Archive for April, 2009

Hawai’ian Eye: Asian American Studies conference

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AAAS conference back porch, 2009

Just got back from the Association of Asian American Studies annual conference, which this year was held in Honolulu, HI. Needless to say it was a very well-attended event, taking place a block from the beach in Waikiki. I myself confess that the percentage of time I spent swimming in the ocean vs. attending panels and roundtables was pretty much skewed toward boogie boards and sandcastles, but I’d brought my kids along so I had an excuse.

I did manage to tear myself away from skimming stones and walking in the sea foam to attend a few presentations, however, and participated in a couple as well. UC Berkeley’s Elaine Kim organized a great panel, Bollywood, Believing Women, and the Female Bin-Laden, which included Huma Dar’s pointed critique of Hindi-language films that demonize Muslim men and exoticize Muslim women. Filmmaker and scholar Irum Sheikh displayed several images of “disappeared” individuals who have been detained by the U.S. government, many held for years on flimsy or nonexistent charges in the “war on terror” perpetuated by the Bush regime. Her straightforward and unvarnished presentation made an unimpeachable case against a foreign policy gone horribly awry.

Dawn Mabalon & Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, porkpie-ing

Dawn Mabalon & Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, fedora'ing

I also ran into several former students, now all grown up, including Sudarat Musikawong, who’s a prof at Willamette University, Mitch Wu, now teaching at SUNY Hunter, Carolyn Tran, about to enter grad school at the New School for Social Research, Margaret Rhee, poet & PhD candidate at UC Berkeley, and Celine Parrenas-Shimizu, who’s a superstar professor at UC Santa Barbara and whose latest tome, The Hypersexuality of Race, won one of conference’s book awards this year. Plus, as at any good Asian American gathering, I spotted several people in felted hats, further supporting my contention that Asian Americans love stylish headwear.

Lawrence Hashima, Pahole Sookkasikon, Kevin Lim & RJ Quiambao rock the house, AAAS 2009

Lawrence Hashima, Pahole Sookkasikon, Kevin Lim & RJ Quiambao rock the house, AAAS 2009

I also took along a couple grad students from SFSU to present their research on a panel called Assimilation, Rice Queens, Porn, and the Mainstream: Constructing Media Images, which, in keeping with scholarly tradition, wordily includes a term from all of the panelists’ papers in its title. Pahole and RJ from SFSU and Kevin from UH Manoa rocked their presentations and made me feel like a proud mother fawning over her young. It ain’t easy covering topics ranging from “The King and I,” Asian & Hawai’ian women in online porn, and a new framework for Asian American cinema, but the guys pulled it off with flair. Larry Hashima provided excellent feedback and tied together the panel in style.

I also organized a panel called Art and the Academy: Working Artists In Asian American Studies wherein I talked about the legacy of creative work in SFSU’s Asian American Studies Department and outlined the production of POP! Producing Our Power: Presenting Asian American Culture, a student-run show at SFSU that asks the age-old question, “What is Asian American culture and how can we express it on stage?”  Also presenting their awesome social practice projects were brilliant artist-scholars Ming-Yuen S. Ma, who talked about his amazing video art bus tours through Los Angeles, and Gaye Chan, chair of the Art Dept. at UH Manoa, who described her guerilla gardening project, Eating In Public. Both projects are unapologetic blows against the empire that conclusively prove that artists are indispensible in the battle against tyranny and injustice.

Sliders, Hawai'ian style, Sidestreet Inn, Honolulu

Sliders, Hawai'ian style, Sidestreet Inn, Honolulu

On the recreational tip, I managed to have shave ice nearly every day, though the Waikiki version is pretty tepid. The killer stuff is found on the North Shore in Haleiwa, at Matsumoto’s, where the sour lemon, lilekoi, and coconut combo I tried was stunning. Back in Honolulu, good eats were to be had at Sidestreet Inn, a formica-table sports/karaoke bar that serves up some of the best Hawai’ian food around, including excellent ahi poke, kahlua pig sliders, and fried chicken wings.

