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September Film Favorites

Happy #AAPIHeritageMonth aka #AAPIHM! Everyday this month I'm going to list my fav AAPI films about AAs & by AA. Join me & hashtag #AAPIFilmz!

Better Luck Tomorrow

Of course Justin Lin's Better Luck Tomorrow is one of my favorite AAPI films. After the film was met with deafening buzz when it premiered at Sundance Film Festival, I knew I had to watch it. A friend and I decided to watch it one really late night. We were both 15 at the time and we didn't understand why there was so much praise because it felt so similar to our own mundane lives at the time. It was only after years past that I realized how singularly significant the film was, not because it mirrored my own life but because finally there was a film highlighted a part of Asian American identity, never before fully explored on screen. Till this day, there hasn't yet been a film made that touches on the nuances of the pressures, expectations, & stereotypes of being Asian-American in this day & age.



Sin Nombre

Cary Fukunaga directorial debut film, Sin Nombre blew me away the first time I watched it. Never had I seen a film where the story followed three different character's journey only for them to collide mid-way through the film. It was so refreshingly bold and captured the grim realities of what Mexican immigrants experienced coming to America with such acute sensitivity, I was shocked to know that a Japanese-American man directed the film. It will always be, hands down, one of the best debut films I will ever see. 



Treeless Mountain

So Yong Kim's Treeless Mountain was a breath of fresh air I didn't know I needed. She captures life as it should be seen: unfiltered, trivial, and at times slow but it is in these special moments that we can see the beauty of life as they truly are. The two young actresses were incredible to watch as they carried this film with delicate intimacy and poignancy.


Farah Goes Bang


Meera Menon's directorial debut feature, Farah Goes Bang tells an important female-centric story about what it means to be a multicultural person in modern America. This coming-of-age story focuses on three best friends' intertwining lives that explores female sexuality, cultural identity, and friendship in the backdrop of the very specific era of John Kerry's ill-fated 2004 presidential campaign. Its timely story speaks volumes on the pains of growing up as well as the state of the country itself. 



American Revolutionary: The Evolution Of Grace Lee Boggs

Grace Lee's American Revolutionary: The Evolution Of Grace Lee Boggs is essential viewing for all activists across the globe. I didn't know who Grace Lee Boggs was prior to viewing the doc so I got a crash course in how she became one of the most iconic and influential figures in the Black Power movement. I feel so fortunate to have been in her presence before she passed away last year. The doc will inspire, empower, and educate you to start standing up for what you believe in, no matter how old you are.



Hooligan Sparrow

After premiering at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Nanfu Wang's Hooligan Sparrow went straight to LAAPFF and won the Grand Jury and Best Director prize. It follows the women's rights activist Hooligan Sparrow, who has had a target on her head from the Chinese government since day one. Wang sticks by Sparrow through the most dangerous of times as they are constantly harassed by thugs and policemen alike. In your face & urgent, Hooligan Sparrow shows proof that documentaries can be an effective and dangerous weapon against oppression.  Look out for Wang because she is one fearless filmmaker that dares to push the boundaries and make a difference. 


Top Spin

With the Olympics coming up, how can I forget the incredible documentary, Top Spin?! We follow three teenage American table tennis champions on their way to the 2012 Summer Olympic Games from their rigorous training to their final battles. Filled with super-sonic power and motivation, these young athletes defy the odds of becoming an Olympian and make you wish you were this talented when you were their age. Directors Mina T. Son and Sara Newens crafts a swiftly edited, concise, and thrilling doc that'll ultimately make you a fan of Table Tennis and these kids. 



The Motel

Let's get real, when I first watched Michael Kang's debut film The Motel at the tender age of 16, I just didn't get it. I didn't get how this seemingly unremarkable story about a boy living in a motel in upstate New York could be remotely relatable to a SoCal gal like me. In retrospect, I see now that its trivial and honest portrayal of adolescence is what makes the film such a vital and authentic piece of Asian-American cinema. 13-year-old Ernest Chin is awkward with girls, bullied by his white neighbor, and fatherless. But with the help of Sam Kim (Sung Kang), maybe just maybe, Ernest will be able to navigate into manhood despite his unfortunate circumstances in life. 



