CAAMFest37: Love Boat: Taiwan – Q&A after SF Premiere

It was my great honor to attend the San Francisco premiere of the documentary Love Boat: Taiwan at CAAMFest37:

“Fearless, inventive and outspoken are a few words to describe CAAMFest37 Spotlight Honoree Valerie Soe. From the 80’s to now, Soe’s films and video installations have been a benchmark for Asian American feminist activism and experimental storytelling. CAAM will proudly showcase Soe’s newest documentary, LOVE BOAT: TAIWAN; a feature-length documentary, looks into of one of the longest running summer programs in the world.

LOVE BOAT: TAIWAN revisits the program’s participants and explores the history and popularity of this well-known program, sponsored by the Taiwanese government, which takes place every summer in Taiwan.”

Ever since writing my blog post about my experience on the Love Boat in the summer of 1993, I had always hoped a documentary would be made about this iconic program. So I’m glad that as a producer, an interviewee (very brief interview …) and archival video footage provider of the trip, I was able to experience the San Francisco premiere of the film to a a sold out theater and see the crowd’s enthusiastic reaction to the documentary.

Afterwards, there was Q&A with the Producer/Director Valerie Soe, as well as interviewee Kristina Wong, and others involved in the film, including yours truly.

The film has one more film festival in Taiwan to “premiere” in May, then plans for distribution are still up in the air, but Soe will probably be making the film festival and college tour of the film in the near future before hopefully wider distribution plans.

If you haven’t seen the trailer yet, here’s you chance to see what the documentary is all about:

I’ll be sure to blog about the documentary’s wider release – hopefully online – in the future.

Netflix’s ‘Always Be My Maybe’ Coming May 30th Starring Ali Wong and Randall Park

I’ve only seen comedian Ali Wong as a stand up comic, either live in San Francisco or her two Netflix comedy specials, Baby Cobra and Hard Knock Wife, so I’m eager to see Wong as well as Randall Park co-star in the Netflix original romantic comedy film, ‘Always Be My Maybe,”:

“Everyone assumed Sasha and Marcus would wind up together except for Sasha and Marcus. Reconnecting after 15 years, the two start to wonder … maybe?”


I’ve always been a fan of actor Randall Park and have been following him ever since July 2008 when I first spotted him in a Wells Fargo commercial. I think the last romantic comedy I saw Park in was ‘The People I’ve Slept With.” Other well known actors of Asian American descent include Daniel Dae Kim and another star who you can see at the end of the trailer.

Looking forward to May 30th to seeing the film!

BTS Takes Over America & the World

I hate to admit it, but I hadn’t listened to one song or seen one of their music videos before BTS made their appearance on ‘Saturday Night Live’ on Saturday, April 13th, 2019 – the first ever for a K-pop band.

As CBS Sunday Morning described the sensation:

“One of the most popular Korean pop groups in the world is the boy band known as BTS (for “Beyond the Scene”) – the first Korean act to sell out a U.S. stadium; the first K-Pop group to present at the Grammy Awards; and the first Korean pop band to be featured on Time Magazine’s Most Influential List. Seth Doane interviews the group’s members – seven young men between the ages of 21 and 26 who consider themselves family, who’ve trained, composed music and grown up together, and who all live in the same house – and goes behind the scenes in a Seoul rehearsal studio.”

I have to say that I’m quite taken by their dance moves and kind of like their K-pop sound. Take a look at their performances from SNL:

and their second performance:

I really like the official music video of ‘Boy With Luv

BTS is taking the U.S. by storm, as well as the world, as they kick off their extended world tour in May in U.S, Brazil, England, France, and Japan.

Michelle Kwan Joins Biden Presidential Campaign Staff

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I'm thrilled that @joebiden announced that he’s running for President! I know that there is already a field of incredible democratic candidates and the 2020 election is so important we cannot lose sight of the big picture. Ultimately, I believe that the Vice President is the ideal candidate to unify our country with his experience, knowledge and track record of fighting for Americans. He has worked side by side with @barackobama to pass the Affordable Care Act, which expanded health insurance to 20 million people and protected people with pre-existing conditions. He championed marriage equality and remains at the forefront of ensuring LGBTQ rights. He has tackled climate change and pollution to protect our environment. He has earned the respect of the international community and, through his leadership, he will strengthen our relationships with our allies and stand up to meet rising global challenges. Most importantly, VP Biden has a reputation for getting things done – from implementing the most comprehensive and progressive investments in our nation’s infrastructure and clean energy industries, to writing the Violence Against Women Act, to taking on the the NRA and winning (twice!). He’s the candidate that I’m proud to support because he will do what it takes to restore the soul of this nation, rebuild the backbone of the country, and unify America.

