8Books Review: “Grass” by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim

Grass is a breathtaking graphic novel about Korean comfort women by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim and translated by Janet Hong. I know, I had the same thought you just had, a graphic novel? About comfort women? Why?

But Gendry-Kim has told a heart wrenching story about Lee Ok-sun, whose life story includes being taken from her home in Korea, transported to China, and used as a sexual slave by Japanese soldiers during World War II. It’s hard stuff. Yet Gendry-Kim’s treatment of Lee Ok-sun is tender and touching. The pages following difficult content are covered in leaves and other natural scenes, or shrouded in heavy black brushstrokes–breathing room–for the story and for the reader.

We learn about Lee Ok-sun from girlhood, alongside jumps to the present, with the author meeting Granny Ok-sun and beginning to learn of her story. In the end, Lee Ok-sun is shaped by her experiences during war, by the trauma of war, but her story is one of resilience and forbearance. The graphics are expressive and moving, capturing the uncertainty, fear, and strength of the story, from the faceless soldiers who raped the women to tender moments between friends, Gendry-Kim captures it all. Beautifully paced and artful both literally in the drawings and figuratively in its storytelling, Grass is worth a read.

For more sneak peeks, visit Drawn & Quarterly’s website

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8mm Review: ‘Parasite’

Parasite, a Bong Joon Ho film, explores contemporary society and points directly at the inequalities we live in and through. Parasite is not the most appealing title to your average viewer, especially if you are not one to watch thriller-like films. But I will say this: while it left me at the edge of my seat, covering my face, it was undeniably enjoyable. I give this film a 10/10 for its musicality, unpredictability, and unique story-telling. There is nothing like it.

Words from the director: 

As a depiction of ordinary people who fall into an unavoidable commotion, this film is:

a comedy without clowns,
a tragedy without villains,
all leading to a violent tangle and a headlong plunge down the stairs.
You are all invited to this unstoppably fierce tragicomedy.

The film resists categorization and does not fit into any established genre, and this is precisely what makes this piece so original. In the words of Song Kang Ho, who plays Ki-Taek, “It is a melange of genres, and from an actor’s perspective, it required a lot of concentration to follow these genres to bring the character to life.” 

Throughout the film, you see the contrasts in our society perfectly laid out. Rich and poor. Gullible versus wary. You see the lavish lifestyle of the Park family: picture of aspirational wealth versus the Kim family, who lives in the basement of such a run-down community – everyone just trying to get by. Director Bong strategically places these two families side-by-side to show the dynamic between these two very different classes, which speaks to the idea that co-existence is challenging to achieve. 

It was pretty spectacular, the way this film pushes your emotions. One minute, you are laughing hysterically. Then moments later, you are holding your breath. The music set that precedent. It enhanced every single scene which set the pace of the film. For instance, the Kim family works together on one of their grandiose plans. The sounds used, combined with the classical music, strings the audience along until the plan is executed. The crescendo and decrescendo of the song orchestrate the Kim’s actions in a way that words cannot express; done so seamlessly. 

While this film is set in Korea, it is a story that will be understood and related to everywhere. Song on his character:

I respect the character, who is a Korean man in an ordinary setting. While he engages in strange acts, he is still very average. He is pressured to provide for the family. Once we reach the climax of the film, his integrity, and head of household duties are challenged, and he begins to crumble. 

He further explains that these are sentiments that make characters like Ki-Taek relatable to the average person. 

Just like the actors, you will find characteristics within the characters in the film that align with your own, causing you to be invested in them — rooting for them. And as humans, you want to root for one side. It is natural for us to do so. But this film forces you to understand all sides — leaving you neutral.

From the wavering emotion to the nuanced story arcs, this film will leave you wanting more. Parasite, released in theatres on October 11 and winner of the Palm D’or at the Cannes Festival, is a film of its kind and must be added to your list this October. 

 

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October is Filipino American History Month

October is Filipino American History Month (sure, it’s already almost halfway done, but some could argue that would be culturally appropriate). Filipino American History Month was made official by the US Congress in 2009.  This year, the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) encourages people to remember Pinay visionaries, such Victoria Manalo Draves (shown above), an Olympic diver who was the first woman to win gold medals for both the ten-meter platform and the three-meter springboard, the first American woman to win two gold medals in diving, and the first Asian American to win an Olympic gold medal.  One living visionary of whom we recently talked about is Nicole Ponseca, who has been bringing Filipino food to the American mainstream.