Mysterious Skin

Anyone who has watched Gregg Araki's Mysterious Skin knows how vital and essential the film is to the Queen Cinema canon. This is Araki's 8th film and first time using someone else's source material. Adapting Scott Heim's novel of the same name, Araki constructs Mysterious Skin with brutal intimacy and visual poeticism to tell a sensitive story about two different boy's journey into young adulthood after being sexually abused by their baseball coach. This is the film that put Joseph Gordon-Levitt on the map and even till this day, his performance is single-handedly still one of the most complex and audacious performances I've ever seen. This film is a bold, thoughtful and illuminating cinematic experience that you surely won't forget.


In Football We Trust

Set in the backdrop of a predominantly Mormon and White town, In Football We Trust follows the journey of four Polynesian high school students as they chase their life long and life-changing dream of attaining professional recruitments. Filmed over the span of four years, first time filmmakers Tony Vainuku and Erika Cohn chronicles these NFL hopeful's struggles and pressures to balance cultural and familial expectations in order to find an ticket out from gang violence and poverty. In moments of adolescence, and simply growing up, the greatest challenge for these four boys is the arduous and sobering journey of the high stakes that come with trying to achieve your dreams all while flourishing out of their adolescence. In no time, they are faced with the harsh realities that maybe, Football it is not all it's cracked up to be. (Full Review)



Ping Pong Playa

Ping Pong Playa is exactly the kind of Asian-American comedy that I've been waiting for! Probably because of the fact that minus the story being centered around an Asian family, the core of the film unraveled like any other low-brow underdog sport film that's released in mainstream media today. Christopher "C-Dub" Wang is a wannabe baller and a supreme slacker but he must step up to the plate when his family's business and their ping pong champion reputation is on the line. Laugh out loud hilarious and a damn good leisure watch, I hoped other people liked it too. But in the context of knowing that this film is Academy Award winning filmmaker, Jessica Yu's first narrative feature after working on groundbreaking and daring documentaries, I can see why people would feel disappointed in her shift in projects. Regardless, seeing this NBA-loving slacker turned ping-pong playa reminded me so much of the AzN guys I've grown up with, I just sat back and laughed my ass off.



Twinsters

If you haven't seen Ryan Miyamoto and Samantha Futerman's Twinsters already, you have not felt, experienced, and seen beauty of what this crazy life has to offer! Sam Futerman's world gets turned upside down when one day she receives an unexpected and life-changing email from a French fashion student Anais Bordier, claiming that they might be twins. Twinsters presents the surprisingly intimate and emotionally-potent portrait of two disparate but connected women, following their journey together to find solace within themselves and to reclaim their heritage--no matter how incredulous their circumstances might have been. It's one of the best documentaries I've seen in recent memory that'll have you reaching for the nearest tissue. Guarantee.


 Crush the Skull

Viet Nguyen's Crush the Skull is proof that you can finesse the art of creating a refined and successful horedy film! Horror + Comedy, duh! One last job, they said. They were going to go to vacation after this, they said. Yeah right! In Crush the Skull, a group of thieves becomes trapped in the home of a deranged serial killer. Perfecting the horedy genre by a seamless blend of slapstick comedy and horror tropes, Viet Nguyen and co-writer Christopher Dinh creates belly-achingly hilarious and nail-bitingly frightening film that'll have you hollering and jumping from your seat from giddy terror. Get ready to bring your weapon of choice because you're gonna need to crush someone's skull!



Detention

You're either going to love or hate Joseph Kahn's batshit crazy slasher/high school film, Detention. The mastermind behind (possibly) every iconic pop culture moment in the last two decades finally tried his hand in narrative filmmaking and it wasn't until his second feature where his cinematic voice was perfected and understood by most. A bit of Breakfast Club + Prom Night + E.V.E.R.Y. other teen film, Detention centers around a copycat killer named after a movie villain named Cinderhella who is stalking the student body at Grizzy Lake High School and it's up to a group of kids serving detention to solve the crime. Going at a supersonic speed and never letting up even for our ADHD+ brains, Detention pumps out every movie trope and pop cultural references in milliseconds, serving us a plate of severely deranged and absurd fun!!! 



