31 Days of #AAPIFilmz (Pt. II)
If you've seen Karyn Kusama's directorial debut film, Girlfight then you would know that she's been killin' the film game since day one. It's no wonder that the film won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance back in 2000 and was lauded by critics and audiences everywhere. The story follows Diana Guzman, a troubled teen in Brooklyn who decides to channel her aggression by training to become a boxer. This was Michelle Rodriguez's breakthrough role and one that solidified her as a promising talent. Diana was unapologetically fierce and always down to fight gender discrimination both in her public and private life! And that's also one of the many reasons why Diana Guzman is a certified Badass Femmes! (Also see Jennifer's Body & The Invitation)
I don't think I even remember any science-fiction starring Asian-Americans in the forefront besides Jennifer Phang's Advantageous. It could definitely be the first! In a near-future city where soaring opulence overshadows economic hardship, Gwen and her daughter Jules do all they can do to hold onto their joy together, despite the in stability surrounding their world. Adapted by her 23-minute short, Phang presents a thought-provoking and quietly disturbing sci-fi drama that touches on what happens to females as mothers, workers, and as simply humans, once civilization is in decline. It might be a hit or miss to some people but if you let the film's message marinate, you will see the beauty and tragedy of what the future holds for us.
It was in college where I discovered my passion for documentaries when I saw Benson Lee's breakdancing doc, Planet B-Boy. The top b-boys from Germany, Japan, South Korea, France, and the United States all rigorously train for their version of the breakdancing Olympics called Battle of the Year. It's an crash course on the history of breakdancing as well as an insight on each team's own cultural inspirations, history, and motivation behind their individually distinct dance styles. Exhilarating & passionate, Planet B-Boy will make you rethink breakdancing as more than just a dance but a true art form. (Also see Seoul Searching)
Andrew Ahn perfectly captures a specific corner of the Korean-American experience set in Koreatown, Los Angeles, with his directorial debut, Spa Night. Watching Spa Night as a Korean-American, the film hit too close to home because my problems never felt more validated until I saw it on the big screen. I saw myself in David played by Joe Seo who delivers a powerfully restrained performance, who feels the burden of exploring oneself while trying to abide to familial obligations. Ahn’s acute direction is finely tuned and hones on the specificity of the never before seen culture and stories of second-gen Asian Americans and that we desperately so need.
All of So Yong Kim's films should be on this list but her most recent work, Lovesong, starring Riley Keough and Jena Malone is just another example why Kim is the reigning queen of extreme intimacy. It's a difficult art to translate interpersonal intimacy onto the big screen for any filmmaker but Kim does it so masterfully, she takes it to another level. Lovesong, follows a relationship between two friends whose bonds deepen during an impromptu road trip. The premise sounds vague and even the trailer only shows a glimpse of the breathtaking transcendental beauty that lies within the film. I got to catch the film at Sundance's NEXT Fest and the film completely broke me with it's delicate portrait of the ebbs and flows of female friendship. There is no one that can quite tell a story like Kim can and I'm thankful for that.
Chan is Missing
There would be no Asian-American cinema if there wasn't Wayne Wong's Chan is Missing. Shot in black and white film, this indie noir story follows Jo, a cab driver in San Francisco's Chinatown and his nephew Steve who tries to track down Chan, after Chan disappears with their money. For the first time on screen, we get to finally see an "ABC" (American-Born Chinese) story told in their own voice as we get an all access pass into the mysterious and often misunderstood terrain and people of Chinatown. It is the simplicity of the plot and authenticity of its characters that makes this movie such a classic film. Even after 20 years, Chan Is Missing doesn't feel dated, it's laugh-out-loud dialogue (they actually uttered the words FOB!) and moody tone rather captures why Chinatown continues to be an enigma because unlike most places, Chinatown runs by its own rules.