I wrote a review about how I really liked the Pixar Short Bao that appears with The Incredibles 2, but apparently not everyone one likes as much as I did or even gets it. A number of articles (some spoilers) like this one, this one, and this one, mention how some non-Asian Americans just don’t get it. Some were confused or even laughed. Leaving in the Asian American bubble where I live, I initially thought “WTF!” but on further thought, I realized I shouldn’t have been surprised.
One niece of mine said she was bawling at the end, and the Daughter said she was about to cry. I think if you have never faced the tension of having to deal with conflicting cultures in your household tearing at you in different directions, its much easier to not understand. I first saw Bao at Pixar, and I don’t recall any one really laughing at the points mentioned in the articles. Then again, there were a lot of Asians Americans there and also a lot of people who knew about Bao since many of them helped make it. When I saw it with The Wife in a commercial theatre with a mostly non-Asian audience, there definitely were some annoying laughs.
I still think Bao has some universal themes such as the tension between generations, but other parts resonate strongly with many Asian Americans. I did find it sad that many people just didn’t get it, but again, as I mentioned, I really shouldn’t have been surprised.
Accompanying the Pixar movie The Incredibles 2 is a short called Bao. It starts, as you can see from the trailer above, when a woman who has just cooked some bao is shocked when one of them comes to life. While we have talked about Russell from Up being Asian American, this short was striking in that in deals directly with issues that Asian Americans and Asian Canadians face.
Bao was created by Domee Shi, who moved from China to Canada when she was two. She joined Pixar as an intern, and eventually pitched the Bao concept and got it made. The mom in Bao was inspired by her own mom and other Chinese women in her life.
I really liked Bao. While I am not of Chinese origin, it spoke to me of my own experiences with food and family. A bao becomes more than just a bun – it becomes a metaphor for many things. I am also around the same age as the mom, making her not just Asian American/Canadian but universal concerns very meaningful to me. So if you go to see The Incredibles 2 (also recommended) and are thinking about getting popcorn when you see Bao come up on the screen, don’t. It will be worth your time, whether you are Asian American, American Canadian, or not.
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:
“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:
““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.”
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.
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.
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.
Alfa released a new music video April 12 for “Round and Round,” a track on June 2017’s album Spark & Fury, which you should totally check out if you haven’t already heard it. I think it’s an interesting choice for a music video since it’s not one of the more memorable songs on the album, but there aren’t any bad tracks here, so why not? The video is “directed by my hubby,” Rob Bieselin, she says on Twitter.
The one who’s on your mind
I only became aware of Alfa a couple of months ago, so something is definitely wrong with my music radar, because she should have crossed my path ages ago. She has a voice with flavors of Divinyls singer Chrissy Amphlett’s I’m-being-coy-but-I-could-get-psycho-on-you-at-any-time delivery, plus a little bit of Natalie Imbruglia. The easiest comparison (‘though not on this song) is to Ingrid Michaelson’s ukulele-driven, playful, joyous thoughfulness, but I hear a pleasing edginess that makes Alfa more interesting.
It’s a pretty good video. I’m fully down with the video-projected-on-and-past-her device, and except for the creepy eyes on both sides of her body part, I like the choices. Alfa occupies the same spot in the frame throughout the song, so we get movement mostly from her body angle and the shifting light from the projected video. I could do without Alfa’s actual spinning, which I find heavy-handed. Cuts to different angles work for me, though.
The song’s theme is pretty heavy, and Alfa has nice screen presence, so at first the clips where she’s messing with her hair disappointed me. In these shots where she’s not singing the words, it would have been bolder to let her just look into the camera without distracting hand movement. However, we do get that long, lonely gaze at the end. I really admire this decision and the video works better without preludes to it earlier in the sequence.
Those last fifteen seconds make the video for me, and I like the song quite a bit more than I did before I saw it.
One of the many impressive aspects of the Black Panther movie is its costume design. The look of the Dora Milaje, the elite Wakanda guard, is particularly striking.
That said, I was surprised to found out from The Wife about this article about Anthony Francisco, a developmental illustrator for Marvel Comics, where he says that apart from the obvious influence from different African cultures, that there are Asian influences in the Dora Milaje costumes. In this Buzzfeed article, Francisco details influences as disparate as Filipino tribesman and Japanese Samurai.
Francisco grew up in the Philippines, where the Igorot people of Ifugao are well known for their UNESCO heritage rice terraces. Some of their traditional garb influenced his design. In addition, the table runner from Francisco’s Aunt’s house became part of General Okoye’s uniform. Other Asian influences include Samurai style boots.
You can see these and other influences on costume design in the Buzzfeed article.
For a better look at Francisco’s work (which includes Baby Groot), check out his Instagram.
Growing up there just weren’t a lot of Asians—let alone Asian Americans—on television or in the movies. And when there were, they were very rarely people I actually looked up to. However, when it came to my day-to-day playing, I was a G.I. Joe junkie. I watched the G.I. Joe cartoon religiously and spent hours upon hours playing with my action figures. I made up scenarios where the good guys always won.
