Troubled Expat In Bed w/ Tokyo Gangster: ‘Lost Girls & Love Hotels’ Film

When Margaret (Alexandra Daddario), a self-destructive white English teacher in Tokyo, starts a kinky affair with Kazu (Takehiro Hira), a Japanese gangster, the last thing she ever expects to find is love — and the experience might just push her to the brink.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Catherine Hanrahan, “Lost Girls & Love Hotels” offers a seedier take on expat life through the troubled lens of Margaret, who spends her days barely hanging on to her position and her nights boozing and partying with friends, and stumbling through pay-by-hour love hotels with the Japanese men she picks up, in pursuit of unconventional sexual pleasures. But Kazu becomes more than just a one-night fling — and will falling for one of the yakuza put Margaret in even more danger?

Though “Lost Girls & Love Hotels” has drawn mixed reviews, earning less than 50 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, Daddario and Hira have good onscreen chemistry and make for a captivating couple. If you’re the kind of person who might enjoy a moodier film that drifts through the dark side of expat life in Tokyo, with a little unusual cross-cultural /interracial romance and S&M thrown in, give “Lost Girls and Love Hotels” a watch.

See the trailer on Youtube or, if you’re in China, on Acfun.cn.

P.S.: Looking for more films to watch? Take a look at my list of critically acclaimed AMWF movies.

Phillipa Soo of ‘Hamilton’ Speaks of Biracial (Chinese/European) Family Background

The group blog WWAM BAM just published my post titled Phillipa Soo of ‘Hamilton’ Speaks of Biracial (Chinese/European) Family Background. Here’s the introduction:

Call me “Helpless”, but after watching the live-stage performance of the musical “Hamilton”, I simply had to write about Phillipa Soo, who originated the role of Eliza Hamilton and also happens to have a Chinese American father and a European American mother.

Head on over to WWAM BAM to read the full post — and if you like it, share it!

Racism in ‘Eleanor & Park’ Novel Not Stopping Film Adaptation

The YA novel Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell features a white girl and a biracial Korean boy falling in love in high school. While this sounds like just the kind of book I’d embrace and promote on this blog, Eleanor & Park is actually rather racist.

And now it’s getting made into a movie, which has renewed the criticism of racism in the book, as noted in an article about the movie on Vice:

Since the movie deal was announced, dissenters have taken to Twitter to denounce Rowell’s Cho-Chang–ass naming choices (Park is an extremely popular Korean surname, not first name, something Rowell acknowledged in an FAQ); the choice to hire a Japanese director to tell a Korean American story; her descriptions of Park as feminine; her description of another Asian boy’s “just barely almondy” eyes; dialogue between the two main characters where Park says “Asian girls are different. White guys think they’re exotic… Everything that makes Asian girls seem exotic makes Asian guys seem like girls”; descriptions of Park’s mother comparing her to a China doll that further solidify the misogynistic “exotic” stereotype; the fact that Park literally does kung fu against a bully at one point… the list goes on! And on! (Rowell and production company Picturestart did not respond to a request for comment.)

Just do a search for “Eleanor and Park racism” and you’ll find a multitude of articles that back this up, including a review in the Los Angeles Times titled ‘Eleanor & Park’: Where romance and racism seem to go hand-in-hand.

This novel dishes up awful representation of Asian characters, which will then get translated onto the big screen. And the thing is, such representation in the media does indeed matter.

A recent article titled The Psychology of Racism noted that media is one of the major areas that can amplify racism, as summarized in a post on Psychology Today:

The sixth factor the authors identify as contributing to racism in America is the media. The authors cite clear evidence that demonstrates people internalize what they watch on TV. A very early example of this research occurs in a 1963 study where preschool children witness aggression on TV and then imitate that aggression in their lives. The paper is the first in a large body of research that demonstrates how people internalize what they see in the media. The authors also cite clear evidence that the American media portrays idealized representations of White Americans and marginalizes and minimizes people who are not White.

So problematic portrayals, such as in Eleanor & Park, do have real-world consequences in terms of racism. In this case, the forthcoming film will further bolster negative stereotypes about Asians.

