Season 4: Asian American Troublemakers

saturdayschoolseason4

Spring 2018 Class Schedule

Week 1 (April 7): Yoko Ono and Patty Chang Short Films

We’re back! Season 4 of Saturday School, we explore Troublemakers in Asian American Film History, inspired by film scholar’s Eve Oishi’s reference to “bad Asians,” aka “badass Asians,” in media. We’re looking at a spectrum of “trouble,” from renegade filmmakers that are combating the model minority myth to avante garde artists that are happily incompatible with anything considered mainstream. We begin with one of our community’s OG troublemakers Yoko Ono and trace her influence to performance artists like Patty Chang. In other words, we talk about the high art of cutting someone’s clothes off, butts, poop, taking a knife to your melons, eels in your shirt and making out with your parents. This is going to be a weird season.

Watch: Yoko Ono “Cut Piece” 1965 (YouTube); “Four” 1967 (YouTube); ImaginePeace.com

Patty Chang “On Love” (2003) “Eels” (2001) “Melons” (1998); DVD compilation available at certain libraries; Interview VideoPattyChang.com

Week 2 (April 14): Dupont Guy 

Part of the reason we thought it’d be fun to do Season 4 of Saturday School on Troublemakers was to highlight some of the bad girls/bad boys of Asian American film, but another reason was to remind ourselves that the Asian American movement itself was born out of a desire to create trouble. So for episode 2, we go back almost 40 years to Curtis Choy’s 1976 film essay “Dupont Guy: The Schiz of Grant Avenue,” which embodies this spirit — spitting in the face of reporters, cops, the white gaze, Hollywood, Chinatown tourists, and the general establishment, even calling out fellow Asian Americans in the industry as sell-outs. We reflect on how the goals of Asian America have evolved over the years and jokingly lament that there aren’t that many public Asian American “Frank Chin vs. Amy Tan, David Henry Hwang, and Maxine Hong Kingston” feuds anymore.

Watch: Dupont Guy 1976 (Trailer/ChonkMoonhunter.com); Snipers in the Trees 1985 (ChonkMoonhunter.com); or look it up in your college libraries

Week 3 (April 21): Bang Bang/Raskal Love

For Episode 3 of our season on troublemakers, we quickly review the history of Asian American male gangster films, before focusing on a pair of Byron Q-directed films that made us think of gangster films in a whole new way. Bang Bang is a coming-of-age film starring Thai Ngo and David Huynh that is unique because the cast is made up of a combination of actors and gangsters and it also addresses the class differences between teenagers that are drawn to gang life for different reasons. Raskal Love is a documentary that tells the story of Vanna Fut, one of the actors in Bang Bang who became a member of the Tiny Raskal Gang at a young age after his family came to Pomona, CA after escaping the Killing Fields. As we compare real-life Asian American gangster stories to silver screen ones, we rethink the idea of what a troublemaker is. Also, we realize that we were both in attendance for a climactic scene of Raskal Love and had no idea what we were witnessing at the time.

Watch: Bang Bang 2011 (Trailer/Amazon Video); Raskal Love 2013 (Trailer/Amazon Video); Beyond Cinema Productions

Week 4 (April 28): Miss India America

For this week’s episode of Saturday School, we’re looking at Ravi Kapoor’s 2015 film “Miss India America,” a pageant comedy that we’re arguing is the closest thing Asian America has to a heist film. But instead of stealing money, she’s stealing the crown. We also wish there were more Asian American heist films, because Asian Americans are really good at cheating, whether it be in gambling (for example, the real life story of “21”) or in any sort of cheating in high school scenario (aka “The Perfect Score”). Also, we just want Tiya Sircar to be the next Reese Witherspoon, because “Miss India America” is basically the Indian American “Election.”

Watch: Miss India America 2015 (TrailerNetflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, Google Play)

Bonus Episode (May 1): Minding the Gap (with Bing Liu and Diane Quon)

Bonus episode of Saturday School this week, as we speak with director Bing Liu and producer Diane Quon about their Sundance Award-winning documentary Minding the Gap. In the film, Bing Liu documents the stories of a couple of his skateboarding friends from Rockford, Illinois, and they bond over their volatile relationships with their fathers. We talk about Bing’s route into filmmaking through his experimentation within the skateboarding video form, how he expands beyond it into traditional documentary, and how he worked with Steve James’ Kartemquin Films to bring his story to life.

Watch: Sundance Film Festival Video; Go to Minding the Gap‘s website to see where it’s playing near you!

Week 5 (May 5): Nguyen Tan Hoang short films

We probably had a little too much fun with our latest episode of Saturday School as we continue to explore Asian American “troublemakers” in film. We look back at professor/filmmaker Nguyen Tan Hoang’s experimental videos from the ’90s and early 2000s, where he “pirates” Hollywood film, Vietnamese karaoke videos, and gay pornography and then appropriates them into his personal anecdotes about being a Vietnamese immigrant in America. Whether he’s sharing his refugee experience in “Pirated!” through sexual fantasies of virile German sailors saving him from Thai pirates, turning to Hong Kong and Taiwanese pop stars as gay icons in “Forever Jimmy,” or challenging stigmas and assumptions about gay Asian men being bottoms in “Forever Bottom!” — his works are always graphic, playful, and humorously unapologetic.

Watch: College libraries like UC Irvine carry Nguyen Tan Hoang’s short films! Here’s a short clip of “Forever Bottom” (NSFW)! Or check out his book A View from the Bottom: Asian American Masculinity and Sexual Representation on Amazon.com.