A post shared by Michelle Kwan (@michellewkwan) on

When former Vice President Joe Biden announced his bid to run for President in 2020, no one was too surprised since he’d been thinking about it for a while. And I wasn’t entirely too surprised that Michelle Kwan was joining his campaign, since she had alluded to potentially joining another presidential campaign (like she had with Hillary back for the 2016 campaign) during Q&A at a talk she was at recently at Yale.

Michelle made her announcement via Instagram, her preferred social media outlet:

“In an Instagram post, the world champion figure skater wrote that she was “thrilled that @joebiden announced that he’s running for President!” “I know that there is already a field of incredible democratic candidates and the 2020 election is so important we cannot lose sight of the big picture. Ultimately, I believe that the Vice President is the ideal candidate to unify our country with his experience, knowledge and track record of fighting for Americans,” Kwan wrote, citing Biden’s work with former President Obama to pass the Affordable Care Act, better known as ObamaCare.”

I like Biden and I wish he had run in 2016. Although Biden is currently leading and has been leading in the polls before he even announced, I don’t think he’ll have an easy time getting the nomination or even win it. He has the feeling of an establishment candidate (which he is) when the Democratic base is looking anti-establishment. But in the end, all Democrats want the same thing this time around in 2020 – to defeat President Donald Trump.

I thought that Michelle would have been supporting a female California candidate and Asian American, Senator Kamala Harris. Perhaps Michelle will join her campaign if Biden doesn’t win the nomination.  I’m sure Michelle got to know Biden when she worked at the State Department and that many of Hillary’s presidential staff campaign are working on the Biden campaign, since Hillary and Biden were good friends. In any case, I look forward to meeting Michelle again on the campaign trail for Biden!

Penguin Classics to Publish Editions of Four Asian American Novels

In honor of Asian American Heritage month, Penguin Books is publishing four Asian American novels in their Penguin Classics imprint. The four books include America is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan, The Hanging on Union Square by H.T. Tsiang, East Goes West by Younghill Kang, and No-No Boy by John Okada. It’s sad to say that I haven’t read any of them even though America is in the Heart has been on my to read list for decades. I had heard of No-No Boy but not the other two books.

All four were originally published over 60 years ago.  This cover from No-No Boy is from a University of Washington Edition published in 1976, nineteen years after the novel first appeared in 1957.  The classics editions will all have new forwards and afterwards by contemporary writers and are scheduled to be released on May 21.

(photo credit:  Nancy Wong,  licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)

Asian American Commercial Watch: Essilor Ultimate Lens Package – Eyezen Single Vision Lenses

While watching the March Madness game of Texas Tech vs. Gonzaga, I caught this commercial:

“Learn more about how you can get $100 instantly* when you purchase the Essilor Ultimate Lens PackageTM and a second pair of qualifying lenses at www.instant100.com.”

I’ve never heard of Essilor, but the commercial definitely caught my eye (pun intended) with a tall Asian American man.  It was good to see an Asian American shown as creative and making an impact at work, although making him a gamer seemed stereotypical.  Personally, when it comes to buying prescription glasses, I’m not necessarily drawn to brands but style – which could be of any brand.

PBS: ‘‘An American Story: Norman Mineta’’ Airing on May 20th

Back in May of 2018, I had the great honor of screening the premiere of Norman Mineta & His Legacy: An American Story and meeting Mineta at CAAMFest36.

The documentary is scheduled for national broadcast on PBS on Monday, May 20th at 9:00 PM. Please check your local listing to be sure.

I hope you can catch this important documentary.

NYC Theater Review: “Fruiting Bodies” by Sam Chanse

By Timmy Pham

Ma-Yi Theater Company presents Fruiting Bodies, a new play by Sam Chanse at Theatre Row in New York City until May 19.

When an elderly sansei father heads off on a mushroom foraging trip alone, his two hapa daughters are forced to trek into the woods of Bolinas, CA, to find him. Along the way, a Puck-ish boy brings up memories of a missing favorite son while the family fractures along father/child, sister/sister, and husband/wife lines are brought into relief against the forest fog and earthy shrooms.