My two favorite characters were Snake Eyes (right) and Storm Shadow (left). Snake Eyes was this bad ass guy in a black/dark blue uniform with a mask over his face. He had a big dog—a husky or a wolf—as a companion and never said a word. He knew martial arts and was the good guy’s ninja. Storm Shadow wore white and was the bad guy’s ninja. I don’t know this for a fact, but my memory seems to recall the two of them being mortal enemies—but take that with a grain of salt. I could have just made that up. In my play though, they were friends and both were always on the side of good.
I knew Storm Shadow was Asian. His backstory was that he was from Japan. And from what I could see of his face—since half of it was covered by a mask—was that he had “Asian eyes.” But Snake Eyes was totally different. Snake Eyes’ entire face was covered with a mask. So in my head, I always considered him Asian too.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I’ve come to believe that maybe Snake Eyes wasn’t Asian after all. What happened? My son got a G.I. Joe snowmobile playset for his birthday and it came with a Snake Eyes action figure. I was super excited—since he was my favorite character from when I was his age. But unlike when I was a kid, his mask came off. To my horror, his eyes didn’t look Asian to me.
Snake Eyes is not only a master of ninjitsu, mystical arts, and espionage, but he’s also a master combatant and artillery specialist. Fellow GI Joe Scarlett has labeled him “3-Bravo-0,” Baddest Butt-Kicker Bar None. He’s an expert in all NATO and Warsaw Pact arms. He’s also a black belt in twelve various martial art forms, which include: Karate, Kung-Fu, Ninjitsu, Tae Kwan Do, and more. Snake Eyes is highly skilled in edged weapons, and he’s particularly a master swordsman, never leaving for a mission without his Mikimoto Japanese sword. He’s an expert in firearms and explosives, and he makes it a point not to be fully dependent on one particular weapon.
What race is Snake eyes anyway, asian or caucasion?
To my delight, someone answered that they thought he was Asian:
i think he’s Asian ? maybe not but i think so
I should put this question into context: It was in response to the fact that in one of the recent G.I. Joe movies, Snake eyes was being played by Ray Park, who as the name implies is Asian!
Wait… What? This doesn’t mean anything. Everyone knows Hollywood whitewashes everything. I needed to keep looking.
On another discussion board, during a very serious discussion about whether Blade would have beaten Snake Eyes in a fight, the idea that Snake Eyes was Asian came out. One of the commentators made this very salient point:
But Snake Eyes isn’t Asian. Uh…he’s a ninja so he’s asian.
Phucking dumb racist.
Not a good sign. But as I looked deeper, I found this:
His real name, origin, age, background, and even his service number are listed under “classified,”
So, if Snake Eyes’ background was classified, he could have been Asian? I really should have stopped here. But then I found this:
In his youth, Snake Eyes, along with Storm Shadow, was trained by the Arashikage Clan. A homeless Caucasian child, entered the clan’s home seeking food, only to be caught by a young Storm Shadow who intended to “punish” the stranger for stealing.
Noooooooooooooooooooooooooo! This can’t be. But I found this same backstory for Snake Eyes across many sites. It seems pretty clear that he isn’t Asian, but instead a Caucasian ninja trained by a Japanese ninja. Even though I found this out, I told my son that Snake Eyes is Asian and then proceeded to superglue his mask on. Don’t tell him. I don’t want to ruin his childhood.
PS: Son, when you read this article when you are older, I hope that you can forgive me for lying to you.
PSS: Ignore everything I just wrote, Snake Eyes is still Asian.
It’s actually because of her sister, Paige Tico (actress Veronica Ngo), that we actually meet Rose. But hey, I said there would be no spoilers here, so all you need to know is that both sisters are awesome and even if you’re not Asian, you might feel like cheering for them when they’re on screen.
Sorry to disappoint, if you’re here for an actual real review with no spoilers, this is all you get right now. I do think it’s worth it to go to the theater and see Tran and Ngo on the big screen, because aside from them, there are some fights and battles and stuff. In space… ooops, did I say too much? I will say that it is absolutely exhilarating to see an Asian American face on-screen with such a meaningful storyline and with some actual character development. And if you care about the non-Asians in that universe, yeah they’re there, too.
I’ll end this post with some of my favorite pictures from the world premiere which was held in Los Angeles, where stars Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro were joined by writer/director Rian Johnson and producers Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman for a walk down the red carpet where they greeted enthusiastic fans at the world premiere of Lucasfilm’s STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI.
During opening weekend, I took my daughter to see the new Disney/Pixar movie, Coco. It’s a movie she’s been looking forward to seeing for almost a year, since the trailers for the new movie came out quite some time ago. I didn’t have much expectations for the movie, as I figured it would be similar to a previous animated film, Book of Life, another film centered around Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. But the movie is completely different, and definitely worth a viewing. As I watched the film Coco with my 12 year old, I began to realize that many of the practices and beliefs that were being practiced by the Mexican families were similar if not identical to many practices that we performed for my deceased ancestors as a Chinese/Taiwanese immigrant family in the United States.
