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

Chopso One Year Later

In November of this year, it will be Chopso’s one-year anniversary. It’s amazing to me we’ve made it this long. But we won’t be able to go on forever unless we continue to get support from our community. I can’t speak for my friend, filmmaking partner, and my partner in Chopso Quentin Lee but when I do anything for Chopso  I always feel like this is our gift to the community. Something that has been needed for a long time, been tried a few times, but has never completely worked. And instead of waiting for someone else to try it again or hope we get more representation by the mainstream networks and studios, we went ahead and did it ourselves.

For those of you who don’t know, Chopso is a streaming service for movies, documentaries, shorts, and digital series featuring Asian stories and faces. I use the shorthand Asian American Netflix as a description of what the company is when asked by my friends. However, that’s not completely accurate. While Quentin and I were putting the company together, we realized pretty quickly that our audience was bigger than just Asians living in America and that Asians around the globe (especially those living outside of Asia and in English speaking countries) shared a lot of common experiences. So in addition to Asian Americans, we’ve made it a point to reach out to Asians around the globe — so that meant Asians living in Canada, UK, Australia, etc.

The first year of Chopso has been both the most challenging but also been one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had in my career. Some of the challenges include acquiring content and getting subscribers, things every streaming platform I’m sure has to go through. And with no outside funding and no major support from traditional Hollywood, we’ve had to do it all on our own.

Knowing that, I think you can guess one of our biggest challenges: getting noticed. With so many places to watch content nowadays, it’s sometimes difficult to rise above the noise. But I’m proud to say that almost every month our viewership and subscribers have gone up. We’ve made dents in social media and our following is growing all the time. We hope with more time and maybe with a marketing/advertising budget in year two we can grow even more.

The other challenge is something that continues to surprise me. The Asian American community largely ignores anything that hasn’t been done by the mainstream networks and studios. For example, when I talk to people about Chopso, most of what they tell they’d want to see on the site are the famous studio movies like Joy Luck Club or Crazy Rich Asians. Both of which are great, however,  it completely ignores the fact that there has been and continues to be so much amazing Asian (American) content out there. Most of which has never been seen outside the Asian American film festival circuit.

We, as a community, need to do a better job of supporting Asian content from the students and youth who are making their first projects to the grizzled veterans making hard-hitting documentaries about our communities and independent movies featuring Asian actors and of course the studio movies. Only when we, as a community, can show that these movies have a viable market, will the studios and networks make more of them. This isn’t just a pipedream. Other communities of color have shown us that this is possible. Chopso was my answer to this issue. Yet, one year later, it’s also the reason that Chopso has not taken the huge leap that I had hoped it would take.

So how can you support us? First and foremost, we need more subscribers. For the price of a cup of artisanal coffee, you can watch a large selection of Asian-centric movies and shows on Chopso for one month. In addition, we need your help spreading the word about Chopso. Follow us on all the social media platforms, and then tell a friend or two or three or four. Go ahead and even tell an enemy two as well.

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And if you’re a creator, we need more amazing content. Hit us up and let us know what you have.  We’d love to feature you and your work on Chopso!

Nicki Sun’s Interview of Katherine Ho – “Yellow” in ‘Crazy Rich Asians’

I admit it, I’m been kind of obsessed with the film ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ since seeing it in a pre-screening in August: I’ve been following tweets on #CrazyRichAsians, reviews on YouTube (and I’m amazed at how many people do reviews on YouTube), and have religiously followed the box office numbers daily.

And I really like the soundtrack, as I mention in my review of the film – so much that I bought the MP3 album off of Amazon and have been listening to the album constantly. My favorite song from the film is the cover of ‘Yellow’ by Katherine Ho.

When I looked for more information about Katherine Ho, Wikipedia said she was on season 10 of The Voice and was a 19-year-old sophomore at USC, but she didn’t seem to be very active on her social media channels (YouTube | Instagram | Twitter). So I was really excited to read more about her in The Los Angeles Times:

After chemistry class on a recent weekday, sophomore Katherine Ho sat at an outdoor table in USC Village, and shared the chain of events that made the pre-med student’s rendition of Coldplay’s “Yellow” appear during the climactic scene in the box-office topping movie “Crazy Rich Asians.” … A first-generation Chinese American from Woodland Hills, the 19-year-old is a lifelong singer who has performed on the NBC singing competition show “The Voice.” She is also minoring in songwriting at USC. … Despite the fact that she was starting her second semester as a freshman — and was already overwhelmed with studies — late one night, she got her dad on the phone to perfect the Mandarin lyrics for “Yellow,” working line by line through meanings and inflections.

