Fiction & Fact

“Americanese” Preview
This piece also ran in the Spring 2009 issue.
By Shavon S. Greene

Aurora Crane (Allison Sie) has never been kissed.  Well, never by an Asian man before her lips touched Raymond Ding (Chris Tashima), an older Chinese professor: her first and only love.  She is Hapa (half-Asian), yet she “moves more comfortably in the white world.”

The independent film, “Americanese,” begins with the ending of Aurora’s two-year relationship with Raymond and the start of a new life with Steve (Ben Shenkman) who is younger, white and “more suitable” to meet people.  However, her unclear dreams of Raymond make life complex for her.  In an attempt to erase Raymond from her life, she changes her apartment around to diminish her memory of him.  Raymond is the only one witnessing these changes when he returns to the house with his key, unknown to Aurora.

Raymond’s new relationship with Betty Nguyen (Joan Chen) is another intricacy in his life based around a secret.  Raymond’s widowed father’s (Sab Shimono) desire for a picture bride and Aurora’s friend Brenda, (Kelly Hu) who rejects Asian men, are other relationships that are displayed through both Aurora and Raymond’s lives.

“Watching ‘Americanese’ after movies like ‘Failure to Launch,’ I felt like I’d wandered into the grown-up cinema,” said Roger Ebert, film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.  “It’s a strange thing about characters in movies: The more ‘universal’ they are, the more provincial.  The more specific they are, the more they are exactly themselves, the more we can identify with them.”

The very details of the one relationship between Aurora and Raymond bring light to the truth behind their love, break-up and the real factors that led them to drift apart.

The film was written by Hapa biracial (half Chinese, half Caucasian) Eric Byler and adapted from Chinese-American Shawn Wong’s novel, “American Knees.”

For more information: www.AmericaneseTheMovie.com.

In Cold Blood
ASIA will be hosting a screening of “Vincent Who?” – a documentary examining the murder of Chinese-American Vincent Chin and the aftermath of his attackers’ epic court case.

By Minhee Cho

For $3,000, students can barely afford a meal plan for the semester.  But for Ronald Ebens and his stepson, Michael Nitz, $3,000 was enough to get away with murder.

The victim, Vincent Chin, was a 27-year-old Chinese-American growing up in Detroit.  He was brutally attacked and killed by Ebens and Nitz in June 1982, but somehow the duo scraped by with nothing more than three years’ probation and a $3,000 fine – an injustice that sparked an Asian-American revolution.

To remember this crucial case in history, Asian Pacific Americans for Progress (APAP) teamed up with director Tony Lam and producer Curtis Chin to create a documentary called “Vincent Who?”

“This documentary basically has two goals: to bring back the name Vincent Chin to a new generation and to talk about where the Asian community is now,” Chin says.

But for him, the case has deeper ties.

“[Vincent] was a family friend,” Chin says.  “I was just a kid at the time, but one of the things I remember about the case is seeing an invitation to Vincent’s wedding on the kitchen table and thinking, ‘Wow, I guess I don’t have to get dressed up anymore.'”

Nearly 27 years have passed since the case, and discrimination still undermines the progress made.  “Even though we have elected an African-American president, there is still racism,” Chin says.  “There is still a need to address and talk about this issue, which is something I hope to accomplish with the documentary.”

The Asian-affiliated organization on campus, Asian Students in America, will host a screening of the documentary on April 13 at Watson Theater as a part of its annual celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage month.

“Hopefully, young people will be engaged,” Chin says.  “It’s a tough incident to talk about – a murder – but we hope that the film will inspire people to get involved and not feel overwhelmed.”

For more information about the documentary or about APAP go to: www.APAforProgress.org.

The Racist Next Door
Clint Eastwood directs and stars in a film about the unexpected ties that bind us together.

By Alison Lee

The typical racist grouch seems like a character out of many people’s everyday lives – a neighbor or landlord who copes with a community’s changing racial makeup with verbal slurs and jeering remarks.  In “Gran Torino,” Clint Eastwood portrays this quintessential character, who takes the form of Walt Kowalski, a grandpa and Vietnam War vet residing next to a family of Hmong immigrants.  He’s dripping with anger and post-war bitterness, and on top of that – he’s the last white person in his old, rundown neighborhood.

Throughout the movie, we see Kowalski show his true colors.  He was a man who did his lawn, fixed his house and guzzled beer on his porch with his dog all day.  Eventually, he befriends his next door neighbor’s respectful kids and sees the difference between them and his ungrateful grandchildren.  Invited to family dinners, he begins to develop an affinity for Hmong food.  He finds himself genuinely caring about the family and especially the kids’ well being, and when he finds out about a gang’s power over the neighborhood, he steps up and makes it clear that he won’t tolerate thugs.

“Gran Torino” is a heartrending must-see.  Its storyline portraying a man full of racism yet discovering the will to reconsider his long-held prejudices will have you deeply involved in the events of a Midwest neighborhood.  “The film was very touching,” says Elizabeth Nagle, junior biochemistry major.  “It made me think, because it wasn’t necessarily fiction anymore…somewhere this is someone’s reality, and that’s really frightening.”

If you’re looking for an all-out action flick, this won’t be satisfying.  Looking for comedy?  Not quite, but there are equal moments of laughter and sadness, in a straightforward movie that will leave you pondering and thinking about that old neighbor of yours.

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