The Shadow Hero

10 05 2016

As a fan of American Born Chinese, I wanted to read more of Gene Luen Yang’s work. I think the world is a better place with him and his work: I’m definitely all for more Chinese protagonists (or any of colour, for that matter).

The Shadow Hero is an inventive imagining (albeit based on an old comic) of a Chinese superhero and how he became who he is. There is intrigue involving ancient Chinese spirits and a mob boss, and humour is laced throughout, giving the story a light feel despite some dark moments.

The plot hits some bumps along the way that unfortunately aren’t always believable, like how would Hank’s mother gleefully coerces her son to become a superhero without once considering his safety (until tragedy strikes), or Hank’s uncle is conveniently a kung fu master. Instances like this such as these remove immersion in the wonderfully drawn panels. Yang seems more interested in the idea of Chinese superhero than writing a cohesive and structured narrative.

I also read today that the Russo brothers, the same who directed the previous two Captain America films will be directing a Chinese superhero film (thanks to their Chinese producers, not really because it was a passion project of theirs). Here’s hoping it’ll be good.


Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

21 08 2013

A gay-themed film from Taiwan? I’m there!

I had heard of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? before it was announced that it would be screening at Out on Screen. The premise of the film is deceptively simple: Weichung, a middle-aged married man, confronts his sexuality when his wife wants to have another child. There are a bunch of subplots as well, all involving romance and love, like Weichung’s romance with a cute flight attendant, and Weichung’s sister Mandy and her ambivalent feelings towards her fiance. What makes Love Me different than the typical, formulaic Hollywood rom-com or even coming out stories is writer and director Arvin Chen’s handling of the subject. With the addition of whimsical and absolutely wonderful fantastical scenes, like Weichung’s eyeglasses shop manager floating away holding an umbrella, Chen effectively renders his film aesthetically open to all sorts of possibilities of magical realism. Even the detail of his manager holding up a bright blue umbrella and waving goodbye to Weichung before whisked away by the wind is something out of a Miyazaki film. Other fantastical scenes exemplify characters’ internal emotions, such as Weichung fantasizing about kissing his would-be lover, only to snap back to reality and still be standing face-to-face with him.

It doesn’t always work though. In one of the last fantasy scenes, Weichung’s wife is drunk in a karaoke bar with her co-workers, singing a song when the bar transforms into a lighted stage, and her co-workers turn into back-up singers and dancers. The visual is interesting and fun, but isn’t a congruent representation of someone who is in a negative, depressed head-space (not to mention, also drunk).

What’s nice about Love Me is that it doesn’t sentimentalize queer identity. You get a sense that Weichung really did believe that after he turned 30, he was pressured to get into a straight relationship, even if it rings a bit of a cop-out of a reason to explore social stigma, familial and cultural expectations, or homophobia. There’s a bit of a hint of traditional beliefs from Weichung’s in-laws, but rather than feel universal, Weichung’s sticky situation comes across as staged and lacking pathos. The only other gay character in a relationship is married– to a lesbian, suggesting that same-sex relationships can’t be open and official, even if everyone knows. It’s a troubling yet interesting point director Chen makes, but this isn’t explored either.

Running 15 minutes too long with a middle section that drags, Love Me is certain to get some good laughs out of people, especially from slightly flamboyant Stephen: “I understand women,” he tells depressed dumpee San-San. “You understand shit,” his lesbian wife retorts. Chen’s lack of exploration into his characters and subject matter aren’t enough to set it apart from other rom-coms, or even coming out films. It’s just one with pretty colours and awesome magic.  Will I still love this film tomorrow? After I think about it, probably not as much.

Grade: C+

Stay on youtube

11 08 2012

I uploaded my short film Stay on youtube yesterday and it’s already gotten 476 views!  I knew gay films on youtube were popular but I didn’t think it would be that popular that fast.