But I was even more excited to see Katherine Ho being interviewed by Nicki Sun on YouTube (as embedded above). I don’t think I had heard of Sun before, but I think I came across her during my #CrazyRichAsians Twitter search and followed her when she tweeted a link to her interview.

In her 27-minute interview, Sun asks Ho more about her background and how she got to do the cover for “Yellow,” and then she details and translates the Mandarin lyrics of the song. Ho also discusses growing up Chinese American, going to Chinese school and speaking Chinese to her parents and mixing it up with English (like me; my listening is better than my speaking,  but Ho’s Chinese is way better than mine). Ho is pre-med by choice (not being forced by her parents) and minoring in song writing.

As I tweeted to Sun, it’s instances like this that makes me wish I lived in Los Angeles, to get the opportunity to interview artists like Ho!

8mm Review: ‘A Simple Favor’

A Simple Favor (2018)
Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding.  Written by Jessica Sharzer (based on the novel by Darcey Bell).  Directed by Paul Feig.

A Simple Favor is being marketed as a thriller, but it’s really more of a mystery, so if you’re put off by thrillers (as I am), be assured that it’s not very scary and not very violent, and it doesn’t have edge-of-your-seat moments the way thrillers usually do.

Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie, a widowed mother who puts her name next to three jobs for her young son’s class party sign-up sheet while the other parents say mean things about her behind her back.  When she’s not volunteering for class mom activities, she produces a vlog for other moms.

She meets Emily, the beautiful mother of her son’s classmate.  Stephanie and Emily become friends, but for Stephanie it’s a very uneasy friendship.  Emily is wealthier, more successful, and more adventurous than she is, and where Stephanie is eager to please and quick to apologize, Emily seems to disdain any attitude that doesn’t begin with oneself.  She admonishes Stephanie for saying “I’m sorry,” and threatens to punch her in the face if Stephanie ever says it again.

Emily disappears a week after she befriends Stephanie, and the rest of the film involves finding out what happened to her.

It’s fun in the way a good puzzle mystery is fun, engaging all the way and difficult to predict.  Every character seems at times likeable and despicable, with nice performances by Kendrick, Lively, and Henry Golding as Sean, Stephanie’s husband.

Early promo materials (including trailers) featured only Kendrick and Lively, but the success of Crazy Rich Asians, which stars Golding, had the studio releasing new promos highlighting all three principal actors.  This is not meaningless: there’s no way to tell if it’s lasting, but there has already been a Crazy Rich Asians diversity effect even on films already completed before its release.

Anna Kendrick is my second-favorite actress over the past several years, so there’s a huge bias here, but if you also find her charming, you’ll want to see this film.  If not, deduct a few points and see it anyway for a good two hours of engaging escapism.

Rating: 79/100

Mini-Review: ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ (No Spoilers)

So, the Netflix teenage romance film ‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’ (TATBILB), based on a novel of the same name by Korean American author Jenny Han, debuted on Friday, August 17th, the same opening weekend as ‘Crazy Rich Asians.’ “Asian August” has been a busy month, and I’ve written reviews for ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and ‘Searching.” Now finally, I will discuss this film.

To be honest, I had never heard of the book, author or film until I started looking on Twitter about Asian Americans being excited about both ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and ‘TATBILB.’ Then I read this opinion piece in the New York Times the day the film came out on Netflix, by author Jenny Han, titled, “An Asian-American Teen Idol Onscreen, Finally,” in which the writer says,

When I sold my first middle-grade novel in 2005, it wasn’t that common to put an author photo on the back flap, but 24-year-old Korean-American me insisted. I wanted Asian girls to see my face. And more than that, I wanted them to see what is possible.

