CLASS OF 97 PANEL: “THE ASIAN AMERICAN NEW WAVE”
CLASS OF 97: The Asian American New Wave
It was 1997 when four independent Asian American filmmakers premiered their narrative coming-of-age feature films transcending identity politics. 1997 was the breakthrough year emerging filmmakers Rea Tajiri (STRAWBERRY FIELDS), Chris Chan Lee (YELLOW), Eric Nakamura and Michael Idemoto (SUNSETS), Quentin Lee and Justin Lin (SHOPPING FOR FANGS) burst onto the scene.
Each film addresses, in its own stylistic way, one of the numerous dilemmas facing young Asian-Americans as they encounter a Western culture that has always been suspicious of them. Whether dealing with painful memories of the past, learning to accept the flaws of parents or seeking a way to fit into the changing cultural landscape, these eternal themes are handled with surprising sensitivity and dexterity, belying the youthfulness of most of the filmmakers.
In addition to the four screenings a joint panel will trace their individual careers and creative process.
SHOPPING FOR FANGS
Directed by Quentin Lee and Justin Lin
This is by far the slickest of the four films, and the one that shows the heaviest influence of contemporary cinematic icons like Quentin Tarantino and Wong Kar-wai. Written and directed by two enterprising UCLA grad students, it follows the bumpy lives of Phil, an unhappy CPA who is convinced he’s turning into a werewolf, and Katherine, an emotionally repressed housewife who is beginning to experience serious blackouts. Things get complicated when Katherine becomes the secret obsession of a lesbian waitress with big hair and an even bigger secret, and Phil worries he may be in the midst of a nocturnal killing spree. While the performances are strong and the rapid-fire editing is intriguing, the film falls short in terms of emotional involvement. A little bit of this goes a long way.
Directed by Chris Chan Lee
This comedy-drama centers around eight Asian-American teenagers in Los Angeles on their last night together before high school graduation. On that evening, Sin Lee, one of the teens, tells his friends that he lost $1500 of his dad’s money while getting held-up in his father’s Korean grocery. Sin fears that once his parents discover the money is missing, he’ll be forced to work in his dad’s store instead of going off to college. The guys and girls rally together to help Sin recover the money. YELLOW was the first Asian American film of its kind to be distributed theatrically across the USA, and has played over a dozen film festivals internationally and won two Best Feature Film awards.
Directed by Michael Idemoto and Eric Nakamura
The most audacious of the four films, and the least specific to Asian-American concerns, SUNSETS has the grainy black-and-white look and disturbing feel of a social documentary about alienated youth. Covering one endless summer in a small California town, the film follows the exploits of Dave, a low-key Latino who works in a comic-book store; Gary, a redneck hothead who has been in and out of prison; and Mark, an Asian-American teen who is quietly planning to attend college in the fall. Together, they cruise, drink, vandalize and steal, all the while discussing questions of life and mortality. What the film also does, in a slow but intriguing way, is point out how race and class differences have already determined where each of these young men will end up. A challenging and ambitious piece of work.
Directed by Rea Tajiri
The first feature by acclaimed documentarian Tajiri, STRAWBERRY FIELDS is a semi-experimental look at Irene Kawai (Suzy Nakamura), an angry 16-year-old, a third-generation Japanese American who is haunted by a photo of her grandfather she never knew, standing by a barracks in a World War II internment camp for Japanese Americans. Growing up in Chicago in the early 1970s who experiments with drugs and sex to help define herself, her search leads her to the Arizona desert, where she comes face to face with her own past, in the shape of her dead sister, and the tortured past of her parents, who once lived on the land in a Japanese internment camp. This is a moving piece of work, made by a filmmaker with a strong sense of history, memory and the inherent power of stark imagery. STRAWBERRY FIELSDS won the Grand Prix at the Fukuoka Asian Film Festival.