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Saturday School Podcast
29 minutes | Sep 1, 2022
Season 8, Ep. 10: Hope Frozen
We’ve arrived at the last episode of Saturday School Season 8, which explored the history of Asian American sci-fi films! And we end this semester of boundary-pushing imagination with a… documentary! Pailin Wedel’s “Hope Frozen: A Quest to Live Twice” from 2018, which is available to watch on Netflix. “Hope Frozen” is about a Thai family who decide to have their two-year-old daughter Einz’s body cryogenically preserved in Arizona after she dies of brain cancer. Arguably an Asian American immigration story? While to some, it may seem like they're embarking on a fringe pseudoscience -- or alternately, that they're forcing their daughter to be a time traveler -- the film is a quiet mediation on family, love and grief. It's a scientific quest passed along from father to son (who of course is named Matrix) to accelerate, perhaps even invent, the technology to give Einz a second chance at life. She is the youngest cryopreserved patient to date. One of the reasons this season of sci-fi has been illuminating is because Asian American cinema often values authenticity, a natural reaction from a community that has seen their images distorted in Hollywood. But with recent films like "Everything Everywhere All At Once" and "After Yang," there seems to be a hunger for Asian American stories that may seem impossible or dare to rewrite the future. It’s been 6 years since we started Saturday School: Sept 8, 2016 to be exact. The landscape of Asian American cinema has changed a lot since then. Thanks for listening, reading and joining us on this journey!
25 minutes | Aug 28, 2022
Season 8, Ep. 9: Advantageous (Futurestates Part 3)
Where were we going with a Saturday School season delving into the history of Asian American sci-fi? In some ways, all episodes prior were leading up to Jennifer Phang's "Advantageous," a 2015 feature film that started as a 2012 short film in the Futurestates series. Often, Asian Americans and other people of color in Hollywood sci-fi represent a post-racial future. But what if in near future, these inequities are not gone but intensified? Jacqueline Kim (who co-wrote the feature film expansion with Phang) plays Gwen, the spokesperson of a cosmetics company that wants to replace her with someone more "universal," just as she needs the money to send her daughter Jules (Samantha Kim) to an elite school. Gwen, a single mother, believes this is Jules' only shot at a decent future in a world where society is collapsing. So in order to keep her job, she volunteers to be one of the first subjects for a procedure that will transfer her consciousness into a new, younger (less-Asian) body. "Advantageous " won an award at Sundance, was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and is available to watch on Netflix.
22 minutes | Aug 20, 2022
Season 8, Ep. 8: Futurestates (Part 2)
On this week’s Saturday School, we’re continuing our exploration of Asian American sci-fi with a second episode on Futurestates, a groundbreaking sci-fi short film series spearheaded by Karim Ahmad that ran from 2010 to 2014 on public television and online. Before Black Mirror was another anthology series set in the future, Futurestates gave directors – including many notable Asian American filmmakers - opportunities to tell unique stories that imagined the future. Last week, we looked at Greg Pak’s short films, and this week, we delve into Tanuj Chopra’s shorts “Pia” and “Teacher in a Box,” and J.P. Chan’s “Digital Antiquities.” “Pia” takes place in a futuristic San Francisco where robots are named Pia – and played by Pia Shah. “Teacher in a Box” explores a relationship between a teacher (Rebecca Hazlewood) and a student (Sarika Sanyal) who mostly converse through virtual reality but find reasons to connect in the real world. And “Digital Antiquities,” starring Jo Mei and Corey Hawkins, takes place in a future where CDs are antiquated and a man finds the only store that can help him decode the data his mom left for him after she died. Watching these shorts ten years later, many aspects of these stories seem uncannily similar to our current reality.
