‘How I Became Russian’ Movie Pits Shanghainese Man Against Future Russian Father-in-Law

Years ago, when Philip Wong of Wongfu Productions cited Meet the Parents as a movie that should have starred Asians in one of the major roles, the universe must have heard his plea. That’s because a new Sino-Russian collaboration How I Became Russian (Как я стал русским), set to hit the theaters here in China on Jan 25, stands as a perfect example of a Meet the Parents-style tale, with a Sino-Russian twist.

The movie’s Chinese name Zhandou Minsu Yangchengji (战斗民族养成记), which roughly translates to “Notes on Battling Nationals”, pits a young Shanghainese man engaged to a Russian woman against his future Russian father-in-law, a nightmare of a man determined to put the newcomer through the wringer to prove his love for his fiancée.

Philip Wong would definitely approve of the casting, as he once stated “the basic premise [in Meet the Parents] of the “outsider” boyfriend meeting his fiancee’s ‘all-American’ family would be even more strengthened if said boyfriend was really ‘different’ i.e. Asian.” In this case, there’s no doubt who’s the outsider — the Shanghainese fellow met and proposed to his Russian fiancee in China, and then they travel to Russia, a foreign country, to meet the family.

And if the trailer is any measure, How I Became Russian also has lots of comedic potential with the hurdles the gun-toting Russian father throws at the Shanghai boyfriend. These include drinking duels with vodka, sweltering in saunas, shivering in the frigid cold and a showdown with an armored tank. The bottom line, like Meet the Parents, appears to be the same — it’s yet another father who doesn’t trust his daughter’s fiancee and will make him fight for the right to love her.

The movie stars Dong Chang (董畅) as the Shanghainese boyfriend, Elizaveta Kononova as the Russian girlfriend, and Vitaliy Khaev as the Russian father-in-law. Learn more about the movie in Chinese on Baidu (where you can also see trailers).

What do you think of How I Became Russian? Would you like to see this film?

‘Crazy Rich Asians’ the Movie Opens in China. How Will It Play With Audiences?

While much of the world welcomes the start of the holiday season, this weekend brings great cheer for moviegoers in China who happen to adore a certain novel by Kevin Kwan. Yes, Nov 30 marks the opening date in China for “Crazy Rich Asians” the movie.

The movie hasn’t even hit the theaters yet and many of my chat groups filled with other women with Chinese husbands and boyfriends are buzzing about the film. And why not? “Crazy Rich Asians” is the highest-grossing romantic comedy in a decade,  and it hopes to cash in on the same success in China, poised to become the world’s largest movie market.

But while “Crazy Rich Asians” could enjoy a splendid run in here in the Middle Kingdom, Chinese audiences already have a different perspective on the film.

Just consider its Chinese title, zhāijīn qíyuán (摘金奇缘), which others have translated into English as everything from “Tales of Gold-Digging” to “Gold-Picking Romance” or even “An Unexpected Gold-Digging Romance”.

It’s a bit misleading, as the character of Rachel Chu, played by Constance Wu, isn’t dating the “crazy-rich” Nick Young for his money, and doesn’t initially know he’s the scion of one of Singapore’s wealthiest families. But it does suggest that, here in China, people see “Crazy Rich Asians” through a different lens.

Look at what some Chinese have had to say about “Crazy Rich Asians” the movie on China’s movie review site Douban, including this:

One user criticized the film for its lack of authenticity, comparing it to Americanized Chinese food. “As a native Asian, I feel it’s like eating General Tso’s chicken in a Chinese restaurant” in a foreign country, chimed in someone in Los Angeles who goes by the moniker Durian Cake Brother (link in Chinese). “It looks like a film about Asians, but the spirit of it is American. The leading actress is an ABC. The story is about how Asians look in the eyes of the Americans.”

Professor Han Li, in an opinion piece for Sixth Tone, also writes in a similar vein about “Crazy Rich Asians”, singling out perceptions of the character Rachel Chu as a potential point of difference:

Despite my reservations about the movie’s portrayal of Chinese culture, there’s no doubt it struck a chord with Asian American audiences. It’s less clear, however, whether it would be met with the same reception in China, should it open here. The character of Rachel, in particular, might not be quite as popular. While some viewers may appreciate her depiction as a young, independent professional and be impressed with the way she has realized the American dream as a second-generation Chinese immigrant, others might see her not as the movie wants them to, but as Eleanor does — Chinese on the outside, American on the inside.

