Four months ago, Leigh’s husband, Matt, went for a walk; a walk that he never came back from. And ever since then, she, her sister Jules, her mother Amy, and Matt’s brother, Danny, have struggled to cope with his death. Some, like Amy, have put on a brave face, and acted as emotional support to others. Others, like Jules, have used this event as the catalyst to do things that they’ve always been meaning to; in her case, getting sober. And others, like Leigh and Danny, have resorted to lashing out, at friends, at family, and especially each other, for not knowing how to explain, or process, Matt’s loss. No matter how they do it, though, one thing is for certain; the road to recovery will be a long and hard one. Continue reading
In an oddball future, a future where you can avoid paying for things by listening to a certain number of ads, and where tiny robots patrol the streets, looking for poop to scoop, two broken people enter an experimental drug trial. One, Owen, is the neglected, schizophrenic son of a wealthy Manhattan family, who’s being forced to lie under oath to prevent his brother from going to jail. Another, Annie, is a selfish, mean-spirited drug addict, who still feels guilt over having contributed to her sister’s death. Owen is there for the money. Annie is there for the drugs. But regardless of why they came, the head of the program, Dr. James Mantleray and his partner, Dr. Azumi Fujita, are confident that their drugs will solve ALL, yes, all, of their patients’ personal problems. But what happens when the computer administering the trial develops emotions, and begins messing with the process? James and Azumi will be forced to bring in the former’s awful mother, whom the computer is modeled off of, while the patients will have to contend with a series of strange visions and increasingly surreal simulations. Continue reading
Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.
After spending a weekend out in the bush, eight Australian teenagers return to their hometown, only to find it completely deserted. Their parents are gone. Their friends are gone. All their animals are either dead or missing. And no one can come up with a plausible explanation for why. Then, when they head further into town, they learn the horrifying truth; Australia has been invaded by some hostile foreign army, which has kidnapped their families, and is now holding them in concentration camps. Realizing that they must fight to free their nation, the teens take up arms, and begin waging a guerrilla campaign against the invaders. And that’s really all there is to it.
Tomorrow, When The War Began is perfectly watchable, popcorn entertainment. There’s some great action scenes, like when the kids sneak into town, and get spotted by the invaders, and the performances of the eight leads are all very good. They, by far, are the best part of this movie. Their chemistry is great, and they really commit to their roles, even though they’re given some absolutely atrocious dialogue. The whole opening sequence where we see them camping, as sappy and cliched as it is, does have a certain charm to it. We like these characters, and we want them to succeed. So, in that respect, the movie does work.
It’s just that, when it comes to everything else–dialogue, character development, consistency of tone–it really, really doesn’t. Tomorrow, When The War Began is actually based off a series of young adult novels from the 90s, and that is very apparent when you watch this movie. Even though the central conflict is between these kids and the invaders, much, much more screen time is devoted to relationship drama. And that would be fine, in another movie, but when people are literally trying to kill you, I think you should tone down the “how do I relate to my boyfriend?” talk. There’s actually a scene in this film where two of the main characters almost get shot, precisely because they’re spending too much time jabbering about their love interests. And as if that weren’t annoying enough, there’s a lot of pop music in this film. And I don’t just mean in the beginning, when the kids are hanging out. That I would understand. I mean, throughout the entire movie, even in dramatic scenes where characters are talking about death and betrayal, scenes that would normally be silent or have orchestral music in the background, the film blasts top 20 songs. It’s completely jarring, and really takes you out of the movie. But by far the worst aspect of the entire film is the characterization. The protagonists of this movie are one note archetypes; spoiled rich girl, religious fanatic, goof ball, stoner, token Asian guy with no personality, etc. And they never advance beyond that. Which is a real shame, considering that you have a very talented cast, and a very big budget to work with here. The film also relies heavily on racial stereotypes, with all the villains being nameless soldiers from an ambiguous Asian country, and the movie’s only Asian lead, Lee, being introduced in a scene where we see him playing piano in the background while his mother struggles to communicate with the main girl, Ellie. The latter scene is meant to be funny, but I honestly find it kind of cruel whenever someone mocks the fact that another person has an accent, or is misinterpreting certain words. To me, it’s like making fun of someone for having a disability. You have no control over whether or not you have an accent, or whether or not you struggle with a language. And neither of those things reflects your intelligence, o your ability to love or be a good friend. But, like I said, no one in this film is really given any depth, so there is some comfort in that.
