Raya and the Last Dragon: a powerful story of personal, political healing

Raya and the Last Dragon movie artwork.

By Guest Contributor: Mai Nguyen Do

Note: This essay contains mild spoilers for the film ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’.

Representation isn’t just about descriptive characteristics. It’s about reflecting the complexities of lived experiences, including the dynamic, evolving nature of culture. There are aspects of Southeast Asian culture woven throughout Raya and the Last Dragon in textiles, food, spiritual practice, and so on. 

Raya’s strength, however,  is in its assertion of authenticity rather than its conformity to concepts of authenticity. Instead of attempting to conform to what are typically Western-centric or white-centric notions of what makes presentations of our cultures authentic, Raya affirmatively respects various aspects of our cultures while also building on them to create an immersive, imaginative experience that is substantively – not just descriptively – representational. From the dynamic, complex characters to small details like the fruit on a table, Raya is an incredible work that meaningfully engages with concepts of culture, conflict, representation, and justice. It’s a must-watch for everyone.

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More Queer than Gay, ‘The Half of It’ is Wholly Necessary

Leah Lewis as Ellie Chu in "The Half Of It". (Photo credit: The Half of It / Netflix)

By Guest Contributor: Kim Tran

This post first appeared in Wear Your Voice Magazine and contains mild spoilers for the film “The Half of It”.

I was terrified of watching The Half of It. The dearth of representation for queer Asian American women means that, fair or not, a lot is riding on this lone film firmly situated in the variegated ‘coming of age’ genre. Based on early trailers, it’s obvious Alice Wu’s long-awaited follow up to the groundbreaking Saving Face could have easily fallen into convention. A reboot of Cyrano de Bergerac with a new ‘diverse’ cast. It could have been a sweet, yet flat rendition of a familiar tale. It could have been Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) cast as the quiet, whip-smart, puppeteer behind her un-clever, friend Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer) both in love with the same girl. It could have just been yet another version of that story except with a Chinese American lead struggling to actualize her sexuality in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. It could have been trite and saccharin and perfectly watchable. Thankfully, it wasn’t. Instead, The Half of It shows us how queer a Netflix movie can be when it takes identity as a given and not a destination. Stripped bare, Wu’s newest film is a rare gift, a movie that embodies queerness and Asianness with ease and space. 

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Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” Manipulates Space to Spook Viewers and Make a Statement about Social Class

A scene from Bong Joon Ho's film, "Parasite".

By Guest Contributor: Claudia Vaughan

Bong Joon Ho’s films can be described as a genre in their own right: they play with the fantastical and the extreme to make assertions about society that leave viewers feeling deeply unsettled. While his worlds are sometimes quite outlandish, his characters and their pains are always very real and relatable. Such is the case with his latest film, “Parasite,” which Bong describes as a tragicomedy. Though “Parasite” does not use any supernatural elements, it is a major thrill ride that will have viewers nervously clutching their seats for the duration of the film.

Note: This review may contain minor spoilers for the film “Parasite”.

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REVIEW: I Watched ‘Ghost in the Shell’ So You Don’t Have To

This weekend, Hollywood’s live-action remake of the classic Ghost in the Shell anime opened in theatres nationwide. The film has been the subject of intense scrutiny including charges of White-washing related to the filmmakers’ highly-questionable decision to cast Scarlett Johansson in the leading role of Major Motoko Kusanagi. (In the Hollywood remake, the character is renamed Major Mira Killian to suit Johansson’s clearly non-Japanese appearance.)

Ghost in the Shell (2017) deserves all the harsh criticism it has received from movie critics and the Asian American community. Supporters of the film object, saying that the White-washing debate is a distraction. In fact, the White-washing controversy is totally relevant; moreover, it is symptomatic of the film’s essential problem: Ghost in the Shell (2017) fundamentally misunderstands its source material.

Whether due to ignorance or apathy, Ghost in the Shell (2017) fails to recognize the key thematic elements of the 1995 anime — Ghost in the Shell (1995) — from which it derives its inspiration. While Ghost in the Shell (2017) faithfully recreates many of Ghost in the Shell (1995)‘s most iconic scenes in breathtaking live-action CGI, Ghost in the Shell (2017) lacks any of Ghost in the Shell (1995)’s philosophical or theological essence. What results is an awful, wooden, lacklustre, and overtly racist live-action remake: a stilted, soulless artifice wrapped in the visually stunning iconography of the Ghost in the Shell  anime franchise.

In other words, Ghost in the Shell (2017) is a shell without a ghost.  All the good things about Ghost in the Shell (2017) come from the original anime, and all the terrible things are both uninspired and racist.

This review contains spoilers of both Ghost in the Shell (2017) and Ghost in the Shell (1995), as well as a brief spoiler of Ex Machina (2014). Please read on with care.

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“Advantageous”: Smart, Subtle and Sorrowful Science Fiction By Women of Colour Filmmakers

advantageous-movie

“We’re looking for someone that’s a little more… universal.”

This line — uttered by James Urbaniak’s character Fisher in Jennifer Phang and Jacqueline Kim’s new science fiction film Advantageous — hit me like a punch to the sternum.

Body transformation and body switching is a staple of science fiction, featured in movies like Face-OffXchange, and most recently Self/less. In most of these films, body switching is treated as a convenient plot device for wacky hijinx to ensue, typically devoid of serious consideration of race and gender politics.

In Advantageous, however, screenwriters Jennifer Phang and Jacqueline Kim (who also stars in the movie) offer a refreshing and long overdue take on the body switching concept. Informed, perhaps, by Phang and Kim’s own identities as women of colour, Advantageous focuses specifically on the ramifications of body switching technology on race, gender, and interpersonal identity. The resulting film is a deeply emotional exploration of one woman’s love for her daughter and, to my knowledge, one of the first Asian American feminist science fiction films in history.

The following post contains spoilers.

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