Anyway, enjoy!  (if you haven’t already seen it)

The World Behind Closed Doors (part 6)

30 11 2011

While his father was mainly away on business in Hong Kong, his mother was suspicious of anyone he would have over, even friends.  Her world consisted of God and suspicion.  She was perceptive of people and lies.  She was – and still is – extremely conservative; Kem had told me that were he to come out to his parents, he truly believed his mom would kill him.  Her conservatism made my mother seem like Siddhartha Gautama.

After Kem’s graduation ceremony in April, there was a reception in the music building where parents and now post-graduates took pictures, told each other of future plans, and thanked teachers that they had known since freshman year.  I somehow found myself standing across from his mom, who I recognized from earlier when he was taking pictures with his family.

“You must be so proud of him,” I said.

She smiled at me, and I wondered if Kem’s description of his mother as a follower of the Westboro Baptist Church might be an exaggeration.

“I am.  He’s tried to teach me music but I don’t understand it.  I just like to listen to it,” she replied in Cantonese, chuckling.

Unlike Kem, my Cantonese is very much broken.  I can understand it fairly well but when I speak, it often comes out in fragments and I’m usually left to say what I mean in English, hoping the other person knows what I’m talking about.  I knew my flawed Cantonese would not impress her.

“That’s good,” I managed to say, beginning to sweat from high use of translating power.

There was a brief pause before the expected, yet unexpected, question: “How did you two meet?  Do you go to school here too?”

Being accustomed to the lie by now, I casually responded, “No, I’m going to film school.  Kem’s helping me with applying to UBC next year.”

“Oh.  So how did you two meet if you don’t go here?”

In that moment, I realized what Kem meant when he told me his mother was a perceptive person.  I saw her take a glance at my shoulder bag, which, among other things, had a Mickey Mouse pin coloured with rainbow colors and another one that said “Queer” on it.  I swallowed hard, not knowing if she was going to bludgeon me with her purse right then and there.

“Ohhh, yeah, I don’t go here.  I met him through a friend,” I said, managing a half-smile and nodding along as if I was just clarifying myself while her eyes bore into me, a lie detector trying to decide if what I was saying was real or not.

“Oh.   Okay.”  Her eyes left mine and it appeared I was out of the clear.


“Do you think she knows?” I asked Kem one night while we were lying in my bed, the lamp on my table illuminating his face.

“I don’t know.  Do you think your mom knows?”

“I don’t know.”

We certainly weren’t going to be addressing the issue anytime soon and like Chinese mothers, if they did know, they wouldn’t say anything either.  It was a stalemate.

(continued in part 7…)

Family Event

21 01 2011

An assignment for non-fiction class about a family dinner.

Family Event

I am told to write about an event of some sort about my family but nothing comes to mind.  I also don’t remember much of my childhood, and have even less memories involving my family; simple things like dinners at home are a blank to me, though I can speculate what may have happened.  Not knowing what else to do, I ask my older sister, Florence.

We’re supposed to be killing computer-generated people and warriors in an Age of Empires game online but instead, I stall and ask her some questions about our family before she hits the start button in the chatroom.

“Do you remember having dinner together as a family when we were younger?” I ask.

“Yes.  I made dinners” is her reply.  Florence is nine years older than me and my twin sister, Maggie.  I don’t remember her making dinner.  I can imagine it and it seems like it could be real but I don’t have any actual memories of it.

“Father didn’t cook and mommy worked often,” she continues.  This also makes sense.  It’s not that my dad couldn’t cook because I remember him teaching me how to cook vegetables one time, so I’m left to wonder why he didn’t do it for us then.

I tell her I can’t recall any time we as a family sat down and had dinner or dinners with other relatives.  She tells me how there were occasions when we would have dinner with our grandparents and someone would usually end up crying.

This disturbs me, and I know it to be true as well.  Perhaps I am only used to the mother I know now, who doesn’t yell very often and have lost touch with the one who would to yell at her children.

Florence tells me, “Maggie would start crying if she didn’t eat certain things, or if you were bad and mommy yelled at you, or if I spilled something and get yelled at.”  I ask where dad was during this and I she merely confirms what I’ve been thinking: “eating”.