Jeff Yang echoes that in a piece about “Crazy Rich Asians” prospects in China, saying:

…the very thing that made “Crazy Rich Asians” so meaningful to Asians in the US might have given China’s cinematic powers-that-be pause: its focus on the global Chinese diaspora in America and Singapore.

…most Chinese don’t understand or find interest in the identity politics of more racially diverse societies like the US. The experience of Chinese Americans feels niche in China, where Chinese are the mainstream.”

Indeed, speaking of identity politics, don’t expect viewers or critics here to chime in on some of the controversies that arose in the West surrounding casting decisions (like having half-white/half-Asian Henry Golding play Nick Young, which some perceived as whitewashing). China has embraced many mixed-race celebrities (such as Fei Xiang), so it’s hard to imagine audiences having concerns about Golding.

Overall, these differences in perspective have a lot of critics uncertain about the film’s prospects in China, with some (like Victor Zheng at SupChina) even forecasting the possibility of a flop.

Nevertheless, as Jeff Yang notes, “Ultimately, of course, the biggest driver of the success of the film in China is likely to be its outsized success in America.” After all the movie topped the box offices for a record three weeks and raked in an incredible $230 million plus to date. That kind of triumph may be enough to power a strong run in China. We’ll see.

In the meantime, as for one tiny little demographic here in China — foreigners dating or married to Chinese — if the chat room conversations I’ve seen are any measure, I expect many of us will flock to the theaters in China for “Crazy Rich Asians”, success or no. Movie meetup, anyone?

What do you think about “Crazy Rich Asians” the movie in China? Do you feel audiences will embrace the movie anyhow? Or do you foresee a flop for the movie market in China?

Public Kisses in the Movies: Romantic or Embarrassing?

Whenever I watch a romantic comedy with my husband Jun, we always laugh together over that inevitable moment when the couple shares a kiss – in public.

It’s almost like a game for us – let’s see how long the movie will last before lips lock among a group of people, whether that’s a handful of their closest friends or an entire flash mob (Friends with Benefits). If it’s a love story, it invariably happens somehow, somewhere.

And the funniest thing is, I never really took note of this romantic comedy troupe until I met Jun.

He grew up in a world where public displays of affection, like kissing, were generally confined to bedrooms, closed doors and any other private corner of the world. His parents in rural China never kissed and hugged in front of him, like mine did, and neither did his relatives. That kind of intimacy was always tucked out of sight in his life, and it was the normal thing for people to do.

Hence, his fascination with kissing in the presence of other people, as depicted in all those Hollywood romantic comedies.

I’ve recognized for a long time that Hollywood stretches reality for entertainment. After all, few of us will probably ever kiss, say, in the center of a baseball field at an evening game (Never Been Kissed) or on the snowy streets of London, wearing our underwear as bewildered pedestrians walk by (Bridget Jones).

Nevertheless, I often idealized, and even loved, these public kisses in the movies, even if the reality might make me blush. The idea of having others witness your kiss in public had struck me as romantic, which outweighed the ensuing embarrassment.

Jun would come to remind me that, on the flip side, sometimes the embarrassment might outweigh the kiss, depending on your culture or perspective.

Nevertheless, we still delight in those romantic comedies. And while I know it’s a total long shot, who knows — maybe someday I might just convince Jun to give me one of those ultra-dramatic kisses, say, in front of Tian’anmen Square. 😉

Have you ever noticed how romantic comedies love to feature kisses in really public places? Do you think it’s romantic or embarrassing?

Intercultural Love Hack #108 – Movie Date Nights Can Help With Fights, Open Up Conversations

A few weeks ago, a fan wrote to me asking, “Do you and Jun ever fight?”  She mentioned fighting on occasion in her own intercultural relationship — her husband’s Chinese, she’s a non-Asian woman from a Western country — and sometimes it was not easy for her to resolve the tension because they had different ways of arguing. While she wanted to talk it out, he just stonewalled her.

She eyed my marriage with envy. While it’s true Jun and I don’t argue much these days (we’ve become“war buddies” united in our fight against injustice) like many couples, we’ve weathered our share of arguments early on in our relationship. (See Weathering Cross-Cultural Love in China and you’ll get what I mean.)

One thing I’ve never written about is that, in some ways, movies have helped us overcome fights and open up conversations, especially about cultural differences that could potentially cause a snag or too in a relationship. Call it my intercultural love hack, #108.