In Fruiting Bodies, playwright Sam Chanse, director Shelley Butler, and a team of sharp actors are able to bring across a subtle portrayal of Asian American life; one that is grounded in place, history, and a surprising amount of science. At times the background on morel (and other) mushrooms feels like a step into National Geographic, but the underlying themes crept back into my mind in the days after seeing the performance. Chanse is able to weave in new and refreshing nuances of larger overplayed structures throughout: racism as a sansei father questions his ex wife’s new choice of a nisei husband, the daughters revisit their neglect when confronted with their father’s sexist favoritism, an absent son reveals the ways discrimination becomes a structural obstacle both in the political and filial relationship, the Tesla-driving techno-optimist is confronted when her flashy solutions can’t mend fissures, and the angry arty “fuck up” daughter is disenfranchised by the larger systemic forces and doesn’t seem to take care of anyone, including herself.

Fruiting Bodies is a carefully crafted work built on a network of unfair family dynamics, the ever-changing Bay Area, a glimpse into Japanese American experience, and a deep sense of longing and loss. Like mushrooms, the carefully crafted touch points are ubiquitous but only really come into focus when you stop looking.

Tickets are from $32.25 to $42.25 and can be purchased by calling the Telecharge phone number 212-239-6200 or online at www.telecharge.com.

More About Ma-Yi Theatre Company

Founded in 1989 and now celebrating its 29th season, Ma-Yi is a Drama Desk, Obie Award and Lucille Lortel Award-winning, Off-Broadway not-for-profit organization whose primary mission is to develop and produce new and innovative plays by Asian American writers. The Ma-Yi Theater Company website for additional information, www.ma-yitheatre.org. Ma-Yi Theater Company productions have earned 10 Obie Awards, numerous Henry Hewes Award nominations, a Drama Desk nomination for Best Play and the Special Drama Desk Award for “more than two decades of excellence and for nurturing Asian-American voices in stylistically varied and engaging theater.” Ma-Yi Theater is under the leadership of Producing Artistic Director Ralph B. Peña.

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Timmy Pham was once in a community theater production of King and I where his family were the only Asians. Fake tan and dyed black hair featured prominently. He is grateful for progress in Asian American theatre.

8mm Review: ‘Happy Cleaners’

Happy Cleaners (2019)
Hyanghwa Lim, Charles Ryu, Yun Jeong, Yeena Sung. Written by
Kat Kim, Julian Kim, and Peter S. Lee. Directed by Julian Kim and Peter S. Lee

If it seems (and it does) that new Asian American filmmakers keep making the same film about generational tension, cultural identity, and familial values, I suppose it’s because we continue to deal with these issues, or because there are as many ways to work through them as there are immigrant families: my half-Japanese experience in Honolulu isn’t like someone else’s Taiwanese experience in Southern California, and they are both stories worth telling.

For these reasons, I came away from Happy Cleaners encouraged, because if nothing else, the film’s familiar conflicts for new generations of Asian Americans mean we’re still coming over, still adding color and flavor to a country that appears alternately to have come a long way in embracing us and to have regressed so we’re not being embraced at all.

Happy Cleaners is owned by the Choi family in Flushing, New York, and despite the family’s hard work, the struggling dry cleaner may find itself without a lease in a few months, thanks to a weasely new landlord from the Weasely Caucasian Landlord multipack they must sell at Movieland Costco. Daughter Hyunny is some kind of medical professional, and college-aged son Kevin (backward baseball cap, one earring in each lobe) works in a food truck with aspirations of opening his own truck on the West Coast.

Arguments abound. Kevin fights with Hyunny. Hyunny fights with her boyfriend Danny. Dad fights with Mom, and Mom fights with everyone. Chances are you’ve seen this all before, if not in a movie then for sure in real life. Graduate from college first and then you can do whatever you want. My family will never accept you if you continue to work as a janitor. Do you want to end up like me, married to someone who can barely support his family?

I admit I said, “Oh, this again” more than once during the first act of the movie, but the film won me over with very good acting by all four principals and solid filmmaking everywhere else. There are a few self-aware shots, but mostly the camera work is well done. Lighting and sound quality put this well above most other Asian American indie films I’ve seen. Mostly, the directors don’t overdirect, the actors don’t overact, the writers don’t overwrite, and the soundtrack doesn’t oversoundtrack, although the Food Network style sound effects and cutting-board close-ups get a little out of hand more than once.

The use of language in this film sets it apart even from other Korean American movies. I appreciate the writers’ willingness to give us full-on Korean through much of the film, including what the movie’s Kickstarter page calls “a mix of Korean and English … we warmly label ‘Konglish’.” There’s nothing wrong with the Korean-accented English dialogue we usually get (it’s one of my favorite accents), but it’s great to hear the family speak the language these families speak.

