Archive for March, 2009

Who Killed Vincent Chin?

It is clear who physically killed Vincent Chin. From the beginning, Who Killed Vincent Chin? explains that Ronald Ebens and his stepson had a verbal tussle with Vincent Chin and his companions at a topless bar. Later, Ebens beat Vincent Chin with a baseball bat while his stepson held Chin down. The audience knows the basic premise but more parts of the story are developed in a “collage” fashion as the film progresses. While the film progresses relatively chronologically, the audience must constantly reconstruct the story.

When the film first retold the events of Chin’s murder and the subsequent trial, I was more furious at Ronald Ebens than at the justice system. He seemed to try to justify all of his actions. He complained about spending a night in a jail cell with an uncomfortable though. I was annoyed that this seemed to be his biggest concern after he had just beat a man to death. Ebens did not seem too concerned at all with what he had done. His wife explained that the day he was ordered to jail, he had gone to work and had even played some baseball. The film initially portrayed Ebens as ignorant and relatively carefree. Ebens expressed annoyance of the community’s uprising against his light punishment saying that it was “selfish, a way for Asian-Americans to get ahead, overcome their alleged plight, alleged because I know very few Asians, very few.”

As the film progressed, I definitely directed more anger towards the justice system rather than Ebens. Ebens became more of a symbol of what was wrong with the courts. This feeling began to develop with the interview of the first judge that gave Ebens probation and a $3000 fine for the murder. The judge avoided the direct subject of the sentence and was instead complaining about the number of sentences he had to give out daily. Others also argued that the courts didn’t have enough money for more involved (hence, more fair) trials. In the end, the Ebens sentence did not make sense. How could so many people call attention to the case and how could Ebens, a murderer, walk away free? I suppose that one of the values of the film is that it makes sure that the case never truly dies.

–Michelle Fong

March 31, 2009 at 9:32 pm 1 comment

HOLLYWOOD CHINESE Screening – Wednesday, April 1, 7pm, Broad Performance Space, Pitzer College


In person: Arthur Dong

Hollywood Chinese is a captivating revelation on a little-known chapter of cinema: the Chinese in American feature films. From the first Chinese American film produced in 1916, to Ang Lee’s triumphant Brokeback Mountain nine decades later, Hollywood Chinese brings together a fascinating portrait of actors, directors, writers, and iconic images to show how the Chinese have been imagined in movies, and how filmmakers have and continue to navigate an industry that was often ignorant about race, but at times paradoxically receptive.

Hollywood Chinese is produced, directed, written and edited by Academy Award® nominee and triple Sundance award-winning filmmaker, Arthur Dong (Licensed to Kill, Coming Out Under Fire, Forbidden City, U.S.A.), and presents eleven of the industry’s most accomplished Chinese and Chinese American film artists who share personal accounts of working in film. Ang Lee, Wayne Wang, Joan Chen, David Henry Hwang, Justin Lin, B.D. Wong, Nancy Kwan, Tsai Chin, Lisa Lu, James Hong, and Amy Tan are among the storytellers who have wrestled with being the “other” in Hollywood.

Non-Asian personalities are also featured to point out the controversy over portraying the Chinese in yellow-face. Two-time Oscar® winner Luise Rainer (Good Earth, 1937), character actor Christopher Lee (Fu Manchu, 1960-65), and 1940s matinee idol Turhan Bey (Dragon Seed, 1944) give first-hand recollections on being yellow on the silver screen.

Hollywood Chinese is punctuated with a dazzling treasure trove of clips from over 90 movies, dating from 1890s paper prints up to the current new wave of Asian American cinema. Hollywood Chinese also unearths films long thought to be lost. During the documentary’s production, filmmaker Arthur Dong remarkably discovered two nitrate reels of what is now acknowledged as the first Chinese American film ever made, The Curse of Quon Gwon (1916). Directed and written by filmmaker Marion Wong, it is also one of the earliest films made by a woman and was recently placed on the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

At once humorous, maddening, and inspiring, Hollywood Chinese weaves a rich and complicated tapestry, one marked by unforgettable performances and groundbreaking films, but also one tainted by a tangled history of race and representation.

For more information on the film, or to see the trailer, go to the Hollywood Chinese web site

Posted by Ming-Yuen S. Ma

March 25, 2009 at 12:05 am 7 comments

American/Hollywood Martial Arts Films (cont).