My young-adult novel, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” is about a girl who writes secret love letters to boys when she wants to get over them. They’re for her eyes only — except one day, they all get sent out. Even before the book came out in 2014, there was interest in making a movie. But the interest died as soon as I made it clear the lead had to be Asian-American. One producer said to me, as long as the actress captures the spirit of the character, age and race don’t matter. I said, well, her spirit is Asian-American. That was the end of that.

I loved this and wanted to watch the film. I think with the success of ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ hopefully the practice of whitewashing / racebending, which has been common in Hollywood productions in the past, might be fading away.

The Netflix description of the movie says, “When her secret love letters somehow get mailed to each of her five crushes, Lara Jean finds her quiet high school existence turned upside down.”

I enjoyed this teen romance film, but felt it was fairly predictable. What I enjoyed most was the very strong performance by lead actress Lana Condor, who is excellent playing Lara Jean.

The biggest criticism I’ve read, and I agree a little, is that none of Lara Jean’s crushes are Asian American, though one is an African American. The film takes place in the Portland, Oregon region, where the Asian American population is approximately 7 percent (Oregon overall is almost 4 percent).

When I grew up in western Massachusetts, there were very few Asian Americans in my high school and I didn’t have crushes on any of the Asian American girls, just some white ones. Given limited choices, that’s the reality.

IndieWire’s Hanh Nguyen interviewed who said, “I understand the frustration and I share that frustration of wanting to see more Asian American men in media. For this, all I can say is this is the story that I wrote.”

Nguyen continues:

Han’s novel doesn’t spell out the race of each of the characters, but some of the descriptions (i.e. blond hair) and the names read as typically white: Josh Sanderson, Peter Kavinsky, John Ambrose McClaren, Kenny Donati, and Lucas Krapf. Furthermore, in the movie, four of the five boys are portrayed by white actors, while Lucas Krapf is renamed Lucas James and portrayed by black actor Trezzo Mahoro.

Maybe Han didn’t want to push her luck, given that she held steadfast on making sure that the girl was going to be an Asian American girl. But it’s still a little disappointing.

Other than that, I’d say the film is an enjoyable teen romance that most teenage girls would love. The film has a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (with a total of 43 reviews).

AA Industry Success, Geoffrey Owens & Acting Realities

by Tim Lounibos

It’s an amazing time

The past several weeks have been absolutely amazing for the Asian American entertainment industry. Crazy Rich Asians blew past $100 million at the box office in less than three weeks, becoming the most successful rom-com in almost a decade on its way to surely cracking the top ten all-time list for that genre.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a huge success on Netflix to the point where it has actually raised the popularity of the Japanese yogurt drink Yakult and the stock value of the company who produces it.

Searching had the second highest per-screen box office average in its opening week, trailing only CRA, and more than doubled its distributor’s box office expectations.

As a result, Hollywood has begun greenlighting Asian American projects left and right, and is being more inclusive in casting Asian American actors in general. It’s an amazing time, one to be celebrated.

Geoffrey Owens

Yet, thoughts of African American actor Geoffrey Owens dominate my mind.

His recent Trader Joe’s job-shaming has brought attention to how difficult it is today to make a living as an actor. The general public, for the most part, has a very skewed perspective. If people watch actors in the movies or on shows and recognize them in public, they conclude that those actors are well off—that they’re living the high life. If you’re an actor who’s made it to the top of the profession, this very well could be the case (at least, while you’re at that top); but for the vast majority of actors, this is sadly and laughingly not the situation—and for Asian American actors in particular, well, let me share my story.

Continue reading “AA Industry Success, Geoffrey Owens & Acting Realities”

“Baby Steps” Review: A film about two gay dads, surrogacy and a tiger mom

Baby Steps” is a film released in 2015, written, directed and staring Barney Cheng.  He plays the lead character, Danny Lee, a Taiwanese-American living in Los Angeles with a Caucasian boyfriend, Tate.  They’ve decided to have a child, through surrogacy, although Tate is a little less invested in the idea than Danny.  Added to the mix is Danny’s mother, who’s convinced she’s never going to have a grandchild, while all her friends are celebrating the births of their “Sūnzi 孫子”(grandchildren).