I’ve always been a huge fan of romantic comedies on TV and the big screen, which meant my husband and I would often watch them when we declared it a “movie night” (or “TV night”). In the early years of our relationship, we lived together in China, and at the time I was desperately missing my home country of America. Movies were a way for me to vicariously visit the US in the comfort of my own home, so I often chose titles set in America. And hey, it was great for both of us, since English is my native language and Jun’s second language.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but in choosing these English-language romantic comedies from America, I was inadvertently schooling Jun in dating and relationship culture in the US.

See, Jun and I had met in China, and while he’d studied European-American culture in college, he’d never traveled or lived outside the country before we met. Meanwhile, my two years of living in China, plus previous relationships with Chinese guys, gave me a leg up that he didn’t have when it came to my culture. (I’m the first and only woman he has ever dated, so it’s not like he had other women, or even foreign women, to compare with me.)

But movies stepped in to fill the gap, in ways I never anticipated.

The thing that first caught his eye in American movies? Kissing in public. Name me a romantic comedy from the US and there’s a more than 90 percent chance the couple ends up locking lips among a crowd of people (often their friends or family), and probably a more than 50 percent chance that said crowd showers them with applause. It was fascinating to Jun because…well…that’s not how it’s done where he grew up, where people prefer to kiss in more private places and spaces. And so it opened up a whole conversation about public displays of affection, and differences between our respective countries and cultures.

But of course, all movies – even romantic comedies – thrive on tension and drama. Which means many, many films had couples arguing about all sorts of things. Even stuff that was eerily similar to things we might have been hashing out on our own.

Here’s the thing, though. When you see people fighting about something that you’ve encountered, but it’s in a movie, it gives you a certain distance to talk about it in a more nonjudgmental way. It’s not the two of you doing it, it’s the characters.

Not everything is about culture, either. Sometimes it’s just a matter of personality too. But either way, seeing it reflected on screen can provide an opening to talk, where you’re discussing the characters instead of fingering the other person.

It’s also really helpful if you can find examples that encompass each of your respective “argument styles”, because everyone has a different approach. Bonus if they portray the fights in a humorous way, so then the two of you can laugh at them (and hopefully, later on, yourselves).

But if Jun and I were dating now, chances are I’d get even more specific and skip straight to movies about interracial and intercultural couples. They have plenty of arguments to go around, and they’re even more familiar to our lives than your average rom-com. (See Movies with Chinese Men and Western Women in Love and 11 Critically Acclaimed AMWF Movies Worth Watching for some recommendations I’ve made on this blog.)

While watching a movie won’t magically solve all your intercultural marital woes, it could raise the kind of awareness — cultural and otherwise — that opens up possibilities for resolution and understanding.  Plus, it’s fun and who wouldn’t want an additional excuse to prop up their legs, bring out the popcorn and declare it a movie night?

So maybe that old cliche should be updated to, “The couple who watches movies together, stays together”?

What do you think? Have you found movies to be a beneficial way of encouraging mutual understanding across cultural or racial lines?

“Raided” of a Good Role: Daniel Wu in “Tomb Raider” Deserved More in the Movie

When I heard that Daniel Wu of “Into the Badlands” would star with Alicia Vikander in “Tomb Raider,” the latest reboot of the “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” series, the movie immediately became one of my must-see films for 2018. I love a good action movie, especially if the film is reminiscent of the Indiana Jones films that have become personal classics. Add to that the fact that they cast a Chinese-American man opposite the white female lead – and in an action movie, no less. Plus, this is 2018, a year that has witnessed progress in representation with the release of “Black Panther” and the forthcoming film “Crazy Rich Asians.” So I hoped this might be another push from Hollywood to open up better roles to, in this case, Asian male actors.

First, the positive – “Tomb Raider” is great entertainment, especially for anyone looking for a fun movie to while away your summer afternoon or evening. Vikander makes for a terrific Lara Croft. And in the era of #MeToo, where women’s empowerment is taking center stage, it’s refreshing to see a young woman kicking some serious butt and fearlessly embarking on archeological adventures in the style of Indiana Jones. While the film loses a bit of its momentum in its second half, I still found it solidly entertaining and worth the time. My husband and I are both hungry for the sequel.

Daniel Wu, who stars as Lu Ren, is another story.

