May is National Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, during which we honor the history and culture of AAPI communities around the world. To uplift AAPI voices, The Daily asked our writers to recommend creations by AAPI filmmakers.
“Nomadland” (2020) (Recommended by Carolyn Stein)
While the plot of “Nomadland” itself is not AAPI-focused, it is a gorgeous, human-centered film written, produced, edited and directed by Chinese-born filmmaker Chloe Zhao. The film puts the spotlight on the nomads of the US and the trials and tribulations they face. The best scenes are the ones that highlight the mundane activities of the characters, from sitting around a campfire and retelling stories to montages of Fern (the main character) walking through expansive fields and forests. Nothing gets sugarcoated in this film, yet despite all the challenges you witness, the film will leave you hopeful, the same feeling of coming up for a breath of fresh air after being under water.
“A Whisker Away” (2021) (Recommended by Hana Dao)
“A Whisker Away” is an animated cute and lively adventure through an enchanting new world. The scenic imagery was especially memorable and you can even visit the real life locations in Tokoname, Japan, the director’s hometown which inspired the movie. A young girl, Muge, earns the magical ability to transform into a cat through a mask she receives during a summer festival.
It’s a youthful summer story of romance and Muge’s naive & playful personality despite the perhaps ominous power of the mask make for an intriguing combination. If you’re looking for something warm, cheerful and upbeat to get you through the week, this is the movie to watch!
“Beef” (2023) (Recommended by Kristofer Nino)
What does it mean to truly hate someone? In Netflix’s hit dark comedy, “Beef,” what begins as a road rage incident between two strangers devolves into an all-out war. Danny (Steven Yeun), a struggling contractor, is pitted against Amy (Ali Wong), a high-class entrepreneur, and each episode sees their escalating attempts to ruin the other’s life. While “Beef” stars a predominantly Asian American cast, it doesn’t stoop to stereotypes such as the model minority myth: instead its characters are allowed to be messy, flawed and real. It’s an intense ride with unpredictable twists and incredible performances that I would highly recommend.
“Children of Invention” (2009) (Recommended by Blyss Cleveland)
“Children of Invention,” is a slice of life family drama set in Boston about a Chinese-born mother, Elaine Cheng (Cindy Cheung) and her two children, Raymond (Michael Chen) and Tina (Crystal Chiu). Elaine becomes embroiled in Gold Rep, a multilevel marketing scheme that targets immigrants and low-income families.
Written and directed by Tze Chun, the independent film is a moving take on the perils of trying to make it in America, a land of opportunities for the few at the expense of many. About halfway through the film, a narrative turn leaves Raymond and Tina to fend for themselves, and Elaine’s admonition that Raymond must help take care of Tina is put to the test.
Although the movie examines heavy themes, there are moments of levity in between unsparing scenes. At one point, Elaine brings her children to a networking event for Gold Rep, and the unctuous host speaks to Raymond and Tina with a patronizing tone and uses clumsy gestures that indicate she assumes they do not understand English. Tina quizzically responds, “Why are you talking like that?” Ultimately, the film is an excellent depiction of the underside of an economic system that views immigrants as essential, albeit devalued and underpaid laborers.
“The Farewell” (2019) (Recommended by Anthony Martinez Rosales)
“The Farewell” (2019) is an emotionally packed movie about a family’s decision to not tell their grandmother, Nai Nai, about her terminal cancer diagnosis. While starring actress Awkwafina has come under scrutiny for the use of “Blaccent” in her previous work, I think she delivers an eloquent performance that made her worthy of the Golden Globe she won in 2020.
The film centers on a family and one’s willingness to be selfless in the face of caring for someone. It does a wonderful job of centering the narrative and embracing the cultural customs that may be foreign to American audiences. The fact that director Lulu Wang turned down two lucrative financial offers from big studios, and instead chose independent studio A24, makes her film feel raw and moving. Despite this film being four years old, it still resonates within the current popular canon of movies that unpack complicated familial relations. I highly recommend “The Farewell” (2019) to anyone who would like to see an interesting family dynamic and shed a couple tears.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.