Simu Liu Guest Hosts ‘Saturday Night Live’

If you hadn’t heard, Simu Liu was guest host on ‘Saturday Night Live’ this past Saturday. Liu overall did a great job and was in a number of skits.

The funniest skit I thought was the ‘Simu & Bowen’ skit where they are both congratulating each other on being the first Asians in various categories.

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Golden State Warriors Honor AAPI ‘Stop Asian Hate’ Leaders During Asian Heritage Night

I’ve been to the NBA Golden State Warrior’s new arena, the Chase Center, twice since the Fall of 2019 when it first opened. But Sunday, November 21st, was my first time for 8Asians, to cover ‘Asian Heritage Night‘, which was sponsored (or “presented”) by Cache Creek. I was most interested in the two being honored for their work on ‘Stop AAPI Hate’ – Cynthia Choi and Russell Jeung.

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8mm Review (Non-Spoiler): Jimmy O. Yang Stars in Christmas RomCom ‘Love Hard’

I heard about Love Hard a few months ago, and I thought that it was interesting that Yang was going to be in a romantic comedy, surprisingly starring against a white female lead. Yang is best known for his work in HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley’ series playing Jian-Yang (which I eventually got to like), as well as his minor but entertaining role in ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ as obnoxious Bernard, and for his Amazon Prime Video comedy special.

I like Yang and met him in person after his standup show in San Francisco back in 2019. I say ‘surprisingly’ that Yang is starring against a white female lead because as we know in popular media, we rarely see an Asian Male with a White Female (AM/WF).

The plot of Love Hard‘ is not too particularly unique:

A romantic comedy about the lies we tell for love. An unlucky-in-love LA girl Natalie (Nina Dobrev) falls for a rugged East Coast guy Tag (Darren Barnet) on a dating app and decides to surprise him for the holidays—only to discover that she’s been catfished by his childhood friend Josh (Jimmy O. Yang).

Like most romantic comedies, Love Hard is fairly predictable. I’m sure you can guess how the film ends. Still, it’s a funny Christmas holiday romantic comedy. I was pleasantly surprised to see both James Saito and Harry Shum Jr. play Josh’s father and brother respectively  (though Shum’s character is a bit exaggerated). Both of their characters’ wives are non-Asian.

As of this writing, on Rotten Tomatoes it scores a 56% (based on 18 reviews) and an audience score of 96% (with over 1,000+ reviews). More surprising is that it was the #1 film on Netflix the week it came out.    It’s no When Harry Met Sally, which is my all time favorite romantic comedy, but if you’re into light romantic comedies without a lot of expectations, I recommend Love Hard.

 Love Hard is currently available for streaming on Netflix.

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8mm Film Review (Non-Spoiler): ‘Eternals’

I enjoyed watched Eternals last week and  and finally got around to writing this review.  Eternals is currently the lowest rated Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) rated film (by critics) on Rotten Tomatoes  (at 47% of this writing) which I think is a disservice to the film! I saw the film on Thursday evening of opening weekend, and the verified audience rating, was 80% – with over 5,000 ‘verified’ reviews). Having recently caught up on watching Marvel’s Black Widow (I thought the film kind of sucked), I would have to say that I enjoyed it way more than Black Widow, but not as much as I enjoyed Shang-Chi.

The scope and scale of Eternals is kind of unprecedented. First of all, you have 10 super heroes over a history of 7,000 years as well as some other backstories about the universe. The back-and-forth between the past and present can get disorienting at times. Because of the scale and scope, there is a lot of exposition, but that would be the case of any origin film.  With Eternals, this is multiplied because of the time scale and number of characters. As to be expected from a Chloe Zhao film, the cinematography and overall design was fantastic. It’s a  visually beautiful film. Marvel definitely did not spare any expense on the quality of visual effects as well (except for the mid-credit scene).

The official summary of Eternals is:

Marvel Studios’ Eternals features an exciting new team of Super Heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ancient aliens who have been living on Earth in secret for thousands of years. Following the events of Avengers: Endgame, an unexpected tragedy forces them out of the shadows to reunite against mankind’s most ancient enemy, the Deviants.

