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.

Kim’s Convenience is HILARIOUS – Available on Netflix

I had heard of the Canadian television comedy Kim’s Convenience a few years ago when it debuted, but never got around to watching it, even when it became available on Netflix last year in the U.S. But after remembering a friend mentioning how great the show was, I got around to binge watching Seasons 1 &2 on Netflix and catch-up to Season 3 through other means … I have to say, the 30 minute (less without commercials) show is pretty hilarious!!!

Kim’s Convenience is:

“… a Canadian television sitcom that premiered on CBC Television in October 2016. The series centres on the Korean Canadian Kim family who run a convenience store in the Moss Park neighbourhood of Toronto: parents “Appa” (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) and “Omma” (Jean Yoon) – Korean for “dad” and “mom” – along with their daughter Janet (Andrea Bang) and estranged son Jung (Simu Liu). Additional characters include Jung’s friend and co-worker Kimchee (Andrew Phung) and his manager Shannon (Nicole Power). The series is based on Ins Choi’s 2011 play of the same name.

The first season was filmed from June to August 2016 at Showline Studios in Toronto. It is produced by Thunderbird Films in conjunction with Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre Company, with Lee and Yoon reprising their roles from the play. Scripts were created by Choi and Kevin White, who had previously written for Corner Gas.

The second season premiered on September 26, 2017. The show has been renewed for two more seasons.

In July 2018, the series became available to audiences outside of Canada when it debuted internationally on Netflix.”

Paul Sun-Hyung Lee who plays Mr. Kim is a pure comic acting genius if you ask me, as well as the rest of the cast is top notch. Actress Andrea Bang is terrific and kind of reminds me a little of Korean American San Francisco former City Supervisor and former SF mayoral candidate Jane Kim, especially in her mannerisms and fierceness (or at least her character).

Simu Liu plays a handsome and charming, if not so bright, Jung (which is kind of nice to see the anti-Model Minority). Andrew Phung is also terrifically funny & upbeat Jung’s roommate and sidekick. And I do like the fact that Nicole Power’s Shannon has a crush on Jung.

To be honest, I think it’s a lot funnier, more edgy than ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ and ‘Dr. Ken’, though I did like both those shows and could certainly relate to certain episodes a lot.

For those looking to catch Kim’s Convenience in its 3rd season, it’s coming to Netflix as soon as the regular season ends in Canada – on April 3rd, 2019 (at least for the U.S., U.K. and Australia).

8Books Review: “American Sutra” by Duncan Ryuken Williams

American Sutra: A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War by Duncan Ryuken Williams revisits Japanese American internment through the lens of Buddhism.

Williams begins as World War II breaks out and Japan becomes an enemy of the United States. He examines the Japanese Buddhist communities in Hawaii and the mainland, how Buddhism’s role in the community impacted the decision making around who was interred and in what sequence, how Japanese Christians fared in comparison, how internees found ways to adapt Buddhism for strength and survival, how Japanese Americans fighting in the war petitioned for their own priests and proper death rites, and countless individual stories.

This is an academic book, so it’s not for the faint of heart, nor is it what I would suggest as an introduction to the history of Japanese American internment (if you’re here, reading this, I can only assume that you don’t need such an intro), but what it does offer is a detailed, thoroughly researched, and thought-provoking new angle. Religion offers an important lens, understudied and under acknowledged. Williams offers multiple views on its role, from Buddhism being another way in which Japanese were identified as alien, to its ability to offer solace to a Japanese American soldier being tortured in the Philippines.

And though covering a dark chapter in American history, Williams pitches this as a hopeful saga about American multiplicity, religious freedom, and offers a timely call for inclusion over exclusion.

Andrew Yang for President 2020 – CNN Townhall Meeting – Sun April 14th, 8 PM EST

In my last blog post about presidential candidate Andrew Yang, I mentioned he had made it on The Daily Show as well as made the Democratic Party Presidential debates. Well now, Yang has his own CNN Townhall this coming Sunday, April 14th, at 8PM EST:

” We just received the news – I am getting a CNN Town Hall on Sunday, April 14th at 8pm EST!  This is an enormous opportunity for me and the campaign.  Most Americans are just getting to know the various candidates.  Together we can make the case to the American people for a new economy that works for people.  More info to come about how we will rally the Yang Gang around our national moment. “

It’ll be interesting to see if Yang can get the CNN Townhall bump that Democratic presidential Pete Buttigieg candidate did after his townhall – raising $600K in 24 hours after his townhall and a rise in his poll numbers:

” Buttigieg’s standing lands him at fifth and tied with Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Buttigieg is ahead of both Sens. Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar, who are each at 2%. In other words, the current mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is polling in the same area as a number of candidates who are regarded as having a legitimate chance of winning the Democratic nomination.”