A Forbes critic called his performance “winning if underused,” which underscores the problem here. Without giving too much away, Wu’s character functions more as a means to a destination than anything else – and once there, he largely faded into the background.

Meanwhile, Daniel Wu is the first leading man in a Lara Croft movie who isn’t her love interest. A writer for Time noted, that, in past movies, “every time any man tries to work up the courage to ask Lara out in the movie, she’s already biking away on to another adventure,” which doesn’t happen here. I’m all for more movies starring women who aren’t defined by their romantic lives. But still, you can’t help but notice the filmmakers made this choice when they cast an Asian man opposite Croft. It’s like business as usual for Hollywood, yet another asexual Asian guy in the movies. In some ways, Daniel Wu’s presence feels like a cheap attempt to appeal to moviegoers in the growing China film market, which overtook the US earlier this year to become No 1 in the world.

Given that the Lara Croft movies never stick with the same leading men, I don’t expect we’ll see Daniel Wu in any sequels. It’s a shame. They could have done so much more with the star of “Into the Badlands,” a brilliant show on AMC (that, incidentally, isn’t getting the promotional attention it deserves).

Here’s wishing that, if the producers want to continue courting the Chinese market with more Asian actors, they might actually allow these Asian leading men to inhabit full-bodied characters that can truly complement Vikander’s Lara Croft.

Have you seen “Tomb Raider“? What did you think of the film?

P.S.: This post includes links to Amazon, where your purchases help support this blog.

‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Movie Is ‘Like the Asian Bachelor’: 3 Things That Thrill Me About the Upcoming Film

As the summer movie season heats up this month, some of us can’t wait until August — or more precisely, August 17, 2018, when Crazy Rich Asians the movie officially hits the theaters. And I’m even more thrilled about the film since seeing the trailer, which dropped last month. Here are three reasons I’m all psyched about the forthcoming movie Crazy Rich Asians:

It’s “Like the Asian Bachelor

That quote from the Crazy Rich Asians trailer nails one of the most exciting things about this movie. The dreamy Mr. Right at the heart of the film — the one every woman desperately wants to snag, not unlike the hit US reality TV show The Bachelor — happens to be an Asian man.

That’s a huge deal.

While Asian actors overall — men and women — rarely play the romantic leads in Hollywood movies, that’s especially true for Asian men, slapped with some of the most damaging and racist stereotypes in popular media. More often than not, Asian men are portrayed as effeminate and even laughable, but rarely the guy you’d swoon over.

So a movie with an Asian man as “the most eligible bachelor” — a guy who’s suave in a tux with a sexy British accent — is extraordinary. It surpasses any romantic leads I’ve ever seen on TV or in the movies played by an Asian man. In a word, it’s groundbreaking.

So is this snippet of conversation in the trailer between the romantic leads Nick Young (played by Henry Golding) and Rachel Chu (played by Constance Wu):

Rachel: You really should have told me you’re like the Prince William of Asia.
Nick: That’s ridiculous. I’m much more of a Harry.

Loving it!

In This Cinderella Story, She’s Asian

Fans have called Crazy Rich Asians another Cinderella story and it’s an apt comparison. After all, compared to Nick Young’s ultrawealthy family, solidly middle-class Rachel Chu doesn’t have that kind of money or lifestyle. And even though she happens to be his girlfriend, she spends the story fighting for a place with him and in the opulent, over-the-top world he inhabits in Asia.

When was the last time you saw an Asian woman starring as a kind of Cinderella figure in a Hollywood movie? It rarely happens, if at all. So it’s amazing to see that the woman we’re all rooting for to live happily ever after is Asian.

And if the trailer is any measure, Constance Wu truly shines in her role as Rachel Chu, complete with plenty of princess-worthy gowns.

The Entire Cast Is Asian

Crazy Rich Asians director Jon Chu said, “It’s not a movie. It’s a movement.”

People have been saying this movie is to the Asian community what Black Panther has been for the Black community, and for good reason. Because visibility and representation matters, period.

For the first time, you have a movie where the entire cast is all Asian actors. A movie that lets a variety of characters, with all of their nuances and imperfections and humanity, stand out on the big screen, all of whom happen to be Asian.

Also, when you have a movie populated exclusively by a diverse cast of Asians, there’s no room for damaging stereotypes or racist typecasting.

This is art that sends a strong message — that more Asian actors deserve leading roles in the movies. And if Crazy Rich Asians succeeds, it could lead to many more films headed by a strong Asian cast of characters, meaning more positive portrayals of Asians onscreen.