It’s not possible to talk about this topic without mentioning a few key actors. The ones who are actually Asian American (and not Asians who perform in American films) are mostly contemporary. Here is a list of some actors and their roles.

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee was both an American and Chinese actor, and also produced/wrote/directed a few things. Technically he is Asian American, as he was born in San Francisco though raised in China. He started his acting career doing small roles as a child in Hong Kong films. Later, he performed as supporting characters in some martial arts in American TV shows and movies before returning to Hong Kong and doing several movies there. He became a cultural icon in both China and America, and many of his movies promoted Chinese nationalism.

In the early 1970s there was some controversy that may have led to Lee leaving the country for Hong Kong. Wikipedia states: “According to statements made primarily by Linda Lee Caldwell after Bruce’s death, Bruce would later pitch a television series of his own tentatively titled The Warrior. According to Caldwell, Lee’s concept was retooled and renamed Kung Fu, but Warner Bros. gave Lee no credit.[18] Instead the role of the Shaolin monk in the Wild West, known to have been conceived by Bruce,[19] was awarded to then non-martial artist David Carradine because of the studio’s fears that a Chinese leading man would not be embraced by the public.[20] Books and documentaries about the show “Kung Fu” dispute Caldwell’s version. According to these sources, the show was created by two writers and producers, Ed Spielman and Howard Friedlander, and the reason Lee was not cast was in part because of his ethnicity but moreso because he had a thick accent.[21]

His first major movie produced by Hollywood was “Enter the Dragon” (1973).

His knowledge of kung-fu made Bruce Lee seem quite exotic and menacing, especially considering the fact that he beats prominent, white martial arts masters such as Chuck Norris.

Random note: Here is an article which briefly talks about a stereotype that has been propogated by Bruce Lee films. In an audition, an Asian American actor was presented with a script which instructed him to “wail like Bruce Lee and get into a martial artist’s fighting stance”.

Brandon & Shannon Lee

Son of Bruce Lee, Brandon was an Asian American actor whose 10 roles were all in martial arts contexts. His sister, Shannon, also did some movies, including “Blade”, “High Voltage”, and “Lessons for an Assassin”.

Lucy Liu

Lucy Liu plays many “dragon lady” roles, even if not in a martial arts sense. Her first major role was as a “feisty” lawyer Ling Woo on Ally McBeal, which had so much fan support changed from a  temporary role to a permanent member of the cast. Since then she has played martial arts experts, hitwomen, mafia members, and more.

Compilation of Lucy Liu roles.

Marc Alan Dacascos

He was discovered by Wayne Wang and his film and television career are mostly centered around martial arts (“Cradle 2 the Grave”, “Instinct to Kill”, “Serbian Scars”, etc) . He also plays the chairman at Food Network’s Iron Chef America, and isn’t actually related to the old chairman. His father was a martial arts instructor.

Quality isn’t the best, but here is a compilation video:

Kelly Hu

Kelly Hu is started acting after winning Miss Teen U.S.A. 1985 and hasn’t been in that many major motion movies. Her roles include a sorceress in Scorpion King (2002) and Lady Deathstrike in X-Men 2 (2003). Dragonlady roles.

I thought that the long fingernails was an interesting idea (though logistically wouldn’t ever alow her to move her knuckles, but anyway), considering that part of our discussion of stereotypes of Fu Manchu/Asian villains in Hollywood included longer fingernails. There is an unrelated clip at the end of the video.

Jackie Chan and Jet Li are both purebred Chinese (Jackie Chan was born in a British Overseas Territory, actually). In the media, both are often referred to when discussing Asian American martial arts actors, however. Michelle Yeoh also acts in many Hollywood films, but was born in Malaysia.

-Posted by Liana Engie

March 24, 2009 at 12:21 am Leave a comment

American/Hollywood Martial Arts Films

Since we don’t discuss any of these in class, I thought we could start a discussion up here on the blog regarding a popular film genre that was insipred from the Far East: martial arts films. I think it becomes a new version of the “Yellow Peril” stereotype. This particular post discusses films from the 1980s.

In most of these films, Asian Americans are supporting fighting characters or mentors. The protagonists are all Americans and the villain is often an Asian fighter (but not Asian American).

