‘Joy Ride’ Coming to a Theater Near You on July 7th!

I’ve never been to South by Southwest (“SXSW”) in Austin, Texas, where part of the overall set of conferences and art festivals is a film festival. Literally one year after ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once” premiered at SXSW, Joy Ride premiered. I’m only aware of this because of social media, and I watched one of *the* most hilarious, IMHO, Asian Amerian film trailer ever to be released:

“From the producers of Neighbors and the co-screenwriter of Crazy Rich Asians, JOY RIDE stars Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, Oscar® nominee Stephanie Hsu, and Sabrina Wu. The hilarious and unapologetically explicit story of identity and self-discovery centers on four unlikely friends who embark on a once-in-a-lifetime international adventure. When Audrey’s (Ashley Park) business trip to Asia goes sideways, she enlists the aid of Lolo (Sherry Cola), her irreverent, childhood best friend who also happens to be a hot mess; Kat (Stephanie Hsu), her college friend turned Chinese soap star; and Deadeye (Sabrina Wu), Lolo’s eccentric cousin. Their no-holds-barred, epic experience becomes a journey of bonding, friendship, belonging, and wild debauchery that reveals the universal truth of what it means to know and love who you are. Also starring Ronny Chieng (Crazy Rich Asians), Lori Tan Chinn (Awkwafina is Nora From Queens), David Denman (Greenland), Annie Mumolo (Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar), Desmond Chiam (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier), Alexander Hodge (Insecure), and Chris Pang (Crazy Rich Asians).”

Based on the trailer and the reviews published from the SXSW screening, I am going to predict that this will be the biggest Asian American box office and mainstream hit since Crazy Rich Asians. That’s not exactly going to be a surprise considering that the film was co-written by co-writer of Crazy Rich Asians, Adele Lim, who is making her directorial debut with ‘Joy Ride.’ I’d say my favorite review/quote is this:

““Joy Ride” is a prime example of how important representation is on screen and proves that Asian American comedians can be just as funny, raunchy, and successful as their white male counterparts.”

and this review/quote:

“And of course the trip turns out to be as chaotic as you can imagine. Things go wrong, shenanigans ensue, and our four Asian friends are at the center of it all. Joy Ride is quite a ride indeed. It is every vulgar, nasty, boundary-pushing R-rated comedy you’ve ever seen, except it is put together on the screen with honesty, heart, and Asian pride. The result is one big Joy Fuck Club.”

Given the reviews, it is not too surprising to learn that Seth Rogen and his production company is one of the producers of the film. I’m hoping great things for Joy Ride and am thinking I should reach out to Lionsgate to watch a screener for this film!

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PBS NewsHour: Randall Park on his directorial debut and Asian American representation in Hollywood

I’ve been following Randall Park ever since I first noticed him in a Wells Fargo television ad back in July of 2008. So I was really happy to see a recent segment on PBS NewsHour about his directorial debut and on Asian American representation:

“Since starring in the hit sitcom “Fresh Off the Boat,” Randall Park has become a familiar face on television and in some of Hollywood’s biggest movies. Now the Korean American actor can also be found behind the camera with his directorial debut “Shortcomings.” Amna Nawaz spoke with Park about the film, his long career and the power of authentic storytelling for our arts and culture series, CANVAS.”

I’ve never met Randall, but I hope to do so one day. My closest connection to him is knowing his fellow actor and star of ‘Fresh Off the Boat,’ Hudson Yang, who I had the pleasure to interview back in 2015. I also have known Hudson’s father, Jeff Yang, since the mid-90s! 

Several weeks ago, it was announced that Sony Pictures Classics acquired worldwide rights to Shortcomings, so I am hoping that we’ll get a release date announced in the near future. A summary about the film:

“Justin H. Min, Sherry Cola and Ally Maki star in the coming-of-age story, which follows Ben (Min), a struggling filmmaker, and his girlfriend, Miko (Maki), who works for a local Asian American film festival. When he’s not managing an arthouse movie theater in the Bay Area as his day job, Ben spends his time obsessing over unavailable blonde women, watching Criterion Collection DVDs and eating in diners with his best friend Alice (Cola), a queer grad student with a serial dating habit. When Miko moves to New York for an internship, Ben is left to his own devices, and begins to explore what he thinks he might want.”

Hope I get to see this sooner rather than later!


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EEAAO Cast is Back: American Born Chinese Premiering on May 24 on Disney+

After seeing Everything Everywhere all at Once (EEAAO) win a slew of Academy Awards, are you wondering where you can see the cast together again? Disney+ recently announced that American Born Chinese, a series based on the graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang, starts on May 24 on Disney+ and features Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan in the cast, with appearances by Stephanie Hsu and James Hong. Disney+ describes the story as:

Based on the graphic novel of the same name by Gene Luen Yang, “American Born Chinese” tells the story of Jin Wang, an average teenager juggling his high school social life with his home life. When he meets a new foreign student on the first day of the school year, even more worlds collide as Jin is unwittingly entangled in a battle of Chinese mythological gods.