So despite my struggle to resist the lure of the beach and do my academic duty, the trip was pretty fun. I’m glad to be back in my cool grey city of love, but I sure do miss swimming in the tropical sea every day.

April 30, 2009 at 5:05 am Leave a comment

All For The Winner: 28th Hong Kong Film Awards

Xu Jiao wins Best New Performer for her crossdressing role in CJ7

Crocodile tears? Xu Jiao wins Best New Performer for CJ7

Just a quick note about this year’s Hong Kong Film Awards, which took place this Saturday. Wilson Yip’s biopic Ip Man, about the martial arts legend, took Best Picture, with Ann Hui winning Best Director for The Way We Are, her docudrama about the New Territories town of Tin Shui Wai.  The Way We Are, with its mostly non-professional cast, also won three other awards including Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Screenplay. Nick Cheung (The Beast Stalker) nabbed his first Best Actor statue, adding it to his award from the Hong Kong Film Critics’ Society. Cute little girl Xu Jiao won Best New Performer for her crossdressing turn as Stephen Chow Sing-Chi’s son in Chow’s sci-fi blockbuster CJ7. Unfortunately, according to the Golden Rock’s liveblog she gave a horribly fake acceptance speech that included fake crying. I guess child stars are the same all over the world.

Carina Lau & Tony Leung burn up the red carpet, HKFA 2009

Carina Lau & Tony Leung burn up the red carpet, HKFA 2009

Interestingly, in a repeat of the Golden Horse Awards last year, John Woo’s lavish epic Red Cliff was shut out of the major acting and directing awards (including Tony Leung Chi-Wai’s failure to win his sixth Best Actor award). Red Cliff did clean up in several creative categories such as Best Art Direction and Best Visual Effects, winning five awards. Apparently this year’s nominations were only for Red Cliff 1Red Cliff 2 will be eligible again next year so maybe then it will make out a little better in the major awards. Ironically, Red Cliff is probably the only film among the award winners that will receive international distribution.

Simon Yam in black and brown satin, Hong Kong Film Awards, 2009

Simon Yam in brown satin, Hong Kong Film Awards, 2009

Poor Simon Yam, nominated for Best Actor for Johnnie To’s Sparrow, went home empty-handed again. But he got to wear a natty two-toned sharkskin suit, white spats, and a spider-motif tie, and looked way too dashing for a man in his fifties. Sadly, Sparrow also lost (to Red Cliff) for Best Film Score, which just goes to show that not everyone appreciated its awesome Martin Denny/Michel Legrand/Henry Mancini homage.

For a full listing of the awards go here.

For lots more pix of celebrity finery go here.

For a great liveblog of the event go here.

And here’s the trailer for Sparrow, for a sample of its excellent soundtrack:

April 20, 2009 at 7:12 pm 4 comments

10,000 maniacs + gratuitous Francis Ng pix

Walking softly and carrying a big sword, Francis Ng, Chasing Shadows, 2009

Walking softly and carrying a big sword, Francis Ng, Chasing Shadows, 2009

Hey! This blog just got it’s ten-thousandth hit (thanks, Edison) so in honor of reaching that milestone I’m posting some gratuitous pictures of the reason I started blogging in the first place. So here’s a recent publicity still from Chasing Shadows, Francis Ng’s upcoming wuxia movie which is now in postproduction. Note the excellent updo that Francis is sporting, which suggests a touch of goth in the art-direction mix.

Going out for snacks, Francis Ng & friend

Going out for snacks, Francis Ng & friend

Francis has been getting into some extracurricular trouble lately with “production assistants” and “music consultants” while editing Chasing Shadows in Beijing. He’s been spied wandering around late at night with women who are not his wife (who just gave birth back in October), supposedly walking with his arm around one of them and suspiciously playing loud music in his apartment at all hours of the night. It’s all conjecture and speculation, of course, but it makes for good tawdry unsubstantiated gossip so the Chinese press is all over it. Look out for those telephoto lenses, Francis, the next time you visit the 7/11 at midnight!