Some films:

The Karate Kid (1984)

Daniel (Ralph Macchio) is a bullied kid who is taught the art and discipline of martial arts by Miyagi (Pat Morita). He must defend himself and eventually compete against students of violent Vietnam veteran John Kreese (Martin Kove). An underdog story. Three sequels.

Miyagi rescues Daniel:

American Ninja (1985) Also known as American Warrior.

Tagline: “The Orient created the world’s deadliest art. Now there’s an American master!”

Joe Armstrong (Michael Didukoff), and American orphan, serves in the army. During a mission in the Phillipines, his entire platoon is killed and the colonel’s daughter, who for some reason was riding with them, is kidnapped. Joe single-handedly takes on the mercenaries, gets the daughter back, and holds off the army of ninjas that is sent to kill him. Has a bunch of sequels.


Bloodsport (1988)

Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is introduced to the super-violent, dangerous underground world of fighting (Kumite) by his teacher, Tanaka (Roy Chiao). He evades his military superiors and goes to Hong Kong to fight and face his ultimate opponent, Chong Li (Bolo Yeung). Dux wins many fights, and is the up-and-coming fighter “from the Western Hemisphere” but has yet to face Chong Li, a vicious fighter who has killed opponents in the past.

Bloodsport in 10 minutes:

Best of the Best (1989)

An American team is assembled to compete at the International Taekwondo championships, needing to rise above their personal conflicts before fighting Team Korea. Underdog type story. Had 3 sequels. The fighting in the movie is labeled as either karate or taekwondo, though is actually neither fully either of these (a mix of many different styles) and the tournament doe not follow the rules of any standard competition.

Kickboxer (1989)

Kurt Sloan (Jean-Claude Van Damme) witnesses his brother, U.S. kickboxing champion Eric Sloan, be maliciously paralyzed in the ring by Thailand champion Tong Po (Michel Qissi). Kurt vows revenge and finally gets help from Xian Chow (Dennis Chan), a kickboxing trainer who lives in a remote area of Thailand.

This video is the only relatively comprehensive, okay quality one I could find. Music plays over the entire clip.


-The wise old teacher/mentor

Mr. Miyagi of Karate Kid is an Okinawa immigrant with an interesting/sad military past who agrees to train Daniel. He becomes somewhat of a surrogate father to the boy. Frank Dux’s teacher is Tanaka, who also eventually adopts the boy. In “Best of the best” the coach is actually James Earl Jones.

-The crazy-good, pain absorbing Asian opponent

In ‘Bloodsport”, Frank Dux must face Chong Li, who has badly hurt Frank’s friend in the Quarter Finals. As well as killed other people in the past. In “Kickboxer”, Tong Po continued to beat and eventually paralyzed Kurt’s brother after Kurt had thrown in the towel. in “American Ninja” Joe battles against armies of Phillipino mercenaries and ninjas. “Best of the Best” puts the American team against the Korean champions.

-Rebel protagonist(s)/underdog(s)

In “Karate Kid”, Daniel’s father has died and he is constantly being bullied. In “American Ninja”, Joe fights off Phillipinos and ninjas by himself, while also getting in trouble with his superiors. He was also an orphan who was forced to enter the military by legal ruling. In “Bloodsport”, Frank Dux was a miscreant until he learned martial arts. He also evades his military service. In “Best of the Best,” the American team has no chance of beating the Korean Team, who train all year and are known for being the best in Taekwondo.

-Americans versus other races/international competition

The protagonist is usually American (in another Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, he is a French military man who travels to America to fight) and often travel to

-“Asian martial arts” and lack of distinctions between styles

None of the movies actually (only) uses the style as billed. “Karate”, “taekwondo”, and “kung fu” are often used as blanket style names.

-Posted by Liana Engie

March 23, 2009 at 10:20 am 2 comments

Chan Is Missing Presentation

Chan is Missing is a 1982 independent film directed by Wayne Wang. It is a story of two San Francisco Chinatown taxi drivers and the search for their friend, Chan Huang. Jo and Steve loaned Chan $4000 dollars, in hopes of applying for a taxi license. As the mystery of the missing Chan develops, the two cab drivers start to realize their search is more than about Chan. It is about the search for their identity and where they belong in the Asian American culture of Chinatown.

The film is shot in 16m and in black and white. The movie depicts various aspects of Asian American life in San Francisco. Wood Moy, casted as Jo, and Marc Hayashi, casted as Steve, go through various places in Chinatown such as a senior citizen center, a Chinese restaurant, and the home of Chan’s ex-wife. With every new clue, a new side of Chan is revealed. In turn, the movie portrays Asian Americans in ways that the public had never seen before.

