The 36th annual showcase (which runs through Saturday), which pivots to streaming this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, has introduced audiences to the work of more than 225 established and emerging Asian American filmmakers – providing a platform for Asian talent that’s been historically underrepresented both behind and in front of the camera.
There were many insightful and enjoyable feature films from the virtual film festival, ranging from dark documentaries to lighthearted comedies. Here are our five favorites:
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‘The Paper Tigers’
Who doesn’t love cool martial arts fighting scenes? Quoc Bao Tran’s “The Paper Tigers” hilariously tells the story three childhood kung fu prodigies (Alain Uy, Ron Yuan, Mykel Shannon Jenkins) who reunite in middle age after their master is murdered. It’s a movie filled with laughs and memorable charismatic characters, but the real value of “The Paper Tigers” comes in its portrait of kung fu as more than just a hobby. Rather, it’s an honorable Chinese discipline requiring valor and mental acuity.
If you’re drawn to crime documentaries, this one is for you. “Finding Yingying” follows the true crime story of Yingying Zhang, a 26-year-old international student at the University of Illinois who was kidnapped and murdered in June 2017. Through the lens of Zhang’s family and boyfriend, the film emotionally documents their journey as they seek justice in America – a country they’re visiting for the first time. Along with offering a firsthand glimpse of the U.S. criminal justice system, “Finding Yingying” beautifully portrays the relatable confusion, uncertainty and worry many Asian parents face when sending their children to study abroad.
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Some countries are more tolerant of LGBTQ+ rights than others, and Trinh Dinh Le Minh’s “Goodbye Mother” shows the challenges many queer people face in expressing their sexuality in their culture. The romance tells the story of Van (Lanh Thanh), a Vietnamese bachelor who brings home Ian (Vo Dien Gia Huy), his Vietnamese American boyfriend, in hopes of telling his mother about their secret relationship.
Through a mixture of comedy and drama, “Goodbye Mother” exposes the heteronormativity of many Asian households, as Van’s family members pester him about finding a girlfriend and having children, along with allowing us to visualize Ian’s frustration as he’s kept a secret from his boyfriend’s intimidating and close-minded mother. It’s an unconventional coming-out story featuring some hilarious moments that ends with a profound and memorable message.
This raw and intimate documentary shot in Wuhan, China, offers a firsthand glimpse of the gruesome and dark reality of COVID-19 in hospitals. You’ll see patients panicking, struggling and crying while frontline medical professionals do their best to navigate the traumatic and unpredictable COVID-19 pandemic. It offers a bleak yet informative reminder that the pandemic affected all of us, not just the U.S.
‘The Paradise We Are Looking For’
Especially during the coronavirus pandemic, which has triggered a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, it’s important to recognize that Asian Americans are Americans, too, and “The Paradise We Are Looking For” does a great job of humanizing the narratives of Asian immigrants, specifically in San Diego. The documentary follows four groups and their “paradises” in the U.S., exploring creative self-expression in karaoke culture and grieving with a community of refugee families. “The Paradise We Are Looking For” shows us that one of the most overlooked beauties of San Diego is its vibrant and diverse communities enriched with such meaningful culture.