31 Days of #AAPIFilmz (Pt. I)
Happy Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month aka #AAPIHM! Everyday this month, I'm going to list my fav AAPI films about Asian Americans & by Asian Americans. I've created the hashtag #AAPIFilmz to create more awareness and share my love for these iconic and underrated gems!
EDIT (5.1.19): It’s been 3 years since I made this list and re-visiting it made me wonder, exactly what is Asian American cinema? After seeing more AA films, I realize that Asian American cinema is a film that is not only made by a person of Asian American/Pacific Islander heritage but the story itself also has to touch on our cultural experiences or we at least have to be in the forefront of those stories. With that said, I will be removing and adding more films to this list accordingly!
Better Luck Tomorrow
Of course Justin Lin's Better Luck Tomorrow is one of my favorite AAPI films. After the film was met with deafening buzz when it premiered at Sundance Film Festival, I knew I had to watch it. A friend and I decided to watch it one really late night. We were both 15 at the time and we didn't understand why there was so much praise because it felt so similar to our own mundane lives at the time. It was only after years past that I realized how singularly significant the film was, not because it mirrored my own life but because finally there was a film highlighted a part of Asian American identity, never before fully explored on screen. Till this day, there hasn't yet been a film made that touches on the nuances of the pressures, expectations, & stereotypes of being Asian-American in this day & age.
So Yong Kim's Treeless Mountain was a breath of fresh air I didn't know I needed. She captures life as it should be seen: unfiltered, trivial, and at times slow but it is in these special moments that we can see the beauty of life as they truly are. The two young actresses were incredible to watch as they carried this film with delicate intimacy and poignancy.
Farah Goes Bang
Meera Menon's directorial debut feature, Farah Goes Bang tells an important female-centric story about what it means to be a multicultural person in modern America. This coming-of-age story focuses on three best friends' intertwining lives that explores female sexuality, cultural identity, and friendship in the backdrop of the very specific era of John Kerry's ill-fated 2004 presidential campaign. Its timely story speaks volumes on the pains of growing up as well as the state of the country itself.
American Revolutionary: The Evolution Of Grace Lee Boggs
Grace Lee's American Revolutionary: The Evolution Of Grace Lee Boggs is essential viewing for all activists across the globe. I didn't know who Grace Lee Boggs was prior to viewing the doc so I got a crash course in how she became one of the most iconic and influential figures in the Black Power movement. I feel so fortunate to have been in her presence before she passed away last year. The doc will inspire, empower, and educate you to start standing up for what you believe in, no matter how old you are. (See all of Grace Lee’s films especially The Grace Lee Project)
After premiering at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Nanfu Wang's Hooligan Sparrow went straight to LAAPFF and won the Grand Jury and Best Director prize. It follows the women's rights activist Hooligan Sparrow, who has had a target on her head from the Chinese government since day one. Wang sticks by Sparrow through the most dangerous of times as they are constantly harassed by thugs and policemen alike. In your face & urgent, Hooligan Sparrow shows proof that documentaries can be an effective and dangerous weapon against oppression. Look out for Wang because she is one fearless filmmaker that dares to push the boundaries and make a difference.
With the Olympics coming up, how can I forget the incredible documentary, Top Spin?! We follow three teenage American table tennis champions on their way to the 2012 Summer Olympic Games from their rigorous training to their final battles. Filled with super-sonic power and motivation, these young athletes defy the odds of becoming an Olympian and make you wish you were this talented when you were their age. Directors Mina T. Son and Sara Newens crafts a swiftly edited, concise, and thrilling doc that'll ultimately make you a fan of Table Tennis and these kids.
Let's get real, when I first watched Michael Kang's debut film The Motel at the tender age of 16, I just didn't get it. I didn't get how this seemingly unremarkable story about a boy living in a motel in upstate New York could be remotely relatable to a SoCal gal like me. In retrospect, I see now that its trivial and honest portrayal of adolescence is what makes the film such a vital and authentic piece of Asian-American cinema. 13-year-old Ernest Chin is awkward with girls, bullied by his white neighbor, and fatherless. But with the help of Sam Kim (Sung Kang), maybe just maybe, Ernest will be able to navigate into manhood despite his unfortunate circumstances in life.