Now, based on the description I’ve just given you, you’re probably wondering why I watched this movie. After all, it doesn’t really reflect my social or political views, and since it came out so long ago, and wasn’t that huge a success, there’s no reason for me to watch it. Well, the answer is kind of complicated. Tomorrow, When The War Began is a film I saw as part of a larger effort, from my end, to understand the appeal of nationalism and far-right thinking. Being a Liberal who spent most of his life outside the United States, I’ve never really felt any patriotic fervor, and I’ve never been able to understand how people can embrace the idea of a Border Wall, or banning certain religious groups from entering the country. But, seeing as my government is insistent upon adopting these principles, I decided to find out what, exactly, the appeal of this kind of thinking is. And what better way to do that than analyze art which espouses those ideals?
Well, having just seen Tomorrow, When The War Began, along with Red Dawn, Olympus Has Fallen, and other, similarly nationalistic films, I can kind of understand what the appeal of this type of thinking is. It strips away all the complexity of real life, all the nasty, mirky details that come from thousands of years worth of history, oppression, warfare, and economic necessity, and gives you a very simple “us versus them” story. And I’m not even joking when I say that. We never actually learn what country the kids are fighting, or why Australia has been invaded. That doesn’t matter. They’re just “the bad guys.” They’re “the other.” That’s all you need to know. And that simplicity caused a light to go off in my head. The appeal of fascism, or rightism, if you want to be “politically correct,” is its simplicity. You can draw a clear line through all of its chief tenants; government bad, military good, ethnic group above all else. And that simplicity is appealing. It’s easy to grasp. It’s easy to remember. People can get behind a simple idea. People can chant a simple idea. People can fight for a simple idea. Because, when you actually stop, and think about all the things that make up this world we live in, all the complicated facets of a government or a business, you realize that you can’t really do anything. Because before you can take one step forward, you have to take five other things into consideration. That’s the problem with Liberalism. It’s tenants are too complicated for large groups to chant. If someone were to ask me, right now, what Liberalism was, I wouldn’t know how to answer. Because there are so many different ideologies and subgroups that fall under that umbrella term–environmentalists, socialists, feminists, racial equality activists, disability rights activists, immigrant rights activists, criminal justice reformers–many of which are also divided, and even competing with one another, that it doesn’t have the means to unify into a solid front. Rightism also lends itself very well to dramatic art, which necessitates the existence of a clear protagonist and antagonist, an “us” and “them,” so, naturally, much more media with a right wing stance gets made. And because more media with a right wing stance gets made, precisely because its easier to make, more people get exposed to those viewpoints, and internalize them. Some of the most famous action movies of all time–Die Hard, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, True Lies–have extremely xenophobic and nationalistic narratives. And because so many people have watched them and like them, they start to accept the philosophies they espouse.
Now I realize that this has strayed very far from a discussion of Tomorrow, When The War Began, but, the truth is, this movie is symptomatic of a larger issue. It’s philosophy, it’s easy to grasp, us versus them thinking, is appealing to lots of people. My parents were shocked that Donald Trump could ever win the American Presidency, but they never stopped to ask what about him, and what he stood for, appealed to people. He made politics simple. He made it digestible and easy to get behind, much like how this film does. And while I can’t say I’d recommend this film to anyone, much as how I can’t say I’ll ever agree with right wing ideals, I do recommend that you learn from it. It gives you a crash course in what people like about the right, and, in this day and age, where the right is what’s in charge, that’s going to be an absolute must.