Jin Wang is portrayed by Ben Wang and is shown below with Jimmy Liu, who plays his friend Wei-Chen. I was somewhat worried about how Disney+ would adapt the book, but the fact that the author is an executive producer and that people like Destin Daniel Cretton (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings director) is one of the directors and is an executive producer gives me some reassurance. The show will be full of well known Asian and Asian American actors in addition to the ones mentioned, such as Jimmy O. Yang and Ronny Chieng.

The series will debut with a showing on March 15 at South by Southwest.


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Asian American Civic Involvement: A California Study

Although we have talked about Asian American voter apathy for years now, recent elections in places like Georgia are said to have swung based on increased Asian American voter turnout.  Does that mean that Asian American civic involvement, which more than just voter turnout, is increasing?  The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace looked at Asian American Civic Involvement in California. At a high level, it showed that Asian American civic involvement by surveyed Californians is “relatively muted,” but there is a lot of variation and nuance in that large generalization. Despite some methodological challenges that it acknowledges, the study is worth checking out if you are interested in looking at how Asian Americans are interacting with American civic life.

What exactly is civic involvement?  As mentioned above, it is more than just voter turnout. Civic involvement includes activities like volunteering in community and other organizations, attending protests, and donating to candidates and political parties. While the overall conclusion was “muted” participation, there is notable variation between Asian Americans born in the US and those foreign born, as one example of nuance within the larger conclusion. The study also says that anecdotal evidence shows that Asian Americans are increasingly donating to political parties and candidates.  I have seen this myself with Asian American political fund raisers in my neighborhood.

While this study has other interesting data points like participation in ethnic organizations, it acknowledges some methodological weaknesses. It gathered results through a survey that was only in English – missing the views and actions of those Asian Americans who do not speak English.  It also points out, as we have mentioned, that while political parties are starting to court Asian Americans, a large number of Asian Americans have never been contacted by an organization. Is that the major cause of lower participation rates? I also wondered how specific aspects of Asian American civic involvement compared to that of the larger population.

This study is the fourth part of a five part study on Asian Americans political choices and social preferences in California.  I didn’t know about this series until this article and will most likely summarize and comment on other parts of the series.

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Where Increasing Asian and Asian American Media Representation has its Limits

It’s impossible to miss the increase in Asian and Asian American representation. This year, Everything Everywhere all at Once and its actors won a number of Golden Globe awards and received several Oscar award nominations.  In the past few years, movies such as Minari and Parasite have won numerous awards including Parasite’s Best Picture Academy award. The 2021 book Crying in H-Mart was a best seller, and Kyla Zhao, who wrote The Fraud Squad when she was a junior at Stanford, scored a six figure advance for the story about a social climber in Singapore. Asian and Asian American representation in mainstream media has clearly increased, with many other movies, TV shows, and books that I could have mentioned, but what are the limitations of this apparent success?

Before talking about any limitations, it should be clear that this is a beneficial trend. One clear benefit is to simply get Asian American stories out there. I rarely saw any movies about Asian Americans when I was growing up, and the ones that I did see were usually full of stereotypes. Each Asian American movie, book, and TV show success is a demonstration that a movie, book, or TV show with Asian Americans in them can be profitable and garner wide, not just Asian audiences, thus increasing the opportunities for Asian American actors, writers, and directors.

Still, as this Mercury News article points out, there are limits to the increased representation that is often touted.  It cites a PEN study that says that writers of color are still published at a lower rate. Zhao received suggestions from publishers, which she successfully resisted, to put in a white character into her book to make it more “relatable.” Other writers suggest that with the success of Crazy Rich Asians, there might be an emphasis on old money Chinese elites.  Zhao acknowledges this. While her book is also set in Singapore, she put in characters from different social classes.

Izzy Ampil writes in Buzzfeed that touting the numbers of awards and nominations by Asians and Americans reduces the significance and individual accomplishments of every the actors, writers, and directors that are nominated.  I think that this is very true.  While an emphasis on the numbers, I feel that we forget the individual work.  For example, it seems to me the fact that Turning Red is nominated for an academy award seems to have been gone relatively unnoticed.

A final limitation is knowing how much of this increase helps the Asian Asian community at large. I hope that the steadily appearing amount of Asian American representation in movies, TV, and books erodes the perpetual foreigner stereotype of Asian Americans, but if it having an affect, it is hard to measure. In the face of violence, both from anti-Asian sentiment that grew during the pandemic and from within Asian American communities, it’s not at all clear how representation helps in that area.