Some resources for Filipino American History Month:

 

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Steven Universe at 2019 L.A. Comic Con

As I made my way through the large crowd of cosplayers, exhibitors and artists alike at this year’s 2019 Los Angeles Comic Con, I saw on the main stage — DeeDee Magno Hall, voice of Pearl, Michaela Dietz, voice of Amethyst, Shelby Rabara, voice of Peridot, Jennifer Paz, voice of Lapis and Grace Rolek, voice of Connie. Talk about females taking over the universe! Better yet, the Crewniverse!

L.A. Comic Con celebrates its ninth and best-yet year with an expected 130,000 guests who include over 10,000 kids, which tops last year’s 106,000 guests.

A good chunk of those in attendance huddled near the main stage Saturday morning to listen in on the Steven Universe panel. Steven Universe, a Cartoon Network animated television series created by Rebecca Sugar, premiered in 2013 and Steven Universe: The Movie just premiered this September.

The murmur in the crowd was constant, and the second the cast spoke, cheering filled the space. The excitement throughout the group transpired on stage, and you can feel each of the character’s energy elevate as the crowd gets louder.

“It’s so beautifully inclusive. It’s been amazing for representation,” Michaela expressed to the fans. Shelby nods in agreement and says, “I second that Michaela, the representation, the inclusion. What other cartoon has ube?! (ube is purple yam that is commonly used in Filipino desserts) For the Filipinos out there! I think everyone can find themselves in the show, in a vast array of characters.”

The voice actors present were nothing short of spectacular. Even on stage, they bring on this light that they put forth in each of their characters. Deedee elaborates on how she’s able to perform the way she does.

“I really can’t take any credit. It’s really Rebecca and the Crewniverse. They write such wonderful words and beautiful music and draw beautiful backgrounds and characters. All of that is just there for me to dive into, you know. So I really rely on the material and the voice direction from Rebecca and her team. That’s really how I get to any of the places I do in the show.”

Once the panel concluded, Shelby announced that signings with the cast would continue, and immediately you hear the commotion and excitement from the crowd. The wave of people who tuned into the panel followed suit and lined up for autographs and pictures. It is evident that the Steven Universe fans have been long-time viewers — most of them dressed up as their favorite characters from the show. The best part — there is not one type of Steven Universe fan. The fan base consists of all ages, all genders, and all sorts of folks. Every one of them, a gem in their own way.

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8mm Review: ‘American Factory’

I forgot how I came across this Netflix documentary, ‘American Factory,’ but after my brother saw the film and mentioned it, I knew I had to watch it. The film is about:

“In 2014, Fuyao bought part of a closed General Motors assembly plant in Ohio and created thousands of jobs, revitalizing a local industrial sector that had fallen on desperately hard times when GM left town during the 2008 recession. American Factory charts the wave of exultation that greeted the arrival of Fuyao, followed by culture clashes, growing pains, and eventually forms of internal and external pushback that had been largely unknown to the company.  …

When Fuyao comes to Ohio, the company brings with it several hundred Chinese employees who have experience in running a large-scale glass-making operation. They’re there to help train the 2,000 new American hires, many of whom are former GM employees, on the intricacies of industrial glass production. The breadth of footage that Bognar and Reichert capture over the next few years is staggering and includes intense labor on the factory floor, boardroom negotiations, and a unionization battle that ripples through each layer of the company. As the Chinese employees are told, in the United States you can freely mock the president and “follow your heart.” But the conditions the Fuyao workers face are challenging, and the locals’ initial friendliness toward the company curdles into something more complex as the United Automobile Workers begin to organize the factory.”

The film reminded me of the stories I would read about in the 1980s about the Japanese auto manufacturers coming to the United States to setup production in America’s heartland, including the ficitional film (and later the ill fated TV series, ‘Gung Ho’):

This documentary also happens to be the first film backed by former President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama:

“Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert have been making social issue documentaries for decades. But the Dayton, Ohio-based filmmaking duo (and couple) got the shock of their careers at Sundance this year, when they learned that Barack and Michelle Obama had seen their latest film, American Factory, and wanted it to be the first release from the former president and the first lady’s new Netflix-based production company, Higher Ground.