Francis gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar, 2007

Francis gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar, 2007

Francis is apparently getting a rep for being a playa in Hong Kong entertainment circles. A couple years ago he was caught on video canoodling in a karaoke bar (video below) with Ellen Chen, who played a sexy prostitute alongside Francis in Exiled. At first he denied it but when confronted with the videotaped evidence he ‘fessed up. Luckily he managed to get his wife to publicly forgive him.

Last year he attempted some damage control by releasing a series of pictures of said wife, then pregnant, and himself in marital bliss, with Francis dutifully following her around Hong Kong while she window-shopped. It was also noted that he cooked special soup for her during her pregnancy.

orange-kid

Two of a kind, Francis & Feynman Ng, 2009

Some other conveniently shot pictures from this February showed Francis, wife, and infant son Feynman (named for the physicist) tooling around Hong Kong, with father and son in matching orange outfits.

Method acting, Francis & co-star

Method acting, Francis & co-star

But Francis’ attempts to salvage his rep have taken a hit these past couple weeks with the gossip about his purported shenanigans in Beijing. Reports also mention his close personal relationship with starlet Jiang Yi-Yan, who played his mistress in Deadly Delicious. Apparently the two prepped for their make-out scenes by drinking together, which lead to some pretty convincing love scenes.

It’s none of my business what celebrities do in their personal lives but I’m always surprised when they get caught on film or video messing where they shouldn’t be messing. It should be patently obvious that when you’re a movie star, you’re living in a fishbowl and you should be on guard at all times against sneaky papparrazi with hidden cameras. There have been rumors for a long time that a couple of the Heavenly Kings are gay (you get to guess which ones) but there has never been a scrap of supporting evidence to prove it, even with Hong Kong’s notorious media machine constantly on the prowl. So there are three probable scenarios at work here:

1. Francis Ng has really poor judgment.

2. Francis Ng has really lax handlers.

3. Francis Ng has nothing to be guilty about and he just likes having business meetings with his production staff in the middle of the night in his private apartment.

You make the call.

Note: Thanks to dleedlee for the translation help and advice. You rock.

UPDATE: Thanks to the hkmdb for more Francis Ng damage control. How many times can he trot out his wife & kid to show he’s a happily married man? Sorry for the cynicism but it seems awfully calculated to me. That said, I do hope it works because one of the greatest pleasures in my life is watching Francis Ng act on the screen and I’d hate to see his career flounder, for whatever reason. Luckily Edison Chen is providing a much better distraction for the HK press & public so hopefully Francis will get a pass.

Bonus video: Francis Ng & Ellen Chen get busy. Canoodling starts around :46. Warning: bad karaoke singing.

UPDATE 2: Francis has been cast in a couple new Hong Kong flicks, Laughing Gor, which is based on the popular Michael Tse television character, and Most Wanted Terrorist, Dante Lam’s follow-up to Beast Stalker. There’s also the upcoming summer release of Tracing Shadow, which Francis stars in and co-directed, so I guess his peccadillos haven’t hurt his career too badly. Edison Chen should probably get a special award for running interference for everyone these days in Hong Kong.

April 3, 2009 at 7:36 am 9 comments

A God And A King: Chow Yun-Fat and Shah Rukh Khan

Chow Yun-Fat sparks it up, A Better Tomorrow, 1986

Chow Yun-Fat sparks it up, A Better Tomorrow, 1986

After viewing Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, my first Shah Rukh Khan film, at this year’s San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, I’ve been happily watching as many of his films as I can get my hands on. Since I’ve been living under a rock since my first daughter was born in 2000 I’d never had the pleasure of viewing one of Khan’s movies, though I’d heard of him before. His dominance in the Hindi-language film market reminds me of the heyday of Chow Yun-Fat, another flamboyant and charismatic actor who in his prime ruled supreme over his film industry and who in the 1980s and 90s was the undisputed lord of Chinese-language cinema. However, Shah Rukh Khan’s fate may be very different than Chow’s, as he’s so far chosen a different career trajectory than his suave Chinese counterpart.

