiian feel to it.

In addition to the short being posted on YouTube, Kimi Werner is also giving talks about the short and her experiences, such as this one in Saratoga, California’s REI store. You can see Randy Kosaki’s research profile here.

CAAMFest37: Joy Luck Club Anniversary Screening – Q&A

https://caamfest.com/2019/movies/joy-luck-club/

It was my great honor and pleasure to attend this year’s CAAMFest37’s
25th anniversary year screening (the film actually came out in September 1993) of The Joy Luck Club, with many of the actors present:

“Come join us as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of THE JOY LUCK CLUB, one of the most decorated Asian American films in cinematic history. Written by Amy Tan and directed by Wayne Wang, THE JOY LUCK CLUB paved the way for decades of Asian American films including last year’s summer hit, CRAZY RICH ASIANS. This free, indoor screening in the heart of Chinatown will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience with many special guests and talent in attendance. “


There was a Q&A session prior to the screening of the film, given that the film screening started after 8PM. In attendance were:
Executive Producer Janet Yang, actresses Lisa Lu (most recently know for her role in Crazy Rich Asians as Shang Su Yi, Nick’s grandmother and the matriarch of the family)

actress Tamlyn Tomita:

actress Rosalind Chao:

as well as actress Kieu Chinh:

Actor Michael Paul Chan and casting director Heidi Levitt are included in the group picture above.

I think one of the more interesting questions was why The Joy Luck Club didn’t spark an explosion of Asian American media – it looked more like an anomaly rather than a movement.

The rise of China, the explosion of technology – especially the Internet, and the growing Asian American population in the United States, has contributed to larger interest around Asian and Asian American stories and help lead to the recent success of blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians.

If you were too young to have seen the film or don’t quite remember the film, here is the trailer:

CAAMFest37: Love Boat: Taiwan – Q&A after SF Premiere

It was my great honor to attend the San Francisco premiere of the documentary Love Boat: Taiwan at CAAMFest37:

“Fearless, inventive and outspoken are a few words to describe CAAMFest37 Spotlight Honoree Valerie Soe. From the 80’s to now, Soe’s films and video installations have been a benchmark for Asian American feminist activism and experimental storytelling. CAAM will proudly showcase Soe’s newest documentary, LOVE BOAT: TAIWAN; a feature-length documentary, looks into of one of the longest running summer programs in the world.

LOVE BOAT: TAIWAN revisits the program’s participants and explores the history and popularity of this well-known program, sponsored by the Taiwanese government, which takes place every summer in Taiwan.”

Ever since writing my blog post about my experience on the Love Boat in the summer of 1993, I had always hoped a documentary would be made about this iconic program. So I’m glad that as a producer, an interviewee (very brief interview …) and archival video footage provider of the trip, I was able to experience the San Francisco premiere of the film to a a sold out theater and see the crowd’s enthusiastic reaction to the documentary.

Afterwards, there was Q&A with the Producer/Director Valerie Soe, as well as interviewee Kristina Wong, and others involved in the film, including yours truly.

The film has one more film festival in Taiwan to “premiere” in May, then plans for distribution are still up in the air, but Soe will probably be making the film festival and college tour of the film in the near future before hopefully wider distribution plans.

If you haven’t seen the trailer yet, here’s you chance to see what the documentary is all about:

I’ll be sure to blog about the documentary’s wider release – hopefully online – in the future.

Netflix’s ‘Always Be My Maybe’ Coming May 30th Starring Ali Wong and Randall Park

I’ve only seen comedian Ali Wong as a stand up comic, either live in San Francisco or her two Netflix comedy specials, Baby Cobra and Hard Knock Wife, so I’m eager to see Wong as well as Randall Park co-star in the Netflix original romantic comedy film, ‘Always Be My Maybe,”:

“Everyone assumed Sasha and Marcus would wind up together except for Sasha and Marcus. Reconnecting after 15 years, the two start to wonder … maybe?”


I’ve always been a fan of actor Randall Park and have been following him ever since July 2008 when I first spotted him in a Wells Fargo commercial. I think the last romantic comedy I saw Park in was ‘The People I’ve Slept With.” Other well known actors of Asian American descent include Daniel Dae Kim and another star who you can see at the end of the trailer.

Looking forward to May 30th to seeing the film!

PBS: ‘‘An American Story: Norman Mineta’’ Airing on May 20th

Back in May of 2018, I had the great honor of screening the premiere of Norman Mineta & His Legacy: An American Story and meeting Mineta at CAAMFest36.

The documentary is scheduled for national broadcast on PBS on Monday, May 20th at 9:00 PM. Please check your local listing to be sure.

I hope you can catch this important documentary.