Bognar and Reichert had been nominated for an Oscar for their short 2009 documentary The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant, about the shuttering of an auto plant in Dayton. When China-based auto-glass manufacturing company Fuyao purchased that factory in 2014, Bognar and Reichert returned with their cameras to document what they hoped would be an historic story about capitalism, globalization and a co-mingling of wildly different cultures.”

You can see the Obamas talking with the Bognar and Reichert below:

What is really amazing about the documentary is the level of access the filmmakers had – they had carte blanche access from the Chinese billionaire founder/chairman Cao Dewang of Fuyao. This interview with some of the filmmakers and some of the factory workers durig the 2019 Sundance film festival discuss how the film was made.

I liked how the documentary covered the perspectives of both sides – the American workers as well as Chinese workers. The documentary definitely shows various opinions and thoughts by both Americans and Chinese. Interestingly, pirated copies of the documentary have been making the rounds in China, with of course, a wide range of opinions as well.

If you’re interested in learning more about the differences between Chinese and American workers and management styles, at least in a manufacturing context, you should definitely see this film.

 

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8mm Review: Ulam: Main Dish

I originally was planning to write about whether or not Filipino food is becoming mainstream American, but when researching the subject, I encountered a movie Ulam:  Main Dish, that seemed to cover that territory.  Having never heard of it before, I decided to see it first before doing any writing on the subject.  I am delighted that I did.

The movie covers a number of Filipino American restaurants and chefs that are gaining notoriety and fame for their work.  Why is this of any interest?  Filipino Americans are third largest Asian American group (as of the 2010 Census), but Filipino food is not remotely close to being the third most numerous type of Asian restaurants in the US.  Given the long history of Filipinos in the US and as an American colony, it would seem surprising that the food has not been well known.

A theme running through the movie is how many people didn’t think that a Filipino food restaurant could thrive.  Sadly, many naysayers were other Filipino Americans.  Restaurant co-owner Nicole Ponseca talked about the crab mentality, how Filipinos often criticize and to drag each other down and criticize each other rather than being supportive.  A few weeks after her and partner/chef/fiancee Miguel Trinidad‘s restaurant Maharlika opened, it would have two month waits for a reservation.  Maharlika is still around, almost nine years later, and its sister restaurant, Jeepney, has been operating for over six years.

Overall,  the stories of successful Filipino restaurants and chefs inspired me.  We have talked before about why there have been relatively few Filipino entrepreneurs, so seeing Filipinos breaking this mold made my day.  I liked how the film talked about the crab mentality issue and how Filipinos are sometimes their own biggest obstacles. On what I think could have been better in the movie, covering only success stories seems limiting.  Often the best lessons on success come from failures.

You can see Ulam:  Main Dish  on Amazon Prime Video or Hulu, or if a screening comes around to your area.

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8Books: “A Team of Their Own” by Seth Berkman

A Team of Their Own: How an International Sisterhood Made Olympic History is a feel-good sports book–okay, a feel-good hockey book to be more precise. But it’s also a story about a group of young women learning who they are and how they will be in the world. Seth Berkman’s new book recounts the journey of the 2018 Korean women’s hockey team. And if you didn’t follow it at the time (hi, me), it’s an engrossing tale. And if you don’t know much about hockey (hi, still me), it’s still a worthy read.

So here’s how it goes: the South Korean women’s hockey team had long been underfunded and under appreciated. Its team members had sacrificed a lot purely for their love of being on the ice. Come the Olympics. In order to qualify, the country’s hockey organization looks to add new players from Canada and the United States — the “imports.” Among the imports are adoptees and mixed race players. The women train and grow together for four years. Then two weeks before the opening ceremony of the Olympics, the South Korean women’s team is thrust into the world stage. North Korean players are being added and they will play as a Unified team. North Korean cheerleaders, hoards of international press, prominent political figures crowd their games.