I imagine my mother’s loud, shrill voice, hurling insults at me in Cantonese while I stare down at my bowl of rice, feeling powerless.  As tears gather in my eyes, I feel aversion and embarrassment of my sisters’ eyes, and my father, watching the news on TV as if nothing was happening at all.

When I ask her if there was anything else we did together, she mentions grocery shopping.  Immediately, I remember that: my father always standing by the cart, indifferent to everything, while my mother, my sisters and I would go help bring preapproved food (by my mom).  But then Florence tells me Maggie and I would go into the toy and book aisles so we “wouldn’t get in the way”, and Florence would she looked after us.

There were questions my older sister couldn’t answer and she advised me to ask my mom, which I was reluctant to do because I didn’t think my mother would give me a straight answer.  My mother is the type of person who might pretend she doesn’t remember something but would simply rather not talk about it.  But I did ask anyway, to listen to what she had to say, when she came home and sat herself down in her green, mushroom-printed nightgown, in front of some Chinese programming on TV.

“Why didn’t we do things as a family?”  My mother gives me a look.

“Sure we did.  We went on vacations and trips…”

“But dad never came.”

“That’s because he would faint on planes,” my mom tells me.  “When you were young, we took a trip to Taiwan and he fainted at the terminal, before getting on the plane.  After that, he never went on another plane.”

I ponder this.  Maybe my dad had an excuse but…

“What about other things?  Like going out or doing activities together?”

“Well, those times we went to grandma’s birthday dinners and those potlucks—

“No, I mean things with just us.”

“We did lots of things together!  We had dinner at home!”

If the first thing my mother answers when I ask her about things we do together is dinner, then I know there’s probably not much else we were all there for.

“No, that doesn’t count.  Other things.”

“We did lots of things.  You just don’t remember,” she replies vaguely, before conveniently getting up and walking to the kitchen.


Perhaps my mother’s right; I just don’t remember the things we used to do.  Or perhaps the memories I’ve been searching for don’t exist.  Whatever the case, I know now that if I am to ever raise a family, I am determined to give them memories – memories they can write down and remember as good ones the rest of their lives.

Blood = money

20 12 2010

Me: “Guess what?  I had a dream last night that I got shot in the back and it hurt sooooo much!”
My mom: “Was there any blood?”
Me:  “Uh… maybe?  I think so… but it hurt so much!”
My mom: “Good.  If there’s blood, then that means you’re going to get money sometime soon.”
Me: “Oh.  But what about me getting shot?  Doesn’t that mean something bad?”
My mom:  “Um… no, not really.”

Cross-cultural Romance

21 08 2010

A program of short films all featuring the subject of inter-cultural love and relationships.  I started typing this up last night and then I got tired and I had to rest because I sprained my ankle.  Anyhoo, here we go!

The Best is Yet to Come

Synopsis: I seem to be unable to summarize this well so I’m going to take the synopsis from imdb:  Set during the much debated and highly public USA Obama presidential election and controversial California State Proposition 8 vote for same sex marriage a young couple privately confront their family, fears and dreams.

Super awesome things:  I like that it has a contemporary feel to it; young, innocent gay love in California on the eve of the recent US election and the whole Prop 8 thing.  And I may be biased in this just from the start but I also liked that one of the main conflict was one of the girls’ Chinese culture and beliefs, which I could relate to.  Still, I like that this conflict was done and presented well (unlike a film like Under One Roof, which was bad) so perhaps I’m not that biased.  Anyway, that was an interesting touch.  Also, I teared up when Alice, the Chinese young woman, tried to explain about her relationship with Sam, a caucasian, only to have her mother tearfully tell her, “Tell her to come back and try our food.  See if she likes it”, showing her daughter that she does want Sam around and that she accepts both of them.  (If it wasn’t obvious already, tears = major points).

