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AAPI FILMS OF THE PANDEMIC

The below list was compiled by APABA-DC member Angeline Chen represents a compilation of AAPI films (films either featuring AAPI actors in lead roles and/or films directed or written by AAPI directors and artists) that were released during the pandemic, loosely covering the time period from January 2019 through March 2022.

The list is limited predominantly to movies that were released or intended to be released in movie theaters, although several films that were released through streaming services such as Netflix made the list as well.

All commentary is the opinion and views of Angeline only, and do not necessarily represent those of APABA-DC.

Enjoy!


2022

  • ·       “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (scifi – 2022: Director – Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert; featuring Michelle Yeoh) - Everything Everywhere All at Once movie review (2022) | Roger Ebert
  • o   Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97% / Audience Score 91%
  • o   A Chinese-American woman (Yeoh) is being audited by the Internal Revenue Service, and discovers that she must connect with other versions of herself in parallel universes to prevent a powerful being from destroying them all. The lead role was originally intended to be a male (the directors were thinking Jackie Chan)! And her husband Waymond is played by Ke Huy Quan might be recognizable to some of you from his childhood roles in “The Goonies” and as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  

  • ·       “Umma” (horror -- 2022: Director – Iris K. Shim; featuring Sandra Oh) - 'Umma' Film Review: Sandra Oh Haunted by Her Mother's Memory in More Ways Than One (msn.com)
  • o   Rotten Tomatoes Score: 27% / Audience Score: 51%
  • o    “Umma” (Korean for “mom”) is a horror film. The lead (played by Oh) is living a quiet life in the US with her own daughter, but “when the remains of her estranged mother arrive from Korea, [she] becomes haunted by the fear of turning into her own mother.”

  • ·       “Turning Red” (animated/kid-friendly -- 2022: Director – Domee Shi; featuring Rosalie Chiang) - 'Turning Red' review sparks outcry after being called limiting : NPR
  • o   Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94% / Audience Score 73%
  • o   “Turning Red” is the first Asian-led film by Pixar, and Shi is Pixar’s first solo female director. The lead, Mei Lee is a thirteen-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl that due to a hereditary curse, turns into a giant red panda anytime she expresses strong emotion.

2021

  • ·       “Try Harder” (documentary -- 2021: Director – Debbie Lum) - Try Harder! movie review & film summary (2021) | Roger Ebert
  • o   Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97% / Audience Score: 84%
  • o   This incredible documentary which premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, follows a group of seniors at a high-achieving high school (the #1 ranked public school in CA, with a majority Asian American student body) as they apply to their dream colleges. “Try Harder” is available on iTunes.

  • ·       “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (action/fantasy -- 2021: Director – Destin Daniel Cretton; featuring Simu Liu, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina, Tony Leung, and others) 'Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings': A Better Origin Story - Rolling Stone
  • o   Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91% / Audience Score 98%
  • o   Part of the Marvel franchise, the movie tries to address the seriously problematic representation of Asian characters in the comics, and nonetheless includes scenes we can all relate to in at least raising awareness, such as when the titular character has to help his (Asian American) friend on how to properly pronounce his Chinese name.

  • ·       “Raya and the Last Dragon” (animated/kid-friendly – 2021: Directors Carlos Lopez Estrada and Don Hall; featuring Awkwafina, Kelly Marie Tran, Sandra Oh, Gemma Chan, and others)  - With Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon, I feel seen  - The Verge
  • o   Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93% / Audience Score: 97%
  • o   Disney’s first Southeast Asian princess! A warrior princess seeks out the fabled last dragon in hopes of restoring the dragon gem that would bring back her father and banish evil spirits.

  • ·       “Mortal Kombat”(2021: Director – Simon McQuoid) - Mortal Kombat movie review & film summary (2021) | Roger Ebert
  • o   Rotten Tomatoes Score: 54% / Audience Score: 86%
  • o   This is another movie in the Mortal Kombat game franchise, which is known for lots of gore and violence,  but it still deserves a mention here for at least having a lot of Asians/Asian-Americans in the cast. In the movie, MMA fighter Cole Young, seeks out champion fighters to defeat the enemies of Outworld in a battle for the universe.