That’s the plot. And the international implications and the truly amazing thing that these players pulled off is a great story, but it’s not what I like most about this book. What kept me turning the pages was the stories of the individual women on the team and the story of how the team became a family. Thrust onto the international geopolitical stage by political leaders, it was the team that made the “Peace Olympics” a reality and their camaraderie is inspiring. From So-jung, the team’s inimitable goalie and veteran player, to Marissa Brandt, an adoptee from Minnesota, we get to watch each of players, and even the coaches, grow, struggle, and persevere. We see the imports explore their heritage, we see the South Korean players finding their voice, we see players overcome their skepticism of each other. And Berkman has incorporated excerpts from scores of interviews, so we get to hear it from the players, their family, and friends. In the end, it’s about young Asian and Asian American women, and their spirit beams through.

So it’s a feel-good story, period.

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Bowen Yang’s Historic ‘Saturday Night Live’ Debut

On Saturday, September 28th, comedian Bowen Yang made history by becoming the first Asian American cast member of NBC’s iconic ‘Saturday Night Live’ in its 45-year history (see him in the opening sequence of ths show here).

This season of SNL has not been without controversy even before the season started:

“Following news that Gillis would be joining newcomers Chloe Fineman and Bowen Yang — the show’s first Chinese-American castmember and third openly gay male cast member — multiple clips surfaced of some of Gillis’ old podcast episodes. In a since-deleted video from 2018, which was shared on Twitter by writer Seth Simons, Gillis made racist jokes about Chinese people and made offensive racial slurs.

After a public apology from Gillis that many felt was half-heartedSaturday Night Live decided to cut ties with him.”

Yang first appeared in the ‘cold open’ as North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un.

And later, as Democratic presidential candiate, Andrew Yang which was part of an overall parody of  a DNC Townhall debate, where I thought  Maya Rudolph did a great impression of Senator Kamala Harris’ debate performance. Yang tweeted his impression:

 

Best of luck to Bowen Yang this season!

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Asian American Commercial Watch: GEICO’s ‘This Bowler Knows How to Strike a Pose’

I was recently watching TV, and I saw this GEICO television commercial and literally Laughed Out Loud – so I definitely needed to blog about it.

Assuming the YouTube upload date matches around the television debut of the ad, I’m shocked I had not seen it before, since this commercial has gotten over *17 million* YouTube views since January 2019. That’s pretty crazy for a commercial.

Someone noted in the YouTube comments that the actor is Christopher Chen, which seems to be the case according to IMDB. Best of luck to Chen in his acting career – I hope he gets residuals for YouTube views!

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Paget Kagy – #YangGang YouTuber & ‘Kat Loves LA’ (Season 2) Available

‘Kat Loves LA,’ Season 2.

I first came across writer, producer, actor, creator Paget Kagy when I started seeing YouTube recommended videos about her vlogging about Andrew Yang (her first video starting July 3rd).

As you know, I’ve often complained about Asian Americans not being politically involved since the very beginnings of 8Asians.com. Asian American women are especially not very politically engaged (based on voter registration, voting rates, and from my observations attending political events in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationally).

So I was quite surpirsed to see an Asian American woman like Paget vlogging so passionately about her support for Democratic Presidential candidate Andrew Yang, and consistently on her YouTube channel.

I haven’t watched all her videos on Yang nor have I watched the ones I have watched end-to-end (some are fairly lengthy), but I knew that she was based in Los Angeles and was an actress. It was only when Paget had posted her video that I learned more about her challenging entertainment career as well as her YouTube series ‘Kat Love L.A.’

Only after doing more research did I find that 8Asians.com actually had a guest blog post about her series back in January 2018 for the debut of the YouTube series. I felt really stupid that I hadn’t been already aware of her YouTube series!

So I decided to bing watch both Season 1 (8 episodes) and Season 2 of ‘Kat Loves LA’ over 24 hours (it was easy – the episodes are all less than your typical sitcom), and overall enjoyed both seasons. The series is:

Kat Loves LA is a modern-day romantic comedy series told from the Asian American female perspective set against the multicultural backdrop of Los Angeles. It will challenge cultural norms while living in the familiar constructs of romance, relationships, identity, a pre-mid-life criss and personal discovery from the lens of Kat Park, a Korean American actress who is barely surviving an industry that isn’t always welcoming.”

The production values are high, and in Season 1, Paget definitely confronts your typical issues around Asian American dating. What I also found interesting was the difference between the persona of Paget, who comes across as a fiercely passionate #YangGang supporter and her character Kat in her YouTube series, which is more of a uncertain wallflower – which only reinforced to me that Paget is really an actress.