Not so super awesome things: Though the couple are clearly young and naive, it did feel like they were a little too naive.  I mean, going to the restaurant every day to try and convince your ex-girlfriend that you should be together but also raising the suspicions of her conservative Chinese family?  Really?  I also didn’t believe they would break up after an argument about marriage.  How long have they even been together, and they’re already talking about marriage?  Lastly, Alice’s character felt contradictory at parts — she doesn’t want Sam to come around nor does she want her family to know, yet a few times, it looks as if she’s about to come out to her mom (but holds back).  If she doesn’t want to come out, she would just not say anything at all, wouldn’t she?

Good for watching:  for young gay couples in California.

Overall:  Fairly enjoyable, if not predictable.

Grade: B-

The Golden Pin

Synopsis: A (super hot) Vietnamese young man is getting married to a woman but also has a white, male lover (on the side, as usual).

Super awesome things: The cinematography is probably the best thing about this little film.  There are very nice shots of the swimming pool (where the two men, well, swim), high shots, and other stuff which I don’t know the technical names of but they’re good too.  To be honest though, the first thing that popped into my mind during the opening scene where the men are hitting the showers in their speedos was “Damn!” and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

Not so super awesome things:  Everything is pretty good up until the end — or I should say “end”.  The film doesn’t really end at all, and it caught me by surprise when the credits started rolling while there was still swimming b-roll.  “There has to be another scene,” I told myself.  Nope.  Nothing.  It’s not even an open ending, really, because it doesn’t show enough.  Does Long decide to get married or not?  What effect, if any, did that story of his mother have on him?  Why did she suddenly walk into his room, tell him this long-winded story, and then just leave? Where has she been all this time?  So many questions that one could say are plotholes!

Good for watching:  for those hot-bodied swimmers!  Yum!

Overall: see above.

Grade:  C+


Synopsis: An examination of family between two lesbians — one Jewish and the other Mexican — and their son.

Super awesome things: Elizabeth Lazebnik, the director of the film, really took a gamble with the way this documentary was filmed: instead of the standard medium shot/close up interview with people sitting on a comfy sofa in their house, she decided to pan and tilt the camera around some of the objects in their house that show rather than tell their heritage and who they are.  For me, the risk worked fantasically.  The wonderful, captivating narration of the two mommies about how they met, their different backgrounds, and how they want to raise their child are excellently complimented by the images on-screen.  Wonderful stuff.

Not so super awesome things: I don’t really have much to say other than maybe getting a clearer picture of the couple and their kid at the end?  To finally show audiences who they are, though at the same time, I can see Lazebnik’s decision to leave them out.  It works both ways, I think.  I would’ve liked to see more of the kid, which would’ve definitely added to the cute factor.

Good for watching: for documentary filmmakers to get inspired about experimental techniques in docs

Overall:  Probably the best documentary I’ve seen at this year’s festival.  Great job, Elizabeth.

Grade:  A

Waiting 4 Goliath

This is the second time I’ve seen this little film.  The first time was at the Coast is Queer since it was made by local writer/director Cal Garingan.  Again, I’m not going to review this film because it’s locally made — not because it’s bad but on the contrary, it was very good.  I’ll be seeing Cal tomorrow at the panel thingy where I’m sure he’ll have way more intelligent things to say than me.

Secret Admirer

Synopsis: Again, I’m not sure how to describe this film so here it is from the imdb page:  An endearing video portrait of the filmmaker and her partner, TuffNStuff, the last of the Delta drag kings.

Super awesome things: I really like Nina Simone, and “My Baby Just Cares for Me” is one of my favourite songs, so right away, I liked that.

Not so super awesome things:  I honestly don’t remember much about this film other than the titles were a little hard to read because they were in cursive, looping here and there and I had to strain my eyes to see them clearly.  Also, the amateur-ish quality made the entire film seem more like a home video rather than a narrative short film, and the fact that the only two characters in the movie are actually a real-life couple only adds to that.  It doesn’t seem very much of a short film in that there isn’t any conflict/antagonist and more of a large reveal/surprise at the end.

Good for watching: if you know the people in the film.

Overall:  At least it was short.

Grade: C

You Can’t Curry Love

Synopsis: An East Indian man living in London is sent to India where he discovers his culture and falls in love with a hotel clerk.

