Season 3: Asian American Music Movies


Fall 2017 Class Schedule

Week 1 (August 26): Cruisin’ J-Town 

We’re back! Season 3 of Saturday School will be about Asian American music movies. There weren’t enough Asian American musicals to make an entire season about “musicals,” but expanding it to “music movies” allows us to include concert movies, films about musicians, and stories that include music in interesting ways. 10 episodes, every Saturday starting today. We bring you Episode 1, recorded from the floor of the UC Irvine library.

Cruisin’ J-Town is a 1975 documentary by Duane Kubo, one of the original founders of Visual Communications, the media arts organization that puts on the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival. The film, produced by VC, follows the Japanese American fusion band Hiroshima (saxaphonist Dan Kuramoto, koto player June Okida Kuramoto, and percussionist Johnny Mori) as they reflect on how their music is influenced by their Asian American identity and the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.

Watch: Cruisin’ J-Town 1975: Excerpt from Visual Communications; look for it at college libraries

Week 2 (Sept 2): Wave Twisters

We have a very unique musical for Episode 2 of our 3rd season about Asian American Music Movies. It’s a 2001 turntablism musical, based on an album by legendary turntablist DJ QBert. Brian reminisces about growing up in the ’90s in Cerritos, where there was a prominent Filipino American DJ scene, while Ada admits she was not cool enough to know anything about the Bay Area hip hop scene, despite growing up there. (She listened to a lot of Britney Spears in the ’90s.) Brian compares Wave Twisters to English virtual hip hop group the Gorillaz, while Ada compares Wave Twisters to the Julie Andrews show Julie’s Greenroom, with the Jim Henson puppets. Because obviously.

Watch: Wave Twisters 2001 at DailyMotion or SnagFilms; Excerpt Chapter 1

Week 3 (Sept 9): Colma: The Musical (with Richard Wong and H.P. Mendoza)

This episode is a straight-up lovefest, as Ada and Brian invite Richard Wong and H.P. Mendoza to talk about their first film, 2006’s Colma: The Musical. This is Ada’s third time interviewing them about the same movie, yet she learns so many new things. Richard and H.P. talk West Side Story homages in Colma and try their best not to bash La La Land, but can’t help themselves. H.P. talks about watching Flower Drum Song and seeing Asian Americans in a musical for the first time. And Brian says that there still has not been a better American film musical made since Colma came out over a decade ago, so it must be true, cause Brian is never dramatic about these things.

Watch: Colma: The Musical 2006 Trailer, Amazon Video, YouTube, Google Play

Week 4 (Sept 16): Forbidden City USA /Long Story Short

This week’s episode looks at two documentaries about performers in the San Francisco Chinatown nightclub scene in the ’30s and ’40s: Arthur Dong’s 1989 documentary Forbidden City USA, about the nation’s premiere all-Chinese nightclub Forbidden City, and Christine Choy’s Long Story Short, the story of Larry and Trudy Leung (Jodi Long’s parents). Ada and Brian think about how the stereotypes and pressures of Asian performers have changed (or not changed) in the last seven decades — and they think about how they try to “flip the script” in their own lives.

Watch: Forbidden City USA 1989 (Vimeo, Trailer, DeepFocusProductions); Long Story Short 2008 (Trailer, Amazon Video)

Week 5 (Sept 23): The Taqwacores

On this week’s episode of Saturday School, we revisit the 2010 feature film The Taqwacores, which follows a group of characters living together in Buffalo, New York who are part of the Islamic punk scene. We laugh about how in Hollywood movies, the “outsider” character who introduces the audience to a fascinating minority subculture is usually a white guy, but in The Taqwacores, it’s an innocent first-generation Pakistani engineering student. We compare a joke Dominic Rains’ character makes about a jihad on his nuts, to Taz Ahmed’s best-selling Muslim Valentine’s Day card that says “I have a ji-hard-on for you.” Brian ties the movie’s white girl romance storyline to the recent conversation being had about the lack of South Asian female perspectives in current South Asian stories like The Big Sick, Master of None, Meet the Patels etc., but Ada kinda forgives The Taqwacores for being so “testosterone-y.” Good times.

Watch: The Taqwacores 2010 Trailer, Amazon Video

Week 6 (Sept 30): Kumu Hina

On this week’s episode of Saturday School, we talk about Kumu Hina, a 2014 documentary about Hina Wong-Kalu, a hula teacher at an elementary school in Hawaii that aims to preserve the indigenous culture to the younger generations. Kumu Hina, who identifies as a mahu, someone in the middle of male and female, has the opportunity to mentor six-grader Ho’Onani, who also considers herself to be in the “middle,” and we watch Ho’Onani not only join the all-male hula class — but lead her male classmates in their end-of-year performance.