Meet the Patels

Like so many first generation immigrant kids, Ravi Patel was getting harassed by his parents on a daily to get married to a nice Indian girl. With Ravi's sister Geeta Patel co-directing with him and behind the camera, Meet the Patels is indeed a family affair as we follow his journey to find a wife to make his family happy. What starts out as an enlightening intro to Indian culture 101, soon becomes a story about navigating modern love: trying dating apps, attending weddings, even participating in a Patel Matrimonial Convention (Gotta see it to believe). Humorous as it is outrageously charming, Meet the Patels ultimately shows the struggles and cultural expectations most immigrant kids face today along with the million other obstacles of trying to find your one and only true love in this mad mad world!


Part II -
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Happy #AAPIHeritageMonth aka #AAPIHM! Everyday this month I've been listing my fav AAPI films about AAs & by AA. Read Part I and here is part II! Join me & hashtag #AAPIFilmz!

Girlfight

If you've seen Karyn Kusama's directorial debut film, Girlfight then you would know that she's been killin' the film game since day one. It's no wonder that the film won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance back in 2000 and was lauded by critics and audiences everywhere. The story follows Diana Guzman, a troubled teen in Brooklyn who decides to channel her aggression by training to become a boxer. This was Michelle Rodriguez's breakthrough role and one that solidified her as a promising talent. Diana was unapologetically fierce and always down to fight gender discrimination both in her public and private life! And that's also one of the many reasons why Diana Guzman is a certified Badass Femmes



Advantageous

I don't think I even remember any science-fiction starring Asian-Americans in the forefront besides Jennifer Phang's Advantageous. It could definitely be the first! In a near-future city where soaring opulence overshadows economic hardship, Gwen and her daughter Jules do all they can do to hold onto their joy together, despite the instability surrounding their world. Adapted by her 23-minute short, Phang presents a thought-provoking and quietly disturbing sci-fi drama that touches on what happens to females as mothers, workers, and as simply humans, once civilization is in decline. It might be a hit or miss to some people but if you let the film's message marinate, you will see the beauty and tragedy of what the future holds for us. 


Planet B-Boy

It was in college where I discovered my passion for documentaries when I saw Benson Lee's breakdancing doc, Planet B-Boy. The top b-boys from Germany, Japan, South Korea, France, and the United States all rigorously train for their version of the breakdancing Olympics called Battle of the Year. It's an crash course on the history of breakdancing as well as an insight on each team's own cultural inspirations, history, and motivation behind their individually distinct dance styles. Exhilarating & passionate, Planet B-Boy will make you rethink breakdancing as more than just a dance but a true art form. 



Spa Night

Andrew Ahn perfectly captures a specific corner of the Korean-American experience set in Koreatown, Los Angeles, with his directorial debut, Spa Night. Watching Spa Night as a Korean-American, the film hit too close to home because my problems never felt more validated until I saw it on the big screen. I saw myself in David played by Joe Seo who delivers a powerfully restrained performance, who feels the burden of exploring oneself while trying to abide to familial obligations. Ahn’s acute direction  is finely tuned and hones on the specificity of the never before seen culture and stories of second-gen Asian Americans and that we desperately so need. 



Lovesong

All of So Yong Kim's films should be on this list but her most recent work, Lovesong, starring Riley Keough and Jena Malone is just another example why Kim is the reigning queen of extreme intimacy. It's a difficult art to translate interpersonal intimacy onto the big screen for any filmmaker but Kim does it so masterfully, she takes it to another level. Lovesong, follows a relationship between two friends whose bonds deepen during an impromptu road trip. The premise sounds vague and even the trailer only shows a glimpse of the breathtaking transcendental beauty that lies within the film. I got to catch the film at Sundance's NEXT Fest and the film completely broke me with it's delicate portrait of the ebbs and flows of female friendship. There is no one that can quite tell a story like Kim can and I'm thankful for that.