I can understand the criticism, since at some points of the film, there are definitely pacing issues. The film is long, and it has to be long given the scope and scale. Some of the reviews I’ve watched say that the film would have been better as a Disney+ Marvel series, but I don’t think the economics would work out as a series. Many critics complain about not having a lot of action – which I can understand, but the film is really setting up the next stage of the MCU. Tonally, Eternals is not like your typical MCU film – very different – definitely more serious and somber in nature. There are definitely elements of humor sprinkled here and there, but much more sublte.

The acting is great. Gemma Chan plays a major role as Sersi, a bigger role than I thought she would have. Not all of the Eternals get equal time treatment and there are definitely a few surprises that caught me off guard. The I know a lot of haters were slamming Eternals as somehow politically correct and “woke” because it had a diverse cast of superheroes. That’s sad. The Eternals’ mission was to watch over humans as they developed over time, so it totally makes total sense to have a diverse group of superheroes. Some have been review bombing the film because they think Marvel is being “politically correct.” Eternals had its first sex scene, but it was really brief. I mean, no big deal, I think you see way more on broadcast tv, and there was a same sex kiss scene, which was brief, and again, no big deal.

As far as the mid-credit and end-credit scenes, I am an MCU fan, but I do not know everything about the universe beyond the comic books I read as a kid (Spider-man, Avengers, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Galactica, Secret Wars, etc.), so after the film when I got home, I checked out the Internet to learn more about what exactly I watched.

If you like Marvel films and if you like Chloe Zhao films, you should definitely see this film.

 

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8Books Review: The Donut Trap by Julie Tieu

How can you say no to a story set in a donut shop? You can’t. You shouldn’t. Julie Tieu’s debut novel The Donut Shop is a delightful story about finding your way, about family and love and all that good stuff.

Jasmine Tran is out of luck — she’s got no job, no boyfriend, and she’s back at home working at her parent’s donut shop. It’s not the glamorous post-college life she envisioned for herself. Then an old college crush strolls back into her life. The high school boyfriend makes an appearance. And amidst all the romance you also get the story of a daughter, trying to figure out how to be helpful to her parents, to help the shop survive a brutal rent hike, to deal with the constant comparisons to her “perfect” brother, and most troubling and confounding to Jasmine, how not to disappoint them.

This is a fun read, with all the awkwardness and heart, laughter and tears, you want in a coming of age story. Do yourself a favor and get yourself a donut or two before you dive in. You’ll be hungry and / or desperately craving one by the time you’re even partway through this fun adventure.

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NYC Theater Review: Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord

Kristina Wong. Photo by Tom Fowler

“Please, no plays about the pandemic.” I remember as early on as April of 2020 theatre-twitter was begging playwrights and creators to take heed – we did not and do not want to see art about the pandemic; especially while we are still living in the pandemic.

Kristina Wong’s Sweatshop Overlord may be the one exception.

Intimately staged at New York Theatre Workshop, Wong immediately invites the audience in to join her on the ups and downs of her unique pandemic experience lording over sewing aunties to provide masks and aid where more formalized institutions failed. Wong shares her deeply personal reflections on the existential crisis she was thrown into as a theatre artist when theatre ceased to exist, which is brilliantly cut together with the pandemic milestones we all, unfortunately, lived through. Both the low-lows and the occasional highs made me laugh out loud at how much trauma we have collectively experienced and I cheered along with the rest of the audience at the moments of perseverance and bravery Wong recollects. A reminder that a well crafted play is at once highly personal and deeply universal.

With the energy of a performer who once feared they would never be on stage again, and with the mastery of a storytelling professional, we are in good hands with Wong and the direction of Chaw Yew.

