8mm Review: ‘Ms. Purple’

Ms. Purple
Tiffany Chu, Teddy Lee, Octavio Pizano, and James Kang.  Written by Justin Chon and Chris Dinh.  Directed by Justin Chon.

photo courtesy Oscilloscope Laboratories

Kasie asks her brother Carey if he knows how she’s been getting by.  It’s an awkward moment; Kasie is a doumi in Koreatown, a paid karaoke hostess who clearly doesn’t enjoy her work.

Carey stumbles through an answer before finally latching on to his feelings: “I don’t judge you for doing what you had to do.”

There’s a lot of judging in Ms. Purple, but as Kasie and Carey deal with the reality of a messed-up family and a father on his deathbed, they hang on to one thing they each seem to believe — that if there’s to be any judgment, it won’t be passed by one sibling on the other.

There is so much pain in this film, so much sadness and emptiness tempting us to look away, yet in the midst of despair is the tender, heartbreaking assurance that Kasie and Carey know each other.  Cowriter-director Justin Chon (whom I really liked in the underappreciated 21 & Over) doesn’t tie things up nicely the way we might like, and his theme is stronger as a result.  We may not know A or B, but we know this.

I recently (kinda) lamented the seeming ubiquity of the Asian American generations movie, and God bless Chon for not going there.  There are things in this film I’ve never seen, sequences best left unspoiled, ‘though I will say that most of the second act is a wonderful display of creative writing and thoughtful filmmaking.  Carey, unemployed and left to care for his father, finds beautiful ways for them to spend time together, unexpected rays of warmth in a pretty bleak movie.

photo courtesy Oscilloscope Laboratories

Tiffany Chu and Teddy Lee are excellent as Kasie and Carey.  If they don’t break your heart in the quiet moments they spend together, you are made of pretty tough stuff.  I just wanted to hug them about a hundred times each.  Chon trusts them to sit still, and the stillness is one of my favorite things about Ms. Purple.

It’s one reason I cannot stand the film’s score, or the way it’s handled through much of the movie.  It’s too loud, for one thing, and too manipulative, in a way the script and camera mostly are not.

There’s one moment in the middle where the background music is completely different.  Sweet, gentle, subtle, and — not background music at all, it turns out, but part of the action within the movie.  If the loud parts of the movie music exist so this moment can be a contrast, our director can almost be excused because I went for it hard.  Still, there’s no reason to return to the loud musical themes, which the film does in its third act.  Darn it.

It’s quite a lovely film, and definitely worth checking out.  I’m giving it 8 out of 10, the spot between “liked it” and “loved it.”

 * * *

Ms. Purple opens today, September 6, in Los Angeles and next Friday, September 13, in New York City.

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Constance Wu: The Leading Lady of Today

I sat patiently outside a suite in the Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel in one of the busiest cities–Los Angeles. I was preparing to sit down with one of the most prominent names in Hollywood today in preparation for the release of “Hustlers.” It was press day, and I was on deck for 5 minutes, which felt like forever. The door creaked open. It was time. Two women guarded the entrance from inside, one on each side, where they greeted me in.

Instantly I saw the star herself, smiling from her seat — Constance Wu. As I walked over to my chair, I noticed the curtains pushed as far as they could go, allowing the sunlight to graze her jet black hair, casting a partial shadow on the suite floor. Wearing blue denim and a black, chic blouse fitted to her petite self with bold sleeves, she sat, legs crossed on the gray, lavish chair in front of the suite’s window, which stretched the length of the room. As she waited for me to get situated, her body shifted from facing the door to facing me directly. As soon as I placed my recording device down, the size of a thumb drive, I was still shuffling to get my notes and pen out, but her eyes widened.

“Is that your recording device?”

I answer, “Yeah, its so tiny!” We both get a good chuckle out of it.

Wu is known for playing Jessica Huang on the television series “Fresh off the Boat,” and she starred as Rachel Chu in the critically acclaimed, groundbreaking film “Crazy Rich Asians.”  Months after the film’s release, Wu was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, a considerable feat, considering “Crazy Rich Asians” was her first studio film. This seasoned actress hit the ground running and was on the 2017 Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world.

Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star in “Hustlers”

It’s now 2019, and Wu plays Destiny, the lead role in Hustlers, which debuts September 13. Her character in the film points to the hardships we all face, as women, parents, children, friends, and employees. Everyone who watches can relate.

“I really wanted a movie that was about loneliness because I think right now, in our country with political polarization, and with social media, I think a lot of people are deeply lonely and they don’t even realize it,” says Wu.  “When you have stories that speak to that: ‘Hey, you know I’m lonely too,’ It makes people feel okay, showing they are flawed and insecure. That’s what I wanted, for a piece to explore a character’s loneliness.”

It’s rare, even in today’s world, to see an Asian American lead, let alone a female. “I think one of the things that happen to Asian American women a lot is this over-sexualization, this fetishization,” she says. “In my time in Hollywood, people have always been talking about breaking stereotypes. One of the things I’ve always said is that the problem with stereotypes is not the stereotypes themselves; it’s that they are a reduction of a person. Like this person is only their accent. They are nothing else. But what’s good for Asian American representation in this movie is that Destiny is not only that.” Similarly, her previous roles all portray the Asian American experience in a different light, all the complexities and identities we navigate.