8mm Review: ‘Happy Cleaners’

Happy Cleaners (2019)
Hyanghwa Lim, Charles Ryu, Yun Jeong, Yeena Sung. Written by
Kat Kim, Julian Kim, and Peter S. Lee. Directed by Julian Kim and Peter S. Lee

If it seems (and it does) that new Asian American filmmakers keep making the same film about generational tension, cultural identity, and familial values, I suppose it’s because we continue to deal with these issues, or because there are as many ways to work through them as there are immigrant families: my half-Japanese experience in Honolulu isn’t like someone else’s Taiwanese experience in Southern California, and they are both stories worth telling.

For these reasons, I came away from Happy Cleaners encouraged, because if nothing else, the film’s familiar conflicts for new generations of Asian Americans mean we’re still coming over, still adding color and flavor to a country that appears alternately to have come a long way in embracing us and to have regressed so we’re not being embraced at all.

Happy Cleaners is owned by the Choi family in Flushing, New York, and despite the family’s hard work, the struggling dry cleaner may find itself without a lease in a few months, thanks to a weasely new landlord from the Weasely Caucasian Landlord multipack they must sell at Movieland Costco. Daughter Hyunny is some kind of medical professional, and college-aged son Kevin (backward baseball cap, one earring in each lobe) works in a food truck with aspirations of opening his own truck on the West Coast.

Arguments abound. Kevin fights with Hyunny. Hyunny fights with her boyfriend Danny. Dad fights with Mom, and Mom fights with everyone. Chances are you’ve seen this all before, if not in a movie then for sure in real life. Graduate from college first and then you can do whatever you want. My family will never accept you if you continue to work as a janitor. Do you want to end up like me, married to someone who can barely support his family?

I admit I said, “Oh, this again” more than once during the first act of the movie, but the film won me over with very good acting by all four principals and solid filmmaking everywhere else. There are a few self-aware shots, but mostly the camera work is well done. Lighting and sound quality put this well above most other Asian American indie films I’ve seen. Mostly, the directors don’t overdirect, the actors don’t overact, the writers don’t overwrite, and the soundtrack doesn’t oversoundtrack, although the Food Network style sound effects and cutting-board close-ups get a little out of hand more than once.

The use of language in this film sets it apart even from other Korean American movies. I appreciate the writers’ willingness to give us full-on Korean through much of the film, including what the movie’s Kickstarter page calls “a mix of Korean and English … we warmly label ‘Konglish’.” There’s nothing wrong with the Korean-accented English dialogue we usually get (it’s one of my favorite accents), but it’s great to hear the family speak the language these families speak.

I am most impressed by the writers’ delicate touch with conflict resolution. The fights themselves may be pyrotechnic at times, but the make-up scenes are gentle, sympathetic, and utterly believable. One-on-one, characters share a beer, or a bite of rice, or a whole meal, looking right at each other without overdoing the apologies, or sitting alongside each other, or nudging one another with a gentle toe. Physical proximity is an act of love, strong enough to heal the casual wounds of being in a family, something I’ve not seen much of in popular media. And props to the actors for not overdoing these excellent scenes. Shout-outs go especially to Charles Ryu as Dad and Yeena Sung as Hyunny.

Happy Cleaners is a well-made movie, a slight improvement on what seems to have become a genre: the Asian American Generations Movie. Despite my jadedness, I got teary at least twice, so everyone’s doing something right. A fraction of a bonus point for being set in Flushing, where a good chunk of the German-Italian-Irish side of my family lived.

7 out of 10. Check it out.

Happy Cleaners screens at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival Wednesday, May 8 at 9:15 p.m. The filmmakers will be in attendance.

It also screens at CAAMFest Saturday, May 11 at 2:40 p.m. and Monday, May 13 at 9:10 p.m. Director Julian Kim is scheduled to attend the May 11 screening.

Love Boat: Taiwan Documentary Premieres in LA, SF, and Taipei in May 2019!

As I had blogged before, I had attended the “infamous” ‘Love Boat’ back in the summer of 1993 after graduating from college. I think every Taiwanese American has heard of the ‘Love Boat,’ so I am so happy that finally a documentary about the program is finally being release (disclosure: I am a producer, interviewee and provided archival video footage for the documentary).

Love Boat: Taiwan will be premiering in Los Angeles, San Francisco and then Taipei in May 2019:

“San Francisco, CA – April 13th, 2019 Filmmaker Valerie Soe announced today the premiere screenings of LOVE BOAT: TAIWAN at two of North America’s most prestigious Asian American film festivals. Saturday, May 4th at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and Friday, May 17th at CAAMfest (Center for Asian American Media) in San Francisco. It will also screen in competition in late May as the Closing Night film for the Urban Nomad film festival in Taipei, Taiwan’s premier indie film festival.”