In a dystopian, futuristic Tokyo, the line between humanity and technology has blurred. Virtually everyone is “enhanced” in some way, possessing cybernetic limbs, eyes, or, in the case of the film’s protagonist, an entire body. She is the first of her kind; a human consciousness, or “ghost,” inside an entirely robotic body, or “shell.” As such, she is stronger, faster, and more intelligent than regular people, and has absolutely no fear of death or injury, since she can just be rebuilt after being destroyed. This makes her the ideal police officer, and that’s precisely what she is, a member of the elite Crime Fighting Unit, Section 9, which takes down terrorists that threaten this new world. But when several high-ranking scientists of a prominent robotics firm wind up dead, and she and her teammates start investigating, she learns that there is more to her origin, and the man perpetrating these murders, than meets the eye. Continue reading
Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.
And boy do I love being wrong! What? That doesn’t make sense? well, allow me to explain. I just finished watching the first season of American Crime, yet another anthology series looking to “examine race in our modern society.” And yet, despite its well-worn premise, and lackluster title, I ended up loving the show. It’s truly a fantastic piece of art. I highly recommend it to you all.
The story of a murder in Modesto, California, American Crime stars an ensemble cast, and examines how each of the people connected to the crime react to it. First, there are the people who were directly involved. There’s Antonio “Tony” Gutierez, a teenage boy who works at his father’s auto repair shop. There’s Hector Tontz, a drug dealer and illegal immigrant who rents cars from Tony. There’s Carter Nix, a meth head whom Hector drives around sometimes. And, finally, there’s Aubrey Taylor, Carter’s girlfriend, and accomplice. One night, something goes wrong, and a guy named Matt Skokie winds up dead, and his wife, Gwen, gets put in the hospital. By the end of the show, we’re not entirely sure what happened, or who’s really to blame, but, one thing we do know is that, somehow, Tony, Hector, Carter and Aubrey were involved, and they each get arrested as a result. Their family members then get called in, including Tony’s father, Alonzo, a strict disciplinarian who wants to keep his son on the straight and narrow, Carter’s sister, Aliya, a convert to Islam determined to get her brother off free, Matt Skokie’s divorced parents, Barb and Russ, and Gwen’s parents, Tom and Eve. Each of these people has serious issues, and they only get more messed up as the sordid details of the case come to light. Barb, a delusional racist, doesn’t want to accept that her son was selling drugs. Tom, an old-fashioned Christian, can’t stand the idea that Gwen, his little girl, was sleeping around. And Eve, well, she’s just trying to keep her sanity in check as everything crumbles around her. Needless to say, a great deal of drama unfolds over the course of this 11 episode series, and, if you want to find out what happens, you should give it a look.
As I stated earlier, I really enjoyed this show. As far as writing and acting are concerned, I have no complaints. Every character has depth and backstory. Every character changes over the course of the series. Seriously. I started off the show hating Barb and hector, and, by the end, they’d grown and changed so much that I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for them. And the casting could not have been better. See, very often when you watch a movie or a show, there’ll be that one person who, even if they were fine, just wasn’t up to the same level as the rest of the cast. Those of you who’ve read my review for Suicide Squad (HELL YEAH!) might remember that I praised all the actors, except Jared Leto, whom I believed was really hamming it up. I don’t have that problem here. There’s no single actor in this series who stands out as “bad,” or “just okay.” Everyone is great, and I appreciate that. And, for a show dealing with race and racism, the series does largely manage to avoid racist stereotypes. What I mean by that is, very often, movies that try to comment on racism will make their characters extremely stereotypical so as to make a point. Films like Do The Right Thing, Falling Down, and Crash are populated by individuals that feel more like cartoons than real people. These movies are especially bad when it comes to representing Asians and Asian Americans. See, race movies mostly tend to focus on the relationships between Black people, White people, and Latin people. If Asian people are brought up at all, they’re either a background element, or someone that the other characters can mock. Most of the time, they’re shown as being incompetent , rude, and, no matter what, incapable of speaking the most basic English. That’s not the case with American Crime. Yes, none of the main cast is Asian, but, Barb and Russ’s living son, Mark, is getting married to a woman named Richelle, who is Asian American, and is actually fairly non stereotypical. She speaks perfect English, is from Oklahoma, and is in the Army. It’s rare to see a character like her get written, especially in a show that’s directly addressing racism, and I was very impressed. Wish more writers would create characters like her. So, yeah, good writing, good acting, and good representation. Well done, American Crime.