Much of the movie revolves around showing Asian Americans in non stereotypical roles. There are various communities that are shown in the movie while Jo and Steve search for Chan. Some are political (such as Chan’s involvement with the Taiwan-flag situation) while another show daily life of Chan (the senior citizen’s center) and another showing the failed marriage betwee Chan and his ex-wife. The movie demonstrates that Asian American life is complex and has many sides to it. As one watches the move, he or she should ask himself about the different roles that Asian Americans play in different communities.

The movie was a low budget independent film. Director Wang is a Hong Kong native, who graduated from California College of Arts and Craft. He received grant money (about $20,000) and donations from various actors and groups to film Chan is Missing. The movie was successful as a small indepedent film and received the merit of preservation by the National Film Preservation Board, USA.

What are the different communities portrayed in the movie?
What role did politics (pro-Taiwanese indepedence vs China loyalists) play in Asian American life?
How the movie show that Asian American are multi faceted and complex?
What does Chan represent in the movie? Why is he never found?
Difference between two I hotels?
How was the portrayal of this San Francisco community different from the portrayal from the previous two films.
Who should be included in the category “Asian Americans”.
What is the meaning of the puddle?

Police accident. Cultural misunderstanding
Two people arguing. Chinese identity.
“look in the puddle”

Posted by Fred Chang and Brandon Sze

March 5, 2009 at 9:22 pm 1 comment

The Fall of the I-Hotel Introduction

The Fall of the I-Hotel (1983) was written, produced and directed by Curtis Choy.  It is narrated by Al Robles and the cinematography is taken from several people including Emiko Omori and Curtis Choi.  Filming for this documentary began 7 years prior to its release.  It is a documentary of the fight to save the International Hotel in Manilatown of San Francisco.  The film begins with an overview of Filipino American history and develops through interviews with “manongs,” a respectful Filipino term for the elderly.

The original I-Hotel was built in 1854 for wealthy travelers and was moved to the Kearny St. location in 1873.  It was rebuilt in 1907 after the big San Francisco earthquake and fire.  Finally in 1920s, it became the heart of Manilatown and the home for mostly male migrant Filipino workers.  They were forced to live bachelor lives because of anti-Asian immigration laws.  The I-Hotel served as more than just low-income housing; it also served as an important Filipino cultural and social center up until the 1950’s.  San Francisco’s financial district was expanding and Manilatown was in the way.  Manilatown was taken over by this expansion until all that remained was the I-Hotel and its small block.  This takeover started a movement by several activist groups to maintain the I-Hotel as low-income housing for manongs.  The rest of the film documents the process of the controversial and protested eviction of the manongs.

This film is significant in the context of this class because of its representation of community.  Several interesting comparisons can be made between Flower Drum Song and The Fall of the I-Hotel.  They are separated by less than two decades, occur in roughly the same location (San Francisco) but have contrasting representations of the Asian American communities.  Some aspects to consider and contrast between the two films are the representation of family, class, the generational theme and the form and content of the film.

In the context of the class readings (Moving the Image, pp. 10-39), this film is significant as it reflects the period of “socially committed cinema” in Asian American media.  The readings provide some insight into why the documentary form was chosen.  According to Renee Tajima, Asian American cinema was born out of three common experiences: 1) race, 2) culture and history and 3) western domination.  Tajima, also suggest two stages of development in Asian American cinema: the 1960s-70s and the 1980s.  In the 1960s-70s Asian American films were a reactive cinema made for political and cultural purposes; it was a period of activism.  Documentaries were a way to address past and present racial injustices.  Perhaps another reason the documentary form was chosen because “cinema was still too young to concern itself with aesthetics” (p. 15).  Filmmakers were attempting to tell the stories of people who otherwise would not have a voice.  The 1980s were different in that it was a period of more skills refinement and attainment and filmmakers were looking to the industry for a career (filmmaking as a career was not a viable option yet for Asian Americans prior to this period).  The reading leads to more points of discussion concerning the documentary’s form and content.  What period of filmmaking does it fall into?  Why was it in a documentary form?  What are the effects of the documentary form?