Week 6 (May 19): Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe

Skipped school last week, but we’re back – and this week’s episode is about Harry Kim’s 2008 documentary Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe. Artist David Choe is kind of the ultimate Asian American troublemaker in ways that are both empowering and problematic. He exists in the often breathtaking intersection of beauty, insanity, genius, violence, machismo, perseverance, addiction, vulgarity, turns to God that are quickly cast aside so he can indulge in his next whims, and general ridiculousness. The film covers seven years of his life in his 20s — he’s in his 40s now — and as we watch a documentary that makes the audience feel like an accomplice, we marvel at the aspects we still deeply appreciate, while raising new concerns and questions we weren’t thinking about while watching it 10 years ago.

Watch: Dirty Hands 2008 (Trailer; Amazon Video)

Week 7 (May 26): Strawberry Fields

Episode 7 of our season on Asian American Troublemakers, and we’re looking at the 1997 Rea Tajiri film, Strawberry Fields, which was part of the Class of 1997 “Asian American New Wave,” featuring debut works of directors like Justin Lin, Quentin Lee, Eric Nakamura, Michael Aki, Chris Chan Lee, and Rea (the only woman of the group). Strawberry Fields features a firecracker performance by a young Suzy Nakamura, who folks might recognize more recently for her role as Dr. Ken’s wife on the ABC sitcom. She plays Irene, a pyromaniac teenager haunted by ghosts of the past.
Because the film takes place in the ’70s, Brian talks about how he loves the way Strawberry Fields subverts the 1970s counterculture road trip movie, by reminding us that the open landscapes of America that were home to these Hollywood renegades were also home to Japanese in camps and other haunted histories. And then because it was shot in the ’90s, Ada tries to convince Brian of the similarities between the Strawberry Fields characters and the characters in My So-Called Life. Shout out to all the hard-core My So-Called Life fans that also keep up with important Asian American cinema!
Watch: Strawberry Fields 1997 (Buy the DVD for $3.99 on Amazon)

Week 8 (June 2): Terminal USA

In this week’s episode of Saturday School, we’re going back to 1993 to revisit Jon Moritsugu’s Terminal USA, his over-the-top, grotesque, drug-filled take on a Japanese American sitcom family. Moritsugu plays dual roles: twins Katsumi, a punk drug dealer, and Marvin, the repressed model minority. Their sister Holly is not as pure as the all-American cheerleader vibe she gives off, the father has some issues with murderous rage, and the mother makes a barter to have sex with the pizza boy, under the condition that he gives her extra cheese bread. Plus, they’re waiting for grandpa, who is bed-ridden, to finally kick the bucket so they get a hefty pay-out.

The hour-long film was commissioned by ITVS looking for unique stories about the American family. However, once it was finished, many PBS stations across the US refused to play it. Understandably! Though what’s funnier to us, 25 years later, is that many PBS stations DID play it. Moritsugu often makes films that aren’t about Asian Americans, so it’s a delight to see what he accomplishes once he turned his focus on Asian American stereotypes and identity.

Watch: Terminal USA 1993 (Trailer, Fandor, Amazon)

Week 9 (June 9): Female Pervert

For Episode 9 of our season on Asian American Troublemakers, we revisit Jiyoung Lee’s Female Pervert — a film that we put at the top of our Asia Pacific Arts 2015 Best Asian American Films list, when 2015 was actually a really impressive year for Asian American film with lots of stellar movies that didn’t, like, get one-star reviews calling it “more creepy than quirky” and a “ponderous laugh-free zone.” To fully appreciate Jiyoung Lee, one must place her in the Atlanta independent filmmaking scene, be charmed by the music of Pleasant People, be properly confused by Moral Sleaze, not be above fart jokes, think it’s funny someone would Kickstart a movie called Female Pervert for $6900, and generally enjoy following strange, awkward characters trying really hard to accomplish a goal while navigating a “normal” world that can be very strange and awkward.

Jennifer Kim is Phoebe, an Asian lady who scares off all the nice eager hipster white boys she’s dating by being a little too aggressive with her sexual desires. You feel somewhat bad for the boys, but her desires are more random than perverse, so mostly you want to say/sing: hey man…. you knew she was trouble when she walked in.

Female Pervert is available to watch for free if you have Amazon Prime. 63 minutes of glorious weirdness.

Watch: Female Pervert 2015 (Trailer/YouTube; Fandor, Amazon Video (free with Amazon Prime), Google Play)

Week 10 (June 16): Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

It’s the last episode of Saturday School Season 4, our exploration of Asian American troublemakers in film, and we don’t want to say we saved the “best” for last, but we definitely saved the most badass for last. This week, we’re talking about 1965’s “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” by Russ Meyer, starring Tura Satana, Haji, and Lori Williams. It’s a cult hit among certain circles: admirers include John Waters, Quentin Tarantino, and the late Roger Ebert, as well as fans of burlesque. Stories from the late Tura Satana link her to Elvis Presley’s dance moves and the creation of Charlie’s Angels. But the film is not as often talked about in Asian American circles, even though both Tura and Haji are biracial Asian women. Tura, who was in the incarceration camps as a kid, has a mix of Japanese, Filipina, Native American and Scots-Irish blood. Haji is British and Filipina American.

There’s an upcoming documentary about Tura Satana (narrated by Margaret Cho, co-produced by YOMYOMF) that is in currently in post-production, and we can’t wait to see it. In the meantime, here’s a taste of Tura, as Varla, who Phil Chung called “The Most Kickass Asian American Woman to Ever Grace the Silver Screen.”

And as a wrap-up to this semester, we ponder other Asian American troublemakers that didn’t quite fit into our 10-episode season — the renegades we are eternally grateful for, and even the ones who spout messages we think are harmful to society — understanding that to truly appreciate Asian America is to grapple with all of Asian America, troublemakers included.

Watch: Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! 1965 (Trailer, YouTube, Amazon Video) And follow TuraSatana.com to be updated about the upcoming documentary about Tura Satana!

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