June’s edition of the digest highlights past and present Asian-American films and filmmakers, featuring a throwback to Asian-American filmmaking in the 1990s and several in-depth portraits of Asian-American cast and crew. In tandem with the theme of identity, there’s a new wave of content including representation of minority identities on screen. Keep your eyes peeled for new releases and an incisive profile on one of Hong Kong cinema’s greatest icons.
The Great Indian Kitchen (2021) by Jeo Baby
A leader of the “New Generation” Malayalam cinematic movement, Jeo Baby’s The Great Indian Kitchen is a trailblazing family drama that foregrounds South India’s socio-cultural transformations and the gendered caretaking labour in Indian households. Available on YouTube for free. Additionally, read about the film’s representation of caste and gender here.
Women’s Voices Now Film Festival: Online Screenings
Platforming emerging female filmmakers and advancing women’s and girls’ rights globally through storytelling, Women’s Voices Now has made its archives accessible online featuring documentary films from nearly 40 countries submitted over the years. Catch Sabrina Varani’s Mahila: A Women’s Movement Rising (2017) and Selma Nayebi’s Where is My Mother’s House (2014) on the website for free.
Aliens Ata (2017) by Glenn Barit: The First Encounter with Grief
Shot entirely with a stationary drone, Act One presents Alien Ata (2017), a heart-wrenching short film on a young boy’s first encounter with death. Directed by Glenn Barit, Aliens Ata premiered at the 2017 Sinag Maynila Independent Film Festival where it won the Best Short Film Award. Watch it for free on Rappler.
Short Animation: Night Bus by Joe Hsieh
Winner of the Short Film Jury Award at Sundance Film Festival 2022, Taiwanese filmmaker Joe Hsieh takes on a different twist to the thriller genre in his animated short with illustrious world-building, chilling suspense and beautifully hand-drawn characters. Watch on The New Yorker for free.
Short Films: Beity by Isabelle Mecattaf & Sandstorm by Seemab Gul
Through the story of a difficult mother-daughter relationship, Isabelle Mecattaf’s Beity delves into the complex dynamics of the Lebanese diaspora who have left their homeland and their families in search of a better life. Meanwhile, Seemab Gul’s Sandstorm draws on a real story of an Egyptian teenager who grapples with the questions of social media privacy and online sexual coercion while navigating romance in a digital age. Watch the two shorts for free on The New Yorker.
My Sight Is Lined with Visions: 1990s Asian American Film & Video
Revisiting the boundary-pushing independent and experimental films produced by Asian American artists in the 1990s, this film programme spotlights iconoclastic voices whose work challenges both stylistic conventions and stereotypic representations of the Asian-American community. Often overlooked by mainstream cinemas, catch these ambitious Asian-American filmmakers online, including Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Surname Viet Given Name Nam (1989), Kayo Hatta’s Picture Bride (1994) and Rea Tajiri’s Strawberry Fields (1997). Watch on the Criterion Channel with a subscription.
Asian American Filmmaking 2000–2009
Asian American Filmmaking 2000–2009 spotlights filmmakers in the 2000s influenced by a multitude of societal changes: migration, urbanisation, racism and assimilation. These filmmakers include Ham Tran, Alice Wu, Hung Nguyen, Tanuj Chopra and more. Watch on the Criterion Channel with a subscription.
From Spikes to Spindles (1976) by Christine Choy
A gritty and raw portrait of New York’s Chinatown in the 1960s, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Christine Choy interrogates the harsh realities of Chinatown residents in the face of police brutality, racial discrimination and civil rights. Watch the newly remastered version of the documentary on-demand.
Advancing the development of an Asian-American cinema, Choy’s other work curated by Third World Newsreel is Mississippi Triangle (1983), a survey of the Chinese community living in the Mississippi Delta. Additionally, a more comprehensive collection of Choy’s documentaries can be found on the Criterion Channel.
Korean Film Festival DC 2022 Online Screenings
From 17 June – 3 July 2022, the Korean Film Festival DC unravels its online programme, featuring a restoration of Hong Eun-won’s A Woman Judge (1962), one of the few woman-directed films in 1960s Korea. Watch this restored title and other notable works on their website for free.
BFI Online Collection: South Asian Heritage Month
Celebrating South Asian Heritage Month held annually from July to August in the UK, the British Film Institute showcases a selection of films that enhance understanding of South Asian heritage and history, commemorating the diversity of its culture and customs. These films include Asif Kapadia’s The Warrior (2001) and Gurinder Chadha’s Bride & Prejudice (2004). Available on the BFI Player for rent.
Video Essay: Why Are Wong Kar-wai Films So Dreamy?
Uncovering the poetic timelessness that permeates Wong Kar-Wai’s films, Korean-Canadian video essayist Spikima deconstructs Wong’s meticulous use of motion and stillness, space and time to invoke a sense of déjà vu within his audiences.
Video Essay: The Complicated Discussion Surrounding Crazy Rich Asians
Praised for its all-Asian cast and high production value, Quality Culture delves into the Asian reception of Crazy Rich Asians (2018) and its role in representing the Asian community. This video essay negotiates the polarising criticisms levied at the film and provides an optimistic outlook on Asian visibility in Hollywood.