None of this has deterred the production of the movie — but then again, perhaps that shouldn’t surprise anyone about Hollywood, given even recent examples of yellowface and whitewashing of Asian characters in the movies.

Nevertheless, it’s just not right that Eleanor & Park became a best-seller and now will be made into a film, as noted in Vice:

…as books like Eleanor & Park continue to find success, the representation conversation will churn on with depressing regularity. It hurts to see that not only has a white author, catering to young people, has sailed along without reckoning with her racism, her fetishization and her lazy caricatures; she’s been rewarded with even more success. It’s hard to blame Asian Americans for focusing on the things that make us feel invisible, even if these debates may muffle the least visible among us.

What do you think about the outcry over racism in Eleanor and Park and the forthcoming film?

Pooja and Robbie: Chindian Couple in Singapore Vlogs on Love, Life

If you’re looking for a new vlog to watch on Youtube, check out Pooja and Robbie, a Chindian (Chinese and Indian) couple who does videos highlighting their multicultural family backgrounds (Indian, Chinese, Singaporean and American) and culture.

In a Q&A about their interracial relationship, Robbie talked about how, when the two of them are in public, people often don’t assume they are a couple due to stereotypes — something I’ve also experienced with my husband.

Pooja also meets Robbie’s Chinese grandma, who shows how to prepare a special tofu dish that has been a tradition in the family. Watching this brought back memories of spending time with my mother-in-law in her kitchen, learning how to cook all kinds of specialty foods, including my favorite flatbread.

Subscribe and watch Pooja and Robbie on Youtube.

P.S.: Are you a Youtuber with a channel you’d like to recommend? Or do you know of a good Youtube channel you’d like to see featured here? Let me know in the comments — or contact me today about it.

‘Everything I Never Told You’ by Celeste Ng To Become TV Series

The best-selling debut novel by Celeste Ng titled “Everything I Never Told You”, a dark story centering on a family with a Chinese American father and white mother living in 1970s small town America grappling with an unimaginable tragedy, will be developed into a TV series, as reported by Variety.

Back in 2014, when Celeste Ng first came out with her novel, I had the honor of interviewing her for HippoReads. Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote about the novel:

Everything I Never Told You touched me on a personal level. Naturally, I was drawn to the family at the heart of the story. I write about Asian interracial relationships and am married to a Chinese national, so it was refreshing to read a book featuring an Asian father and a white mother raising mixed-race children. More importantly, Everything I Never Told You perfectly captures the insidious nature of race-based discrimination in America and reminds us that Asian Americans are not in any way exempt (despite the pervasive “model minority” stereotype about Asians which I previously debunked on Hippo Reads). While Celeste Ng set her novel in the 1970s, my husband (who lived with me in the US for nearly eight years) also faced discrimination similar to what the novel’s father, James Lee, suffered in the story. When I was reading Everything I Never Told You, I felt as if the Lee family’s sorrows could easily have been my own. It was an incredibly cathartic experience.

If you haven’t yet read “Everything I Never Told You”, you can find it at bookstores including Amazon, where your purchases help support this blog.

‘The Half of It’ Film: Friendship, Flirtation, Family in Smart, Queer ‘Cyrano’

The latest YA rom-com movie on Netflix, “The Half of It”, offers a smart and queer rendering of the classic “Cyrano de Bergerac” tale in a story that features interracial friendship and flirtation, along with the challenges that face many Asian American families.

The movie’s “Cyrano” is Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis), a Chinese American high-school student who has parlayed her brilliance into a side hustle writing papers for her peers. She’s also a closeted lesbian, and remains shyly distant from other students (some of whom mock her with racist epithets as she bikes home), apart from taking their cash for homework. So of course, when Paul, the inarticulate but lovable oaf of a white jock (Daniel Diemer), has a crush on the high school’s “it” girl Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire), he goes straight to Ellie to help woo her with a letter.

Except for one problem — Ellie develops a crush on Aster too.