Lili Reinhart, Jennifer Lopez, Keke Palmer, and Constance Wu star in “Hustlers”

Wu, 37, with her background in theatre, expressed that one of the challenges she came across while filming was shooting exterior scenes, “because Jen [Lopez] was such an icon!”

There’s no hiding the fact that this film has several fierce females sharing the stage with Wu. She says, “We were all women, and we are led by a woman. It created this incredible sort of solidarity, and sisterhood, and incredible peace. Nobody was fighting over one slice of pie. We were making the pie together.”

But when asked how she relates to her character, she grins, pauses and chuckles, “Well Destiny doesn’t think she’s really good at lap dancing and neither does Constance! I can relate to that.” Chuckling aside, Wu explains that her character realizes these Wall Street guys too have problems. Yes, these men are thieves, but they are people also. The same goes for the women in the film, and they were breaking the law. You are feeling their pain. We’re always forced to believe there is a hero or a villain because everything is so polarized and partisan.

“It’s that conflict of just people being complex and holding two different feelings at the same time, which I loved about the movie,” says Wu.  “I hope it’s unifying.”

***

Decerry Donato was born and raised in San Gabriel Valley where she’s often seen with a camera in one hand and a boba drink in another. She graduated from UC Irvine with a Bachelor’s in Literary Journalism and minor in Asian American Studies. She frequents thrift stores and is an avid traveler.  Twitter: @deardeezy  Instagram: @intodeeseyes

 

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Jeremy Lin Joins the Beijing Ducks

I’ve been following Jeremy Lin’s basketball career ever since he was a senior at Harvard, so it was exciting to see when he was signed by his hometown team, the Golden State Warriors, as well as see him in his regular season debut, through LINSANITY, his up’s and down’s, and most recently, winning an NBA championship. I’ve been even mistaken for Jeremy Lin’s dad.

Since winning an NBA championship, Jeremy had had a hard time over the summer finding a new NBA team to sign with. So it was with some sadness to hear he’d no longer be playing in the United States, but in China with the Beijing Ducks:

“Veteran guard Jeremy Lin has signed with the Beijing Shougang Ducks to play in the Chinese Basketball Association next season, the team announced Tuesday. … In an Instagram post, Lin wrote it was a “privilege to rep Asians at the NBA level” and congratulated his brother Joe on signing an extension with the Fubon Braves of the Super Basketball League in Taiwan. …

Lin, who turned 31 last week, won his first title with the Toronto Raptors last year. During his nine-year NBA career, he is most remembered for delivering a series of high-scoring performances in early 2012 as a member of the New York Knicks, generating a wave of global sensation known as “Linsanity.”

It had been speculated that Lin, who enjoys a large fan base in Asia, would sign with a CBA team after failing to land an NBA deal as a free agent this summer. During a TV appearance in Taiwan in July, an emotional Lin described a sense of hopelessness.

I’m hoping Jeremy becomes a star in China and earns the respect of the Chinese fans and that he can return back to the U.S. in the near future back in the NBA so I can watch him on TV and in person.

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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:

https://youtu.be/NUliX2-wmmE

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!

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8Books Review: “Pangs of Love and Other Writings” by David Wong Louie

David Wong Louie’s short story collection Pangs of Love first came out in 1991. It’s now being re-released by the University of Washington Press with two additional pieces. Louie’s stories are captivating and deep, insightful yet puzzling.

It’s a bit intimidating to open up the foreword of a book and see that a Pulitzer Prize-winning author felt that when he read the book for the first time, he was not ready, did not fully appreciate it.

On the other hand, this also meant that I could read these stories with the understanding that I would need to come back sometime down the line, that they’d probably be worth reading again. And with a better appreciation for Louie’s place in the larger sphere of Asian American literature.

The title story, about a mother, family name Pang, and a visit with her two grown sons, is particularly moving. I often use the phrase “deeply human” to describe books and stories that I think are trying to capture some fragment of our lived experience, however messy. And that’s where Louie shines. Sometimes in impenetrable ways, but ways that are nonetheless leaving a mark.

One of the additions to this collection and the final story is also deeply affecting. Louie writes about his own experience of living with throat cancer and the experience of no longer being able to eat.

I can’t relate to the old, eater version of me. I don’t remember how it feels to be in the presence of food and crave it, want to own it, or how it feels to know its pleasure and anticipate having that pleasure again. I can’t relate to that kind of beauty anymore.”

From “Eat, Memory”

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8Books Review: Korean Homestyle Cooking by Hatsue Shingenobu

Korean Homestyle Cooking is jam packed with recipes and appetizing looking food. From galbi and japchae to quick kimchi and even a few desserts, this cookbook boasts a wide range of food.

