Compelling movies this year are proof against the myth that a good movie requires a villain. Good movies can be made without a villain or forced antagonist. Bell Hooks once said that she preferred “difference” over “conflict” and cited A Dry White Season as an exemplary film that accomplished that. Gravity and 12 Years a Slave are examples of compelling and meaningful movies completely bypassing the need for a conventional villain.
When I first arrived in Beijing, I was walking in Sanlitun with my good friend K who said she was going to get married.
“Married? You mean marrying Mabel?” I asked.
“No, I mean I need to marry a guy,” K said. “My parents knew about Mabel and I for years but they are still forcing me to marry a man. So I need to find a gay male friend to get married with. And then we’ll get divorced in a few years. My parents just won’t get off my back otherwise.”
I was immediately struck by K’s plight. K is a 25-year-old lesbian friend who lives in Beijing and, like many people LGBT or not, she still faces so much parental pressure to get married.
K’s story was stuck in my mind when, a few days later, I was brainstorming with my friend Xiaogang who runs an LGBT non-profit organization called Queer Comrades distributing LGBT short films on-line. Xiaogang also told me that he had an acting background and sort of left the stage to be in the non-profit industry.
“Would you be interested in acting in a short film? I have an idea to do a short viral film in China,” I asked Xiaogang. Read more...
From Beijing to Hong Kong, there is never an exhaustable list of exotic and tasty food to eat. However, I did get stomach flu in Beijing for a week before leaving for Hong Kong. It definitely made me extra careful about what I put in my mouth. The reality is you don’t know what you’re getting in China most of the time. But you’ve got to eat somehow, right?
Starting with the exotic, there is a chain restaurant in Dongzhimen called Lao Tou Jie (literally translated as Old Rabbit Street). Well, what do they serve there? Rabbit meat! Their specialty is fried rabbit heads. I opted to try their spicy rabbit meat with peanuts and green chili, which tasted like chicken.
In and Out in Beijing’s embassy area is an excellent Yunan restaurant. I savored some great dishes with some friends. This pineapple rice was quite exquisite. Read more...
I started off enjoying this viral dance video by 11-year-old Sean Lew when I first saw the tweet from the LGBT magazine Instinct. The more I saw it, the more queerious I became. Why am I fascinated by watching an 11-year-old Asian American boy (who isn’t “sexy”) doing Jazz Funk, the genre of “gay hip hop” that my teacher Viet named?
Really, I shouldn’t complain. It could have been a lot worse. I remember coming to China the first time when I was a pre-adolescent in the early 80s. There really wasn’t much to eat. We were travelling with a Hong Kong tour to Beijing and everything we ate tasted bland and the same every meal. Three decades later, things are a lot more different.
A Blue Shanghai (a gin based drink with Blue Curacao) from Transit Lounge, a little gay lounge run by Japanese guy in Shanghai where you can also buy a Viagra for $100 rmb.
Now my Chinese friends would complain that there aren’t enough good eats in L.A., which isn’t true because you really have to know where to find all the diverse cuisines in the sprawling city.
Being new to Shanghai and Beijing, where you’re getting constant scares of fake food products and alcohol, you really have to test your luck. Here are some memorable eats and drinks that I’ve had between Shanghai and Beijing, the two cities that I travel most to. Read more...
Watchdogging and complaining is appreciated in a democratic society, but for a watchdog organization to pressure artists and filmmakers to change their titles or alter their work is simply against the foundation of America. To pressure artists and filmmakers to change their work because of an ideological disagreement is simply undemocratic and must never be tolerated, or entertained, in one of the most free countries in the world.
I recently came across an internet article or comment about how female film directors are rarely considered auteurs. For me, Katheryn Bigelow is definitely an auteur. As a teenager, I thought she was an instant auteur from watching her second movie Near Dark at the cinema. Near Dark is stylish, well-made and 100% Bigelow. Who do you consider to be a female auteur?
On Friday July 26, 2013, in Little Tokyo, attorney Karen Gee, director Stanley Yung, writer Koji Steven Sakai and I finally met with the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition represented by attorney Dan Mayeda, MANAA’s Guy Aoki and actor/director Aki Aleong regarding our movie CHINK. I remember that it was particularly a curious place to meet—a small dressing room in the rear of the East West Players building where I could see myself reflected in several angles in the surrounding mirrors, reminiscent of Bruce Lee’s climatic fight scene in Enter the Dragon.
First, the “coalition” was not even unanimous in their complaint against the titling of our feature CHINK as Visual Communications, one of the seven members, has “recused” itself from the letter that started it all. Visual Communications did not only world premiere the feature at their annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival but also gave Jason Tobin the Best Actor Award for portraying the titular character. Besides, Visual Communication also advocates for artistic freedom. Read more...
First, my heart goes out to Trayvon Martin and his family. In my eyes, I don’t think killing anyone could be justifiable. And certainly, if I were George Zimmerman I would not have carried a gun or followed Trayvon Martin.
When I first followed the case, just like in the OJ Simpson case, I had little doubt that the killer was guilty. How could anyone just shoot a 17-year-old (regardless of his race) who was weaponless? And Zimmerman also was the one that pursued Martin.
After the trial, the jury’s decision and further research into the case, I no longer feel the case was that black and white. Read more...
A couple of weeks back, I heard from the grapevine that some Asian American people in power in Washington were upset about our film Chink’s title. About a week later, on May 22nd 2013, the Asian Pacific Media Coalition sent us this letter:
Dear Messrs. Yung, Sakai, and Lee:
We write on behalf of the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition (APAMC), an umbrella organization that advocates for the visibility and inclusion of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the entertainment and media industries. We acknowledge the important issue of the psychological impact of overt racism and subtle discrimination against Asian Americans that your film “Chink” explores. Many members of the APAMC, however, find the choice of a slur as the title of the film objectionable and believe it will have negative repercussions for the Asian American/Pacific Islander community. (Please note that APAMC member Visual Communications recuses itself from this letter.)
How do you feel about getting old? Maybe not in the physical but in an artistic way… Last Saturday evening UCLA Film & TV Archive did a mini-retrospective of two early features Flow and Drift that I made. I got a Facebook message from a friend who said “Thank you for friending him” as he showed Offender Justin’s and my early shorts in his cable program. In fact, Offender Justin shot “Fall 1990,” a majority of Flow when he was still an undergraduate at UCLA. In fact, it might have been his first and last DP gig. Correct me if I am wrong… my memory is fading!
Honestly I haven’t thought about getting old. I just kept making films the summer I graduated from Berkeley. I’m sure it will be challenging watching my early works and I’ll cringe at all the innocence and the rough edges of my craft. Nevertheless I still have the same enthusiasm and excitement about making films… and I still feel very much a beginner.
Maybe I’m a kid who refuses to grow up. How about you?
I’d be especially curious in hearing how Offender DHH (David Henry Hwang) feels as I was studying David’s works in college—before I became a filmmaker—and now I’ve worked with David and we are on the same blog! Read more...
Barney Cheng in “Hysterio Passio,” the first 16mm film I made at UCLA in 6 hours
Every UCLA graduate film student—to this day—still has to do their pre-410 exercise, a 2-minute short film that you have to make on 16mm in 6 hours. Fresh off a Deconstruction and experimental video background, I made this experimental short “Hysterio Passio” that required my Christian DP Scott Walker to photograph my penis in close-up. “Hysterio Passio” became part of Flow, an experimental feature compilation of my UCLA short films that will screen at the Hammer museum this Saturday evening at UCLA along with my second feature Drift.
In the mood of a retrospective, I am also thinking about ten films that have influenced me as a filmmaker in no particular order. Read more...