The film was updated in 1993 (this is the version we saw in class) and then in 2005 to cover the building of the new I-Hotel.  The new I-Hotel also serves as low-cost housing and as an Asian cultural center.


THE FALL OF THE I HOTEL (1977-83) by Curtis Choy, 58 min.

Moving the Image pp. 10-39

Class Discussion

  • Representation of community — Comparisons with Flower Drum Song (e.g., family, class, generational theme)
  • Form and Content — Why was documentary form chosen? How is emotion created? Who is the audience?
  • Moving the Image readings — What stage of Asian American cinema development does this documentary fall into?

Michelle Fong and Rylee Rubalcava

March 5, 2009 at 1:08 am Leave a comment

Mini-Festival of Recent Asian American Films @ the Claremont Colleges

Asian Americans in Media Presents:
Mini-Festival of Recent Asian American Films

Still from Hollywood Chinese (2007)

Still from Hollywood Chinese (2007)

Wednesday, April 1, 7 p.m.
HOLLYWOOD CHINESE (2007) Directed by Arthur Dong
Location: Broad Performance Space

Hollywood Chinese presents a little-known chapter of cinema history: the Chinese in American feature films, from the very first independent Chinese American film produced in 1916 to Ang Lee’s triumphant Brokeback Mountain.  Hollywood Chinese brings together a fascinating portrait of actors, directors, writers, and iconic images to show how the Chinese have been imagined in movies, and how filmmakers have and continue to navigate an industry that was often ignorant about race, but at times paradoxically receptive.

In Person: Arthur Dong (Director)

Still from Yours Truly, Miss Chinatown (2008)

Still from Yours Truly, Miss Chinatown (2008)

Wednesday, April 8, 7 p.m.
YOURS TRULY, MISS CHINATOWN (2008) Directed by Daisy Lin Shapiro
Location: Broad Hall 210

Ever since the very first Miss Chinatown was crowned in 1958, the titleholder has been a highly recognizable Asian American icon at once admired and reviled.  In Yours Truly, Miss Chinatown, the cameras go behind the scenes of the 2003 Los Angeles Miss Chinatown pageant, delving into the lives of two pageant contestants, as well as that of a Miss Chinatown imposter.

In Person: Daisy Lin Shapiro (Director) and Kristina Wong + surprise guest!

Still from Against The Grain: An Artist's Survival Guide in Peru (2008)

Still from Against The Grain: An Artist's Survival Guide in Peru (2008)

Wednesday, April 22, 7 p.m.,
Location: Broad Hall 210

Spanning two decades of corrupt governments and inept leaders, Against The Grain tells the story of four inspiring Peruvian visual artists: Claudio Jiménez Quispe, Alfredo Márquez, Eduardo Tokeshi, and Natalia Iguíñiz. Each artist teaches us what it means to persevere and make art in a country like Perú. These struggles and commitments raise the question: Is freedom of expression a right or a privilege?

In Person: Ann Kaneko (Director)

Still from Perempuan Punya Cerita/Chant of Lotus (2008)

Still from Perempuan Punya Cerita/Chant of Lotus (2008)

Wednesday, April 29, 7 p.m.
CHANTS OF LOTUS/PEREMPUAN PUNYA CERITA (2008) Directed by Fatimah Tobing Rony, Upi Avianto, Nia diNata, Lasja F. Susatyo.
Location: Broad Hall 210 or Rose Hills Theater TBC

Four women filmmakers tackle four different stories about lives of marginalized women in Indonesia, exploring issues including teenage sexuality, human trafficking, mental illness, and AIDS/HIV.  This film was heavily censored by the Indonesian government.  The 35 mm print (schedule/space permitting) that you will see is uncensored. Some scenes are graphic and shocking.  This film is intended for mature audiences.

In Person: Fatimah Tobing Rony (Director)

This festival is funded in part by Pitzer College Campus Life Committee, Pitzer College Center for Asian Pacific American Students (CAPAS), Intercollegiate Department of Asian American Studies (IDAAS) and Intercollegiate Media Studies (IMS) at the Claremont Colleges.

For more information, go to:
Hollywood Chinese
Yours Truly, Miss Chinatown
Against The Grain
Chant of Lotus – site is in Indonesian, search for English information on google and youtube

For further inquiries, contact: Ming-Yuen S. Ma through this blog, or email

Posted by Ming-Yuen S. Ma

March 4, 2009 at 11:55 pm Leave a comment


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