With regards to filmmaking, though, I do have some comments. They’re not necessarily complaints, just observations. One is the fact that, this show is shot in a very odd way. What I mean by that is, most of the time, directors will shoot a conversation between characters as a series of close ups on the various speakers faces, or with a wide shot, where you can see both actors at the same time. American Crime doesn’t do that. Very often, whenever a conversation is being had, the camera will only focus on one person’s face, and either the other speaker will be off screen, or will be blurred out so that you can’t see them. What this does is make the conversations feel less like conversations, and more like long showcases of how particular characters are feeling. Which is fine, and maybe was the filmmaker’s intent, but, still, it’s hard to look at one person’s face, non-stop, for an entire seven minute conversation. The other comment I have with regards to filmmaking is that, while the musical score does its job just fine, accenting particular moments with proper amounts of pathos, it’s not particularly memorable. I honestly couldn’t hum it back to you if you asked me. And that’s fine, not every score needs to be as catchy as John William’s Superman theme, but, still. It’s better if your musical score can stand out.
All in all, though, I think American Crime is a very well done series, with strong writing, and strong performances. I highly recommend it, and have decided to give it a 9 out of 10. Give it a look.
Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, ANd Views Are My Game.
If you follow my blog, then you know that the inclusion and representation of Asians in mainstream media is something that’s very important to me. I’ve written at great length here about the limited roles that are available for Asian actors, and discussed the stereotypes that exist, and are still spread about us, in the West. But what I might not have mentioned is that, for all the bad that’s out there with regards to representation, there is also some good. There are films out there, made by Asians and non-Asian alike, that show us as nuanced, well-rounded individuals, and that tell our stories with respect and care. A few of them have even become critically and financially successful, and today, I’d like to share them with you all. Now, keep in mind, this list is entirely opinion based, and the films I discuss here are not being ordered from best to worst, or vice versa. Some are comedies. Some are dramas. Some are new. Some are old. Whatever their genre or time period, what’s consistent about each of them is that they tell the Asian American story with the level of respect and complexity that it deserves, and I truly believe that you all would enjoy yourselves if you gave them a look. With that said, let’s dive right in to my top 10 list of Awesome Asian-American films!
1. Advantageous, by Jennifer Phang:
A story of sacrifice, love, and the bond between mothers and daughters, this 2014 sci-fi drama is set in the near future, where human beings have developed the technology to implant their consciences into new bodies. The protagonist, Gwen Ko, is the chief spokesperson for a cosmetics company. Due to the fact that she’s now in her 40s, the company decides that she’s too old to be their face, even though she’s better at the job than any other candidate. Gwen tries to find work elsewhere, but quickly discovers that this is a future where women are expected to stay in the house. So, to maintain her affluent lifestyle, and pay for her daughter’s expensive private school, Gwen decides to undergo a procedure in which her conscience will be transferred into a younger body. In this way, she’ll be able to keep acting as the chief spokesperson for the company, and her daughter will be able to get a good education, and thus be able to avoid being abused by men. But not all is what it seems to be, as Gwen quickly discovers that she risks losing a whole lot more than her face by undergoing this procedure. Advantageous is smart, touching, and highly relevant in this day and age, where so much emphasis is placed on youth and beauty. It’s also a unique film to watch, because it’s one of the few sci-fi pictures directed by an Asian person. (Nearly all the movies made about, or by, Asian people, are dramas set in the real world, so a genre piece of this nature is highly unusual). The bottom line is, Advantageous is a great, thought-provoking piece, and you all shouldn’t hesitate to give it a look.
