From L.A. to Beijing to Paris with Love; or the Birth of My First Chinese Movie

36 snails can be hard to stomach for a spiritual vegan on his first evening in Paris

36 snails can be hard to stomach for a spiritual vegan on his first evening in Paris

It was 5:55 am. Jetlagged and recovering from a full day of diarrhea (my stomach finally broke down from all the food I’d been eating in China), I was lying awake in my hotel room in Paris. As I was struggling to get more sleep for the full day of meetings ahead with my line producer, casting director and costume designer, I began ruminating about the very first moment that began the adventure to make my first Chinese movie, Morning, Paris!. Has it been all worth it?

MorningParis01

Pulling out my iPhone, I scrolled back to the first picture from Shanghai Fashion Week that I posted on my WeChat on April 14, 2013 at 6:10 am. I was probably jetlagged then too. That trip was my first significant trip to China as an adult. Earlier that year, I serendipitously met a young gay activist, J, in Los Angeles while I was invited to speak a workshop for a Chinese gay activist conference. I fell in love with him.

Let’s Get Married Now!

Marriage

While I am in China, my Facebook has been plastered with news about Supreme Court having ruled in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide in the good old US of A. So let’s get married! Only if I had a partner…

As Canadians, we are proud to have had gay marriage rights since 2005, exactly 10 years ahead of the U.S.A. Having seen gay marriage achieved in Canada, I had no doubt that national gay marriage would eventually pass in the U.S. It was just a matter of time. I guesstimated 10 years, and it was exactly that.

We Chinese Know Better… Getting Married is Not as Peachy as It Sounds?

Screen shot 2015-06-10 at 1.26.17 PM

After going to an event, sponsored by China’s giant Taobao, where the LA Gay Center invited ten LGBT couples who won a contest from China to get married in LA and threw a reception for them, I received an enigmatic message on a photo that I posted on my Facebook from a friend of a friend, who’s Chinese. gay and volunteers at the LA Gay Center, saying something like, “This is just for show. That’s why we real Chinese didn’t show up… because we know better. (A Tearful Emoticon).” This comment was up for an hour, and the author erased it.

For an event that was so highly publicized, I was surprised that when I showed up there were mostly friends I know and the turn out was low. In fact, my friend’s publicity agency, China Luxury Advisors, was the behind the promotion of it and invited me to attend the reception on Facebook. There were six couples instead of ten, as I was told that four from the Guangzhou area had problems getting visas from the American Consulate. The reception served two-buck Chucks and Costco meat-and-cheese plates and crackers.

Around the Horn: Your First Scary Movie

manitou-bonus-450x199

What’s the first scary movie you’ve seen or the first scary movie that scared you shitless? I have to say it’s THE MANITOU in 1978, the first horror film I saw in a theater as a kid. I was so scared that I ran out of the theater with my friend halfway through. The film starred Tony Curtis as a psychic whose girlfriend was being possessed by an evil Indian spirit that grew from a tumor on her neck to a full size demon. I finished the movie later on video on VHS as a teenager.

Going Vegan in Japantown

A bottle of Dassai 50 sake.

A bottle of Dassai 50 sake.

One night, my friend and I were downtown in the historic Little Tokyo Marketplace that is now Korean owned. We were going to an Izakaya there but the wait was simply too long… so we decided to try Shojin instead, a Japanese vegan haut cuisine restaurant.

I’ve often enjoyed vegan cuisine even though I’m an omnivore. The atmosphere was decidedly pleasant and tranquil as we entered the dining area… and there was a nice crowd on a Friday evening.

First we ordered a bottle of Dassai sake to wind down our week paired with our appetizers:

The Case Against the Slants

01

I was on Facebook and caught Simon Tam, the founder of the Asian dance rock band The Slants, posting about how their band was just denied a trademark because the US Trademark Office deemed the name of their band to be offensive (check out Simon’s previous guest blog about this issue here). I reposted Simon’s article and it sparked a spirited debate between Crane, my attorney friend, and Simon himself. Below is the exchange:

• Crane Stephen Landis: Because offensive is offensive even if it comes from someone in the group who would be offended.