One of the major Chinese holidays is also known as 盂蘭節 or Ghost Festival. The holiday is sometimes called Chinese Halloween, and is very similar to the Mexican Day of the Dead. I remember when I was growing up, that my mom would set up an altar on major Chinese holidays, like the Ghost Festival, and the center of the altar would have the photographs of the deceased ancestors. We would burn incense, and joss paper and lay out food offerings, typically oranges and cooked rice with other dishes for the deceased, so they would have food and money in the afterlife. We would eat the food it had been left out for a long time, long enough for the deceased to partake their portion of the food. It’s common for Chinese to burn paper replicas of cars, boats, houses, etc. for the deceased to have these things in the afterlife.
Similarly on the Day of the Dead, in Coco, there’s a strong importance to having the photograph of the family ancestor placed in the family ofrenda. The belief in Coco, is that if your photograph is not in the family ofrenda, you won’t be able to pass over on the Day of the Dead to visit your relatives. You’re essentially forgotten. In Coco, if you’re forgotten, your spirit will disappear from the afterlife and cease to exist when the last person who remembers you dies in the real world.
Similar to Chinese culture, the Mexicans lay out food for the deceased, so they’ll have food in the afterlife. The amount of food the deceased have in the afterlife varies by how much they were remembered and offered food in the real world. So a popular singer, like the character Ernesto de la Cruz in the movie Coco, had an abundance of food in the afterlife from all his devoted living fans, while Hector, who was forgotten had none.
By the end of the movie, these similarities between the two cultures got me wondering if they arose from the same source. My guess is yes, since at the end of the movie Coco, there was a disclaimer saying the beliefs around the Day of the Dead, had roots in Mexican and indigenous peoples. And with the knowledge that indigenous peoples traveled from Asia to settle in the Americas, I think we’re fairly safe in assuming these beliefs have a common beginning.
In case you haven’t seen Coco yet, won’t spoil any more of the movie for you, but I will say it’s one of the best kids movies I’ve seen in a while, and well worth the price of admission.
Over the last year director/writer/producer Quentin Lee and I have been working hard on a new company, CHOPSO, the first video streaming platform featuring English-language Asian content in the world.
As a filmmaker/writer and as a former Vice President at the Japanese American National Museum, I had the unique perspective of being on both sides of the art world. Looking back now, I can see that together they led me toward the path of creating CHOPSO.
One of my goals as a filmmaker and as a writer is to create content that features people that look like me. However, one of the things I learned quickly was that making movies about Asian Americans was not really a viable career option. In fact, my wife calls my Asian American moviemaking volunteering. The big problem of course is that the traditional distribution channels aren’t interested in content that features or is about Asian Americans and therefore it just doesn’t make financial sense to make them. Despite this bleak outlook, I have continued to produce and write Asian American movies.
At the same time I was making movies, I spent almost thirteen years at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM). In my time there, I programmed screenings, film festivals, book readings, panels, family days, workshops, and exhibitions. The mission of JANM “is to promote understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience.” But I took this a step further and included a more pan-Asian Pacific Islander American view in my programming.
One of the memories that has stuck with me from my time at JANM was when we screened the first episode of Fresh Off the Boat. I was excited to see a long line of people show up to celebrate the premier with some of the creators and actors. As I spoke to one of the visitors standing in line, they asked me why Asian American haven’t made anything since the iconic movie Better Luck Tomorrow. This blew me away because Asian Americans had been making content between 2002 and 2015. Some of it—a lot of it—amazing. At first, I wondered if they just weren’t paying attention. But then as I spoke to more people I realized the problem was not that Asian Americans weren’t making content, it was just hard for people to see it because there was no one place to go. You had to either come to JANM on the weekends I was screening something (or places similar to JANM), go to the local Asian American film festival (assuming you were lucky enough to actually live in a city that hosted one), read about it on Angry Asian Man, or stream it on YouTube. If you looked away too long, there was a strong chance you’d never hear about it—let alone see it.
When Quentin Lee and I first started talking about CHOPSO, I knew from my past experiences as a content creator and as a programmer what was missing—a place where Asian filmmakers (who speak English) could show their work but also a place for those who are interested in seeing such content to actually be able to see it. Our goal for the company is to bring those two places together and hopefully inspire new filmmakers and audiences to tell the Asian diasporic story.
Please support CHOPSO and subscribe now. Tell a friend, or two, or three! Buy a gift for someone you know.
CHOPSO is the ultimate streaming destination for English-language Asian content worldwide. For $4.95/month or $49.95/year, customers can stream CHOPSO’s library anytime via the app (on iOS – App Store Link & Android devices – Play Store Link) or website worldwide (www.CHOPSO.com).