2. White Frog, by Quentin Lee:
Nick Young is a 15-year-old Chinese-American boy with Aspergers who’s spent his whole life living in his older brother, Chaz’s, shadow. When Chaz is tragically killed by a reckless driver, however, Nick ends up discovering a number of shocking things about him, not least of which was the fact that he was secretly gay. As the story progresses, and Nick, his parents, and Chaz’s friends and lovers go through their various stages of grief, they find themselves growing closer, and learning the true meanings of love, family, and acceptance, emerging stronger and happier at the end than they were before. On the one hand, this film could easily be written off as sentimental, politically-correct propaganda. The fact that the film is not only focusing on a Chinese-American family–something you rarely see in mainstream movies–but on disability and homosexuality as well, might make it sound like the filmmakers are simply trying to not offend anybody by including as many minorities as possible. But when you actually sit down and watch the picture, see the heart and care that Quentin Lee is putting into every frame, it becomes hard not to enjoy it. None of the characters seem like tokens or cut outs. They feel like people. And with veteran actors like Law & Order SVU‘s BD Wong and The Last Emperor‘s Joan Chen lending credibility to the picture, you know it can’t all be bad.
3. Man From Reno, by Dave Boyle:
The film begins on a cold, fog-shrouded night in a town just south of San Francisco. Sheriff Paul Del Moral is making his usual rounds when, out of nowhere, an unknown man smashes into his windshield. Startled, the Sheriff brings the stranger, an unidentified Japanese man in his 20s, to the hospital, and tries to find out who he is and where he came from. We then cut to Tokyo, where successful crime-writer Aki Akahori is on tour to promote her new, and final, book. Dissatisfied with the whole affair, and suffering from depression after the death of her lover Kenji, Aki decides to run off to San Francisco to visit some friends. While there, she encounters a debonair stranger named Akira, who claims to be from Reno. The two talk, and seem to be forming a connection, when, out of nowhere, Akira vanishes. And as if this weren’t confusing enough, Sheriff DelMoral’s mystery man in the hospital disappears as well. Confused, and eager to understand just what the hell happened, the two parties begin investigating the matters, eventually crossing paths and joining forces. With its slow pacing, rich atmosphere, and ambient soundtrack, Man From Reno is a modern masterpiece of noir. But beyond its style and enthralling mystery, the film also possesses a surprising amount of dramatic heft. Ayako Fujitani, whom plays Aki, manages to bring a great deal of depth and range to the character–going from tough and cynical, to depressed and lonely, to witty and cheerful, and all while remaining very subtle with her expressions and inflections. One of the most powerful scenes in the entire movie is one that doesn’t have any dialogue at all. It takes place shortly after she arrives in San Francisco, and involves her lying in the bathtub, staring at a razor blade. She doesn’t look overly sad or angry in it–just curious. Like “What would it feel like if I slit my wrists with this blade?” The fact that she doesn’t mug, that she doesn’t try to really over sell the fact that her character is depressed and considering suicide, and plays it more like she’s become so numb that nothing really bothers her, is both terrifying and brilliant. We don’t know what she’s thinking in that scene, and that makes it all the more tension filled. But with regards to representation, the film is also great. All the Asian characters feel fleshed out and well-rounded, and this is especially satisfying to watch when you consider the fact that the film’s director/screenwriter is White. Then again, the director/writer in question, Dave Boyle, tends to make films with largely Asian casts, so I guess it’s not too surprising. But, back to my original point; Man From Reno is a stylish, well-acted, well-shot mystery with great characters, and I know that you all would enjoy it if you gave it a look.