  • ·       “Finding Ohana” (2021: Director – Jude Weng; featuring Kea Peahu, Kelly Hu and others) – Finding 'Ohana movie review & film summary (2021) | Roger Ebert
  • o   Rotten Tomatoes: 81% / Audience Score: 82%
  • o   Siblings find out about themselves and their Hawaiian heritage on a “Goonies-style” quest for lost pirate treasure.

  • ·       “Boogie” (2021: Director – Eddie Huang) -- Boogie movie review & film summary (2021) | Roger Ebert
  • o   Rotten Tomatoes Score: 42% / Audience Score: 57%
  • o   A basketball movie and an exploration of the second-generation American experience (encapsulating as critic Ebert notes: the “all or nothing pressure to succeed and make your parents proud” and “straddling two cultures when it feels like you fit into neither.”)

  • ·       “Love Hard: (2021: Director – Hernan Jimenez; featuring Jimmy Yang) – Love Hard review – Netflix Christmas romcom is easy to like | Romance films | The Guardian
  • o   Rotten Tomatoes Score: 57% / Audience Score: 91%
  • o   Not quite an “AAPI” movie in the traditional sense, but this romcom featuring an LA writer who finds out she’s been catfished after flying 3,000 miles to surprise the love interest she’s found through an online dating app.


  • ·       “Blue Bayou” (2021: Director Justin Chon) – ‘Blue Bayou’ tells the true story of Korean American adopted immigrants – Metro Philadelphia
  • o   Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74% / Audience Score: 93%
  • o   A searing film based on collective true stories, covering the life of a Korean-American adoptee who struggles with trying to overcome a criminal record and the consequences of his adoptive parents’ failure to have him naturalized pursuant to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (which granted citizenship to all children adopted from overseas, but not those who turned 18 before the law was passed).


  • ·       “Cousins” (2021: Directors Ainsley Gardiner and Briar Grace-Smith) -- 'Cousins' Review: A Sensitive Adaptation of a Modern Māori Classic - Variety
  • o   Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100% / No Audience Score Provided
  • o   An adaptation of the 1992 novel of the same name (author: Patricia Grace), the movie follows the story of three cousins living different lives who nevertheless remain bound by family and each other.


2020

  • ·       “Over the Moon”(animated/kid-friendly -- 2020: Director – Glen Keane; featuring Cathy Ang, Ken Jeong, John Cho and others) - Over the Moon movie review & film summary (2020) | Roger Ebert
  • o   Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81% / Audience Score: 69%
  • o   An original animation released by Netflix and timed with the Mid-Autumn Festival, this film centers on themes of family and grief, as well as the Legend of the Moon Goddess Chang’e.

  • ·       “Minari” (2020: Director – Lee Isaac Chung) - 'Minari' Review: Growing Up Korean Outside Little Rock, Arkansas - Variety
  • o   Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98% / Audience Score: 87%
  • o   Minari, a semi-autobiographical drama of Director Chung’s own life, premiered at Sundance in January of 2020, and went on to receive six Academy Awards nominations and the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

  • ·       “Mulan” (action/fantasy – 2020: Director – Niki Caro; featuring Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Tzi Ma, Gong Li, and Jet Li) -- 'Mulan' Review: Disney's Live-Action Remake Is Shrewd But Not Sharp - Rolling Stone
  • o   Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73% / Audience Score: 47%
  • o   The live-action remake of Disney’s 1998 animated movie was one of the first casualties of the pandemic, missing its original release date and instead finally jumping directly to Disney+.  

  • ·       “The Donut King”(documentary -- 2020: Director – Alice Gu) - 'The Donut King' review: A Shakespearean SoCal tragedy - Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)
  • o   Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97% / Audience Score: 93%
  • o   This film follows the journey of Cambodian refugee as he builds a multi-million dollar donut empire on the West Coast, helping hundreds of fellow Cambodians who had survived the travesties of the Khmer Rouge, who also came to the US chasing the American Dream.

