Hooray for 'Hollywood Chinese'
Our Ben Fong-Torres is knocked out by Arthur Dong's latest film, Hollywood Chinese . ACTION!
It's Asian American Heritage Month, and I can't think of anything better to recommend than this: Go out and see Hollywood Chinese . If it's not showing at a theater near you (more info about that, below), then keep the title in your mental bookmarks, or watch for it on Netflix.
At first glance, it's a movie made of clips; a Chinese version of That's Entertainment. By that, I mean a wide-spanning overview of film history. But, given cinema's ability to reflect society, it's also a chronicle of the Chinese, from the days of the Chinese Exclusion Act to decades of misunderstanding and degradation, to ultimate triumph.
The triumph, here, is the work of Arthur Dong . I've been an admirer of his for his social documentaries, from Sewing Woman to Forbidden City, USA to several that address gay issues and history. Now, with Hollywood Chinese , he has woven a kaleidoscopic tapestry of another slice of American life--that slice that deals with Asian Americans in movies.
This feature-length film is beautifully choreographed and edited by Dong and his team. He begins with elegant paeans to the majesty and power of the movies, from viewers who got to work in the industry. Nancy Kwan (who opens the film in glorious style, in a clip from The Flower Drum Song ), Joan Chen, Wayne Wang, B.D. Wong, Amy Tan , and Justin Lin are among the luminaries who, by testifying to the force of films, are helping establish the impact they had, on how Asian Americans were portrayed on the screen, and on the way Asian American actors were treatedand mistreated.
If this sounds like a dry documentary on racism and racial stereotyping, then I've miswritten. Hollywood Chinese is a stone knockout. Even in making his points, on how the evil Fu Manchu and the wise, simile-spouting Charlie Chan, both played by white actors, cast negative light on Asian Americans, Dong is thoroughly entertaining with his selection and pacing of relevant clips. From the earliest films, including the never-before-seen 1916 feature, The Curse of Quon Gwon , made by two Chinese sisters in Oakland, to the latest from Ang Lee and Justin Lin, Dong charts progressand bumps along the roadlike the master filmmaker he has become.
Dong himself is testimony to the strides Asian Americans have made, both on the screen and behind the scenes.
Near the end of this film, Amy Tan reflects: "Of course, we're always going to think theres never enough. There're never enough stories to represent who we are as complex human beings, with all our diversity and all our individual stories, and so yes, we'll hope to see more. But we've come a long ways since the days when Luise Rainer played O-Lan in The Good Earth .
After a solid four-week run in San Francisco, Hollywood Chinese is screening in New York and Los Angeles beginning May 30, followed by showings in Honolulu, Canada (Hamilton, Ontario), Seoul, and Jerusalem. Dong is appearing at screenings in L.A. on May 30th and 31st. For info, and clips from the film, visit www.hollywoodchinese.com.
THREE TIMES AN EMMY: "Guess youll be writing about it on Asian Connections," said my sister, Sarah Watkins , on hearing that I'd won my third Emmy. So I guess I won't except to say that it was the entire crew of the Chinese New Year Parade broadcast on KTVU-TV that won. We all trooped onto the stage at the Palace of Fine Arts to grab our statuettes and act silly. I had my Flip video camcorder with me and caught a few (shaky) moments of it. It's at the end of a video montage I've slapped together for you, and you can see it hereChinese New Year Parade 2008.
I took my Emmy to El Rio, a bar in the Mission District where, once a month, the band, Los Train Wreck, plays, and welcomes anyone to join for a song or two. One customer looked at the trophy and asked, "Is it a real one?" What an insult. Of course it is. It's awarded by the Northern California Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, so it's not the Emmy they hand out on the national show, but it is an Emmy. This year, NATAS got 819 entries, and judges from other chapters selected 241 nominees in about 70 categories. There were 86 winners, with multiple winners in some categories. We were up against only one other nominee, but you never know. One year, we lost to a local takeoff of American Idol. Oh, the humiliation!
So, it was great to win again. But one of my favorite moments came with Mike Sugerman He's a reporter on both CBS5 (KPIX-TV) and radio (KCBS). At the pre-show reception, he told me he'd be presenting some awards, and was following an appearance (on video) by Jack LaLanne , the 92-year old legendary bodybuilder and health guru. "How do you follow Jack LaLanne?" he asked, perplexed. "I know," I said. "You get up there and do some push-ups."And, shades of Jack Palance at the Oscars, Mike did just that. In his tuxedo and bow-tie, too. LaLanneand Palancewoulda been proud
DANCING WITH KRISTI: Big 'You go, girl!' to Kristi Yamaguchi for snagging that ugly disco ball that serves as the prize for winning the Dancing With the Stars competition. From the outset, she was the class of the field, earning three '9's' from the judges her first time out, while the rest of the field were getting scores ranging from 5 to 7. Kristi simply had it. But it wasn't easy. She had to overcome the perception that she had an advantage, having been an Olympic gold medal figure skater. Ballroom dancing, with a partner, is not the same as racing, spinning and landing, on skates, on ice. Second, it's a reality show with audience voting determining the winner, so dancing skills weren't necessarily the deciding factor on who survived each week. Finally, there were some dances--particularly in the Latin arena--in which Yamaguchi was faulted for not expressing enough sensuality and raw emotion. She candidly said that she had a hard time letting go--in front of 15 or 20 million people a week. But the 'pro' in her took over, and she nailed just about every dance throughout the competition--and won over the voting audience as well. She had some pretty good competition--notably the NFL star Jason Taylor , who took her to the finals. But in the end, even he couldn't beat her strings of perfect tens.
Before the first show, Dale Minami the civil rights attorney who represents several TV news personalities--and Kristi--sent out an e-mail blast, urging friends to watch and vote. As Minami's imaginary attorney, I did as told, and, for the first time ever, called in to a reality show to cast a vote. But by the second show, it was clear that she didn't need my help. She only needed to do what she's always done: focus on the prize, and go and get it--whether it's an Oly gold medal or an ugly disco ball. But when the trophy was hoisted, in triumph, by Kristi and her professional partner, Mark Ballas, it actually looked pretty good.
Ben Fong-Torres hosts 'Backstage,' an eclectic two-hour program of music and snippets of past and recent interviews, on KFRC-San Francisco Sundays. It streams live at www.KFRC.com from 7-9 a.m. and p.m. Past shows are archived at the site, under 'On Demand.'