INSTANT YANG v. 42: FIVE YEARS OF BLT; SUNDANCE KIDS; CAN ASIAN AMERICAN FILM MAKE MONEY?; RICE DADDYVERSARYHi all:
An anniversary is a wonderful and tragic thing. Wonderful, because it's an opportunity to reflect and celebrate, to dwell on the deep lessons and bright moments that we all too often forget in our mad rush into the future. Tragic, because, well, it's kind of a shame that we need arbitrary markers to tell us to slow down, be mindful, consider where we've been and where we're going.
For this week's SFGate column, filmmaker Justin Lin, speaking from Park City, reflected on the fact that it's been five years since he brought Better Luck Tomorrow to Sundance--five years, during which Asian American cinema has grown and evolved, and wonderful new talents have emerged, like Michael Kang and Alice Wu, whose films The Motel and Saving Face were at Sundance two years ago, or So Yong Kim (In Between Days), Ham Tran (Journey from the Fall), and Tanuj Chopra (Punching at the Sun) last year.
ASIAN POP: INDIE JONES
By Jeff Yang, Special to SF Gate
Thursday, February 1, 2007
Sundance has set; Slamdance has settled. Jeff Yang catches up on some of the hot tickets of this year's Utah circuit and talks with the Park City scene's leading Asian American lights, including American Zombie's Grace Lee, Dark Matter and Year of the Fish's Janet Yang and Finishing the Game's Justin Lin.
But for all of the progress we've seen on the festival circuit, a question remains to be asked: How much ground has Asian American film really gained inside the smoke-filled rooms of Hollywood?
"The talent's growing; the opportunities are starting to happen," says Lin. "But you know what? Before Sundance, I had pre-meetings with all of the studios. And the only Asian American indie film they were willing to point to--the only film they acknowledge as having shown a profit, by their standards--is Better Luck Tomorrow. That's in the entire history of Asian American independent cinema. I'm like, 'oh sh*t--you've had five years, and you still can't get of that?' But the studios aren't looking at reviews, they're not looking at prestige. They're looking at numbers. And that's what they're ultimately measuring our whole filmmaking community against."
Lin isn't trying to boast. Here are the numbers, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com: BLT cost $250,000 to make, and grossed $3.8 million domestically. Runner-up Saving Face grossed $1.2 million, production budget unknown. Setting aside Ang Lee's Taiwanese co-production The Wedding Banquet ($6.9 million on a budget of $1 million), I can't think of another Asian American indie film that's come close to BLT's box office, or its 15:1 return on production costs. Which is a troubling thing for the viability of Asian American cinema, at least within the Hollywood machine.
That's why Lin's bottom line with his self-financed latest pic, the Bruce Lee mockumentary Finishing the Game, is control of marketing and distribution. Or at least significant input. He wants to learn how it's done; figure out how to build a network for exhibition and distribution of Asian American indie film on his own, if necessary. "That's the next step," he says. "It's all about distribution and exhibition and marketing--figuring out how to do that right. That's what the growth of the Asian American cinema is going to hinge on. I'm not worried about the talent...I'm not even worried about the money. It's about getting people to watch these films, and proving there's an audience."
Smart words. Smart guy. And he's putting his film where his mouth is--shrugging off the pleas of potential distributors, and offering it up to the Asian American film festival circuit for screening--"It bugs me that when an Asian American film gets into a big festival, like the L.A. Film Festival, they pull it from the Asian American festivals. I told the guys at Visual Communications and the Center for Asian American Media, I'm offering you first look at this one--you want it, you have it. Sundance is great, but these are great festivals too, and it's time for us to value them as such."
It looks like Finishing the Game will open the 2007 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (March 15 to 25)--which, speaking of anniversaries, is going to be the fest's 25th. And hey, that's not even the oldest Asian American film fest in the country--Asian CineVision's Asian American International Film Festival here in New York is commemorating its 30th year in 2007 (July 19 to 28)...another big anniversary. With all of these nice, round anniversary years happening, let's hope it's a banner one for Asian American cinema.