Super awesome things:  First and obviously foremost, the two leads are hot especially Ashwin Gore, who plays the Westernized-Indian Vikas.  So handsome!  Also cool is the exploration of cross-culture in couples of the same race, which I haven’t really seen before.  I like the conflict between Vikas and Sunil, the hotel clerk, and the humor of the script was really brought to life by good performances.

Not so super awesome things:  There’s a lot of telling than showing.  In the opening scene, Vikas tells his friend Amrita as she’s leaving everything we need to know about him — he’s single, gay, in love with his super hot but super straight boss, and longs for a boyfriend.  I don’t know about the rest of the audience, but I want to be shown than told all this background knowledge, or at least not all revealed in one go.  It also almost felt like a travel documentary when Sunil was taking Vikas around India, going into paragraphs of information on the customs and places.  Let’s get some conflict in there please!  The ending was a little predictable but I didn’t mind since I didn’t take the entire film too seriously.

Good for watching: for Westerners so they believe they can sleep with the hotel clerk upon meeting him.

Overall: An alright film.  The ending (ie. the dancing, not how it ended) is just fantastic.  Favourite part of the film.

Grade: B-

Yang ± Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema

19 08 2010

Only one film tonight.

Yang ± Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema

Synopsis: A documentary about gender and sexual orientation in Chinese cinema since the 1930s.

Super awesome things: This is a rare glimpse into Chinese films dating as early as the 1930s, which I had never seen before.  Because of Stanley Kwan’s access to the Chinese film archives, we get a superb look at China and Hong Kong’s history of films.  Included are also interviews with Chinese filmmakers including Ang Lee, John Woo, and Hsaio-hsein Hou, who give their opinions on their own films, possibly undertones of homosexuality/queerness, and their views on the subjects.  Also, Stanley Kwan’s mother is awesome.

Not so super awesome things: To be fair, the film was made in 1996, so it’s almost 15 years old, and the quality of the film definitely shows.  There are very close up on the interviewees for no paticular reason, it seemed, and on a big screen, was very in-your-face.  Though the film is only an hour, it did feel a little a long, and I didn’t get a good sense of the current state of Chinese cinema or where it might be heading — would Chinese cinema become more open to gay characters?  How about Chinese culture and its attitudes towards queerness?  Is it changing?  The most frustrating part of the film was the inaccurate subtitles.  Being able to mostly understand Cantonese, I could see how for the most part, there was a lot lost in translation.  Subtitles up on screen would be serious and yet the interviewees would say funny things and so a small portion of the audience would laugh, while others only saw what was up there.  My friend who sat next to me could understand Mandarin, and I believe he was also frustrated at the Mandarin parts (he threw up his hands in the middle of the movie and I think he said, “That’s not what he/she said.”).  And sometimes the interviewees would say English words that wouldn’t even appear in the subtitles, which is obviously wrong, and the meaning of what they were saying was slightly different.  I don’t know why it was so hard to get an accurate translation.

Good for watching:  to watch some clips of old Chinese films.  And to see Leslie Cheung while he was still alive.   😦

Overall:  Good, a little long and slow at parts, but interesting nonetheless.

Grade:  B-

10 Defining Moments of My Life (so far) — #8: Coming out to my mom

10 05 2010

8.  I was trying to teach myself to play the guitar when my mom walked in and sat on the bed next to me.  Immediately, I knew she had something serious to talk about.  She looked at me and asked if I was gay.  I said yes, and already I could sense the tears waiting to be shed.  We had a long, long talk about it; she couldn’t seem to understand how I “became” gay.  She kept trying to make up excuses for it, but when I told her it was just who I am, she didn’t believe it.  Tears kept falling down my face, and some of them fell between the strings of the guitar and on the frets.  Needing to know how my mom felt about me now, I asked her if she still loved me.  She replied, “You are my son.  I’ll always love you.” and that was when I really bawled.  I hugged my mom tightly and cried on her, still not believing that she would really accept me for who I was because I knew she was the traditional Asian kind.