I’m hoping Yang can go the distance to help raise the profile of Asian Americans and be a role model for political activism. As I’ve often complained, Asian Americans are not nearly as politically engaged as we should be.

Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang Makes the DNC Debates as well as The Daily Show

The first time I wrote about presidential candidate Andrew Yang was in September of last year, when I interview him last Summer 2018 regarding his run for President Of The United States (POTUS). A lot has happened since then, including a whole slew (about 15+) of Democrats have announced their run for president.

Last week, Yang made it on to The Daily Show in a news report by correspondent Ronny Chieng, who chatted with Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang about his push for a universal basic income – which is pretty hilarious. In my book, if you’re running for office and make it on The Daily Show, you’re legit!

But more importantly, Yang has officially qualified for the Democratic National Committee’s 2019 debates for this June and July – as The Washington Post put its: “Andrew Yang is running for president. Haven’t heard of him? You will soon.”:

Yang announced Monday that he surpassed 65,000 donors, the Democratic National Committee’s threshold for participants in the first two debates. A party official said the DNC won’t announce the slate of debaters until at least two weeks before the event.

The milestone capped an improbable month-long run. In that time, donations to his campaign flowed in from around the country, his rallies got more crowded and his Twitter following more than tripled, from 40,000 to more than 130,000 in 30 days, propelled by a rabid online fan base known as the Yang Gang.

He says it all started on the “Joe Rogan Experience.”

Yang appeared on Rogan’s podcast, which has more than 4 million subscribers on YouTube alone, in February to talk about his trademark policy proposal, “The Freedom Dividend,” his poll-tested name foruniversal basic income. After that, he said, his campaign took off.

“It seems like a lot of people started paying attention all at once,” Yang said in an interview with The Washington Post.

….

Monmouth University poll in February put his support among Democratic voters at 1 percent, still a long way from the front of the pack but the same as Eric Holder and Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). Yang exulted in a tweet.

He thinks, as all politicians must, that the more people hear from him, the more they’ll support him. On Rogan’s show, Yang, who founded Venture for America, held court for nearly two hours, discussing the threat automation poses to working Americans. He explained that, as president, he would institute a value-added tax on tech companies to pay all U.S. citizens over the age of 18 $1,000 per month, a dramatic expansion of the social safety net that would guarantee tens of millions of Americans a $12,000 annual income.”

Yang has strategically reached out to as many social media influencers as well as reached out to many across the other isle, including those on Fox News – including Tucker Carlson (whom I’m not a fan of …) – who he impressed:

Most recently, this past week, Yang visited the San Francisco Bay Area again and had his largest rally yet in San Francisco – with an estimated crowd of over 3,000 people.

Unfortunately, I work in San Jose, so the drive up to San Francisco probably would have taken over 1.5 to 2 hours given traffic these days. I did get to catch Yang speak at a smaller event in Saratoga, California.

I’m looking forward to seeing Yang increasingly seeing greater media exposure – I hope soon at a CNN townhall and other mainstream media outlets. If there’s a Southwest flight I can make to see Yang debate in June and July, I’m there (work schedule permitting). I think it is tremendously important to have Asian Americans involved in the political process at all levels of government, including running for president.

Full disclosure: I have donated to Yang’s campaign in the past and may in the future.

8Books Review: “The Lonesome Bodybuilder” by Yukiko Motoya

By Timmy Pham

The Lonesome Bodybuilder, by Yukiko Motoya, contains eleven stories wrapped in a dark fantasy. Drawn from a collection of stories originally in Japanese, the work was only last year translated to English by Asa Yoneda, and published by Soft Skull Press in November 2018. This collection is Motoya’s English-language debut.

At the heart of the stories is “An Exotic Marriage”, a new translation of “Irui konin tan” (previously translated as Tales of Marriage to a Different Sort), for which Motoya won the 154th Akutagawa Prize in 2016. The novella-length story centers on a troubled wife who has noticed her individualism slipping away both figuratively and literally as her marriage continues. The story builds itself around the realism of neighbors, an apartment dog park, and her husband’s obsessive media consumption, but, as with all the eleven stories, takes turns of dark whimsy, their faces begin to droop and metaphors of snakes devouring one another become more reality than figurative gestures.