The 2023 Academy Awards air on March 12. Even more Asian American content with Asian American representation is coming this year, including American Born Chinese series on coming to Disney+, which has many of the same cast as Everything Everywhere all at Once.

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NYC Theater Review: Wolf Play by Hansol Jung

Esco Jouléy and Mitchell Winter in the 2023 Production of WOLF PLAY at MCC Theater – Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Wolf Play by Hansol Jung is an enthralling play about an off-the-record adoption, about children and parents and family, about a wolf and his pack. Presented by MCC Theater in collaboration with Ma-Yi Theater Company, Wolf Play just opened and is playing through March 19.

“The truth is a wobbly thing.”

In the opening monologue, before the lights have gone off, the eponymous wolf speaks directly to the audience. There is eye contact. People wriggle in their seats, or laugh, or stare back, whatever their natures be. The intimate space of the black box theater is used to its best advantage.

The wolf is our narrator who is also a young Korean boy, physically represented by a puppet and inventively animated. As the play begins, the boy, Peter Jr., is being dropped off by his adoptive father Peter at the house of a queer couple in San Francisco. This is a story of secondhand adoption. Peter Jr.’s first adoptive family had decided to give him up after giving birth to a biological child. Robin found their listing on a Yahoo! chat room and leaped at the chance. She awaits Peter Jr. with her brother Ryan. Her partner Ash, who is less than excited, arrives after the Peters.

The play has a frenzied pace as truths unfold. The boy is 6, not 3. Robin struggles with motherhood, Ash trains for their pro boxing debut, overlapping phone calls unfold simultaneously. Then Ash and the boy eat cereal together and we learn that his name is actually Jeenu. Quiet moments punctuate in breathtaking ways. And that is just the beginning.

The end is the end, and I won’t tell you what, but to say that Hansol Jung has a wonderful echo built in. It’s a way of writing that I often find to be unsuccessful and trite, but here, I found to be oh so beautiful.

Soho Rep’s Wolf Play is playing at MCC Theater (511 West 52nd St., New York, NY 10019) until March 19. Performances are Tues.-Sun. at 7:30pm and Sat.-Sun. at 2:30pm. Tickets begin at $49 and are currently available at mcctheater.org

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California Shootings Highlight the Struggles of Asian American Seniors

(photo credit: Ray Mueller)

After the initial shock about hearing about the Half Moon Bay shootings, my next reaction to hearing that Chunli Zhao actions were related to his work on a farm was “why is a 66-year-old working on a farm?” This shooting and the Monterey Park New Year shootings highlights some of the challenges that many Asian American seniors face and that seem to receive comparatively little attention:  economic struggles, social isolation, and lack of mental health care.

Chunli Zhao lived with his wife in a shack covered by a blue tarp (pictured above) in what has been described as “deplorable conditions” on one of the farms where he worked. One of the shooting locations had recent history of violence. Other migrant Asian farm workers live in similar conditions to Zhao and his wife, and he killed two of Asian American farm workers who were even older than him, aged 73 and 74. While we may hear and read much about Asian American professionals with high incomes, but Asian Americans have high income disparity and many are impoverished. While this of course doesn’t excuse Zhao, there are many Asians Americans and particularly older Asian Americans who are impoverished, working as farm workers or even riding buses to make ends meet.  Historically, Asian Americans came to the United States to work as farm workers or laborers – this is not new, ongoing, but often forgotten.

Social isolation is another problem.  The Monterey Park shooter, Huu Can Tran, lived in Hemet, far away from his former home in heavily Asian San Gabriel in an area with few other Asians. He was divorced, lived alone, and his neighbors said that no one ever visited him there. Chunli Zhao didn’t speak English or Spanish, yet another form of isolation.

Some say with these shootings, Asian Americans have assimilated into American society in the worst possible way. One way that they haven’t assimilated is in getting mental health treatment. Zhao had worked before as a restaurant worker, and he once tried to choke a coworker, who then filed a restraining order against him.  Chunli Zhao had anger issues, and in an interview thought he had some mental illness. A few weeks before the Monterey Park shootings, Huu Can Tran reported to police and accused his family of fraud and of trying to poison him 10 to 20 years ago, but produced no evidence.

If anything positive were to come out of these sad shooting incidents, attention could increase on Asian American issues like senior poverty, mental health, and the huge disparaties in Asian American income. I don’t think that is likely, but I remain hopeful.

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Apple’s 2023 Chinese New Year Short: Through the Five Passes

Every year, Apple releases a short film for Chinese New Year that is shot on an iPhone, and every year I look forward to the story that is created. This short for this 2023 is called Through the Five Passes.  Apple’s description:

Welcome the Year of the Rabbit with a story about a young man, his love for opera, and the spirit of persistence. Apple and director Peng Fei come together to reinvent the renowned Chinese Opera “Through the Five Passes”.