There's another anniversary, a little closer to home for me, that I also want to highlight--and it's one with a much smaller, but equally significant number: Rice Daddies, the Asian American daddyblog I contribute to, is celebrating its first anniversary tomorrow--that's Tuesday, February 6, 2007. Twelve whole months of paternal angst and fatherly fun zipped by at lightspeed, woo hoo!
Some of Asian America's most prominent and interesting writers (and no, I'm not talking about myself) are part of the Rice Daddy fraternity, albeit in a more anonymous fashion than I am, which is why it's such a damn good read--even if you're not Asian, or, for that matter, not a dad. Here are some of my personal faves from the past year, plucked from the RD archives.
Poppa Large: "Baby Macks"
"So I'm walking past this local boutique that sells 'hip' baby wear and I see this onesie from the Urban Smalls people at reads: PIMPIN' AIN'T EASY..."
Daddy In a Strange Land: "Scenes from the Home Front"
"Setting: Home, Working Momma's day off.
Stay At Home Dad is in kitchen, prepping dinner.
Working Momma (from baby's room across house): Honey, can you come here? The diaper thingy's full!
SAHD (chopping garlic): Sweetie, remind me, I gotta show you how to change the bags in the diaper thingy.
WM (smiling sweetly): But honey, that's a daddy job. I'm the mommy...."
Mr. Maestro: "Daddy Status"
"I've moved from impregnator to actual daddy. I wasn't what I expected but a miracle nevertheless. Perhaps cursed by a very uneventful and smooth pregnancy, delivery was a bitch and although I didn't endure any of the pain, I was at the risk of invoking a bad Denzel movie, ready to go John Q. Public...."
iDaddy: "iDaddy in the house!"
"I'm obsessed with Apple. I guess it stems from my early childhood in the early 80's typing away on my Apple IIe, playing games like parachute, and coding in BASIC. It was so easy back then:
20 Print 'Welcome to Rice Daddies'
30 Goto 20
Fast forward a little to the Apple IIGS, and then our Apples were replaced by the PC. Only within the past three years did I make the switch back to Apple, and then my obsession began with the G5. One iPod turned to two, and then to three..."
F-Bomb: "Stick It!"
"I’m not a fan of needles. Ever since I was a kid, I’d scream every time my parents even drove NEAR my pediatrician’s office. It didn’t help that my doctor had the bedside manner of a malevolent robot, and the nurses administering my shots were terrifying, white-clad monsters encased like sausages in support hose. (Plus, no post-shot lollipops.) My parents would try to console me as best they could, and actually managed to convince me that shots administered in my buttocks wouldn’t hurt if I didn’t struggle, because my booty was nothing more than nerve-free padding...."
Instant Yang (yeah, me): "Soloing..."
"So Dear Wife is at a medical conference (read: road trip with the Sisterhood of the Traveling Scrubs) and I've got The Hudster for a solid four-day daddy-only roadblock--weekend through Tuesday....For what it's worth, I was actually primary caregiver for Hudson for several early months due to a career transition (insert euphemism of choice), and Hudson's still experiencing an estimated 5:4 ratio of daddycare to mommycare, due to my more flexible work arrangement. (To be fair, the real ratio is probably more like 5 parts daddy, 4 parts mommy, 3 parts daycare, 2 parts grandma, and 1 part Bob the Builder.)..."
thisislarry: "Chopsticks, reinvented by...IKEA?"
"A tool at the heart of the Asian Pacific American experience: chopsticks. Do you remember learning how to use them? Do you remember teaching a childhood buddy how to use them? How about teaching a co-worker? What improvements could one think to make on this most elegant of kitchen tools? Fork, tongs, and skewers condensed down into a diptych of forms so simple that they are barely even objects? Who would attempt such a daunting reinvention? Well, IKEA, that's who!..."
Metrodad "Just in case there was any doubt..."
"It's funny. Despite my Asian exterior, I've always been an All-American kind of guy. I love baseball, apple pie, hot dogs and Chevrolet....[But] I think yesterday pretty much confirmed for me that you can never truly escape your past. As I sat on my couch watching the Mets game, eating some dried octopus and drinking a glass of scotch, I realized that not only was I wearing a Korean soccer jersey and flip flops but also that my breath totally reeked of kimchi and I smelled like a Korean taxi cab driver. Furthermore, I found myself yelling at the television while cutting my toenails at the same time. Holy crap, I'm turning into my father!!!"