Video Essay: Diversity in Malaysian Cinema
With all eyes on Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh after the recent box-office hit Everything Everywhere All At Once, Accented Cinema explores the understated landscape of the Malaysian film industry and its diverse cinematic output.
Integrating the martial-arts mastery of Bruce Lee with the slapstick mayhem of Buster Keaton, Jackie Chan is an international icon whose thrilling choreography and acrobatic grace speak volumes about the blockbuster action film industry in 1970s Hong Kong. Now streaming on Criterion, catch some of his most dazzling films including Police Story (1985), The Young Master (1980) and The Fearless Hyena (1979).
Showing as part of a new MUBI release, C.B. Yi’s bold debut Moneyboys is a tender portrait of gay sex workers in China and the struggles they face including social discrimination, unfair employment practices and estranged familial ties. Catch this layered gem of Queer cinema on MUBI with a subscription.
Queer In Color: Fragrance of the First Flower (2021) by Teng I-Han
Screening as part of the Tampa Bay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival’s Queer in Colour programme, Fragrance of the First Flower navigates missed chances, forgotten encounters and heartbreak through the story of two women separated in high school by prejudice and fear. Catch Taiwanese filmmaker Teng I-Han’s feature online for a fee.
Docs In Orbit Podcast: All That Breathes (2021) with Shaunak Sen
Featuring a conversation with Shaunak Sen about his documentary All That Breathes, Docs in Orbit broaches the escalating ecological crisis by focusing on New Delhi’s smog-choked skies and the toxicity that plagues our planet.
Sounds on Screen: Susumu Hirasawa
Widely recognised for his soundtrack compositions and frequent collaborations with auteur Satoshi Kon on animated films like Paprika (2006) and Millennium Actress (2001), NTS In Focus features 60 minutes of Hirasawa’s heady soundscapes. Mixing elements of progressive rock and electro-pop, listen to the full tracklist on NTS.
The Film Comment Podcast: The Hong Show with Dennis Lim
To celebrate Film at Lincoln Center’s two-part retrospective of prolific South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo, Film Comment hosts a special live conversation with New York Film Festival’s Artistic Director Dennis Lim about Hong’s playful and melodramatic body of work. For more information, The New Yorker further breaks down Hong’s sincere approach to his subject matter.
EasternKicks Podcast: The Sadness (2021) Taiwanese Horror film with filmmaker Rob Jabbaz
Speaking to director Rob Jabbaz about his stylistic choices and sensational violence, EasternKicks takes on the gruesome Taiwanese horror The Sadness (2021) as the central discussion in their podcast. The Sadness was selected for the Fantasia International Film Festival 2021.
IndieWire Podcast: ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ and the Case for Theatrical Movies
Expounding a new perspective of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s mind-blowing multiverse movie, IndieWire’s Screen Talk discusses the film’s unique appeal within film markets and its prospects at the Oscars. Accented Cinema’s video essay supplements this podcast with a reading of its visual metaphors.
Beyond Squid Game: Translating Asian film and TV for a hungry global market
A podcast series produced by the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne, Ear to Asia breaks down the meteoric success of South Korean Netflix-hit Squid Game and its transnational impact on streaming services to the global audience.
Reframing/Decentering Southeast Asia: Inland, Island, Homeland
Responding to Asian Film Archive’s REFRAME: Inland, Island programme by guest curator Patrick Campos, Southeast Asian film scholar Darlene Machell de Leon Espena deconstructs the myth of a unitary national cinema and reimagines the notion of land, identity and history within the region’s cinema.
Senses of Cinema Issue 101: Welcome to Bollywood
Delving into the world’s largest film industry, Senses of Cinema’s 101st Issue critically analyses Indian popular cinema beyond its monolithic constructions in Western film criticism, revealing diverse strands of Bombay cinema that are often overlooked. Notable articles include a survey of Bollywood and Western Cinephilia, a directorial focus on Manmohan Desai and an analysis of nationalism in Bollywood musicals. For a full overview of the issue, read the full list here.
Phantasms of Dissent: Hong Kong’s New Documentary Vernacular
Published in Film Quarterly’s new Summer Issue, filmmaker Tiffany Sia examines two documentaries about Hong Kong’s relentless protests in 2019, Taking Back the Legislature (2020) and Inside the Red Brick Wall (2020), noting its significance in redefining the tropes of surveillance cinema and introducing a new documentary language.
The Iconic Queer Legacy of Leslie Cheung
Remembered as one of the greatest Hong Kong LGBTQ icons of all time, GQ magazine expounds on the Queer legacy of singer-actor Leslie Cheung, his unique charisma and creative achievements that gave a voice to Asia’s gay community. Speaking to filmmakers Stanley Kwan and Isabel Sandoval, the article reveals the inspirations Cheung left for the Hong Kong film industry and beyond.