I hadn’t heard of this movie prior to last week, when my sister sent me a link to it, thinking I’d be interested in watching it.  I have to admit that my first thought when reading the description was, “why did it take so long for a movie to come out about a gay mixed-race couple going on a surrogacy journey?”  You have to understand, my husband and I started our surrogacy journey back in late 2003, more than a decade earlier than the release of this film, and our daughter from surrogacy just turned 13.

It was fascinating to watch the various events around surrogacy unfold for Danny, as I had some similar experiences with surrogacy and with my own parents.  There was a large difference though, I was lucky by comparison in that I was older when I reached the point in my life when I was able to, and ready to, have a child.  In “Baby Steps,” when Danny’s mother finally finds out her son is planning to have a child via surrogacy, she inserts herself into the process in unexpected ways, producing funny and memorable scenes, ones that are crazy, yet believable if you have an Asian mom.

Given my experience with the surrogacy progress, some scenes did seem completely unbelievable (usually the egg donor is anonymous, so I was surprised to see them meeting various egg donors), and I was left wondering how they negotiated all the legal issues of having the birth in Taiwan.  But leaving the practical issues aside, the movie had funny, serious, and sad scenes, and many brought out plenty of empathy for Danny’s (and Tate’s) situation.  Perhaps even more believable was Danny’s Ma’s stance on her gay son, keeping his sexuality hidden from her friends, and eventually her determination to do everything possible to find the right surrogate to carry her grandchild.

One other side note, the movie did remind me a bit of “The Wedding Banquet“, the 1993 movie directed by Ang Lee.  It was the first movie I ever saw to feature a Asian-Caucasian mixed race gay couple.  While the films were created a generation apart, there’s definitely a similarity to them in style and content.  Both should be on your viewing list if you’re a gay Asian American and should probably make your list even if you’re not.

Film Review: ‘Searching’ (No Spoilers)

So as part of “Asian August,” I (you can read my review of “Crazy Rich Asians here”) got to see Searching as part of a #goldopen effort to promote the film, which opened this past weekend (but first debuted at Sundance) in a very limited release – nine theaters (and opens nationally Friday, August 31st) actually starring John Cho (#starringJohnCho). From the film’s website:

After David Kim (John Cho)’s 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a local investigation is opened and a detective is assigned to the case. But 37 hours later and without a single lead, David decides to search the one place no one has looked yet, where all secrets are kept today: his daughter’s laptop. In a hyper-modern thriller told via the technology devices we use every day to communicate, David must trace is daughter’s digital footprints before she disappears forever.

Continue reading “Film Review: ‘Searching’ (No Spoilers)”

8Tracks Review: ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Crazy Rich Asians (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
WaterTower Music, 2018

(no movie spoilers)

Look how they shine for you

Almost nobody discusses Crazy Rich Asians (the film) without mentioning the movie’s soundtrack, which is pretty cool, because how often does this happen anymore?  Soundtrack albums used to be huge marketing tools for films, but unless the film is a musical, nowadays you seldom hear people talk about soundtracks.  I suspect the persistent conversation means the soundtrack in CRA is especially effective. Its first few spins took me immediately to specific places they appear in the movie, which may also be a sign of its effectiveness.

I wrote a song for you

  1. Waiting for Your Return (Jasmine Chen) (2:58)
  2. Money (That’s What I Want) (Cheryl K) (3:12)
  3. Wo Yao Ni De Ai (I Want Your Love — I Want You  to Be My Baby) (Grace Chang) (2:41)
  4. My New Swag (VaVa featuring Ty and Nina Wang) (4:05)
  5. Give Me a Kiss (Jasmine Chen) (3:01)
  6. Ren Sheng Jiu Shi Xi (Yao Lee) (3:02)
  7. Ni Dong Bu Dong (Do You Understand) (Lilian Chen) (2:32)
  8. Wo Yao Fei Shang Qing Tian (Grace Chang) (3:17)
  9. Material Girl (200 Du) (4:25)
  10. Can’t Help Falling in Love (Kina Grannis) (3:21)
  11. Wo Yao Ne De Ai (I Want Y our Love — I Want You to Be My Baby (Jasmine Chen) (2:04)
  12. Yellow (Katherine Ho) (4:08)
  13. Vote (Miguel) (3:22)
  14. Money (That’s What I Want) (Cheryl K featuring Awkwafina) (3:12)

