Arts & Life

Asian American film and TV recommendations from the Screen beat

May 27, 2021, 8:37 p.m.

The Screen beat is celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage month with recommendations from our staff writers for films and television shows written or directed by Asian American creators. Get some new picks for your watchlist below! 

“Fresh Off the Boat” (2015 – 2020). Created by Nahnatchka Khan. Recommended by Rosana Maris Arias. Watch on abc.com or Hulu.

This ABC sitcom follows young Eddie Huang and his family who moved from Chinatown of Washington, D.C. to an Orlando, Florida suburb. The cast includes the notable Constance Wu (“Crazy Rich Asians”) and Randall Park (“Always Be My Maybe”). Eddie and his family are challenged with the white American and upper-middle-class culture that surrounds them as they pursue the “American Dream,” most hilariously in the form of a cowboy-themed steakhouse. The show provides a coming-of-age story through the lens of Eddie and his younger siblings and tackles larger conversations on intergenerational histories, culture and race. It’s funny and heartfelt.

“Searching” (2018). Directed by Aneesh Chaganty. Recommended by Jared Klegar. Rent on Amazon Prime.

In 2016, creative strategist William Yu launched #StarringJohnCho, an online campaign that advocated for greater Asian-American representation in leading roles on screen. In response to the claims of studio executives that “there aren’t any Asian movie stars,” Yu photoshopped Cho’s face onto the posters of Hollywood blockbusters like “The Martian” and “Me Before You.”

With “Searching,” #StarringJohnCho became a reality. Indian-American director Aneesh Chaganty’s film, which takes place entirely on a computer screen à la “Unfriended,” is the first mainstream thriller headlined by an Asian-American actor. And while “Searching” isn’t exactly about the complexities of Asian-American identity, the Korean-American family at its center is rendered with care and cultural specificity; these aren’t merely white characters portrayed by Asian actors.

“Searching” is also just a damn good movie — a twisty, enthralling detective story that will leave your head spinning and your heart racing. Go see it!

“Halwa” (2018). Directed by Gayatri Bajpai and Nirav Bhakta. Recommended by Julie Fukunaga. Watch on Hulu, HBO Max, Amazon Prime.

Halwa follows empty-nester Sujata Chopra as she reconnects with her queer childhood love after an abrupt ending to their relationship 30 years prior. As she fiddles around typing Messenger messages with one finger on her iPad (as any auntie might), Sujata seeks reprieve from her current broken marriage, finding small joy in talking to the girl she has never forgotten. While the short film itself is steeped in warm nostalgia — often reflected through Indian food and the memories it conjures or in the humorous moments of navigating Facebook for the first time — reality is much darker, as Sujata contends with her absent and abusive husband, negotiating what she is and isn’t willing to give up. Highly recommended (short) watch!

“The Farewell” (2019). Directed by Lulu Wang. Recommended by Malia Mendez. Watch on Amazon Prime Video. 

Garnering Golden Globe, Independent Spirit and Gotham awards, Lulu Wang’s 2019 comedy-drama centers on Chinese American writer Billi — based on Wang herself — as she mourns her grandmother (Nai Nai)’s terminal cancer diagnosis, while simultaneously honoring her family’s wishes to keep the details of Nai Nai’s illness from her. The bilingual film grapples with several dualities, including Eastern and Western ideologies, Chinese and American identities, genuine love and well-intentioned artifice. It opens with the tagline “based on a real lie” and portrays many of the conversations and crises Wang had when undertaking this same charade with her own family. To me, the film’s most tender quote is from Billi’s Uncle Haibin: “We’re not telling Nai Nai because it’s our duty to carry this emotional burden for her.” “The Farewell” is poignant in an understated manner, its faithfulness to Wang’s vision a triumph she fought Hollywood hard for. Come for laughs, leave in tears. (And also in awe of the performance of Wang’s very own great aunt Hong Lu as herself!) 

“Parasite” (2019). Directed by Bong Joon-ho. Recommended by Kyla Figueroa. Watch on Hulu. 

If you haven’t seen “Parasite,” Academy Award winner for Best Picture, you should definitely do so this month. The story follows the Kim family — father Ki-taek, mother Chung-sook, daughter Ki-jung and son Ki-woo — who live in a small semi-basement apartment, have low-paying temporary jobs as pizza box folders and struggle to make ends meet. To achieve upward mobility, they form an interdependent relationship with the wealthy Park family. When Ki-woo is hired to tutor the Parks’ daughter Da-hye, the Kim family uses immoral nepotism, sabotaging current workers and recommending one another as unrelated and highly qualified workers to take over as employees. The film as a whole provides excellent commentary on class discrimination, greed and the lengths one may go to in the reality of a harsh world. One of the ways the director portrays this reality is through light and dark imagery. There are many scenes with darkness falling upon the family’s apartment when there is misfortune. The Park’s residence glows from the sun’s radiance when Ki-woo arrives to tutor Da-hye for the first time. 

The Kim family is also developed with complexity and nuance, unlike the traditional family in a drama. They are initially characterized as manipulative and untrustworthy through the film’s first scene with a pizza shop employee. However, as the film progresses, we understand that the family’s motivations are not out of shallow greed; they are doing whatever it takes to survive lethal class disparity.

Rosana is an Arts & Life Contributing Writer and a News Staff Writer from La Puente, CA. She enjoys a good hike and is her dog’s biggest fan. The SoCal native misses playing the alto saxophone and looks forward to someday watching the Dodgers (in-person) win another World Series game. Contact her at rmaris 'at' stanforddaily.com.Jared Klegar ’24 writes for Arts & Life and co-chairs the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team. An English major, dangling modifiers are among his biggest pet peeves. Contact him at jklegar 'at' stanforddaily.com.Julie Fukunaga is a staff writer for A&L and a senior majoring in Sociology. In her free time, she enjoys talking about the Central Valley, making dishes with cabbage, and occasionally writing nonsense about video games. Contact her at juliefa 'at' stanford.eduMalia Mendez ’22 is the Vol. 260 Managing Editor of Arts & Life at The Stanford Daily. She is majoring in English with a concentration in Creative Writing, Prose track. Talk to her about Modernist poetry, ecofeminism or coming-of-age films at mmendez 'at' stanforddaily.com.Kyla Figueroa ‘24 is a Vol. 260–262 Managing Editor for The Grind and a staff writer for Arts & Life. She is a junior from Stockton, California studying English with an emphasis in Creative Writing and minor in CSRE. Ask her about the indie rock and pop music scene, the coming-of-age genre, and Slaughterhouse-Five at kfigueroa ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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