The Love Boat has a rich history and many famous alumni have passed through the program over the years including US Congresswoman Judy Chu, buzzfeed’s Justin Tan, and singer Wang Lee Hom. Although it started out in 1967 as a small cultural program, over the years the Love Boat eventually became harder to gain entry into than many colleges. There was no marketing budget and the Love Boat’s popularity stemmed from its word-of-mouth reputation. LOVE BOAT: TAIWAN explores the ways that the government of Taiwan used this unique “soft power” program to promote Taiwan around the world which permanently affected the lives of many Asian Americans.

You can purchase tickets at the links above. There will also be afterparties.

You can check out the film’s website for more updates – http://www.loveboat-taiwan.com/ or join the facebook page  to learn more.

8Questions with Barney Cheng, Director of “Baby Steps”

Back in September 2018, I did a review of a movie Baby Steps on 8Asians. The movie was written, directed and starred Barney Cheng. I was still so intrigued with the movie, that I got in contact with Barney and asked him to do this 8Questions segment for 8Asians.

Before we get to the questions, a little bit about Barney from his wikipedia page

Barney Cheng is a Taiwanese-American actor, director, writer and producer. Cheng was born in Taipei, Taiwan. His family emigrated to the United States when he was 12 years old and he grew up in Brea, California. He speaks Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese Hokkien fluently.

and from his own official site:

Barney Cheng landed on the Hollywood map as an actor in 2002 with his acclaimed performance in Woody Allen’s Hollywood Ending.  The New York Times described Barney’s comedic timing as “surgically precise.” The Orange County Register raved that Barney “steals every scene he’s in.” Barney accompanied Woody Allen to promote the film and to open the 55th Cannes Film Festival. 

On to the questions:

1. How did you get the idea for the movie Baby Steps?

I came across a story about a gay couple from Israel. They wanted to have a baby, but since it was illegal for gay couples to hire surrogates in Israel, they flew to the U.S. to work with an American egg donor. They flew to India to transfer the embryos to an Indian surrogate. Nine months later, they traveled across the globe to pick up their baby. I was intrigued by the couple’s emotional and physical journey, and I could see that as a movie. Then I thought, “What if it were my life? What if I had a partner, and we decided to have kids?” Baby Steps was conceived.

2. You wrote, directed and starred in Baby Steps, how similar are you to the main character Danny?

Very different. The movie is fictional. I’m single and don’t have kids. However, the film is inspired by the relationship between my mother and me. She definitely evolved throughout the years. The more than 20 years of her evolution — coming to terms with my coming out to full acceptance — was captured in the 90-minute film!

3. What advice would you give a gay Asian American who wants to be a parent?

To be visible, open and out. It’s important to be proud of who you are and be a role model for your child. Being in the closet conveys a message of shame, and that would be detrimental to the child’s development.

4. I read that you showed Baby Steps in mainland China. What was that like?

The State Department under the Obama Administration hosted U.S. embassy screenings of the film in six cities in China. At the screenings, the staff at the American consulates handed out study guides to highlight American culture and LGBT marriage equality. After the screenings, I was surprised to learn that many Chinese audiences didn’t think that the story was plausible. It seemed like a fairy tale to many Chinese audiences. Many of them just couldn’t imagine coming out to their parents and getting the kind of acceptance that Danny received. They also couldn’t imagine living openly as gay people and having children as gay parents.

5. Who are your role models and influences on your work?

I don’t have specific role models for my work, but as a storyteller, I always aim to be authentic, real and truthful.

6. Compared with Danny, how supportive have your parents been in your career, life, and movies?

I remember when we were filming Baby Steps in Taipei, my mother would make me breakfast each morning to make sure that I was well-prepared for the long, hectic day ahead. We would have early 5 o’clock calls, and my mom would get up at 3:00 a.m. to make me breakfast. She didn’t have to say anything, but I felt that she cared. Taiwanese parents rarely say explicitly “I love you” or “I care about you.” They show through actions.

The movie was released theatrically in Taiwan. When we were promoting for the release, it was very important to me to be an openly out filmmaker and actor. One of the important themes of Baby Steps is being open and authentic, and our promotion campaign had to be consistent with that vision. My mom joined me on a TV talk show to promote the film. My mother openly shared her struggles of coming to terms with having a gay son. She invited all of her friends to see the film in theater. And my mother enrolled friends and relatives to join her at marriage equality rallies in Taiwan. Through Baby Steps, she “came out.”

7. Do you have any new projects in the works you can tell us about?

I’m developing a TV series called “Curated Lies,” and it centers around an Asian-American family in a wine country. I’ve recently finished filming a transgender love and acceptance video for the Asian-American LGBTQ community. It’s called A Love LetterPlease check it out: https://youtu.be/irjUBWxgSPY

8. Where can someone watch “Baby Steps” now?

All digital platforms. We recommend Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/yawje8ry