I won’t deny that I was a little perplexed by the author being Japanese, so I decided that the best thing to do was to try something. Last week, I made the Korean Style Garlic Fried Chicken (certainly not the most complicated dish, but hey, who can say no to fried chicken). The instructions were easy to follow and the ingredients list for this and other dishes is relatively simple. Admittedly, I already have a stocked pantry for Korean / Asian cooking, so this dish was made all the simpler by the fact that I only needed to buy the chicken. But even if your kitchen isn’t like mine, the ingredients in here are relatively easy to find (er, she says as she inserts a picture of a recipe requiring shiso leaves…oh well, don’t make those if you don’t live near an H Mart.)

One thing which I will mention that it’s visually jam packed with pictures, little tips, and other recommendations. I find this personally a little overwhelming on the eyes, but they certainly are being very economic with their white space, and those who are less familiar with Korean food will likely appreciate the tips and tricks. The letters next to the ingredients lists (see above Grilled Beef Short Ribs) also helpfully indicate all the things that go in at various stages, helpful for your mise en place.

While Korean Homestyle Cooking won’t rank as my favorite Korean cookbook, it’s very friendly to beginners and the pictures will definitely make your mouth water.

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‘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

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The Daily Show: Andrew Yang – Bringing Bold and Unique Ideas to His 2020 White House Bid

As many 8Asians readers may know, I’m a big fan of The Daily Show, so I was happy to see that Taiwanese American presidential candidate Andrew Yang interviewed on the show (rather than simply be in a comedic sketch). I’ve had the opportunity to interview Yang back in the Summer of 2018, as well as read his book, ‘The War on Normal People‘ (which is kind of depressing if you ask me.)

One of the reasons why I like Yang is that I think that it is extremely important that Asian Americans get involved in the political process – especially with our president espousing racist rhetoric against people of color Congresswomen to “go back.” As I attend a lot of political events and protests, rarely do I see any Asian Americans – and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area (which in the 2010 census put Asians at almost 25% of the 9 county region). The more involved Asian Americans are civicly, over time, the less we will perceived as the ‘perpetual foreigner.

Although there are over 20+ Democratic presidential candidates currently, Yang, for someone who is an outsider with fairly low name recognition, is qualifying both in donors:

“Presidential candidate Andrew Yang reached the donor requirement for the third and fourth Democratic primary debates.

Yang’s campaign announced Monday afternoon that the long-shot candidate surpassed the necessary 130,000 individual donors and 400 per state unique donors in at least 20 states.”

and is polling quite well to maintain his involvement in the Democratic presidential primary debates:

Best of luck to Yang in the next debate and many debates to follow!

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8Books Review: “Natalie Tan’s Book of Love and Fortune” by Roselle Lim

Natalie Tan’s Book of Love and Fortune is a delightful summer read. It’s got good food, a Chinatown community, and more than enough heart to guide you through. I confess to reading it in a single day, and loving every moment of it–even the sad parts, because well, there have to be sad parts so there can be happy parts.

Natalie Tan returns home to San Francisco’s Chinatown after her mother passes away after several years of estrangement. She is surprised at the dilapidation she sees and equally surprised to learn that she’s inherited her grandmother’s old restaurant and a mysterious recipe book. And so the adventure begins, as Natalie learns more about her family, her neighborhood, and her passion.

Aside from providing a good story, I also want to call out this one line that stopped me in my tracks: “We Chinese wore our guilt like jade: pressed against our skin, displayed with pride, and always inherited.” I mean, WHEW, nailed it in one.

But really, this book is full of delightful characters, tons of heart, a little bit of magic, and even a few recipes worth trying, I highly recommend.

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Asian American Commercial Watch: Audi Presents Science Fair

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-jGd8vPvjE

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!

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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.

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How to Eat Healthy at a Filipino Party

I know many many Filipinos and Filipino Americans who have Diabetes.  After one of those many diabetics told me about a class called “Managing Diabetes for the Filipino Lifestyle” that she attended at Kaiser Permanente, I just had to find out more. While searching for this class, I noticed this amusing yet informative video series on how to eat healthy at a Filipino party. Aside from the question of whether you even want to eat healthy at a Filipino party, it had some good tactics that Filipinos or any one else could use for eating out at events, particularly where there is a buffet.

The video goes over the following techniques to eat healthier:

  1. Don’t starve yourself before the party
  2. Scan the buffet line
  3. Use the Plate Method
  4. Try to get food only once
  5. Take food home

You might be wondering about some of these, particularly if you haven’t spend a lot of time around Filipino.  Events are almost always buffets, and thus the advice to try and go through the food line only once.  Number 5 is a good response when the host gives you the line “Did you try ….?” and you don’t want to insult him or her by saying no.

In addition, the video has a wry sense of humor.  The lead characters’ names are a play on the occasionally wacky  first names and nicknames that Filipinos use.  It is even funnier when because they are used by middle aged people.  One line I enjoyed comes when Sweetheart (actual first name of the doctor) talks about how you should eat colorful food, but “Halo-halo doesn’t count.”  FYI – the desserts at the top don’t count either.

Check it out!   Start at the Introduction, and the video will roll through all of the parts.  Kaiser provides this video and other resources aimed at Filipino Americans here.

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