42 minutes | Jul 4, 2022
Season 8, Ep. 7: Futurestates (Part 1 with Greg Pak)
Throughout this season of Saturday School, we've been exploring the history of Asian American sci-fi films. So far, we've mostly focused on indie films from the 1980s to 2000s that overcame limited budgets and technologies to show what creative genre storytelling about Asian Americans could look like. Where was it leading? What would be possible if there was some organized funding around these stories? In 2010, the public TV and web series FutureStates, spearheaded by Karim Ahmad, commissioned filmmakers to create short films that imagined today's social issues in tomorrow's America. We're going to spend the next 3 episodes on FutureStates, starting with an interview with director Greg Pak, who was one of many Asian American directors who were asked to participate in the series. Greg Pak writes comics for both Marvel and DC - everything from the Hulk, Hercules, Darth Vader, Batman, Superman to Amadeus Cho. But because we are Saturday School, we spend all of our time talking to him about "Robot Stories" - which we started this season with! - and his FutureStates shorts. "Mister Green" stars Tim Kang as a government official who has failed to prevent the worst case scenarios of climate change. "Happy Fun Room" stars Cindy Cheung as a traumatized kids' show host trying (unsuccessfully) to warn the children of dangerous robot uprisings outside.
23 minutes | Jun 5, 2022
Season 8, Ep. 6: Lumpia and Lumpia with a Vengeance
Before "Shang-Chi," before "Ms. Marvel," Asian American film gave us the superhero Lumpia Man. On the latest episode of Saturday School (where this season we're exploring Asian American sci-fi), we revisit "Lumpia" (2003) and its sequel "Lumpia with a Vengeance" (2020). "Lumpia" was shot in director Patricio Ginelsa's hometown of Daly City with his high school friends. In this comic book movie, narrated by Joy Bisco of "The Debut," the Americanized Filipinos are bullying the Filipino FOBs. But luckily, the FOBs are protected by Lumpia Man, a silent teenager whose weapon is lumpia. It's a charming time capsule of NorCal Fil-Am culture in the 90s, with the DJs, house parties, karaoke and K-mart. The home-made film developed enough of a cult following that Ginelsa ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund a sequel about decades later. He got the old crew back together, added some trained actors (including Danny Trejo) and built out a larger "Lumpia" cinematic universe with a new generation of characters.
18 minutes | May 15, 2022
Season 8, Ep. 5: Two Lies
We're back to continue Season 8 of Saturday School, where we're exploring the roots of Asian American science fiction films. This week, we're thinking about movies like "Frankenstein," "Face/Off" or "Eyes Without a Face' -- plastic-surgery-gone-wrong films. So we are revisiting Pamela Tom's 1990 short film "Two Lies." It's from the point of view of a Chinese American teenager and her younger sister. Their mom recently left their dad, and she decides to get eyelid surgery as part of her "new grip on life." She's wearing sunglasses and secluding herself in the bathroom to hide the bandages around her eyes. She's dating a white man who's passionate about "the Orient" and calls her "Lotus Bud." She even talks differently. Is it a scientific experiment with horrific consequences, or just a regular procedure? As common as getting braces, their mother insists!
24 minutes | Jan 2, 2022
Season 8, Ep. 4: Fresh Kill
On Ep. 4 of Saturday School Season 8 (looking at Asian American sci-fi), we're talking about Shu Lea Cheang's 1994 experimental film, Fresh Kill. Shareen (Sarita Choudhury) and Claire (Erin McMurtry) are drawn into a corporate conspiracy when their daughter eats contaminated fish, her head glows green and she disappears. The same evil conglomerate controlling the internet & TV is also making radioactive cat food that is killing cats. But a sushi chef/hacker (Abraham Lim), a poet/dishwasher (José Zúñiga) and Claire's mom (Laurie Carlos), a public access host/activist, are working with them to expose the company. The film is written by Jessica Hagedorn, the playwright/author known for Dogeaters, and sometimes it feels like theater or spoken-word poetry. Other times it feels like someone with no attention span flipping through channels or TikTok/Instagram stories. Fresh Kill comes out of a time in 80s/90s New York when artists, activists, poets & filmmakers were trying to blow up categories of gender, sexuality and race. It was a time when casting people of color was called non-traditional casting. Another queer Asian American film of that time, Ang Lee's "The Wedding Banquet," is about negotiating with your parents. Fresh Kill negotiates with no one. It's available to watch online as part of the "My Sight is Lined with Visions" retrospective until Jan. 25.