Watch: Kumu Hina 2014 (Netflix, Amazon Video)

Week 7 (Oct 7): The Heavenly Kings

On this week’s episode of Saturday School, we revisit the 2006 documentary The Heavenly Kings, by Daniel Wu, about the time the Into the Badlands star was in a Hong Kong boy band with his friends. Sort of. We might have a little too much fun with this episode.

Watch: Heavenly Kings 2006 (Trailer) This one’s another hard one to find online. You’re probably going to have to figure out how to get the DVD. We had the DVD.)

Week 8 (Oct 14 and 21): Asian American Music Videos

Part 1

We’re doing something a little different for this week’s episode: it’ll be a two-part exploration of Asian American music videos. Next week, Brian and Ada will be picking a few of their favorite music videos to share with everyone — so this week, we talk about what technically makes something an “Asian American music video.” Asian American musicians? Asian American music video directors? Asian American actors on camera? And we ask YOU, the listener, to tell us what your favorite Asian American music videos are, so we can be extra prepared for next week’s Part 2!

Part 2

What started off as us planning to rattle off our favorite music videos turned into an epic history of the Asian American music video form, with much-needed help from our Potluck Podcast braintrust. Impress your friends with your knowledge of Asian American music video, from pre- and early-YouTube to today, with these audio Cliff Notes. We break down the history, from the inspired to the embarrassing, from those videos we got through FTP servers to these modern YouTube videos that rival the production value of anything we saw on MTV’s Total Request Live back in the day.

Watch: Check out our Saturday School YouTube playlist of all the music videos mentioned in Episode 8!

Week 9 (Oct 28): I Was Born, But…

This week’s episode is about Roddy Bogawa’s autobiographical documentary I Was Born, But… which takes us on a journey from his childhood in Hawaii, to his involvement in the punk rock scene in the ’70s, to his time as a filmmaker the early 2000s, when this was made.

Unfortunately, the film is unavailable on DVD or streaming, so in our attempt to convey the spirit of his work to our listeners who may never be able to see it, we found ourselves doing what Roddy did in his film: reflecting on our own musical coming-of-ages and how we remember it.

Watch: I Was Born, But… 2004. This one’s a hard one. Might have to wait for an art museum to screen it or find it in a library. Check out for his other works.

Week 10 (Nov 4): A Song For Ourselves

Our last episode of our season about Asian American music movies brings us full circle – from episode 1’s Cruisin’ J-Town, produced by Visual Communications, co-founded by Robert Nakamura, to this week’s episode about the 2009 documentary A Song For Ourselves, by Robert’s son Tad Nakamura, about the political life and music of the late Chris Iijima.

We reflect on how the Asian American movement has evolved in the last fifty years, and how our own individual lives evolve as we learn to balance politics with family and/or other priorities that begin to shift when we get older. But most importantly, Ada tries to make a “Tad Nakamura-thon” a thing.

Watch: A Song For Ourselves 2009 (Trailer,


Flower Drum Song (with Oliver Wang) – released May 14, 2017

This bonus episode of Saturday School — recorded at the Potluck Podcast Collective Lounge at the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival with special guest Oliver Wang — is the equivalent of summer cram session: while class is usually a swift 10-min affair, this time around, you get a packed 40-min conversation that goes all the way from 1960 to today. We talk about the delight of seeing Asian American movie stars singing and dancing onscreen in a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, discuss the joys (and sorrows) of being Team Helen, and give a teaser of what we’ll be exploring for our season on Asian American Music Movies!

Watch: Flower Drum Song 1961 (Trailer, DVDs in libraries and Amazon, available on TV On Demand)

Asian American Kid’s Content (with Lee Ann Kim) – released November 18, 2017

This episode, with special guest Lee Ann Kim, was recorded live at the 2017 San Diego Asian Film Festival. Coming off our season on Asian American Music Movies, we talk about animated musicals like Mulan, Moana, and Ni Hao Kai Lan, before moving into Asian American children’s programming in general. Plus, a discussion about how we talk to our kids about what it is to be Asian American and how Asian American creatives should think more about creating meaningful content for young people.

Watch: Mulan 1998 (Trailer, YouTube); Moana 2016 (You don’t need our help finding Moana, google it); Ni Hao Kai Lan 2007-11 (Opening Theme SongAmazon Video)

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