Once Ellie reluctantly jumps on board (her own family’s financial situation pushes her to accept), the blossoming interracial friendship between the odd couple of this straight white football star and Asian lesbian and literary wonder drives the story as much, if not more, than the disguised flirtations between Aster and Ellie-as-Paul.

The hardships facing some Asian American families also factor into the story in “The Half of It”. Ellie’s dad, who had arrived from China with a distinguished engineering education, is shunned because of his English and can only land work overseeing a lowly train station in a small town in Washington state. Ellie fears leaving him, especially when she’s the one calling the electric company to learn their payment is overdue and the power will be cut soon.

“The Half of It” delivers many heartfelt moments that transcend the usual boundaries in terms of culture and sexual orientation, and shines with a diverse cast.

Catch “The Half of It” on Netflix. You can watch a trailer on Youtube:

Or, if you’re based in China, view the trailer here.

What do you think? Have you seen “The Half of It” yet?

‘Before Bruce Lee, There Were Just No Asian American Heroes’

The PBS series Asian Americans, in the episode titled Good Americans, gives screen time to that legendary actor and martial arts fighter Bruce Lee, highlighting his importance in American culture when he emerged in the 1960s.

Writer Jeff Chang, who is currently at work on a biography about Bruce Lee, had this to say about Lee’s rise to stardom in Episode 3 of Asian Americans:

Jeff Chang: The culture is waiting for this moment to shift on its axis. We needed to have at that particular moment somebody who epitomizes the search for truth, for justice. We needed to have somebody who was going to stand up for us.

Before Bruce Lee, there were just no Asian American heroes. For Asian Americans, there was a sense of, finally. Finally there’s somebody up on the screen who is as strong as we are. Somebody that embodies the kind of power you know that we’re capable of.

The celebrity Randall Park of Fresh Off The Boat surely spoke for millions when he put into words just how much Bruce Lee meant to him growing up:

Randall Park: I first saw a Bruce Lee movie when I was a kid, super young, and I remember just being mesmerized by this guy. And I don’t think it was because he was Asian, because he had an Asian face. It was just because he had so much charisma and confidence. I was obsessed with him. I watched his movies over and over again and afterwards wanted to fight my brother, because I wanted to be him.

You can watch the full (but brief) segment on Bruce Lee at the end of Episode 3, Good Americans, for the PBS series Asian Americans (available only to viewers in the US for free streaming until June 9, 2020):

Filipino, Mexican Farmworkers Marry, Join 1965 Grape Strike in California

The PBS series Asian Americans highlights an unusual marriage in the mid-20th century: A Filipino man and Mexican woman who met in the fields as farmworkers tied the knot. More than a decade later, in 1965, along with their entire family, they joined the Delano Grape Strike.

Lorraine Agtang, daughter of the two, tells the story of her parents and family in Episode 4, Generation Rising, of Asian Americans:

I’m half Filipino, and half Mexican. My father met my mother working in the fields, and he didn’t speak Spanish and she didn’t speak English, and so my father learned how to speak Spanish so that he could get to know her.

I was born in a labor camp a mile and a half from Delano. It was a two-bedroom barrack bunkhouse. We all slept together. There were seven of us, and then my mom and dad.

The bathroom was out back, which we shared with two other families, so, uh, you get to know your neighbors well.

Such a pairing was exceptional at the time among the community of Filipino men who served as farmworkers, as explained in the series:

Narrator: Very few Filipino women were able to immigrate to the US, and Filipino men were barred from marrying white women. As a result, an entire generation is forced to live out their lives as bachelors deprived of family.

But not Lorraine’s father.

Along with her parents and family, Lorraine also took part in the strike, which she recalls in the series:

Lorraine: I remember we were working, when my father says, “Come on, we’re leaving”.

I says, “We’re leaving? It’s ten o’clock in the morning.”

So we left.

And I remember leaving the field, and driving through the, seeing the strikers, the Filipinos.