30 minutes | Nov 15, 2021
Season 8, Ep. 3: The Laser Man
This week on Saturday School, we continue our season on Asian American sci-fi with the 1988 film "The Laser Man." What happens when an immigrant actor/director (Peter Wang) who's been one of the faces of burgeoning Asian American cinema in the 1980s (with the seminal indie "Chan is Missing" and "A Great Wall," the first US feature to be shot in China) just wants to make a zany, nonsensical detective parody about killer lasers? And he brings together Asian American actors like Marc Hayashi (also of "Chan is Missing"), some famous connections in Hong Kong cinema (Tsui Hark, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Sally Yeh) and up-and-coming American filmmakers like Ernest Dickerson and Christine Vachon)? The result is something probably too strange and cringe-y for 1988, but arguably hilarious for 2021. Full of illogical hijinks and (we think) made-up Confucius sayings, this is another episode where we tell you about a movie you can't really watch because we want you to know that this happened. In 1988. With much more brazen confidence (to be weird) that we even get to see now in Asian America.
34 minutes | Aug 29, 2021
Season 8, Ep. 2: Nam June Paik
For Saturday School Season 8, we are exploring Asian American sci-fi films. In this episode we explore the genre's prehistory, diving into the robots, Buddha livestreams, and fantastic futures of video artist Nam June Paik. We took a field trip up to SFMOMA, which is presenting a massive retrospective of Paik's work, on display until October 3. Paik is considered the pioneer of video art, and is credited with coining the term "electronic superhighway" in 1974, basically predicting the internet. So for episode 2, we get lost in his vision of a technological future. He was all about breaking down barriers between low art and high art, bringing sexuality and shenanigans into classical music, and stitching together the real and the virtual, leading to such oddities as TV cellos, TV bras, TV glasses, TV chairs and TV gardens. As a Korean educated in Japan and Germany before coming to the U.S., he also resisted labels of nationality and proposed through his art a more utopic global vision of the future.
43 minutes | Jul 25, 2021
Season 8, Ep. 1: Robot Stories
It's the year 2021. Asian Americans have survived the apocalypse, but as we emerge as a community blamed for the deadly virus, are we the villains, are we the misunderstood heroes or are we the robots? To help us figure it out, we're exploring Asian American sci-fi films for our 8th season of Saturday School. This is not a season about Hollywood sci-fi films with Asian Americans in it. For that, please listen to All The Asians On Star Trek, Marvel and Makeup, Nerds of Color -- anyone but Brian & I, who are laughably ignorant about a lot of mainstream sci-fi. We're looking at films where Asian Americans were the auteurs, so for the most part, indie films, experimental faire. Stories that imagine alternate versions of Asian America, dare us to break out of our boxes and think of other possibilities. We start this season talking about techno-Orientalism, how Hollywood sci-fi often portrays Asian spaces without any Asian people. Or if we exist, we are emerging superpowers to defeat. As a contrast to typical Hollywood sci-fi films, we begin our new season of Saturday School revisiting Greg Pak's 2003 film Robot Stories, "science fiction from the heart." Here, robots (and Asian Americans) are not something to fear; instead, something to love. Robots are the babies we are learning to take care of, a source of healing during a tragedy, the hero of the story who just needs a friend, and a way to connect with lost loved ones, even if it's complicated.
43 minutes | Dec 31, 2020
Season 7, Ep. 10: Down a Dark Stairwell
We promised ourselves we would finish this season by the end of 2020, as it was inspired by the events of 2020. And here we are: episode 10 of our Saturday School semester on Asian American interracial cinema. We started from the 70s/80s and slowly worked our way up to the present. Ursula Liang's documentary "Down a Dark Stairwell" had its premiere in March 2020 at the True/False Film Fest, right before the lockdown, and has been doing the festival circuit all year. It'll be available to watch on PBS in April 2021. It's about an innocent Black man Akai Gurley who was killed by a Chinese American police officer Peter Liang in 2014. Over 100 Black men have been killed by the NYPD in the past 15 years. The only NYPD officer who has ever been convicted is a Chinese American rookie cop that shot into a dark stairwell. As Asian Americans, it was hard for us to watch Chinese/Asian American organizing emerge in full force yet devolve so quickly, chaotically and unnecessarily into warring factions - one deemed racist, the other deemed race traitors or worse. Does the film leave us with any hope that Asian Americans can fight for our communities, without dismissing other communities of color? Maybe only from looking back at pioneers in history and imagining where we can still go in the future. But it's one of the most powerful documentaries of the year. We learned a lot from making this season, every time we revisited a moment where work was being done to find interracial solidarity, even if there were and will continue to be numerous missteps along the way. We hope you took away something useful from our season too. Happy new year from Saturday School, and here's to being more prepared for whatever 2021 brings.