And that, to borrow a line from a song in the trailer for Crazy Rich Asians, “is glorious!”

Have you heard about Crazy Rich Asians? What about the upcoming movie are you thrilled about?

P.S.: If you need your Crazy Rich Asians fix now, I highly recommend picking up Kevin Kwan’s  Crazy Rich Asians, as well as the second and third books in the series, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems. They’re all available at Amazon.com, where your purchases help support this blog.

P.P.S.: If you haven’t seen the Youtube trailer, check it out now:

11 Critically Acclaimed AMWF Movies Worth Watching

Yes, Asian men and White women can love on the big screen and make for enlightening cinema. If you frequent art house theaters and film festivals, or simply want a more sophisticated pick for a change, here are 11 critically acclaimed AMWF (Asian Male, White Female) movies you don’t want to miss, in alphabetical order.

The Big Sick (2017)

Technically, “The Big Sick” is a rom-com, complete with an AMWF couple at the center of the story (Kumail Nanjiani, played by himself, and Emily Gardner, played by Zoe Kazan), which is set in Chicago. But the true heart and soul of this film surfaces when the Pakistani American man finds himself in close quarters with her white American parents, with some unexpected and even heartwarming results. Given that “The Big Sick” received an Oscar nod for original screenplay and many singled out Holly Hunter’s performance as worthy of a nomination from the Academy, any savvy filmgoer should have this movie on their watch list.

Columbus (2017)

The romantic indie drama “Columbus,” with the unusual pairing of an Asian man (John Cho) and a white woman (Haley Lu Richardson) in this architectural mecca of Indiana, has delighted audiences and critics alike, leading many to decry its absence at the Academy awards. As I wrote earlier this year about “Columbus”:

Here’s the best part about “Columbus” – it’s a beautiful movie to behold.

Granted, it might not be an obvious choice for those moviegoers who tend to pass on anything that feels a little too “art house.”

But for those people who delight in great cinematography (the shots really are gorgeous), nuanced stories filled with great depth and feeling, and real-to-life characters, this is a joy to watch.

Many top film critics have named “Columbus” one of the best films of 2017, and it currently has a 97 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an 89 on Metacritic.

If you haven’t read it yet, check out my post 4 Reasons the Movie ‘Columbus’ (#StarringJohnCho) Made Me Cheer, Beyond its Romance.

The Crimson Kimono (1959)

How could you not love a 1959 film with such a daring movie poster for its time, not to mention being way ahead of the curve on race? Starring the legendary James Shigeta, one of the first Asian American actors to show his sex appeal in the movies as a romantic lead, “The Crimson Kimono” offers plenty of gripping action and a love triangle with an AMWF twist, at a time when interracial love was still taboo and illegal in many places around the world (including America). Since this film is preserved by the Academy Film Archive — yes, the same Academy behind the Oscars — it should be on the list of every serious film buff, whether you’re into AMWF movies or not.

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

This American coming-of-age teen flick drew loads of critical acclaim for Hailee Steinfeld’s turn as the protagonist Nadine, turning it into a must-see among AMWF movies. But you should also watch “The Edge of Seventeen” for Hayden Szeto, in his breakout role of Erwin Kim. As I wrote last year for WWAM BAM!

Thank goodness for the new teen movie The Edge of Seventeen, just released in late 2016.

The film features one of the most refreshingly unstereotypical portrayals of an Asian man in a teen movie – the breakout role of Erwin Kim, played by Hayden Szeto.

And surprisingly, The Edge of Seventeen even shares some common ground with, of all movies, Sixteen Candles (Vanity Fair noted “Steinfeld’s character is derivative of Molly Ringwald circa Sixteen Candles”). Who’d have thought?

If you’re hungry for a good teen movie, one with a positive portrayal of an Asian guy, you must see The Edge of Seventeen, featuring Hayden Szeto.

Ae Fond Kiss (2004)

In “Ae Fond Kiss,” cultures collide in the world of AMWF movies when a Pakistani Muslim man and white Irish Catholic woman come together in Glasgow, not long before his arranged marriage to a cousin. The pushback and prejudice from his family and her colleagues will feel like familiar territory to many interracial and intercultural couples. But what makes this story different is that the film shows sympathy to both sides. Plus, there’s strong chemistry between the leads (Atta Yaqub and Eva Birthistle) — and plenty of passion behind closed doors. The film took in numerous awards across Europe, including two at the Berlin International Film Festival and one at the Cesar Awards, and will surely delight anyone looking for a more thoughtful portrayal of the challenges of interracial and intercultural romance.