  • ·       “Tigertail” (2020: Directed by Alan Yang, starring Tzi Ma and Hong-Chi Lee) -- Tigertail review: A difficult Netflix drama from Master of None creator - Polygon
  • o   Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81% / Audience Score: 66%
  • o   Alan Yang’s directorial debut weaves a beautiful semi-autobiographical portrait of the first-generation American experience, specifically the juxtaposition of “Eastern” and “Western” senses of responsibility and choices made/foregone against the backdrop of unconditional familial love. 

  • ·       “The Half of It” (2020: Directed by Alice Wu – starring Leah Lewis) -- Review: Netflix's 'The Half Of It' Is A Relatable Love/Friendship Triangle - Faze
  • o   Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97% / Audience Score: 81%
  • o   A sweet and quietly progressive queer rom com that loosely follows the storyline of “Cyrano de Bergerac” following high school student Ellie who is convinced by a male student to start ghost-writing love letters to the prettiest girl in school (whom Ellie actually has a crush on).


  • ·       “Definition Please”(2020: Directed by Sujata Day) – ‘Definition Please’: Film Review – The Hollywood Reporter
  • o   Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95% / Audience Score: 83%
  • o   In Sujata Day’s directorial debut, she also stars in this comedy-drama in which a former national spelling bee champion struggles to find and live up to her potential.


2019

  • ·       “Parasite” (2019: Director – Bong Joon-ho – starring Song Kang-ho and others) – Parasite movie review & film summary (2019) | Roger Ebert
  • o   Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98% / Audience Score: 90%
  • o   The first South Korean film to be accorded recognition from the Academy, at which it won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

  • ·       “The Farewell” (2019: Director – Lulu Wang; featuring Awkwafina, Tzi Ma) - The Farewell review – beautifully bittersweet Chinese-American family drama | Drama films | The Guardian
  • o   Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97% / Audience Score: 87%
  • o   Awkwafina made history as the first Asian actress to win Best Actress at the Golden Globes for her role as Billie in this gem of a movie. The script is based on the director’s real life: Lulu Wang’s grandmother was diagnosed with cancer in 2013 and her family threw a fake wedding for a cousin, all the while lying to the grandmother because no one wanted to tell her the truth. (The secret was kept from Wang’s grandmother during filming and even through the premier!) Happily, even though she eventually found out (through the movie reviews no less), at least as of last year, Wang’s grandmother defied the odds and is apparently still living.

  • ·       “Happy Cleaners” (2019: Directors – Julian Kim and Peter S. Lee, with writer/producer Kat Kim) - Happy Cleaners: Introspection on the Immigrant Experience (Review) - Loud And Clear Reviews
  • o   Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100% / Audience Score: 86%
  • o   A film that focuses on a family dry cleaning business in Flushing, NY run by a first-generation immigrant Korean family. The linked review shares a deeply reflective line of dialogue from the movie delivered by the daughter to her immigrant parents that “she and her brother are the ‘hyphen between Korean-American.’”

  • ·       “Always Be My Maybe”(2019: Directed by Nahnatchka Khan – starring Ali Wong, Randall Park and others) - 'Always Be My Maybe' Review: Netflix's Reinvigorating Romcom - Variety
  • o   Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90% / Audience Score: 80%
  • o   A Netflix romcom about a long-estranged high school couple who cross paths again after each has followed very different paths through life.
  • ·       “Monsoon” (2019: Directed by Hong Khaou – staring Henry Golding) -- ‘Monsoon’ Review: Clouded Memories of Saigon - The New York Times (nytimes.com)
  • o   Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87% / Audience core: 40%
  • o   A software animator raised in England returns to Vietnam, where he was born and lived until he was 6 years old, with the intent of scattering his parents’ ashes. Loosely based on the director’s own life, his family fled the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia with him as a baby and then moved to Britain when he was 8 years old.

  • ·       “All in My Family” (documentary short 2019: Directed by Hao Wu) – All In My Family review - Netflix documentary highlights disparate worlds (readysteadycut.com)
  • o   IMDb Rating: 6.8 / 10
  • o   This short documentary follows a gay Chinese man who has decided to have children with their same-sex partner using surrogates. It follows their family’s reaction to their sexual orientation and decisions about parenthood, highlighting how cultural norms and expectations can influence the experience of having children through surrogacy. All in my Family is available on Netflix.


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