16 minutes | Dec 26, 2020
Season 7, Ep. 9: Signature Move
It's the second to last episode of our season on Asian American interracial cinema, and this week, we're talking about Jennifer Reeder's 2017 film "Signature Move," written by and starring Fawzia Mirza. It's about a Pakistani American lawyer, Zaynab, who falls for a Mexican American bookstore owner, Alma. As they get to know each other, they compare their respective soap operas, mangoes and mothers. After lots of stories this season about racial strife, it's nice to watch a fun rom-com, where the cultural differences are a means to connection. What a coincidence that when Zaynab picks up an unlikely wrestling hobby, that her romantic love interest's mother happens to be a former lucha libre star! Must be meant to be. Except, Zaynab has been keeping some secrets from her single mother, played by Shabana Azmi, who is obsessed with finding her daughter a husband. Often, Asian American films about interracial romance are also about intergenerational differences, and it becomes a choice between your parents or your true love. In "Signature Move," which is equally about the love between mothers and daughters, the mother's approval might be complicated but the relationship with the mother will never be sacrificed.
29 minutes | Dec 14, 2020
Season 7, Ep. 8: Lordville
In this episode of Saturday School, where we're exploring Asian American interracial cinema, we look at the 2014 documentary "Lordville" by Rea Tajiri. The filmmaker had purchased a property in Lordville, New York, and she learned the land title traces back to John Lord, one of the original founders in Lordville, and his wife Betia Van Dunk, a Native woman of the tribe that owned the land before it was stolen from them by settlers in the early 1700s. What does it mean to own land? The film is an exploration of the land, and it also makes us think about the relationship between Asian Americans, our immigrant dreams and the Native legacies that have been erased. Also, ghosts.
31 minutes | Dec 6, 2020
Season 7, Ep. 7: American Revolutionary: The Evolution Of Grace Lee Boggs
In this week's episode of Saturday School, as we explore Asian American interracial cinema, we revisit Grace Lee's 2013 documentary "American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs." The director Grace Lee first interviewed Grace Lee Boggs when she was searching for different women with the name "Grace Lee" to interview for her first film "The Grace Lee Project," She found the energetic octogenarian in Detroit and got more than she bargained for. Ten years later, she dedicated an entire film to her. As depicted in the movie, Grace Lee Boggs, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 100, was a Chinese American philosopher and author known for her role in the Black Power Movement and other activism work that spanned seven decades. In an interview, her Black activist friend says they all thought of her as "one of us," whereas her FBI file assumes she must be "Afro-Chinese." We chat about how she's become an icon for Asian Americans and intersectionality, as well as how we appreciate the film as an intro to Grace Lee Bogg's life and an invitation to learn more.
25 minutes | Nov 29, 2020
Season 7, Ep. 6: The Learning
In our next episode of Saturday School, where this season we're exploring Asian American interracial cinema, we look at the 2011 documentary "The Learning" by Ramona Diaz. It's about four women from the Philippines as they're recruited to be teachers in the American public school system around 2006. It follows them over the course of their first year teaching at a predominantly Black school in Baltimore. Over a century ago, the U.S. colonized the Philippines and established an English-speaking public school system there, inadvertently creating a workforce of Overseas Filipino Workers that could be exploited decades later. The Filipina teachers come because they are able to earn over 20 times as much teaching in the U.S., and they can send money home, which also supports the economy of the Philippines. We're reminded of a popular trope in Hollywood, where an outsider white teacher comes to teach at a low-income school and ends up uplifting Black and brown students, and then Michelle Pfeiffer ends up in a Coolio video in a shiny black leather jacket. But in "The Learning," the power dynamics are more complicated. These women teachers come to a new country and are often separated from their husbands and young children for a whole school year for these jobs. Here, there are no white saviors, just the failures of colonialism on both sides of the ocean that bring Black and immigrant Filipino communities together to figure out how to save themselves and each other.