A Great Wall (1986)

This movie — which tells the story of a Chinese American family visiting relatives in Beijing — enjoyed critical acclaim and was the first American film to be shot in the People’s Republic of China. It also happens to have a rather memorable moment in the history of AMWF movies. As I wrote a few years back:

When Kelvin laid with a white girl on the couch and kissed her in this 1986 movie, some dubbed it the “makeout scene heard ‘round the world” because it was one of the first movies to ever feature an Asian guy and non-Asian girl doing just that. Kelvin brings some serious sex appeal to the scene — his sultry eyes, and even the sensual way in which he pulls at her blouse — despite the fact that they never actually “do it” in the movie. Plus, I love that Kelvin is so alpha, which shatters that despicable “all Asian guys are so emasculated” stereotype.

Whether you’re watching for the groundbreaking cinematography, the exploration of cultural divides or just Kelvin Han Yee, “A Great Wall” is worth it.

Japanese Story (2003)

This quiet romantic drama that sets an AMWF pair — actors Toni Colette and Gotaro Tsunashima — against the backdrop of Australia’s mining country does tug at the emotions (and ilicited a few tears from yours truly). But despite the fact that their love affair is unexpected, it’s also a powerful one that will stay with you long after the credits are over. Given all the Australian awards this film garnered in 2003 — including winning for best film, director, actress and cinematography — any art house movie fan will want to watch “Japanese Story.”

The Lover (1992)

In “The Lover,” a French teenager in Indochina falls into an illicit love affair with an older Chinese man, making it one of the steamiest pairings on this list of AMWF movies. As I wrote a few years back:

My pulse quickens just thinking about Tony Leung in this movie, based on the book by Marguerite Duras. He may not be the hottest looking guy on this list, but he pulls off some of the most orgasmic sex scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie, let alone a movie featuring an Asian man and white woman together. Let’s put it this way — you’ll probably have to pause the movie every time they visit his “bachelor pad” to reach for one of the following: your partner, a cold shower, or a vibrator.

But besides all the sex appeal, the film also received an Oscar nomination for best cinematography and was the seventh-highest grossing film for 1992 in France, where it also earned several Cesar Award nods and won for best music written for a film.

Mao’s Last Dancer (2009)

This inspiring movie based on the memoir of the same name charts the rise of Li Cunxin from a rural impoverished boyhood in China to world-famous ballet dancer in the US. It’s worth seeing just for Chi Cao, who plays Li:

Chi Cao … had me before I even saw the film. Blame it on that photo … where he’s cradling the leg and torso of Amanda Schull (who plays Liz), while studying her with eyes that seem to yearn for more than just perfect point technique. Who wouldn’t want a “private lesson” with him? Chi Cao shows incredible sex appeal, even playing a newcomer to the US who stumbles through his first steps into the world of dating and sex, and shines in some stunning dance sequences that will also have your heart racing.

Plus, “Mao’s Last Dancer” attracted a slew of Australian movie award nominations, including for best film, and won for its original music score. And any serious art house filmgoers will delight in the ballet sequences — they’re just as moving as the story itself, which happens to feature two AMWF romances.

Never Forever (2007)

What happens when a prim white American housewife in New York makes a daring proposal to a Korean immigrant working at the dry cleaners, and unexpectedly falls in love with him? “Never Forever” is quite a sexy affair, with bedroom scenes (and a surprising fantasy) that just might leave you sweating too. But it’s the strong performances by Vera Farmiga, Ha Jung-woo and David McInnis that elevate this emotional romantic drama into something worthy of art house accolades among AMWF movies. It debuted at Sundance and won at the Deauville American Film Festival.

Pushing Hands (1991)

This first feature film from Oscar-winning director Ang Lee probes the cultural spaces that unite and divide an elder Tai Chi teacher and grandfather from Beijing and his son’s family in America, including the white daughter-in-law who doesn’t see eye to eye with him. Any East-West intercultural couple or family will find the cultural clashes in “Pushing Hands” relatable. And under the expert direction of Lee, the film becomes a timeless classic, including among all AMWF movies.

What other critically acclaimed AMWF movies would you recommend for savvy filmgoers?

