As May comes to a close, I've gathered together the five final films of my 2022 Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month Celebration. By coincidence, all but two movies were directed by women. Happy reading.
Fan Girl (2020)
dir. Antoinette Jadaone
With the copious amount of media entitled “Fan Girl” (or “Fangirl” because people can’t decide a universal way to spell things), I could not stop myself from adding Antoinette Jadaone’s Fan Girl to my collection.
Jane (Charlie Dizon), a sixteen-year-old girl, skips out on her last class to attend a press event for her favorite actor’s upcoming movie. Her idol, Paulo Avelino, is a fictionalized version of the real Paulo who portrays him. Paulo’s co-star and rumored girlfriend, Bea Alonzo, is also a fictionalized version of the actress. As Paulo leaves the event alone, Jane hides away in the bed of his truck, not considering the implications of not having a definite way to return home. Thus, Paulo is forced to look after his biggest fan for a few days despite his disdain for Jane infiltrating his personal life that he wants to stay personal for a reason. Although Jane trusts that Paulo is a good person, she soon learns that someone should have severely underscored the saying “never meet your heroes” to her beforehand.
If they had not found Charlie Dizon to star in the movie, I doubt that the emotions I felt would have been as heightened. She acts her heart out. When she needs to be a starry-eyed fantasist, she is one. When she needs to be the cringiest teenage girl in the entire world, she is one. When she needs to grow up within a matter of diegetic days, she does it – seamlessly. Grimy, drunken, and meandering at times, the final act of Fan Girl and Dizon’s performance make up for any grievances one would have with the rest of the film. It ultimately ties every character quirk or muttered one-off together with a surprisingly plausible final bow.
Fangirl is streaming on Netflix.
Country: New Zealand
dir. Ainsley Gardiner and Briar Grace Smith
Although the title nor the movie poster did much to sell me, I finally convinced myself to sit down one night to watch Cousins and I’m glad that I did.
It tells the odyssey of a young half-Maori woman, Mata, who was abandoned at an orphanage as a child by her father after the death of he mother. Although Mata’s family on her mother’s side is more than willing to take her in, her white father already entrusted Mata to a neglectful white guardian, presumably in spite of her Maori side. At the orphanage, Mata’s hair is cut, a bible is tossed into her hands, and she is renamed May. After some time, Mata is allowed to visit her mother’s side for an entire summer, meeting her cousins, Missy and Makareta, who are all close in age. However, after Mata returns to the orphanage, events that are out of the girls' control separate them from Mata for the many years that follow. Each girl grows up to be a woman, making their own choices as well as their own mistakes.
As the decades pass, each winding beat grows more tragic. Not only are Missy and Makareta unable to track down their stolen cousin, but the land that their family has owned for generations is under threat from developers. Although each cousin embarks on her own path alone, the way that they must balance their Maori culture with the majority of non-Maori New Zealand in different ways is a thread that strings each experience together. Stock full of heart and culture, Cousins is not only a movie that needs to be seen but a movie that needed to be made.
Cousins is streaming on Netflix.
Chungking Express (1994) and Fallen Angels (1995)
Country: Hong Kong
dir. Wong Kar-wai
Kar-wai originally intended these two films to be one single film and an ode to daily life in Hong Kong, so I watched both to better understand the themes and form.
Chungking Express follows two loosely related cops. Their only similarities are that they frequent the same food stand. Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro), is heartbroken after being dumped a month before his birthday. However, he becomes enticed by a new woman (Brigitte Lin) and is unaware of her work in drug smuggling. Cop 663 (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) is also recovering from a breakup when he meets Faye (Faye Wong), a new employee at the food stand he frequents.
Fallen Angels features two storylines as well. The first follows a partner (Michelle Reis) to a hitman (Leon Lai), and although they do not meet with each other often, the partner falls in love with her accomplice. The second storyline follows a recent prison escapee, lowlife Ho Chi-mo. Equipped with a backward philosophy, he attempts to keep busy with work by commandeering closed businesses at night, forcing passersby to partake in the goods or services he provides. Also struck by love, he starts a relationship with Charlie (Charlie Yeung), an equally off-the-wall person.
What I would give to be a character in the Chungking world. Although it initially comes off as a little absurd, each character’s freedom to feel their feelings and pursue any intrusive thought is enviable. The Hong Kong that Kar-wai presents us seems authentic, but with the added ability for all its inhabitants to say what they truly mean. There is a lot to praise Chungking Express and Fallen Angels about in general. However, I will simply say that the repressed feeling of melancholy that was dredged up from me in order to relate to the characters messed me up for a few days. I recommend finding a palate-cleansing movie after these two.
Chungking Express and Fallen Angels are streaming on HBO Max.
The Long Walk (2019)
dir. Mattie Do
With the Laotian film industry being as barren as it is, it is relatively easy for director Mattie Do to break a lot of records. She is the first woman Laotian director, the only woman Laos director, and the first filmmaker to put a whippet on the Laos silver screen (her pet, Mango). Although born in America, all of her films have been shot in Laos, including her record-breaking film with Chanthaly (2012) – the first Laotian horror movie. Do can also be credited with bringing Laos to the Oscars with her sophomore film, Dearest Sister (2016).
The Long Walk is Do’s third film and not as strictly advertised as horror, blending multiple genres together (sci-fi, horror, and drama). The Old Man (Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy) lives alone in an impoverished rural area, collecting scrap parts to sell in the nearby village. His only company is a ghost of a woman (Noutnapha Soydara), whom he met in her dying moments when he was a boy. The Girl’s soul is trapped on earth because she did not receive a proper cremation burial in accordance with Laotian culture. She not only joins The Old Man on his daily walk but also gives him the ability to time travel to his boyhood before his mother became sick and later died.
Do’s film of desperation begs the question of how far can one rewrite history before the consequences come back to bite. Suspenseful and methodical, The Long Walk peels back the curtain on a gruesome tale of death and ghosts slowly enough to make you uneasy but fast enough not to harm the integrity of its pace. Although I’m not normally a horror fan, Do has inspired me to catch up on the rest of her filmography.
The Long Walk is available to rent on Amazon Prime for $3.99. (Chanthaly is also available on Mattie Do’s YouTube Channel.)