The King of Bollywood looking suave, 2009

King Khan looking suave, 2009

Khan, also know as SRK or King Khan to his fans, is the reigning monarch of Bollywood, India’s Hindi-language commercial film business that turns out movie musical extravaganzas by the hundreds every year and that’s one of the biggest film industries in the world. Khan is by nature an exuberant, flashy actor who’s also able to turn in more subtle performances as befits the role he’s playing. Like most Bollywood stars he’s also an excellent dancer and he’s got great comic timing as well. Not to mention dramatically arched eyebrows, dimples to die for and a recently buffed-out bod featuring a killer six-pack. Shah Rukh Khan’s first name literally translates as “face of the king” so it’s fitting that he’s the top actor in Bollywood. The 43-year-old performer has appeared in over sixty films since breaking into the scene in 1992, including Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, which has been running continuously in Mumbai theaters for a record-breaking 700 weeks since its release in 1995. Khan’s won seven Filmfare Best Actor statues as well as many other Indian film awards and his name is a virtual guarantee of box-office success throughout the subcontinent and beyond.

CYF in his prime, The Killer, 1987

CYF in his prime, The Killer, 1989

Similarly, from 1976-1995 Chow Yun-Fat appeared in more than 70 films in his native territory of Hong Kong and he was the standard-bearer for the heyday of Hong Kong cinema in the 1980s and 90s. His easy charm and screen presence, graceful athleticism and overall hotness garnered him huge critical and popular acclaim in classics like A Better Tomorrow, Hard-Boiled, and The Killer (all directed by John Woo), as well as City On Fire, Prison On Fire, and Full Contact (Ringo Lam), God of Gamblers and God of Gamblers Returns (Wong Jing), and An Autumn’s Tale (Mabel Cheung) and All About Ah-Long (Johnnie To). He was nominated ten times for Best Actor at the Hong Kong Film Awards, with three wins, for A Better Tomorrow (1986), City On Fire (1987), and All About Ah-Long (1989). Like Shah Rukh Khan, his name on the bill meant surefire ticket sales, not only in Hong Kong but throughout most of Asia. At that time the native film industries of Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and other Asian territories had not yet fully developed and audiences depended on Hong Kong imports for much of their cinematic fare. Chow was Asia’s biggest movie star and was commonly known as the “God of Actors.”

Thai Chow, Anna and the King, 1999

Thai Chow, Anna and the King, 1999

In 1997, Chow decided to try his luck in Hollywood, hoping to parlay his huge popularity in Asia into a successful career in the West. Things initially looked promising, with the Los Angeles Times declaring him “the coolest actor in the world,” before he had even appeared in a Hollywood movie. But his first U.S. films, including The Replacement Killers, The Corruptor, and Anna and the King, were less than successful and since then the roles he’s gotten have been a mixed bag. Hollywood has never really figured out what to do with Chow, as evidenced by his relatively paltry output of only nine movies in the twelve years since his trek across the Pacific (compared to his starring in ten films in Hong Kong in both 1986 and 1987 each). He’s been in a few successful films, including Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but his highest-grossing Hollywood film to date has been Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End, where he played a sinister Fu Manchu-type character that was such a stereotypical caricature that the Chinese government trimmed ten minutes of his performance “for vilifying and defacing the Chinese” before allowing the film to screen in China.

Chow Hawai'ian, Dragonball: Evolution, 2009

Chow Hawai'ian, Dragonball: Evolution, 2009

CYF’s most recent film, Dragonball: Evolution, is a supporting, Mr. Miyagi-type role that’s a far cry from the towering heroes of his prime. Chow is obviously cognizant of his disappointing travails in Hollywood. In a recent tour of Asia in support of Dragonball: Evolution, he noted, “American audiences know only Chinese kung-fu movies and nothing else about us, and I am not a kung-fu actor. We (Asian actors) don’t get any non-kung-fu or non-gangster/fighting offers. We only get Asian-specific roles. They don’t offer anything non-ethnic to us, not like they would do for Denzel Washington or Will Smith.”  Chow has recently returned to Hong Kong cinema, appearing in Ann Hui’s The Postmodern Life of My Aunt (2006). His next role is the lead in the Chinese biopic of Confucius, the seminal Chinese philosopher and scholar, which began shooting this week.