28 minutes | Oct 16, 2020
Season 7, Ep. 5: Fakin' da Funk
As we've been exploring Asian American interracial cinema this season at Saturday School, we've covered a lot of heavy subject matter. But not everything related to cross-cultural storytelling is traumatic and existential. This week, we revisit the 1997 comedy "Fakin' da Funk," starring — are you ready for this? — Dante Basco, Pam Grier, Ernie Hudson, John Weatherspoon, Tatyana Ali, Margaret Cho, Kelly Hu, Amy Hill, Ron Yuan and more. Not bad for then-first-time filmmaker Tim Chey. The movie (currently on YouTube) follows a Chinese American adoptee Julian, played by Dante Basco, who is adopted by a Black family in Atlanta. The family moves to Los Angeles, and while everyone back in Atlanta understands Julian to be the adopted son of a well-loved preacher in the community, many of their South Central neighbors don't know how to respond to this new Chinese American kid on the block who is culturally Black. In a parallel subplot, Margaret Cho and Kelly Hu play Chinese exchange students who are actual outsiders to not only the Black community but America in general. Yes, there are some gaps in logic you have to accept to enjoy this film, from "Dante Basco is Chinese American" and "Margaret Cho is a Chinese immigrant" to "A game of basketball can solve pretty much everything" to "Why is this film called 'Fakin' da Funk' when the entire premise is that the main character is NOT faking the funk?" Looking at it 30 years later, there's a lot that is cringe-worthy. But if you compare it to "Rush Hour," which came out a year later, there's at least a humanistic attempt to understand all these different perspectives (the Black community, the Chinese American adoptee, and the first-generation Chinese immigrant) and think about how everyone can overcome their ignorance and biases, and not only co-exist but love each other.
17 minutes | Oct 3, 2020
Season 7, Ep. 4: Mississippi Masala (again)
This week's episode is a rebroadcast of our Season 2 episode on Mira Nair's 1992 film "Mississippi Masala." Our second season was about "Asian Americans in Love," and this romantic drama. about an Indian Ugandan family in Mississippi, is also an example of a story that ties Asian American and African American history together. So as we explore the topic of "Asian American interracial cinema," we wanted to revisit our 2017 "Mississippi Masala" episode in a different context and think about: how do we emotionally work through these shared experiences of hardship, intergenerationally and romantically?
26 minutes | Sep 24, 2020
Season 7, Ep. 3: Sa-I-Gu and Wet Sand: Voices from L.A.
In this week’s Saturday School episode, in our season exploring Asian American interracial cinema, we look at the 1993 documentary “Sa-I-Gu” by Dai Sil Kim-Gibson, Christine Choy and Elaine Kim, as well as Kim-Gibson’s update 10 years later in 2003’s “Wet Sand: Voices From L.A.” Both films are available to watch for free on YouTube, courtesy of the Korean American Film Festival New York after they hosted a retrospetive of Dai Sil Kim-Gibson films in 2011. A fixture in Asian American studies courses, these films explore the aftermath of the 1992 L.A. riots/uprising/rebellion with a particular focus on Korean American women. “Sa-I-Gu” was filmed only three months after the events, so the tragedies are fresh and feelings are still extremely raw. For us, it was fascinating revisiting the film at this time, because when we recorded, it was also only about three months after the George Floyd protests spread across the country. “Sa-I-Gu” argues that it was the media that unfairly pitted Black and Korean immigrant communities against each other, often showing video of the Rodney King beating by LAPD alongside the killing of Latasha Harlins by a Korean woman convenience store owner. The film shows that Korean immigrants were also victims of white supremacy, and it fights for the legitimacy of a perspective that centers Korean American voices, stories and language. Ten years later, Wet Sands revisits the three main women in “Sa-I-Gu,” and this time around, Dai Sil Kim-Gibson shows the value of getting multiple perspectives in one film, showing variation even within Korean, Black and Latino communities. One of the Latino workers says in Spanish that nothing has really changed, that the inequities are still there and that it’s still a ticking time bomb. After the 1992 uprising, Korean Americans held their own protest with signs that asked for peace, explaining that their life's work was now gone. 28 years later, I covered a protest in Garden Grove, home of Orange County’s Koreatown. This time around, the signs said “Korean Americans for Black Lives,” “Asian Americans for Black Lives." There were Korean Americans protesters who specifically showed up to the Black Lives Matters protests, because this time around, they wanted there to be a different narrative.