• Crane Stephen Landis: The Washington DC “Redskins” is offensive even if it were owned by a Native American. That’s why the US Trademark Office revoked their trademark.

The Asian Dildo Terrorist

dildoterrorist3-apr7-2015-600x400

I just read this hilarious article about an obviously Asian man having fun with a gigantic dildo on the New York subway last weekend on Animal and Death and Taxes.

According to Animal, “An older man of indeterminate ethnic origin [probably East Asian?] boarded the train at Atlantic Avenue; the man seemed ‘fucked up on some kind of drug,’ loose-limbed and sloppy. Some young men sitting next to him began making fun of him. One of the dudes took out his phone to snap a selfie with the older guy. At that point, the old man reached into his bag and pulled out a massive dildo. The young guys and other people nearby ran away, laughing.”

TBT: ‘Telegraph’ & Berkeley in the ’90s

A boy, a street vendor’s child on Telegraph Ave.

A boy, a street vendor’s child on Telegraph Ave.

As I was recently doing research into a story set in Berkeley in the 90s, when I went to school, I dug up the very first thing I made, Telegraph, an 80 minute documentary that I shot on the VHS camera my roommate loaned me for a weekend. It was an assignment I shot in lieu of writing a paper to my Documentary Film class at Berkeley during my junior year…. which must have been 1990.

The film was modeled after Walter Ruttman’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City that I saw in that class. Instead of Berlin, I decided to do a similar exercise on the life of a day on the famed Berkeley street, Telegraph Ave. I was able to capture and interview many street and homeless personalities whom I’d bump into on Telegraph Ave. every day en route to school.

To Live and Eat in Los Angeles

The flavorful amuse bouche at Tangine, Beverly Hills.

The flavorful amuse bouche at Tangine, Beverly Hills.

I’ve been to many cities in the world from Hong Kong to Tokyo to Paris to Berlin to New York, but none have international cuisines more diverse, more authentic, and more affordable than Los Angeles. I’m conjecturing that it’s all due to this metropolis’ amazing diversity in population and affordability of space. Even an incredibly specialized ethnic cuisine can afford to open up a little shop that local residents will champion. From haut cuisine in Beverly Hills to a mom-and-pop shop in Koreatown, LA has nothing short of good eats.

My aunt took me out for her birthday at Beverly Hills’ Tagine, a Moroccan haut cuisine restaurant. “It used to be impossible to get hummus in the 80s,” reminisced my aunt over the six course tasting menu with wine pairings, “And now it’s everywhere with all different flavors.”

A Portrait of Filmmakers as Young Men

Chinese Opera Singer William Lau, Justin Lin, me and Steven Pranoto in Toronto for Shopping For Fang’s Canadian premiere at TIFF 1997

Chinese Opera Singer William Lau, Justin Lin, me and Steven Pranoto in Toronto for Shopping For Fang’s Canadian premiere at TIFF 1997

Fellow Offender Justin Lin’s post on Class of 97 brings back humble memories of our roots as UCLA film students and independent filmmakers. I remember driving up to San Francisco to promote Shopping for Fangs at Berkeley. We stayed overnight on the floor of a future producer’s dorm room and we didn’t sleep very well on the night that she invited us to screen our movie on campus.

So the next night, when we were offered another night on the floor of this humble student’s dorm room, we declined and said we were heading back to Los Angeles.

But our secret plan was to find a nice motel room where we could spend a night in and write. As we were heading out of Berkeley, we checked all the motels in the vicinity and they all turned out to be over $60 per night. I was sure that we could find a motel room in the $40 range in the Oakland area.

Throwback Thursday: My Favorite 90s Tunes

(Left to Right: Akemi Look, Kimberly Rose-Wolter, Michelle Krusiec and Karin Anna Cheung play four best friends in the 90s in The Unbidden)

(Left to Right: Akemi Look, Kimberly Rose-Wolter, Michelle Krusiec and Karin Anna Cheung play four best friends in the 90s in The Unbidden)

As I was researching 1990s music for my feature in post-production, The Unbidden, I started to recall my favorite 90s tracks that still sound contemporary and fabulous. Here are my top 10 in no order or preference:

1. Opus III’s “It’s a Fine Day” (1992)