I had commented on her YouTube videos, reached out to her via LinkedIn and afterwards, email, to make some further comments after doing more research on her background. One thing I had discovered, and was amazed, was that her father, a successful lawyer, published Transpacific Magazine, one of the first Asian American magazines in the U.S., in the late 1980s. I had SUBSCRIBED to Transpacific Magazine. I was in college back then and was shocked to see such a glossy magazine exist (I had also subscribed to ‘A Magazine,’ which was much less “glossy.”)

In a follow-up email, I definitely encouraged Paget to keep on her political #YangGang vlogging and wished her the best of luck in her acting career. She had mentioned she hadn’t done as much promotion about Season 2 of ‘Kat Loves LA,’ so I thought I’d also promote Season 2 when I blogged about her.

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Meeting DNC Vice Chair & Congressmember Grace Meng

I’ve been following Congressmember Grace Meng since 2012 when she was first running for Congress – and when she when she won, she was the first Asian American to be elected to Congress from New York.

Meng was in San Francisco in August for the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC)August meeting and there was a fundraiser for her that I got invited to. Meng is also DNC Vice Chair. I’ve seen Meng speak at the 2016 DNC convention on the main stage, AAPI luncheon and APIAVote – Briefing & Kick-off Reception – but this was the first time I think I had an actual chance to chat with her.

In her “speech,” Meng talked about – to a heavily Asian American crowd – her interest in establishing an Asian American museum much like the National Museum of African American History and Culture and had recently introduced a bill to study the effort; as well as talked about the upcoming 2020 census. Meng also talked about coalition building across communities that helped bring voters to the polls in elections since 2016 that have brought out more voters and helped turn the House Democratic in November 2018, and how Trump in the long term, may be the best thing that happened to bring lasting Democratic majorities in the future.

It was great to hear Meng speak in a more intimate and less hectic setting. Having been born-and-raised in the Northeast (Massachusetts), it’s great to see an East Coast Asian American representative in Congress!

 

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8mm Review: ‘One Child Nation’ Documentary on China’s ‘One Child Policy’

I first heard of One Child Nation after seeing a Facebook posting by Vox about the documentary:

“Documentarian Nanfu Wang grew up in rural China under the country’s “one child” policy, which lasted from 1979 to 2015. Her own parents had two children, since the law made an exception for families living in rural areas, as long as the children were at least five years apart — but not until after her mother narrowly escaped involuntary sterilization. Many other women were not so lucky. The policy’s mental, physical, and emotional toll on the country, especially its women, was tremendous.

To enforce such an invasive policy on a population as large as China’s required more than just strict policing — it required self-policing, especially in rural areas, far away from more densely populated urban centers. So, as One Child Nation shows, the Chinese government blanketed the country with propaganda intended to convince citizens to keep their family sizes within the allowed limit, and to report on their neighbors if they suspected anyone wasn’t following the rules. Along with forced abortions and sterilizations, the propaganda effort ensured that most of the population would abide by the policy, seeing it as a necessary and good measure for the health of their families and their future.”

I had, of course, heard of China’s One Child Policy, and certainly knew academically that forced abortions were part of the Chinese Communist Party’s enforcement of the law, as well as its consequences of selective gender (girl) abortions, which has lead to the imbalance of men-to-women. But Wang’s interviews with her family members and village members were very personal and shocking. To hear the stories of abandoned babies and other practices – it made you realize how truly horrific the policy was.

It was interesting to see also all the government propaganda there was promoting the policy.

I’m amazed is that the filmmaker Wang had made her first film, Hooligan Sparrow, which showed corruption at Chinese local government level that didn’t show China in a the best light, yet she or her family in China didn’t suffer any observable consequences. One Child Nation definitely does not depict the policy in a positive light.

The Chinese government eliminated the One Child Policy in 2015 (the policy was from 1979–2015). Now China is encouraging families to have two children, because of a declining population … and supporting propaganda following – which is very ironic to see at the end of the documentary.

If you really want to see the human cost of the policy, I highly recommend you seeing the documentary – though it might be challenging to see until its available online (the documentary was only playing in San Francisco and Berkeley in the San Francisco Bay Area).

After reading about Wang’s background and how she was making these award winning documentaries and really made me think how I should have been a film major in college. I think if I won the lottery, one of the things I would do is make documentaries.

 

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