60 minutes | Sep 16, 2020
Season 7, Ep. 2: ...I Told You So (with Josslyn Luckett)
For this week's episode of Saturday School, where we're exploring Asian American interracial cinema, we have a special guest: Josslyn Luckett, assistant professor of cinema studies at New York University! We've invited her to our podcast to tell us about her research, which explores the beginnings of an affirmative action initiative at UCLA's film school in the late 1960s and early 1970s called Ethno-Communications. Before there were organizations created to center each racial group's specific experience (some of these students branched off to create Visual Communications, which produces the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival), aspiring filmmaking students of color in L.A. studied together, ventured out into different ethnic communities together, protested injustice together, got arrested together and made films about it all together. Laura Ho's 1970 short film "Sleepwalkers" explores the headspace following an arrest for protesting on behalf of an unjustly fired Black food worker. Duane Kubo's 1975 "Cruisin' J-Town," which we covered in Season 3, ends with a cross-cultural rendition of El Teatro Campersino’s “America de los Indios.” And Alan Kondo's 1974 "...I Told You So" documents Japanese American poet Lawson Inada, who grew up in a Chicano community, was influenced by Black music and later became one of the co-editors of a 1974 anthology on Asian American literature (published by Howard University Press). Brian and I often joke that accessibility is not a requirement when it comes to the films we talk about in Saturday School. Many of these films are only available in college libraries or in the archives of Visual Communications in their Little Tokyo office in downtown Los Angeles. But even if we can't watch all of them, Josslyn wants us all to know that there is a long history of Asian American, Black, Latino American and Native American filmmakers working in solidarity to document and illuminate each others' music, poetry and struggles.
33 minutes | Sep 6, 2020
Season 7, Ep. 1: Mississippi Triangle
Welcome back to Saturday School! This is our 7th season, and this semester, we'll be exploring Asian American interracial cinema. When we signed off last season, coronavirus had just taken hold and the nation had erupted with protests for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Black Lives Matter. As racial tensions escalated, it had many Asian Americans grappling with questions like: What is our place in this? How can we help? How are we complicit? What can we do moving forward? And for us, thinking about our podcast, are there ways that Asian American film can cross racial lines to show that Asian Americans don't exist in racial silos and need to confront interracial issues? As with most things, if we go back into the vault, we realize that there is a long history of Asian American interracial cinema, including some films in the spirit of social activism and solidarity. This semester, we start with Christine Choy. She's most known for co-directing the seminal documentary "Who Killed Vincent Chin?" Before that, she co-directed the 1984 documentary "Mississippi Triangle," which looks at the intersections between the white, Black and Chinese communities in the Mississippi Delta from the late 1800s to the 1980s. The directorial team consisted of a Chinese American woman (Choy), a Black man (Worth Long) and a white man (Allan Siegel), and they all interview their own communities (brilliant), so there is some eyebrow-raising truth-telling going on. Some of it feels dated, while other parts feel uncomfortably current. But by deeming Asian Americans as part of the triangle, Choy carves out space for us to have our own voice and agency, and not just be a wedge group that's silenced or pitted against other groups. 10 films, 10 weeks. Join us in our exploration.
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