Turn into something beautiful

I’m pretty sensitive to the way music is used in film, and I dislike most soundtracks and most movie scores.  This one impressed me beginning with the opening swing of “Waiting for Your Return,” then it surprised me with interesting Chinese-language covers of familiar songs.  I didn’t know anything about the soundtrack before going in, so covers of “Material Girl,” and “Yellow” caught me off guard and really work with the moods of their scenes and the context of the film’s plot.

I had one moment where the song choice took me out of the movie for about nine seconds, when I recognized Kina Grannis’s cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” and couldn’t understand how it existed in the film right when it did, but then it all made sense.  You’ll see what I mean either when you see the movie or when you look at the acting credits.

That’s really about the movie, not about this album, and this is what I’m talking about. Listening to the soundtrack is remembering the movie, which perhaps makes it a great soundtrack, but I wonder if it makes it not as good an album. Because Crazy Rich Asians is a good movie, I’m going to dismiss this possibility; yet if it had been a terrible movie, and if the soundtrack album kept reminding you of scenes in this terrible movie, would it be a terrible soundtrack, no matter how good the songs?

A moot consideration in this case.

It seems a sequel film is in the works, and I have to say I’m here for it and really interested in what’ll be on the soundtrack.

Your skin and bones

Best song: Yeah, I’m going with the crowd on this.  “Yellow.”
Second best song: The closing credits version of “Money,” the one with Awkwafina’s raps.
Surprise: “Vote” by Miguel. It’s the first interesting thing I’ve ever heard from him. I really like this.
Song to make you want to call your mom (do it!): “Yellow.”
Song to make you want to text your ex (don’t do it!): “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”
Song to make you go “Wha?”: “Material Girl.”

And all the things you do

site, amzn, sptfy, imdb

also this video of Katherine Ho singing her “PB&J”

‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is not our ‘Black Panther.’ It’s a Movement.

By Tim Lounibos

Major strides (25 years ago)

Twenty-five years ago, an Asian American industry movement seemed imminent. I was young and returned from Hong Kong as the lead in Clara Law’s Wonton Soup. Major strides were being made with the successful releases of Dragon: The Bruce Lee StoryMap of The Human HeartThe Joy Luck ClubAll-American Girl (highest-ranked new series of the season), and Vanishing Son.

My acting success was directly entwined with this movement. From summer ’93 to spring ’94, I booked a high-profile indie film, big-budget commercial film, sweeps-period telefilm, Star Trek: TNG guest star (which was just plain cool), and the pilot episode of Margaret Cho’s ground-breaking series as a would-be suitor. My career was taking off and dreams were tantalizingly achievable. Success seemed right around the corner!

However, despite the nation’s readiness to embrace Asian American actors on the large and small screens, the overall failure of All-American Girl – due to the network’s mishandling of Margaret Cho, unenlightened writing, and negative community reaction – brought everything to a screeching halt. The proverbial balloon popped and studios and networks reverted back to tried-and-true non-inclusive projects.

Popped balloons and fears of backlash
Over the next decade, though, I remained optimistic as I continued to land guest star roles, buoyed by the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition’s efforts to increase diversity on both sides of the camera—but my career eventually plateaued as momentum proved elusive for an Asian American actor in Hollywood. Along with being considered “too manly” and often hearing “we’re not going that way,” I sadly discovered that white writers hesitated to write POC-specific roles because they feared backlash from advocacy groups and feigned ignorance due to their lack of life experience.

Yet, I persisted in following my passion and overall conditions continued to improve with the help of various initiatives (internships, showcases, staffing mandates, etc.), but this forced transition of inclusive change often resulted in feelings of marginalization on staffs and in writers rooms. Some actors did find success as series regulars or supporting leads, but more often than not diversity and inclusion were reflected in the delivery guy, the nurse, or the silent extras in the background.  By that time, I reached an age where I just fell through the cracks.