4 Reasons the Movie ‘Columbus’ (#StarringJohnCho) Made Me Cheer, Beyond its Romance

As everyone settled down on Sunday for an evening of Oscars, not even the red carpet glitz and glamour could distract some of us from the movies and actors that should have been nominated. While women and people of color have made strides this year in the Academy Award nominations, some have noticed the lack of Asian and Latinx actors in the mix and the films they appeared in.

One movie that has inspired some to decry its absence at the Academy Awards this year is “Columbus,” led by the talented veteran actor John Cho (in a role that once again proves his star power – and why he was the focus of the #StarringJohnCho movement) and remarkable newcomer Haley Lu Richardson.

I was thrilled to learn about this movie, and truly enjoyed watching it. But beyond just the fact that this is a romantic indie drama with the unusual pairing of an Asian man and a white woman, here are 4 more things that made me cheer for “Columbus”:

#1: John Cho, an Asian actor, is the romantic lead

A few years ago, the TV show “Selfie” came on the scene – with John Cho in the lead role — and I was raving about it for a very good reason:

Just consider that for a moment – an Asian man as the leading romantic role in an American TV series. When have you ever seen that before? It’s historic! If there’s only one reason you choose to tune in to see Selfie, make it this one.

Well, the excitement sadly didn’t last, as “Selfie” was cancelled after only 13 episodes. Yet Cho’s performance was widely applauded — and it left many of us asking, when will he have the chance to be a romantic lead in the movies?

Enter “Columbus.”

In a world where far too many people still don’t think Asian men are sexy, it’s always a breath of fresh air to see movies that challenge that stereotype in a positive way, such as John Cho’s character in “Columbus.”

#2: “Columbus” subtly handles racial identity

The Korean American identity of Jin, played by John Cho, is something we’re reminded of throughout the film – whether Jin is speaking Korean on the phone, or talking about his translation work in Seoul, or even discussing how funerals are handled in Korean culture. But while this is a part of his identity, it’s not something that provides momentum to the story, nor is it or subverted into stereotypes either. Instead, we’re presented with this man named Jin who happens to be Korean American (and is presented very authentically throughout the story), yet Jin is also given room to be a complex individual, sharing thoughts and emotions that make for great drama.

This is, in fact, one of the things that John Cho loved about “Columbus” from the beginning, as he described in an NPR interview:

…race exists very naturally. It’s simply a component of this person’s identity, and it doesn’t drive the narrative. But neither is it ignored. And it’s – I think it’s a very difficult balance to achieve, and it requires a deft touch.

#3: John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson have great onscreen chemistry

When I was watching “Columbus” a second time around and taking notes (yep, I’m a movie nerd), I couldn’t help noticing that many of the moments that touched me most happened when John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson were onscreen. Like when Jin asks her, regarding the piece of modern architecture, “Tell me about what moves you,” a line that feels a bit flirtatious. Or when the two are laughing over that awkward question from Jin about whether her mom does meth, and that laughter is layered over a certain tension that can happen when you’re inching toward closeness and not entirely certain about it. It’s a delight to watch the two of them, whether they’re just hanging out in the front seat of a car or standing among the pews in the breathtaking interior of a modernist church building.

#4: “Columbus” is an incredible movie, period, and deserves every accolade

Here’s the best part about “Columbus” – it’s a beautiful movie to behold.

Granted, it might not be an obvious choice for those moviegoers who tend to pass on anything that feels a little too “art house.”

But for those people who delight in great cinematography (the shots really are gorgeous), nuanced stories filled with great depth and feeling, and real-to-life characters, this is a joy to watch.

Many top film critics have named “Columbus” one of the best films of 2017, and it currently has a 97 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an 89 on Metacritic.

So while you’re in a hurry to catch up on all the Oscar-nominated (or Oscar-winning) films for 2017, be sure to take a moment and see “Columbus” (which you can now watch on Amazon).

Have you seen “Columbus” yet? What do you think of the movie?

5 Reasons You Must See Hayden Szeto in “The Edge of Seventeen” – Pub’d on WWAM Bam

The group blog WWAM Bam (Western Women & Asian Men – Breaking All Molds) just published my post titled 5 Reasons You Must See Hayden Szeto in “The Edge of Seventeen”. Here’s an excerpt:

Whenever I think of Hollywood teen movies, I cringe.