A page about a collection of materials that Lorraine Agtang has left to the University of California – Davis offers more information about her and her parents:

Lorraine Agtang was born in a labor camp near Delano, California on 1952. Agtang is of Mexican and Filipino descent. Her mother, Lorenza Agtang, was born in Chihuahua, Mexico. Her father, Platon Agtang, was a migrant worker from Cavite Province in the Philippines, who worked at the sugar fields in Hawaii, canneries in Alaska, and the farmworker circuits throughout Central California. Agtang’s exposure to farm labor activism occurred at an early age, as Agtang and her family left the fields of Chamorro Farms in support of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee during the 1965 Delano Grape Strike.

You can view a clip from the PBS series where Lorraine talks about leaving the fields with her family for the strike:

And, if you’re in the US, you can view the entire episode of Generation Rising from Asian Americans on the PBS site (available for free streaming until June 9, 2020):

Note: Featured photo, with a farmworker, is a screenshot from Generation Rising from Asian Americans on the PBS site.

A Cinderella with Blasian Love: Diverse 1997 Disney TV Movie Still Wins Hearts

Yes, Virginia, there’s a Cinderella with blasian love. And this diverse 1997 Disney TV version still wins hearts, and stands as a groundbreaking example of how to adapt fairy tales for modern audiences.

Known as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, the 1997 Disney musical film cast the R&B wonder Brandy, who had shot to stardom early in the decade, in the titular role, with Filipino-American actor Paolo Montalban as Prince Charming.

As we all know, representation matters, and this film exemplifies that idea. In playing Cinderella for this movie, Brandy also was the first-ever black Disney princess, a point hailed by many. You could surely say the same for Paolo Montalban, who had a truly crowning moment as Disney’s first Asian prince in a movie. In both cases, the movie gifted young people of color with actors that looked like them, finally riding off into the sunset on their own happily ever after.

Beyond being the first instance of a black woman playing Cinderella opposite an Asian Prince Charming, it also stands out as one of the first times (if not the very first) that Disney featured interracial love in a fairy tale. (Twice, actually, since Whoopi Goldberg plays the queen and Victor Garber the king.)

Did I mention this also stars Whitney Houston, who dazzles in every sense of the word as the fairy godmother?

I slipped into this movie for an hour and half during the weekend, and emerged feeling noticeably hopeful and lighter, as if that fairy godmother had touched me with some of her magical stardust.

If you love musicals and fairy tales, or perhaps could use a little time to dwell in an onscreen happily every after, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella makes for fine entertainment. You can watch the whole film in its entirety online.

What do you think about Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella?

‘I’m a Volunteer (in China)’: Spanish Woman Helps Beijing Community Amid COVID-19

Across the world, front-line workers in many places, including communities, have played a pivotal role in fighting against the COVID-19 outbreak. And here in China, they include foreigners such as Laura, or 龙小西 (lóng xiǎo xī), a Spanish woman who serves as a front-line volunteer in her community in Shunyi district, Beijing, where she also lives with her husband, a Chinese national.

China Education Network Television spotlighted her efforts, along with others, in a video news report titled I’m a Volunteer (我是一名志愿者, wǒ shì yī míng zhì yuàn zhě).

I actually know Laura myself, as we’ve met up a couple of times during social gatherings here in the Beijing area. What a delightful surprise to see her on TV!

Here are a few excerpts from the interview with Laura, where she’s speaking in English:

I saw all the colleagues from the management, they’re really busy, the compound has a lot of activities. And they need someone who can help them for the English translations, and also with the door service. So I decide to join the team.

Actually I thought because in this moment is when we need more people helping each other. And you just need to wear your mask and your gloves and keep your hands clean and follow all the protection regulations, so you can help.

I think it’s totally safe nowadays, because everybody put a lot of effort (in) to make it safe. You can see every day in the compound people are wearing masks, going outside with the masks, with gloves, keeping the social distance. It’s really important. We have to keep on doing this until the situation improves.

With her amiable smile and initiative, Laura serves as a reminder that many foreigners who live in China are doing their part to support the nation they call home during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can watch the full segment featuring Laura (which begins at 3:51 in the video) online. And if you like it, share it!