Thus, as an Asian American actor, my optimism waned. I lost confidence that the industry would undergo real and meaningful change, not even allowing me the ability to provide for my growing family.  So I left Hollywood.

Business mandates, game-changers, and new optimism
Fast forward in my absence, social media and streaming content begin to wreak havoc on the Hollywood landscape. Tinseltown undergoes a seismic transformation, becoming an ultra-modern Wild West with seemingly unlimited access points and distribution outlets. Decision-makers are forced to adapt or be left behind. Content creators and viewers’ voices demand change on a viral level, and the small screen responds for Asian Americans with the shows SelfieFresh Off the Boat, and Dr. Ken.

This piques my interest.
Continue reading “‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is not our ‘Black Panther.’ It’s a Movement.”

Film Review: ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ (No Spoilers)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the movie Crazy Rich Asians is coming out today, August 15th, nationally. I was able to see a pre-screening a week early that the filmmakers promoted on the auspicious lucky date of 8/8/2018.


If you have been living under a rock, Crazy Rich Asians is one of the most “anticipated films of the summer” according to USA Today (based on the 2013 international bestselling book by Kevin Kwan). The first major Hollywood film in 25 years with an all-Asian cast that isn’t a period piece—more than two decades removed from the last big-budget movie of the same ilk, The Joy Luck Club.

The story follows New Yorker Rachel Chu as she accompanies her longtime boyfriend, Nick Young, to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. Excited about visiting Asia for the first time but nervous about meeting Nick’s family, Rachel is unprepared to learn that Nick has neglected to mention a few key details about his life.

Crazy Rich Asians is very much in the genre of the romantic comedy (“rom-com”) except that there are Asians and Asian Americans in all of the major and minor roles, speaking mostly English. This, as I and many others have noted, is a big deal:

As it turns out, there were questions about casting even before the book hit stores. Mr. Kwan said a producer who wanted to option the book had suggested that he make Rachel white. Mr. Kwan refused.

“It didn’t surprise me,” said Constance Wu, the Chinese-American actress who ultimately secured the role and who has been a vocal critic of Hollywood whitewashing. “I’m just glad that Kevin stuck to his guns. It takes a lot of courage to say no to something, especially if you’re scared that everything might slip away if you don’t say yes.”

There’s been a big movement called #GoldOpen (which I am a part of, organizing a theater buyout for the Cornell Asian Alumni Association, other Ivy League Asian American alumni associations, and the Duke Alumni Association):

Digital media entrepreneur Bing Chen has seized on director Jon Chu’s comment that “Crazy Rich Asians is more than just a movie, it’s a movement” and is promoting the movie on social media with the #GoldOpen hashtag in the hopes of drawing a record box office.

So there are high expectations for the film, and I, like many, was worried that the movie would not live up to the hype. But it does, at least for me—the themes of the romantic comedy genre are pretty universal, even if the characters are Asian and Asian American and the film is set in Singapore and many of the characters are in the 1 percent, the movie should have a broad appeal. As Wikipedia defines a romantic comedy:

In a typical romantic comedy the two lovers tend to be young, likeable, and apparently meant for each other, yet they are kept apart by some complicating circumstance (e.g., class differences, parental interference; a previous girlfriend or boyfriend) until, surmounting all obstacles, they are finally reunited.

And Crazy Rich Asians fits the mold very well, though I wouldn’t say that the movie is completely formulaic. If you like romantic comedies like Pretty Woman, Notting Hill, or Love Actually, I’m pretty sure you’ll like Crazy Rich Asians, but it’s not as original as, say, Groundhog Day, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or The Princess Bride.

I have to say I knew I was going to like the film when in an early scene, Nick tries to convince Rachel to visit Singapore, and I heard the word “ahma” (grandmother). Just the word “ahma” was an “aha” moment, making me think, “Wow, I think that is the first time I’ve ever heard that word in an American movie.”

Constance Wu as Rachel and Henry Golding as Nick are great together, and Golding makes a great leading man—quite handsome and physically fit, definitely no Long Duk Dong. Michelle Yeoh is excellent as Nick’s mom Eleanor and the family matriarch, playing reserved and stern for maximum intimidation, almost in a The Devil Wears Prada Meryl Streep/Miranda Priestly kind of way.