The other stories of the collection are similarly haunting in a way that feels like Motoya has brought Grimm Brothers to the 21st century. In the story “Typhoon,” a child waits at a bus stop and learns about flying umbrellas from a raggedy man. The title story, “The Lonesome Bodybuilder,” is the quiet journey of a housewife who channels her quiet determination into a newfound hobby. “How to Burden the Girl” is especially odd, centering around a new neighbor with an anime appearance and Oedipean backstory that sounds like it was lifted from bloody video game. The stories are indeed dark, but demure in a way that is haunting. To call the stories feminist is an easy, but lazy label, as Motoya is able to offer a range of dark insights from capitalism and consumption in “Fitting Room” to women in corporate culture in “I Called You by Name.” Give The Lonesome Bodybuilder a read, as Motoya’s work will undoubtedly leave you confused and amused.

*****

Timmy Pham lives in New York City and only recently trained himself to read on public transportation without getting a headache.

Ken Jeong’s Netflix Comedy Special: ‘You Complete Me, Ho’ Now Streaming

On Valentine’s Day, Netflix released Ken Jeong’s first ever comedy special titled, ‘You Complete Me, Ho’ :

In his first-ever stand-up special, Ken Jeong pays tribute to his wife and shares stories about Hollywood and how “The Hangover” saved his life.

in honor of his wife, Tran Ho, who has been cancer free for over 10 years:

“It’s a play on my wife’s last name, which is Ho. It was actually her suggestion for that title,” he said. “Netflix wanted a catchier title than what I initially pitched, and Tran, my wife, thought ‘You Complete Me, Ho.’ We were both laughing hysterically and I pitched it to Netflix and they loved it. In many ways the act and the title were inspired by my wife. I look at is as almost like a one-man show touching upon my family and my wife with a bunch of dick jokes.”

In the special, Jeong talks about his marriage and his wife’s brush with breast cancer 10 years ago, while the camera cuts to her reactions in the audience. According to Jeong, the cutaways were the idea of “Crazy Rich Asians” director Jon M. Chu, who also helmed “You Complete Me, Ho.”

The comedy show was filmed at The Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena, Calif., where he got he first performed stand up for his wife.

Without any plans for Valentine’s Day evening, I had a chance to watch the special and was pleasantly surprised that there wasn’t a ton (there was some) of overlap material (from what I recall – I admit, I had a few required drinks) from when I saw Ken perform back in April of last year with a fellow Asian American Duke alum – where Ken also went to school where he called my friend and I out as “Duke dorks,” as we were seated near the front.

The comedy special is about

” … working on, and being recognized from, his role in three Hangover movies, as well as riffing about his ABC sitcom, Dr. Ken, and how he’d still be sad about its cancellation if he hadn’t hopped on a plane and shot his first scene for Crazy Rich Asians the following day. Jon M. Chu, who directed Crazy Rich Asians, also directed Jeong’s special.”

and how his wife inspired him, especially his difficult times when his wife was battling cancer around the time when The Hangover opportunity materialized and was filming. If your a Ken fan and have Netflix, I highly recommend the special.

In Ken’s media blitz to promote his Netflix comedy special, I caught this great 20+ minute GQ YouTube video, Ken Jeong Breaks Down His Most Iconic Characters:

where he talks about his most iconic characters, including his roles in ‘Knocked Up,’ ‘The Office,’ ‘Role Models,’ ‘The Hangover’ trilogy, ‘Community,’ ‘Bob’s Burgers,’ ‘Dr. Ken,’ ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’  and his recent hit TV show ‘The Masked Singer’.

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

8Books Review: “Blame This on the Boogie” by Rina Ayuyang

By Timmy Pham

There are many things to love about Rina Ayuyang’s Blame This on the Boogie, but one that stands out to me is her waxy, crayon depiction of skin tone. In her first autobiographical comic, Ayuyang captures snippets from her life growing up as one of few Filipino Americans in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to the struggles of motherhood and postpartum depression in sunny California. Drawing from the vibrant colors of Hollywood musical cinema and flashy television, Ayuyang crafts a beautifully scrappy look into a unique and relatable (for me at least) Asian-American experience.