It’s bad enough that white actors get all the best roles, with almost no exceptions. But a Hollywood teen movie also gave the world one of the most racist, stereotypical portrayals of Asian men ever – Long Duk Dong in the John Hughes’ movie Sixteen Candles. Talk about one enormous “screw you” to the whole Asian community, including the many talented Asian male actors out there who deserve better roles and representation.

Thank goodness for the new teen movie The Edge of Seventeen, just released in late 2016.

The film features one of the most refreshingly unstereotypical portrayals of an Asian man in a teen movie – the breakout role of Erwin Kim, played by Hayden Szeto.

And surprisingly, The Edge of Seventeen even shares some common ground with, of all movies, Sixteen Candles (Vanity Fair noted “Steinfeld’s character is derivative of Molly Ringwald circa Sixteen Candles”). Who’d have thought?

If you’re hungry for a good teen movie, one with a positive portrayal of an Asian guy, you must see The Edge of Seventeen, featuring Hayden Szeto. Here are 5 reasons why:

To find out those five reasons — and feast your eyes on some cool GIFs at the same time — head on over to WWAM Bam to read the full article.

Guest Post: Get Romantic – Watch Chinese Love Films to Help You Learn Mandarin

I’ve always been a romantic at heart, which means when it comes to watching movies, I often opt for a good love story. That’s why I like this guest post from Yang, recommending four outstanding Chinese love films that could help you improve your Chinese at the same time.

Do you have a guest post you’d like to share here at Speaking of China? Check out the submit a post page to learn how to have your story or recommendations featured here.
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Watching a great love story at the movies or on TV with your loved one is not just fun. It’s also an enjoyable way for you to learn Mandarin and understand more about Chinese culture.

So, today, we are going to recommend some of the most popular Chinese romance based films for you to enjoy:

1. 甜蜜蜜(Almost a Love Story)

1. tian mi mi

This film was released in 1996, just before the return of Hong Kong to China and contains an all-star cast. Director Peter Chan is one of the most famous directors in Hong Kong for love stories. Leon Lai was one of the Four Heavenly Kings (ie one of Hong Kong’s most popular stars during the 1990s) and, in 1996, at the peak of his career. Maggie Cheung, an internationally known Hong Kong actress, also starred in this film, which reflected life in the last decade of the city’s colonial period. In addition, the film honours one of China’s most famous singers (Deng Lijun/Teresa Teng) who passed away in 1995; in fact, one of her songs, Tian Mimi, is often heard throughout the film. The film won numerous plaudits at the Hong Kong film awards in 1996 and became known as one of the classic romantic Chinese films.

2. 色戒 (Lust Caution)

2. se jie

Another great adventure film from Ang Lee, the Oscar winning Taiwanese director. In this film he works with Tony Leung, one of Hong Kong’s top actors, and also Tang Wei, who became a major star after this film. The film attracted a lot of “buzz” when it was released as, besides its famous director and actors, it is very violent with very realistic, often graphic, sex scenes, which are still rare in Chinese films. In any event, the film has been described as a very sophisticated love story.

3. 北京爱情故事(Beijing Love Story)

3. Beijing love story

This film was released with the same name as an earlier hit TV series (similar to Sex and the City) but was not just a predictable extension of the TV show. Rather, the film accurately portrayed both the happiness and typical problems of couples of different ages in China. It has been described as a warm and sensitive film. Another noteworthy point is that the actor/director and leading actress actually fell in love with each other and were married after making the TV show.

4. 那些年,我们一起追的女孩(You Are the Apple of My Eye)

4. na xie nian

If you watch any of the “campus love”/puppy love TV series and films being produced all over China currently, they probably originated as a result of the huge success of this film. The film was directed by Jiu Ba Dao, one of Taiwan’s famous authors, who decided to make a film to honor his teenage love in school. He did not have any prior directing experience and the leading actor and actress were also unknowns. However, when the film was released, it was an instant success, breaking records in Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland China—making the lead actors in the film superstars, and encouraging others to produce similar films.

Undoubtedly you have your own favorite Chinese films and, whatever they are, we’re sure that watching Chinese movies will help you learn how to speak Chinese more effectively.

If you are a fan of Chinese movies, why not let us know which ones you have watched, or why you liked them. Or even email us to tell us which one is your very favorite; we’d love to know!

Yang is a serial web entrepreneur whose latest website is http://www.learnmandarinnow.com. Yang is passionate about learning new languages and cultures. You can check out the recent Chinese learning research here: How to learn Chinese.
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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.