There are several clever costuming moments courtesy of Linda Cho, and Junghyun Georgia Lee’s set provides the perfect playground for Wong. Amith Chandrashaker’s lighting design does a great job of assisting in the tonal shifts of the show, which could otherwise be a little jarring, and Mikhail Fiksel’s sound design enhances Wong’s overlord powers in a believable and comedic way. Projection design by Caite Hevner delivers the real heart-beat of the show, showcasing the sentimental moments of the Auntie Sewing Squad, as well as the already-historic imagery of pandemic photo-journalism. Shout out to the NYTW crew as well who nail some comedic assists and remind us it takes a village, or in this case a squad, to pull off a one-woman show.

Overall Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord, is a reminder of what we, the vaccinated audience in New York, may have the privilege to forget once and a while – that this pandemic is not over. So don’t miss your chance to celebrate the return of live theatre. Treat yourself, and whoever helped get you through 2020, to a night out with Kristina Wong. You’ve earned it.

Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord is playing at the New York Theatre Workshop until November 21, 2021. Run time is approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and more information, visit https://www.nytw.org/show/kristina-wong-sweatshop-overlord/

Laura Lee is a sometimes-actor, sometimes-writer, all-the-time-mixed-race-Asian-American living in New York City.

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Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan Dies After Struck by Car While Walking Dog

Earlier this week, Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan died after being struck by car while walking her dog. That only goes to show how random life can be and how we should treasure our time on the earth as you never know what might happen next.

I didn’t know Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan at all, but she was a historic Asian American political figure – someone who made strides in California politics long before I moved here in the late 1990s:

“Chan’s career in politics spanned 30 years. She was elected to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors first in 1994 and then again in 2010.

In between, she served in the California State Assembly, including as majority leader.

But beyond her political accomplishments, Chan is also seen by many in the state as a leader for the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

Breaking glass ceilings and addressing issues that matter most to the group, says Bill Wong, the political director for California Assembly Democrats.”

In fact, Chan made history:

“She served as Assembly Majority Whip from 2001 to 2002 and from 2002 to 2004 as [California State]  Assembly Majority Leader, the first woman and the first Asian American to hold the position.”

Chan inspired many. I have seen quite a few of those I know politically who have posted about Chan’s tragic passing on social media. My thoughts are with Chan’s family and friends.

 

 

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Taiwanese American Michelle Wu Elected Mayor of Boston – Makes History!

Taiwanese American Michelle Wu makes history as she is elected mayor of Boston – the first elected female mayor of Boston ever (current Mayor Kim Janey was appointed after Boston mayor Marty Walsh became Secretary of Labor in the Biden administration) – and I have to believe, the first Taiwanese American ever to be elected as mayor of a major U.S. city.

I’m in awe what Michelle has accomplished at age 36 given the personal challenges she’s had to overcome:

“Ms. Wu was born shortly after her parents immigrated from Taiwan, intent on setting the next generation up for success.

Han Wu, a chemical engineer, had been offered a spot as a graduate student at Illinois Institute of Technology. But he and his wife, Yu-Min, barely spoke English, and so, from the age of 4 or 5, their oldest daughter, known in Mandarin as Wu Mi, served as their interpreter, helping them navigate bureaucracy and fill out forms.

At her suburban Chicago high school, she was Michelle. She stacked up A.P. classes, joined the math team and color guard, and earned perfect scores on the SAT and ACT exams. As co-valedictorian, she wowed the audience at graduation with a piano solo from Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Politics, however, was off the table; their parents, raised by parents who fled famine and civil war in China, viewed it as a corrupt, high-risk vocation. They wanted Michelle to go into medicine, along a “pipeline of tests and degrees to a stable, happy life,” she said. When she left for Harvard — something her parents had hoped for her whole life — Ms. Wu was not sure whether she was a Republican or a Democrat.

It was while she was at Harvard that her family came unraveled.

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Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Taiwan

In John Oliver’s latest episode this past Sunday, John Oliver gives a good yet entertaining overview on Taiwan – from its history to its relationship with China and the rest of the world, including the United States. It’s an important topic given that Taiwan is a source of some  what is emerging as part of Asian American culture and the currently stressed global supply chain.