But back to the art for a second. Asian-American graphic novelists have been the rise, American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang from 2006 was the first graphic novel by an Asian American I read and fell in love with. More recently, I was thrilled to read and witness the success of Thi Bui’s graphic memoir, The Best We Could Do. Both illustrators present clean story-lines with equally distinct coloring and lines. Blame This on the Boogie provides an entirely different approach. Ayuyang’s stories bleed into one another, with no clean panels to guide the reader, and her colors are pure and stacked. It is a strong and well-executed choice that echoes her love of dance and sport. As a darker-skinned Viet boy, I grew up avoiding the brown crayon, reserving it for trees and ground, but Ayuyang artful layerings of yellow, red, orange, and brown all help lend the full range of tone and dimensions to her depictions of herself, her family, and the racial diversity of an American experience. Cheers to that.

Content-wise, Blame This on the Boogie reflected back much of what I knew as the child of immigrants. Living room dance parties, a hungry acceptance of new American culture (yay football–though I grew up in Seattle and therefore am obligated to grimace at her love of the Steelers), and the fascination with American pop-culture that bleeds onto the internet (Ayuyang stans Kym Johnson and Hines Ward’s partnership in Dancing with the Stars) all reflect a familiar experience of a blended Asian-American world amid loud visiting titas. Give this graphic novel a pass through, the ballet sequence at the end (as is customary with Hollywood musicals) is a treat.

(Editor’s Note: Check out more of the gorgeous interiors over at Drawn & Quarterly)

*****

Timmy Pham lives in New York City and only recently trained himself to read on public transportation without getting a headache.

8Books Review: Half Gods by Akil Kumarasamay

Half Gods is a fascinating set of intertwined short stories spanning Sri Lanka and America, charting a story about family, survival, and home. Akil Kumarasamay’s debut collection is captivating and engaging. Two brothers, named after characters in the Mahabharata, lie at the center. Yet they are not the center. A grandfather wrestles with his life in New Jersey, while other remained in the chaos of war. A father looks for a son, disappeared in Sri Lanka’s war. A woman seeks solace in an unlikely, and yet likely, place. We get to see slices of individual’s lives, where the past haunts and guides them. An unraveling of who they are, more than plot.

This is the kind of collection that would be fascinating to read again. The writing is deft and intricate and yet deeply honest in the longing, loneliness, and comforts of humanity. In my first read, there was a single paragraph that struck me. It is not a turning point in a character’s life, yet says so much about living in the diaspora. A second would surely highlight another.

…All were parts of a childhood you had not care for, and now thinking of your son, who would never have to listen to cassettes of bhajans and deal with people he conversed with only in formalities, people who would drop everything to pick you up at an airport, hospital, cook meals when your mother was ill, all because they too traveled that same distance separating one part of the world from the other, you feel as if something dear has perished.

8Books Review: “The Bird Catcher and Other Stories” by Fayeza Hasanat

Fayeza Hasanat’s debut short story collection, The Bird Catcher and Other Stories, is set in the Bangladesh and the United States. It is filled with questions about identity and belonging, about those who are seeking answers under the weight of expectations–their own or otherwise.

A favorite discusses a talkative grandmother who wrestles with the idea of home, herself an immigrant, residing with her children in the U.S. Several others turn on gender dynamics, and those who are between genders or missing some traditional aspect associated with proscribed roles for men and women. Many take dark turns, faced with life on the edge.

Hasanat’s writing is a bit flowery to my taste, but her concepts are intriguing and her characters vulnerable, and their experiences of feeling out of place honest.

 

8Books Review: Pulutan! Filipino Bar Bites, Appetizers and Street Eats

If you need some last minute inspiration for your Thanksgiving extravaganza, take a look through Marvin Gapultos brightly-colored book of finger foods, Pulutan! Filipino Bar Bites, Appetizers and Street Eats. Now given if you don’t cook a lot of Filipino food (hi, me), you might not have fermented shrimp paste on hand which makes the pork meatballs with spicy coconut sauce temporarily out of reach. But you probably do (or your neighborhood run-of-the-mill American grocery store will) have the ingredients to whip up some spam mac’n’cheese.

Pulutan! is seriously flashy, with bold colored pages, and drink pairings for every dish. Organized by how you cook it (grilled, fried), the opening chapter introduces the concept of pulutan to novices (hi, me again). No recipe is longer than an open spread, so you know it can’t be all that complicated. The instructions are easy to follow once you’ve got all the ingredients on hand.