The Quiet Ascent of Justin H. Min
Starring as the title character in A24’s After Yang, Korean-American actor Justin H. Min speaks to GQ about his rise to fame after being cast in a supporting role in Netflix’s Umbrella Academy while grappling with his ethnic identity.
The Problem with ‘Han’ (한) in South Korean Film Culture
Accounting for the groundswell of interest in South Korean Culture, Korean studies scholar Minsoo Kang interrogates the concept of han (한) – denoting a profound sense of rage, sorrow and regret – used by film critics as a guide to understanding Korean narratives and the monolithic stereotypes it may perpetuate.
Widely known for his rapturous performance in Everything Everywhere All At Once, Vietnamese actor Ke Huy Quan had an eminent acting career as a child, playing supporting roles in Spielberg’s Indiana Jones trilogy and Richard Donner’s The Goonies. In this feature, Quan details how the harsh reality of Hollywood’s lack of Asian representation changed his career from an actor to a stuntman and his comeback in recent years.
The Funeral by Juzo Itami: At a Loss
Revisiting Juzo Itami’s directorial debut The Funeral (1984), travel essayist Pico Iyer outlines the intricate rituals of a Japanese funeral, tracing each scene with Itami’s personal experiences and satirical humour. Distanced from the restrained propriety of Ozu, Itami unveils melodramatic and comical obsequies that are both poignant and lighthearted. For a deeper dive into Itami’s social satires, read Sight and Sound’s film-by-film breakdown of Itami’s career or watch a collection of his films on Criterion.
Mississippi Masala: The Ocean of Comings and Goings
Three decades later, Mira’s Nair second feature film Mississippi Masala speaks to a new generation of South Asian filmmakers and storytellers. Part comedy, part drama, rooted in memoir and colonial history, writer Bilal Qureshi demonstrates the radical triumph of cinematic representation helmed by Nair’s innovative narrative.
The Inventive Versatility of James Wong Howe
With 130 features, 10 Oscar nominations and 2 wins under his apparatus, Chinese-American cinematographer James Wong Howe pioneered Hollywood’s use of deep focus and wide-angle lenses in William K. Howard’s Transatlantic (1931). This article resurfaces Howe’s innovative approaches to camera work in Hollywood cinema, highlighting his prowess in visual composition.
“Something Special and Unique and Gay”: Joel Kim Booster on Fire Island (2022)
Speaking to the cast and crew of the newly-released revolutionary queer rom-com Fire Island, Vanity Fair unpacks the rise of Queer content in Hollywood, the film’s generic influences and its subversion of deep-seated stereotypes in the LGBTQ+ community. For an in-depth feature of screenwriter Joel Kim Booster, Vulture Magazine dissects Booster’s exhilarating career, relationships and identity, while The Hollywood Reporter releases their take on the lyrical narrative of Fire Island and its racially inclusive cast.
Reverse Shot’s Hong Sang Soo: In Front of Your Face & Introduction
Reverse Shot profiles the South Korean auteur Hong Sang Soo and reviews his prolific cinematic output, highlighting the thematic connections within his filmic world. In this article, film critic Ryan Swen contextualises two of Hong’s recent festival premieres, Introduction (2021) and In Front of Your Face (2021), within his oeuvre. For further reading on Hong’s latest film, MUBI pitches in on his semi-autobiographical story of In Front of Your Face while The New Yorker interviews the director to gain insights into his filmography.
COVID-19 Documentaries of Wuhan: The Politics of Representation and Production
Confronted with a wave of documentaries that seek to reveal the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and its corollaries, this article breaks down 6 feature-length documentaries that were shot on ground zero in Wuhan, including Hao Wu’s 76 Days, Yung Chang’s Wuhan, Wuhan, Ai Weiwei’s Coronation and Nanfu Wang’s In the Same Breath.
Feminist and LGBTQ+ Activism in Contemporary China Online Screening and Discussion
Streaming via CathayPlay on 19 – 25 June 2022, Berlin-based film curation project C/LENS showcases three independent Chinese films about the Queer and feminist movements in Mainland China: Chen Junmi’s Xiao Di (2021), Fan Popo’s The VaChina Monologue (2013) and Shi Tou’s We Are Here (2016). Following these screenings, an online webinar on China’s Independent documentary scene will be held on 26 June 2022 featuring a panel of three feminist and Queer scholars Zeng Jinyan, Bao Hongwei and Zhou Yun Yun. Free with registration.
Call for Submissions: 27th Busan International Film Festival
The Busan International Film Festival is calling for Asian short films until 22 June 2022. Guidelines for applicants can be found here.
Call for Short Animations: 18th Indie-AniFest Korea Independent Animation Film Festival
Presenting unique independent animated films from Korea and Asia, the 18th Indie-AniFest Korea Independent Animation Film Festival is accepting short animations until 20 June 2022. Guidelines can be found here.
Call for Submissions: 23rd San Diego Asian Film Festival
A lucrative platform for Asian American cinema in the Western United States, The San Diego Asian Film Festival is calling for short film submissions to showcase works by emerging Asian filmmakers. The deadline for submissions is 24 June 2022. Guidelines can be found here.
This edition of the digest was compiled by Jolie Fan