4. The Motel, directed by Michael Kang:
Thirteen-year-old Ernest Chin’s life is devoted to working at his family’s hourly-rate motel, where a steady stream of prostitutes, johns, and various other shady characters come and go. Abandoned by his father, he lives with his mother, grandfather, and younger sister Katie. The film is a loosely assembled series of vignettes examining the difficulty of adolescence. Recurring themes include painful encounters with a bully named Roy and Ernest’s persistent feelings of being misunderstood by his family. Ernest also blindly explores his incipient sexuality, which includes nursing a crush on Christine, an older girl who works at a Chinese restaurant nearby. Ernest’s life changes after he meets the newest guest at the motel: a self-destructive yet charming KoreanAmerican man named Sam Kim, who is caught in a downward spiral after estrangement from his wife. This film is quirky, memorable, and deeply heartfelt. It’s one of the best character studies I’ve ever seen. And unlike some other indie films–cough, cough, Juno, cough, cough–which try to set themselves apart from mainstream movies by being overly ironic and hip, this film stays highly grounded. All I can say is that if you want to laugh, cry, and watch some really good acting, give this movie a look.
5. Better Luck Tomorrow, directed by Justin Lin:
Loosely inspired by the real-life murder of Oakland County teen Stuart Tay, this sleek, high intensity crime drama tells the story of four over-achieving Asian-American High School students, who turn to a life of petty crime and drug use just to feel alive again. This film is awesome, and for many different reasons. Firstly, it’s well-acted, and well-shot. Secondly, it boasts an all-star cast–including Sung Kang from the Fast & Furious franchise, and John Cho from the Star Trek and Harold & Kumar movies. Thirdly, it is helmed by Justin Lin, whom directed four of the seven Fast & Furious movies. And finally, and this is what’s most important to me, it doesn’t emasculate its male, Asian characters. So often when you watch movies or TV shows these days, Asian men are portrayed as wimpy, nerdy side-kicks. Raj in The Big Bang Theory, Hiro in Heroes–the list goes on. Asian men are never shown as strong, confident, or sexually appealing. I cannot think of a single, successful, mainstream movie or TV series in which an Asian man was the romantic lead. This film goes the exact opposite route. The guys in this film are, well, guys. They drink, swear, talk about girls, do drugs, and so on. They’re shown as regular people, and that, just by itself, is extraordinary. Why don’t we have more movies like this? It’s not like it bombed at the box office, or was panned by critics. Quite the opposite, actually. It made more than 12 times its $250,000 budget in ticket sales, and most critics, like Roger Ebert, loved it. All I can say is that if you want to watch an exciting, well-acted, well-shot movie that dares to show Asian men as men, don’t hesitate to give this movie a look.
6. Saving Face, directed by Alice Wu:
It’s a sad fact, but homosexuality is something that is often not discussed, or embraced, in the Chinese-American community. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule–when my Aunt came out to my Grandfather, he welcomed her with open arms–but, for the most part, gay and lesbian relationships are not explored in Asian-American cinema or literature. Saving Face, a 2004 romantic comedy about a young Chinese-American surgeon struggling to balance the needs of her pregnant, unwed mother, and her dancer girlfriend, is one of the few Asian films to do so. And my god is it glorious! The humor is great, the acting is superb, and the directing is astounding, especially when you consider that this film was helmed by a first-time director. Each scene is shot and choreographed with the utmost thought and care. Every single frame drips with raw, pure emotion. And lest you think I exaggerate, the stars of this film–Michelle Krusiec, Lynn Chen, and Joan Chen–have all publicly stated that they found the process of making this movie to be one of the most enjoyable and intimate experiences of their professional careers. And, well, you can’t argue with that, now can you? The bottom line is, Saving Face is definitely worth watching. Do so!