Chan is Missing

There would be no Asian-American cinema if there wasn't Wayne Wong's Chan is Missing. Shot in black and white film, this indie noir story follows Jo, a cab driver in San Francisco's Chinatown and his nephew Steve who tries to track down Chan, after Chan disappears with their money. For the first time on screen, we get to finally see an "ABC" (American-Born Chinese) story told in their own voice as we get an all access pass into the mysterious and often misunderstood terrain and people of Chinatown. It is the simplicity of the plot and authenticity of its characters that makes this movie such a classic film. Even after 20 years, Chan Is Missing doesn't feel dated, it's laugh-out-loud dialogue (they actually uttered the words FOB!) and moody tone rather captures why Chinatown continues to be an enigma because unlike most places, Chinatown runs by its own rules.


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There's only been a handful of films that screened at Sundance this year that makes me really excited for this year in film and one of those films is Anna Rose Holmer's The Fits. 11-year-old Toni is training as a boxer with her brother at the community center when she becomes enamored with the local dance troupe. But when a mysterious outbreak of fainting spells plague the team, Toni's desire for acceptance becomes more complicated. What a fascinating story that takes a peculiar turn into different worlds! Give me more!



Newcomer Royalty Hightower as Toni is fascinating to watch as she navigates her different worlds. There is a undeniable hypnotizing quality to the trailer in its structure, plot, and cinematography.  I haven't seen a film yet that shows the magical and paralyzing journey of adolescence quite like this so I am beyond elated that Oscilloscope is releasing The Fits on June 3rd! 

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Holly hell you guys! Why didn't anyone tell me that Park Chan-wook dropped the teaser trailer from his upcoming film, The Handmaiden?! Park fell in love with the plot of Sarah Waters' novel, Fingersmith so much that he decided to turn it into a film! It'll be interesting to see how he turns this crime novel set in the Victorian era Britain into a story set in the good old days of Korea. The story follows a young female pickpocket from the slums who is hired by a con man to join an elaborate scam in which she becomes the personal servant of a wealthy Japanese heiress, who she ultimately tries to seduce. Not only does the film have a killer storyline & cast but the rapid-paced teaser gives us a glimpse of the madness that is in store for us! It looks deliciously deceitful and mischievous! I love it already! The Handmaiden premieres at Cannes this month!

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Badass Femmes is a bi-weekly column that I write on Crome Yellow about all the Badass Females in pop culture that has shaped my life.

This month I was drawn to women who earned their badass status through hard-working, intensely focused work ethic. Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods was an apt first choice, but to follow her up, I selected a very different kind of woman, one who literally dances on the darker side and pushes the boundaries of what’s humanly possible. That woman is Nina Sayers from Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. As the flip side of Elle Woods, Nina finds herself consumed by her goal and will stop at nothing (to her detriment) to succeed. Bringing Nina to life, Natalie Portman’s bone-chillingly nuanced performance is the embodiment of what happens when you let your passion bring out the worst in you. Channeling her fragility into strength, Nina’s intense goals threaten to ruin who she is, and it’s this struggle that the character illuminates so well.

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Year: 2016
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Writer: Jeremy Saulnier
Cinematographer: Sean Porter
Cast: Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Patrick Stewart, Imogen Poots, Macon Blair
Country of Origin: USA
Rating: R
Time: 95 mins.



Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room has been my most anticipated film of 2016 since it premiered at TIFF last year and it's finally here! Saulnier has a knack for creating engrossing and gripping stories surrounding the theme of vengeance as seen in his previous film, Blue Ruin. Green Room centers on a punk-rock group who's just ending their not-so-fantastic tour when they book an unexpected gig in an abandoned warehouse. After witnessing a murder, the band is forced to fight to the death against the group of maniacal neo-nazis who runs the place. Sounds like my worst nightmare is just about to come true. Yikez!



If anyone could make you shiver in your boots and gag with fear, it's Jeremy Saulnier. When talking about the vicious cycle of vengeance, Saulnier is a master on covering all side of the spectrum whether his characters are on the right or wrong side of the situation. It also hones on the ethos of being a punk rocker in all it's DGAF and vagabond lifestyle. The story seamlessly ties everything together to tell one unforgettable story that is grounded in realism and is powerful in execution and style. Saulnier never lets me down and Green Room is undoubtedly one of the best films of 2016. Get your weapons ready because this film is one hell of a ride! 

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