In Football We Trust
Set in the backdrop of a predominantly Mormon and White town, In Football We Trust follows the journey of four Polynesian high school students as they chase their life long and life-changing dream of attaining professional recruitments. Filmed over the span of four years, first time filmmakers Tony Vainuku and Erika Cohn chronicles these NFL hopeful's struggles and pressures to balance cultural and familial expectations in order to find an ticket out from gang violence and poverty. In moments of adolescence, and simply growing up, the greatest challenge for these four boys is the arduous and sobering journey of the high stakes that come with trying to achieve your dreams all while flourishing out of their adolescence. In no time, they are faced with the harsh realities that maybe, Football it is not all it's cracked up to be. (Full Review)
Ping Pong Playa
Ping Pong Playa is exactly the kind of Asian-American comedy that I've been waiting for! Probably because of the fact that minus the story being centered around an Asian family, the core of the film unraveled like any other low-brow underdog sport film that's released in mainstream media today. Christopher "C-Dub" Wang is a wannabe baller and a supreme slacker but he must step up to the plate when his family's business and their ping pong champion reputation is on the line. Laugh out loud hilarious and a damn good leisure watch, I hoped other people liked it too. But in the context of knowing that this film is Academy Award winning filmmaker, Jessica Yu's first narrative feature after working on groundbreaking and daring documentaries, I can see why people would feel disappointed in her shift in projects. Regardless, seeing this NBA-loving slacker turned ping-pong playa reminded me so much of the AzN guys I've grown up with, I just sat back and laughed my ass off.
If you haven't seen Ryan Miyamoto and Samantha Futerman's Twinsters already, you have not felt, experienced, and seen beauty of what this crazy life has to offer! Sam Futerman's world gets turned upside down when one day she receives an unexpected and life-changing email from a French fashion student Anais Bordier, claiming that they might be twins. Twinsters presents the surprisingly intimate and emotionally-potent portrait of two disparate but connected women, following their journey together to find solace within themselves and to reclaim their heritage--no matter how incredulous their circumstances might have been. It's one of the best documentaries I've seen in recent memory that'll have you reaching for the nearest tissue. Guarantee.
Crush the Skull
Viet Nguyen's Crush the Skull is proof that you can finesse the art of creating a refined and successful horedy film! Horror + Comedy, duh! One last job, they said. They were going to go to vacation after this, they said. Yeah right! In Crush the Skull, a group of thieves becomes trapped in the home of a deranged serial killer. Perfecting the horedy genre by a seamless blend of slapstick comedy and horror tropes, Viet Nguyen and co-writer Christopher Dinh creates belly-achingly hilarious and nail-bitingly frightening film that'll have you hollering and jumping from your seat from giddy terror. Get ready to bring your weapon of choice because you're gonna need to crush someone's skull!
You're either going to love or hate Joseph Kahn's batshit crazy slasher/high school film, Detention. The mastermind behind (possibly) every iconic pop culture moment in the last two decades finally tried his hand in narrative filmmaking and it wasn't until his second feature where his cinematic voice was perfected and understood by most. A bit of Breakfast Club + Prom Night + E.V.E.R.Y. other teen film, Detention centers around a copycat killer named after a movie villain named Cinderhella who is stalking the student body at Grizzy Lake High School and it's up to a group of kids serving detention to solve the crime. Going at a supersonic speed and never letting up even for our ADHD+ brains, Detention pumps out every movie trope and pop cultural references in milliseconds, serving us a plate of severely deranged and absurd fun!!! (Also see Bodied)
Meet the Patels
Like so many first generation immigrant kids, Ravi Patel was getting harassed by his parents on a daily to get married to a nice Indian girl. With Ravi's sister Geeta Patel co-directing with him and behind the camera, Meet the Patels is indeed a family affair as we follow his journey to find a wife to make his family happy. What starts out as an enlightening intro to Indian culture 101, soon becomes a story about navigating modern love: trying dating apps, attending weddings, even participating in a Patel Matrimonial Convention (Gotta see it to believe). Humorous as it is outrageously charming, Meet the Patels ultimately shows the struggles and cultural expectations most immigrant kids face today along with the million other obstacles of trying to find your one and only true love in this mad mad world!