7. Chan Is Missing, directed by Wayne Wang:
This is the original Asian-American film. What I mean by that is, it is the first picture portraying us as complex, multi-faceted individuals to gain critical and commercial success outside the community, and to generate a demand for more works from Asian-American artists. And lest you think I exaggerate with that statement, in 1995, Chan is Missing was inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” It tells the story of two San Francisco Chinatown taxi drivers, Jo and Steve, trying to find a man named Chan who owes them some money. As they interview various locals about the missing man, they get a fractured, even contradictory portrait of him, mirroring the complexities of the polyglot Chinese-American community he allegorizes. Shot in black and white, and containing elements of the film noir genre, the movie manages to combine a surprising amount of heart with humor. And what makes it even better is that, while it does seek to educate its non-Asian viewers about the real lives of Chinese-Americans, it doesn’t try to tell them that we’re all alike, even in goodness. A great deal of the film contains imagery of faces being blotted, or washed out, so that you can’t actually see them, letting us know that it’s never all right to generalize, even if it is in a positive manner. All of us are individuals, and all of us should be regarded as such. Just because we have the same skin color, or ethnic background, doesn’t mean we like the same things, think the same way, or behave in the same manner. We don’t even necessarily want to be treated the same way, and the film touches upon that as well. The final shot is of a photograph of the missing Chan, with Jo’s voice-over stating, “Here’s a picture of Chan Hung, and I still can’t see him,” implying that our community is ever growing, changing and evolving, and that we don’t even know who we are or who we’re becoming some times. So, if you want to see a culturally, historically, and aesthetically unique work that is both humorous and heartfelt, put this film at the top of your Netflix queue.
8. Mississippi Masala, directed by Mira Nair:
The story of one family’s quest to find a place where they belong, Mississippi Masala begins with Ugandan dictator Idi Amin expelling all Asians from his country. One of the newly stateless thousands is a man named Jay, who decides to start a new life in America. He moves his family to rural Mississippi, and there, his wife opens a liquor store, he aimlessly sues the Ugandan government for his property, and his daughter begins an illicit romance with a local man (Denzel Washington). Needless to say, a great deal of hijinks ensue in this smart, sexy, and highly touching comedy-drama. Though its marketed as a love story, at its heart, Mississippi Masala is an exploration of identity and societal alienation. All this can be found in the character of Jay. Jay was born in Uganda, and therefore identifies first and foremost as an African. The Ugandan government, however, tells him that, being ethnically Indian, he can never truly be an African. Then, when he and his family moved to America, he tries to become American. But, once again, society tells him that, because he has the wrong skin color, he can never truly be a member of it. There’s something deeply tragic, and deeply relatable, about his plight. It’s one that many, if not all immigrants, face–not knowing where you belong. My grandfather, for instance, came to America from China in 1949, and faced a great deal of discrimination. People wouldn’t hire him. They wouldn’t serve him. They constantly reminded him that, because he wasn’t White and because he spoke with an accent, he would never truly be an American. And then, when he went back to China to visit after 20 years, people treated him like an outsider, mocking his odd American customs, and his old-fashioned manner of speaking. As I watched Jay go through all this in the film, I couldn’t help but tear up a bit, because I saw so much of my grandfather in him. That’s how you know that this is a great movie, the fact that it can effect its audience members on such a personal level. So, to sum it all up, Mississippi Masala is funny, touching, daring, and deeply relatable. And who wouldn’t want a movie to be all those things?
9. The Joy Luck Club, directed by Wayne Wang:
If Chan Is Missing was the first Asian-American film, The Joy Luck Club was the first Asian-American film to become a huge hit. Seriously. This movie, and the novel that it was based off of, made tons of money, and more or less created the standard for what other Asian-American works of art should be like. And while I don’t think either the book or the film is a perfect representation of our community, I have to admire them for what they are, a movie and a novel made by, and about, Asian people that non-Asian audiences flocked to see. That’s pretty rare, even nowadays. But, concerning plot, Four older women, all Chinese immigrants living in San Francisco, meet regularly to play mahjong, eat, and tell stories. Each of these women has an adult Chinese-American daughter. The film reveals the hidden pasts of the older women and their daughters and how their lives are shaped by the clash of Chinese and American cultures as they strive to understand their family bonds and one another. The film is well-acted, the stories are heart-wrenching, and it’s kind of cool to see a movie with an all-star Asian-American cast. Seriously! Almost everyone in this film has gone on to do other stuff. There’s Ming Na Wen, who went on to star in Mulan, ER, and Agents Of Shield. There’s Lauren Tom, who became known for voice acting in Futurama, King Of The Hill, and Codename: Kids Next Door. There’s Tamilyn Tomida, whom you all might recognize from The Karate Kid: Part 2, and The Day After Tomorrow. Even the women playing the mothers have had successful careers. Tsai Chin, for instance, whom portrays Tamilyn Tomida’s mother, has been in two Bond films, 1967’s You Only Live Twice, where she was the Bond girl, and 2006’s Casino Royale, where she had a minor role as a poker player. The bottom line is, The Joy Luck Club is a well-acted, well-written work with great actors that is guaranteed to leave you in tears, and in the best possible way.