Buff, toned and cut Shah Rukh Khan, Om Shanti Om, 2008

Buff, toned and cut Shah Rukh Khan, Om Shanti Om, 2008

At 43 years old Shah Rukh Khan is now about the same age as was Chow Yun-Fat when he left Hong Kong in 1997 to try to conquer Hollywood. Khan is at the top of his game both as an actor and as a producer, with his Red Chillies Entertainment putting out hit movies like 2008’s Om Shanti Om, which is the second-highest grossing Bollywood film of all time. In 2008 Newsweek named him one of the 50 most influential people in the world (Barack Obama topped the list).

With his fluent English and charisma to burn it might seem like SRK could be a crossover performer, yet when asked if he’s likely to try his hand breaking into Hollywood, Khan is philosophical, noting, “It’s not like Steven Spielberg is waiting with a script for me. I don’t think I’ll ever be offered a great international film in my lifetime, so I’d rather be a king here.”  However, SRK fans spotted him paired as a presenter with Slumdog Millionaire star Freida Pinto at the last Golden Globe Awards and in front of an international television audience he came off like a champ.

Khan may also be approaching Hollywood from a different angle, as a mogul rather than as a performer. At one point there were reports that Walt Disney Productions planned to invest $30 million in Khan’s Red Chillies production house. This might ultimately give him more creative control over any roles he might take in Hollywood, since money talks in Tinseltown.

I can’t help but think that SRK has learned something by observing Chow Yun-Fat’s frustrating attempts to break into the top ranks of Hollywood. Other Hong Kong actors also seem to have been watching Chow’s painful efforts and are either approaching Hollywood with caution or are sidestepping it altogether. Comedy superstar Stephen Chow Sing-Chi so far has simply re-packaged his HK product for the U.S. market (Shaolin Soccer; Kung Fu Hustle), though at one point he was slated to star in and direct the big-screen version of The Green Hornet. Instead of braving Hollywood, Francis Ng has polished up his Mandarin and is mostly taking roles in Mainland China productions. And the numbers of Asian American actors who have had to flee from the U.S. to Asia to find success are legion, including Daniel Wu, Daniel Henney, and of course Bruce Lee. Although times are changing and Slumdog Millionaire won Oscar’s Best Picture this year, roles for Asian lead actors are still non-existent in Hollywood (sorry, John Cho). If Chow Yun-Fat, God of Actors, with his mind-blowing charisma, talent, and good looks, has had to struggle to make it in the U.S. and is relegated to crappy films like Bulletproof Monk, why should lesser mortals expect any better?

NOTE: Thanks to my colleague Marlon Hom for the Chow Yun-Fat interview translation.

UPDATE: Rumor alert! I just heard that Chow Yun-Fat is possibly slated to portray Sun Yat-Sen in the new Peter Chan-produced HK blockbuster, Bodyguards & Assassins. No link yet–will update when confirmed.

UPDATE 2: Alas, rumors about CYF playing Sun Yat-Sen were inaccurate. He decided to take the part in Confucius instead. Though I’m sure he would’ve been great as both Chinese icons. Now Leon Lai Ming is rumored to be Sun Yat-Sen, which would probably suck, since Lai Ming is boring, can’t act and has no charisma. But he’s tall, so maybe that’s all that matters.

UPDATE 3: Maybe SRK is heeding Hollywood’s siren song after all. Reports state that he’s angling to meet “serious” film director Deepa Mehta in hopes of landing a role in one of her arthouse flicks, the better to possibly attract the attention of Oscar voters in the near future. If this is indeed true, let’s hope that King Khan fares better than CYF in his dalliance with Hollywood.

UPDATE 4: Go here to read about my night with Shah Rukh Khan, as an extra on his latest film, My Name Is Khan.

Here are a couple Shah Rukh Khan musical numbers for your viewing pleasure.

Dard E Disco (Pain of Disco), from Om Shanti Om:

Suraj Hua Maddham, from Kabhi Kushi Kabhie Gham, with Kajol:

April 1, 2009 at 5:39 am 24 comments


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