Not being Chinese, it took some research to get to understand the context of this short.  The story of Guan Yu and the Five Passes, a story in the history novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, is a symbol of persistence, and is also represented in Chinese Opera. Despite not knowing all of the context initially, I did find the imagery striking, and particularly amazing considering it was all shot on an iPhone. I also was reminded about one of the few movies that I have seen (and loved) with Chinese Opera as a key part, Rouge.

Past Apple Lunar New Year Shorts that we have talked about include  The ComebackNian, and Daughter. As every year, Apple also includes a “Making of” video which shows how all of the filming was done on an iPhone, this year on an iPhone 14 Pro.

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Asian American Commercial Watch: Northwestern Mutual’s ‘Distant Relatives’

While watching the San Francisco 49ers defeat the Seattle Seahawks, I saw this Northwestern Mutual commercial (‘Distant Relatives’):

“Someday is today. That’s the realization many people are having these days—what we’re calling The Great Realization. It’s time to finally do the things you’ve been talking about for years. Get started with a Northwestern Mutual financial advisor on your plan and spend your life living.

This Northwestern Mutual commercial is part of a series that explores how Americans from different walks of life are realizing that the things they want to do someday can’t wait any longer. There’s no better time to live the life you’ve always wanted, and our version of financial planning can help make it happen. That’s because we start with your life and priorities and design your plan so that someday can start today.”

As I have blogged before, most mixed race couples featuring an Asian American typically highlights a White Male / Asian Female (WM/AF) couple – in fact, it is still probably the most common depiction of mixed-race couples in popular culture. But in this commercial, we see an Asian Male / White Female (AM/WF) couple with a young son. It’s great to see more representation of an Asian Male / White Female (AM/WF) couple.

The premise of the commercial is that because of the COVID lockdowns in Asia (presumably China), the family, including their son, has only been able to video conference instead of visiting in-person. Now that the pandemic is presumably under control and that China is now “open” for visitors, the wife thinks that due to their financial stability due to Northwestern Mutual’s financial guidance, it’s okay now to take a big family trip to China to visit the husband’s side of the family.

Sadly enough, some of the comments on the video have a different opinion of the commercial.  One comment calls it “race mixing propaganda” while another complains about “WOKE propaganda” about “normalizing bi-racial marriage” among other conspiracy theories.

(image credits:  Northwestern Mutual)


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Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan win Golden Globes for their Everything Everywhere All At Once Performances

Michelle Yeoh won a best actress Golden Globe in a musical or comedy film, and Ke Huy Quan won best supporting actor Golden Globe in a motion picture for their work in Everything Everywhere All at Once. It is especially heartening to see Ke Huy Quan win as he had quit acting for decades after breaking through as a child actor and only started auditioning for parts again after seeing the success of Crazy Rich Asians.  You can see his speech below:

Michelle Yeoh has yet another honor after being named the 2022 Time Icon of Year. You can see transcripts of their acceptance speeches here.


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Asian American Candidates Tie after Recount – Winner Determined by Drawing Lots

I wrote before about how every vote can make a difference, and when I wrote the story, Murali Srinivasan was beating Justin Wang for Sunnyvale City Council by just one vote.  A recount found 3 more ballots – two for Wang and one for Srinivasan.  The tie was broken on January 3, as shown in the video above, by drawing lots, with Srinivasan being declared the winner.

This is a great example of how every vote can count, and even more so in the heavily Asian American city of Sunnyvale.  Before the lots were drawn, you can see Wang and Srinivasan shake hands, and they did so after the announcement.  I wish more election winners and losers were that gracious.  Congrats to Murali Srinivasan, but also to Justin Wang for being gracious in defeat.

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Visualizing the Asian American Population in California

(image credit: San Francisco Chronicle)

Graphical visualizations are often the best way to understand data. The San Francisco Chronicle recently published this dynamic set of visualizations looking at the Asian American population.  It allows interactive exploration of California Asian American population trends. Some of the graphs hint at interesting changes that have happened in the California popultion.

The graph excerpt on the right shows the largest Asian American group within a particular county.  One of the more interesting findings is the large number of yellow counties in the far north of California.  This reflects the movement of Hmong who became part of the “Green Rush” after the legalization of marijuana in the state.  That movement has become significant enough that many Hmong there are experiencing a discriminatory backlash.

I also found it interesting that Filipino Americans are widely distributed, making up the highest Asian ethnicity in the majority of California counties.  My guess is that the medical facilities in many of the smaller population counties employ a lot of Filipino nurses.  Of the most populous metropolitan areas in California, Filipinos are the largest in San Diego problably because of the navy bases there.

There are many other graphs and tools available at this site. If you are interested in Asian American demographics, and California Asian American in particular, I suggest you check out the SF Chronicle’s excellent resource.


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