If you don’t know much about the political history of Taiwan, this is a good backgrounder. I was highly entertained that Oliver also mentioned how Taiwanese legislators periodically get into physical altercations with each other.

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Filipino American Nurses: Then and Now

nursing ad from 1969

1969 Ad in Filipino Nursing Journal (Photo Credit: Catherine Ceneza Choy)

This photo essay on Filipino American nurses dealing with the pandemic, coupled with it being Filipino American History Month, made me reflect on the long history of Filipino American nurses.  We have talked before about why so many nurses in the United States are from the Philippines, but after digging in deeper, I found some interesting historical connections that I missed.  I thought I would share those, along with some thoughts on that photo essay.

We previously mentioned the Exchange Visitor Program as path for Filipino nurses to enter the US, but as I looked into the program more, I did not know that it was started in 1948 as an effort to combat Cold War propaganda by exposing non-Americans to US democracy and culture. This program allowed people from other countries to live in and work in the US. American hospitals took advantage of the program to deal with staffing challenges. My own mother came to the US on this program more than 60 years ago.  After the major immigration changes in 1965, US hospitals found other ways to find nurses.  The ad shown above was from an ad in a Filipino nursing journal more than 50 years.

The age of that ad shows that generations of Filipino nurses have served the US for decades.  I believe that trend will continue.  The photo essay follows Jennifer Bulaong, whose mother is also a nurse and whose daughter is studying to become a nurse. It mentions how she is counting the work hours until her contract ends so she can rejoin their family elsewhere in the US. I know many nurses who experienced that waiting period, and when they move on, they may be replaced by other nurses from the Philippines.  Because of retirements and burnout during the pandemic, hospital systems like Henry Ford Health Systems in Detroit are again looking for nurses from the Philippines.

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Andrew Yang’s ‘Forward’ Book Tour – San Francisco

Earlier this month, I interviewed Andrew Yang about his new book, ‘Forward: Notes on the Future of Our Democracy,’ where he also kicked off his ‘Forward Party.’

With the release of his new book, Andrew launched a promotional tour.  I was able to drop by his San Francisco tour event. Andrew spoke for over an hour, talking about stories from his book from the presidential campaign trail as well as the ‘Forward Party’ and his focus on ranked choice voting and open primaries. At the end, he also took questions.

His book tour is winding down, but I did hear from a source that Andrew might be going to more cities in the future. Be sure to check out https://www.andrewyang.com/events if you’re interested in seeing Andrew in a city near you.

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150th Anniversary of 1871 Los Angeles Chinese Massacre

Bodies of 17 dead Chinese men and boys lie in the Los Angeles jail yard on October 24, 1871

(photo credit:  Security Pacific Bank)

This past Sunday, October 24th, marked the 150th anniversary of one of the worst hate crimes against Asians in United States history:

“The 1871 Los Angeles Chinese massacre resulted in the deaths of 18 Chinese men and is believed to be the most lethal example of racial violence ever recorded in the city. It was quickly and eagerly forgotten.

City leaders, embarrassed that the frontier town had made national headlines for violence and lawlessness, built up the police department and tried to restore the rule of law. Eight of the attackers were tried for the crimes but eventually released, and a small indemnity was paid to the Chinese government as an apology. Calle De Los Negros was bulldozed and redeveloped. The Chinese community was rebuilt in a different location.

The Chinese community did not simply accept their fate. They demanded restitution and sued for damages, though unsuccessfully. At least 14 out of 15 total Chinese laundrymen in Los Angeles refused to pay their city business license fees the year after the massacre, in what may be the first example of Chinese American civil disobedience. According to accounts of the time, some Chinese Americans responded by taking even more pride in being Chinese, displaying their culture even more boldly despite the danger.

It took them 10 months, but the few Chinese Americans in Los Angeles at the time raised the $8,000 to pay for proper burial ceremonies — an unimaginable amount of money for a group of poor immigrants at the time.”

Those 18 Chinese men and boys accounted for approximately 10% of the Chinatown back then.

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