I am most impressed by the writers’ delicate touch with conflict resolution. The fights themselves may be pyrotechnic at times, but the make-up scenes are gentle, sympathetic, and utterly believable. One-on-one, characters share a beer, or a bite of rice, or a whole meal, looking right at each other without overdoing the apologies, or sitting alongside each other, or nudging one another with a gentle toe. Physical proximity is an act of love, strong enough to heal the casual wounds of being in a family, something I’ve not seen much of in popular media. And props to the actors for not overdoing these excellent scenes. Shout-outs go especially to Charles Ryu as Dad and Yeena Sung as Hyunny.

Happy Cleaners is a well-made movie, a slight improvement on what seems to have become a genre: the Asian American Generations Movie. Despite my jadedness, I got teary at least twice, so everyone’s doing something right. A fraction of a bonus point for being set in Flushing, where a good chunk of the German-Italian-Irish side of my family lived.

7 out of 10. Check it out.

Happy Cleaners screens at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival Wednesday, May 8 at 9:15 p.m. The filmmakers will be in attendance.

It also screens at CAAMFest Saturday, May 11 at 2:40 p.m. and Monday, May 13 at 9:10 p.m. Director Julian Kim is scheduled to attend the May 11 screening.

Yale’s ‘The Chubb Fellowship’: Michelle Kwan, Figure Skater, Olympian, and Diplomat

As you all know, I am a fan of figure skater, Olympian and diplomat Michelle Kwan. The last time I saw her, it was for a fundraiser for Vivek Viswanathan, who last year was running for California State Treasurer.

A friend of mine who happens to be a Yale alum had posted the above video of Michelle speaking at Yale as the 2019 Chubb Fellow:

“Michelle Kwan, Chubb Fellow – Spring 2019 will be the honored guest of the Chubb Fellowship and Timothy Dwight College. Ms. Kwan will deliver the Chubb Fellowship Address to talk about her remarkable career as a figure skater as well as her public diplomacy experiences. Details at https://chubbfellowship.com”

Figure skater and Yale freshman Nathan Chan was in attendance – I imagine he helped in someone to get her as a speaker.

I didn’t necessarily learn anything new from the talk that I didn’t know, since I am quite familiar with Michelle’s history in skating (I did see her skate in the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics) as well as in public service, but I was quite struck when someone in the audience asked in the first question, what was one of the characteristics that lead to her success, and she had mentioned her being ‘scrappy’ – and explained that being from an immigrant family from Hong Kong, she didn’t come from a well-to-do background, and her dad didn’t graduate from high school and her parents had nothing. So it was Michelle’s scrappiness that helped raise money for coaching, where she had to quit skating at times because lessons were expensive, ice time, as well as equipment and costumes, etc. Michelle was able to get grants as well as supporters, and had to borrow costumes (she even made it to Nationals before getting a coach).

I was struck by her comments since oftentimes, we do think that figure skaters have sponsors or come from well-to-do families, but often they do not – something that the film I, Tonya helped shed light on.

Someone also asked if Michelle was going to run for Senate one day, and she didn’t have any immediate plans to run for public office. But she did say she might help in a future presidential campaign, like she did with Secretary of State and Senator Hillary Clinton as a surrogate outreach coordinator.

Eating at The Kid’s Table

I read about the Kids Table from this article from Vice, so I decided to check it out. Mentioned as an Asian American story about friends, it has a lot that I could identify with. Although I am not Chinese American, the series has many things that resonated with me and probably will resonate also with other Asian Americans.

Although I am at an age where I definitely don’t sit at the kids table, our family gatherings and holidays usually end up with all of the young adults at one table and the rest of us non-young adults at other tables. My kids are at an age where they discuss many of the topics in the series at their kids table, such as trying out nontraditional non-safe careers – being a “bad Asian.” I did the same when I ate at the kids’ table.

While this series resonated with me, it had some shortcomings. Sometimes I felt the dialogue felt a little forced, and the ending seemed a little too pat. Still, I ended liking the characters and found myself wanting more after seeing the last episode.

The Kid’s Table will be shown at the 2019 Los Angeles Asian American Film Festival at this session on May 5, 2019.

Asian American Commercial Watch: McDonalds – Mike Ginn

I saw this commercial originally posted/shared on Facebook, with actor Mike Ginn playing a bartender closing up and catching breakfast after a long night:

“No matter how different we are, at McDonald’s, we have more in common than we think.”

I think maybe McDonald’s is trying to counter the feeling of divisiveness in our country generated by Trump and remind Americans that we share a lot of things in common, including simple things for breakfast. I, for one, do like McDonald’s breakfast – especially with the hash brown included in the meals, and of course, coffee!