10. The Wedding Banquet, directed by Ang Lee:
Though he’d earned critical praise with his debut feature, Pushing Hands, legendary director Ang Lee first won over the audiences of America with this hilarious and heartfelt romantic comedy. The story of a gay Taiwanese-American man who marries a mainland Chinese woman to placate his parents and get her a green card, the film mixes a surprising amount of drama with screwball comedy. As with The Joy Luck Club, The Wedding Banquet was one of the first films made by, and about, Asian people that Americans flocked to see. And while it does seem a little bit dated now, it is still a well-crafted, highly-enjoyable film to watch. There are glimpses in it of the greatness that would appear later on in Lee’s career, and as with Saving Face, it is nice to see a film that deals with homosexuality within the Asian-American community. All I can say is that if you want to watch a movie and feel good, give this film a look. It will definitely make you smile.
Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game!
And, until recently, I didn’t think telepathy or ESP were real. Then I saw Master Of None, the new Netflix series created by, and starring, Aziz Ansari, and, well, now I’m a believer. Seriously! As I was watching it, all I could think was that Aziz and series co-creator Alan Yang had somehow hijacked my brain, because the show literally contains everything I’ve ever said or written about race, technology, the media, sexism, and even the entertainment industry. It’s brilliant! And what makes it even better is that it never comes off as preachy. The show is a comedy, and in many, many instances, the jokes are as funny, and thoughtful, as it’s possible for them to get.
But, for those of you who want to actually know what the heck this show is about, Master Of None tells the story of Dev, a struggling actor living in New York. Each episode of the first season deals with a different issue–ranging from parenting, to marriage, to the immigrant experience, to the limited roles available for non-white actors and women, to aging, even. It manages to combine a surprising amount of heart with really funny, really thoughtful jokes. To give you an idea, in one episode, Dev is talking to his friends about a racist e-mail that a producer of a show he auditioned for sent around. His friend Denise, who is Black, suggest he should leak the e-mail to the press. Dev is hesitant to do so, saying, “I don’t know. I feel like you only really risk getting people angry if you say something anti-Black or anti-gay. Like, if Paula Dean had said, ‘I won’t serve Indian people,’ no one would have gotten upset.” Denise retorts by saying that Paula Dean didn’t really get into trouble, “she gave some fake ass apology, and then went right back to making fatty foods.” Dev responds by saying,”Yeah, but at least she had to give an apology. She had to meet with Al Sharpton, and have tea with him or whatever. That was her punishment. Who do Indian people have for you all to apologize to? Deepak Chopra?” The fact that lines like that are being included, and laughed at, in a mainstream American TV show gives me so much hope for the future. Add to that the fact that there is another, highly-acclaimed comedy series starring a predominantly Asian-American cast–Fresh Off The Boat–on a major television network right now, and I’m one happy camper.
The bottom line is, Master Of None is awesome. Everyone I’ve showed it to–my classmates, my roommates, my girlfriend–loves it. It’s funny. It’s thoughtful. It’s not too long. If you’re looking to laugh hard and learn a lot, give this series a look! It’s a 9 out of 10.