Charlie: "Proud Moment"
"In eight short months there have been moments when I've proudly stood by and watched my son do something for the first time. There will be many more. Today, as a son, I stood by in a proud moment and watched my dad get some recognition for a discovery he made yesterday...."
Soccer Dad: "Vacay Torpedoed by Sore Bunghole"
"Ah, the wonder of kids. It's easy to get caught up in 'every day is a miracle' type of groove. But nothing shines a klieg light of reality to a glowing parent than a stomach bug...."
Dr. Lo Siento: "Soon to Be Dad"
"Hey guys, wow, this is the first time I have ever blogged, so I am sort of nervous and shaky. Sweating in my palms as we speak. Daddy in a Strange Land was nice enough to invite me since I am a soon to be dad....We actually found out several weeks ago about the pregnancy, but did not tell anyone until last week when she made it through the first trimester. It still feels unreal, and it probably won't hit me till she starts getting a little pooch in her belly and feels the baby moving. In the meantime, I have been talking to her belly and calling him or her 'baby.'..."
The Newbie Dad: "Televisions vs. Rice Cookers"
"A recent report said that the average U.S. household has 2.55 people and 2.73 TV's. What this means is that in the U.S. there are more TV's than people in the average household....In this regard my own family is way below average since we only have one television....But when it comes to other essential household appliances, I know there is one area where I've definitely got the average U.S. household beat: Rice cookers....So how many rice cookers do we own? We currently have five. One main one for everyday use, a larger one for when we have guests, and three that are in storage as keepsakes. That's even more than the number of iPods that my wife and I own combined...."
Henri: "Can We Talk About Anything Other Than Race?"
"Ancient Asian Secrets: The secret world of a secret race....
'Why are Asians so smart?' Asians are not smart. Asians get good grades. Big difference. How do they get such good grades? That’s like asking someone how come their kids are so good at not robbing stores. 'Hey Jim, you know I really got to compliment you on your kids. Man I’ve known them since they were still in diapers. Tell me a secret. How did you raise them to not rob liquor stores? I really got to know your secret. Is it genetic?'
'Karate.' Yes it’s true all Asians know karate. Except for the ones that know Kung-Fu. Or Hapkido. Or Jeet Kun What. Or Aikido. Or Ryukyo Kempo. Or SF2Turbo Fighting Edition.
'Asian Men aren’t sexy.' How the hell would I know?
'Asian women are HOT.' YES!
'Asian women are subservient.' Um look at my shirt. You know why it looks like crap? Because I ironed it myself. Any other questions?
'Asian men make good dads.' That’s right ladies. Asian men make great dads! Hahahahaha MY ASS! I work too hard. And I’m narcissistic. Here I am on a Dad forum just posting random crap as usual. Where the hell is the parenting content in this post? I’m so gonna be the first dad kicked off the island. Son I love you! I love you son! Study hard boy!
And one from Papa Law in February of last year, expertly timed for the season:
Papa Law: "What Day is It?"
"Today the guilt starts: what should I have done for Valentine's Day? I say 'should' because most men know that if you haven't planned something by now, it's too late. Fortunately for me, my wife is incredibly tolerant of my annual ineptitude. In our eight years together, I've only managed two truly romantic Valentine's Days. The first one was our first date and the second one was when I proposed to her. But since then, there's been nothing memorable and, thankfully, I've survived each Valentines unscathed (no high-pitched screaming, no tantrums, no evil eye, and no frosty silence). This year though, it seems I reached a new level of pathetic. So far, I've only bought my wife a card ... yesterday, at Target, while my wife and daughter were present!"
So that's a cross-section of a year of rice-fueled daddy creativity, with plenty more where that came from, and plenty more to come. Peace out to the Daddies--Charlie, Daddy In a Strange Land, Dr. Lo Siento, F-Bomb, Henri, iDaddy, MetroDad, Mr. Maestro, Newbie Dad, Papa Law, Poppa Large, Soccer Dad, ThisIsLarry. And for the twelve of you who've read this far, head for RiceDaddies.com if you want to check out a special anniversary contest in honor of our year of blogtastic popfoolery...thanks for reading, and thanks for your support!