But the breakout star and comedic relief is actress and rapper Awkwafina who plays Peik Lin, Rachel’s close friend from college. As a Duke MBA, I’m a big fan of Ken Jeong (Duke ’90)—and although he doesn’t have a huge part, he plays Peik Lin’s father, and he’s funny (as expected) when he’s on screen. Nico Santos also does a terrific job as Oliver T’sien, Nick’s gay, sassy, and well-styled second cousin.

I was captivated by the stunning and exquisitely poised Gemma Chan, who plays Astrid Teo, Nick’s cousin. Chan is absolutely gorgeous in this film and I really liked her portrayal of her character (which, I read in one tweet, was quite faithful to her character described in the book). I was aware of Chan before, since I had seen her in the AMC television series Humans, where she played an anthropomorphic robot (called “synths” in the series).

Cast of Crazy Rich Asians

There are also a host of other actors and actresses I could go on about, but this is supposed to be a mini-review.

Overall, the movie is very entertaining and very funny. You get to see what the 1 percent in Singapore and Asia live like (maybe somewhat exaggerated). The movie is gorgeously shot. Lots of food and fashion porn, and as one review put it, affluence porn.

What Lord of the Rings did for New Zealand, Crazy Rich Asians might do for Singapore. I’ve visited Singapore twice, and in the movie, Singapore never looked better (though the last time I visited was in January 1999).

There are the twists and turns like in any romantic comedy, but the audience hopes and usually gets the happy ending it wants. I read The Joy Luck Club before seeing the movie over 25 years ago, but I have not read Crazy Rich Asians. I kind of want to now, to learn a little bit more about the characters and their backgrounds. With so many characters, it’s hard to have all the characters developed within a time span of two hours. Additionally, author Kevin Kwan followed up his bestseller with two more00—China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems.

Before the movie started, I read tweets about #crazyrichasians to see what the reaction to the movie was—some wrote that they laughed and cried, and I thought that maybe the crying was a bit melodramatic. But to be honest, I did tear up a little (I’m kind of a closet romantic—then again, I also tear up whenever I see the end of Armageddon with this line, “Colonel Willie Sharp, United States Air Force, ma’am. Requesting permission to shake the hand of the daughter of the bravest man I’ve ever met.”)

Also, for those who understand at least a little Mandarin (like myself), there are some Mandarin songs used in the movie in the background with lyrics like “我要你的愛” (I want your love) and a Chinese version of Madonna’s “Material Girl” by Sally Yeh. And I absolutely LOVED Katherine Ho’s Chinese rendition of the Coldplay hit, “Yellow,” which was perfect to set the tone in a certain scene in the movie. Additionally, in English, the rendition of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Kina Grannis is terrific.

For some reason, these songs in Chinese really reinforced that Crazy Rich Asians is a special film. Although I was born and raised in the United States, as a Taiwanese American, I did go to Chinese school and did speak a little Mandarin with my parents. Most Asian Americans (due to a lot of immigration in the past 20 to 30 years), were born overseas, and still have a very strong connection to Asia. However, from reading public tweets and YouTube review comments, a lot of non-Chinese speaking people seem to like the soundtrack as well. There’s a certain familiarity yet uniqueness with these songs that were a very thoughtful  magical touch by director Jon M. Chu.

Speaking of whom, I haven’t seen any of Chu’s previous movies, which included the Step Up series of movies, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and G.I. Joe: Retaliation. In fact, I’m not even sure I had really heard of Chu, and was really surprised to learn that he grew up in Los Altos Hills, not too far from where I live. But what was a complete shock to me was to learn that Chu is the son of owner and chef of popular Chinese restaurants in Silicon Valley (and among the oldest—opened in 1970) in Los Altos, Chef Chu’s. This restaurant is literally like a 10-to-15 minute walk from where I live.

As of this writing, Crazy Rich Asians is 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes (with 28 reviews). Go out and see this movie. You should like—if not love—it! I’ll be sure to see this movie a few times again. Opens nationally today, Wednesday, August 15.

Images (except the one of me!) courtesy of Warner Brothers.