Like a Rolling Stone

Hooray for 'Hollywood Chinese'

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Saturday, 17 May 2008

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...

Asian Elvis Has Left the Building

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Sunday, 22 November 2009

Asian Elvis Has Left the Building

So, after all that hype about my portraying an "Asian Elvis Impersonator" on a Spike TV show, I wound up on the proverbial cutting room floor.

I spent most of a column here on Asian Connections about it. You may have seen it, or at least saw the photo of me, in full Elvis-in-Las Vegas regalia, next to a beautiful blonde gal in a skimpy bikini. Or of me, in slightly truncated regalia (minus the high-top wig) with Bob Einstein, creator and star of the show, Super Dave's Spike-Tacular, and his buddy Larry (Curb Your Enthusiasm) David, who was also doing a cameo on the episode.

I almost wrote a newspaper or magazine piece on the experience. Fortunately, none of the publications I pitched fell for it. It would have been a disaster. I did write it up in my radio column in the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as on this site.

A week before the date the episode as scheduled to air, I decided to double-check. The only contact info I had was that of Super Dave himself, so I rang Einstein's number. He called back, sounding upset and frustrated, and told me that, after reviewing the footage, they'd cut me out of the show. I was puzzled, but far from upset. After all, I may have caused it.

Back when we shot the final scene, which was improvised to include a paintball shooting of the Asian Elvis, I was directed to act as though I had been shot, and to take a fall. I did, and, once I got home, regretted doing the scene. I called Einstein to let him...

‘Becoming Almost Famous’ On the Howard Stern Show

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Thursday, 15 June 2006

AC's renaissance man, Ben Fong-Torres, is having a two-book year.

SUMMER ALREADY? Time flies when youre on deadline.

Its true. Whats kept me from making more frequent Asian Connections was this book I had to write in about three months, from January into March, on The Doors. You know, Light My Fire. This is their 40th anniversary, and a big book, The Doors By the Doors , is coming out in November. I was brought in after another writer fell through, and given next to no time to research and write a 60,000-word manuscript. And research meant interviewing the surviving three Doors, members of the late Jim Morrison s family, and various associates, as well as poring over about 20 books and going through a dozen radio and video documentaries. Ohand there are a few albums out there, too.

I met the deadline, but then had to plunge into the finishing touches on Becoming Almost Famous , my second compilation of old articles. That book is out now, from Backbeat Books (which also published my first collection, Not Fade Away ). So, as I tap away, Im in promotion mode, hitting radio and TV stations and doing readings at Bay Area book stores. I also had a party, on June 4th at LeZinc, a nice French bistro, to benefit the Noe Valley branch library renovation campaign fund. Besides reading from the book, I did a couple of songs, with guest keyboardists Sam Barry (from the band Train Wreck) and George Yamasaki , to illustrate a couple of the pieces in the bookone about singing with a band...

A Guest Writer Checks Out AC's 'Renaissance Man'

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Our very own Renaissance man Ben Fong-Torres was the co-host of the Emmy award-winning telecast of the Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Parade the largest parade of its kind in North America.

When he is off-camera, Ben is very busy working on his new books soon to be released.

The guy does take a break every now and then - you might be lucky to spot him in a jam session on the second Tuesday of each month at a local hang-out in San Francisco.

In the following feature, Mitzi Mock writes of her close encounters at the All-Star Jam session.

This time out, I'm giving my space over to Mitzi Mock , a student journalist at San Francisco City College. She showed up at the monthly All-Star Jam that I visit, at El Rio in the Mission District, and wrote it up as an assignment for class. I thought she did an excellent job capturing the quirky scene, that she came up with an excellent lead paragraph -- a skill that's vital for news writers -- and did a good reporting job, talking not only to band members, but also to patrons of El Rio. I told her she deserved an "A" (which she got from her professor) and a larger audience (which her teacher could not give her). So I'm proud to present...Mitzi Mock.

One Man's Train Wreck
Is Another Man's Jam By Mitzi Mock

Ben Fong-Torres is scanning the room for women. He'll take one or two. Three would be ideal. He wants them all at once.

But only for about two minutes.

"Do you know the chorus to 'He's So Fine?'" he asks, whispering to a woman who...

Is it OK to Say 'Happy New Year'?

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Sunday, 19 December 2004

A politically correct look back...and ahead.

Looking Back; Looking Forward

Well, I hope you and yours had a merry whatever. Thats what the New York Times called the holidays in a recent headline on an article about how political correctness has pushed the very word Christmas out of the holiday season; how the tree at a lighting ceremony in Kansas was called a community tree, and not a you-know-what, and how conservatives are fighting back to, as they say, put the Christ back in Christmas.

Its a tough call, to be sure. While I understand the sensitivity of non-Christians, and the appeals of using a generic phrase, like Happy holidays, to cover Kwaanza, Hanukkah, and other observations by various people and faiths, it is silly to change the words of traditional songs to knock out Christ and God, or to forbid schoolchildren from singing them altogether.

Olivia Wu, a reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle, tackled the issue, saying, with candor, I miss saying Merry Christmas. An immigrant, and a non-Christian, she once railed against Christmas greetings. But, as she grew older, she writes, she grew to miss the beauty and symbolism of Christmas, which, she says shes learned, is itself a blend of cultures and traditions.

To Wu, Happy holidays is white noise that sticks in my throat and hurts my eardrums. It feels empty of heart.

And she doesnt look forward to the day when over-correctness hits Chinese New Year.

In a few weeks, she writes, some people will say Happy Chinese New...