A critically acclaimed family drama about Korean immigrants in the US is being touted as an Oscar contender after “Parasite” broke down barriers to non-English-language movies winning the highest-profile accolades.
Based on Korean-American director Lee Isaac Chung’s own experiences growing up in rural America in the 1980s, Minari won both the audience and grand jury prizes for US dramas at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
After a sold-out Asian premiere last week at the Busan film festival, Asia’s largest, Hollywood trade outlet Variety reported the film’s stars — including Korean-American actor Steven Yeun — will campaign for acting categories at the Academy Awards.
Photo: YouTube screen grab
But the critical success of Minari comes with Asian-American experience still vastly underrepresented in Hollywood, which has generally preferred to focus on Americans’ experiences of Asia, particularly in war, or Asian-set fantasies such as Mulan.
The slew of awards for Parasite represented a nod towards international diversity, said Brian Hu, a film professor at San Diego State University, “not American diversity, which still requires a lot more work.”
“It would be hugely historical for a Korean American film to be nominated” for the Oscars, he said.
Photo: YouTube screen grab
Despite their shared Korean roots, the two movies are very different: Minari is an American film shot almost entirely in Korean, featuring Asian-American experiences, while Parasite, a dark parable about the gulf between rich and poor in Seoul, was solely a South Korean production.
Minari stars Yeun — best known for his role in the Walking Dead zombie television series — as Jacob, a young, Korean-born father who moves his family to an all-white town in rural Arkansas in pursuit of a better life.
Photo: YouTube screen grab
He wants to start his own farm but his wife is skeptical and feels isolated, while their seven-year-old son, David — a character inspired by director Chung’s younger self — finds himself increasingly torn between two cultures. Yeun is renowned for his bilingual talent, receiving a best supporting actor prize from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association for his Korean-language performance in the acclaimed thriller, Burning.
In Minari, Yeun often speaks Konglish, a style of sometimes-broken English used by Korean speakers, for which he said he channeled his own immigrant parents who took him to the US when he was five. The film reflected his own experience growing up as an immigrant in Michigan, he said, especially “this feeling of belonging nowhere, just caught in between the gaps of places”.
“You’re not Korean. You are not American. You kind of just fit in this weird space where you don’t feel grounded anywhere,” he told an online press conference at the Busan festival. “It reminds me of my family and why we, you know, held each other so tight because that’s all we really had.”
The four Oscars for Parasite included Best Picture and Best Director, but nominations for any of the Minari actors would be the first for any Korean in the performance categories at the Academy Awards.
Film experts and activists say there has been very limited Asian-American presence in Hollywood, with many Asian roles even played by white actors.
In one notorious example of “yellowface,” Luise Rainer won the 1937 Best Actress Oscar for playing a Chinese character in The Good Earth. More recently, the casting of Emma Stone as a part-Hawaiian, part-Chinese character in 2015’s Aloha sparked controversy.
“Talented Asian and Asian-American actors have existed since the silent film era,” said Terry K Park, a lecturer in Asian American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.
“But they haven’t been given the same opportunities to inhabit even stereotypical representations of their own identities, let alone complex ones.”
But films like Parasite and Minari could open doors to other subtitled movies and actors of Asian descent, experts say.
It was “extremely curious that Hollywood, located in LA, with a significant presence of Asian Americans, so long denied their very existence,” said John Lie, a sociology professor at the University of California, Berkeley. The mainstream US “dream factory” clung on to “an older vision of America long after it was relevant”, he said, while cable TV dramas have become “not only more interesting but also more multiethnic”. “So Hollywood is belatedly catching up.”
One often hears that the people of Taiwan are 98 percent Han, a complicated cultural term that is often used to imply a certain genetic relationship as well. Yet among the pre-1949 population of Taiwan, roughly 45 percent are descended from immigrants from Quanzhou (泉州) in China. Who might these people be? In medieval times Quanzhou was one of the world’s greatest ports, a melting pot of peoples from India and northeast, southeast and central Asia, along with Han and other peoples we now identify as “Chinese.” Merchants from Quanzhou competed in the southeast Asian textile trade, shipping cottons from India
COVID-19 has been racking the world, and there’s hardly a person alive who doesn’t want to see 2020 in the rear view mirror. Taiwan of course has proven to be an island of safety during this epidemic. In appreciation of that as well as giving 2020 an early send off, Brandon Thompson, Adoga, and Taipei Next have prepared a fitting music fest, “Forget 2020” or in the vernacular, “F#ck 2020.” It’s a late-night-early-morning festival where you’ll hear some 30 vocalists and musicians performing many of your favorite songs from the past two decades. Expect hits from the rise of Bruno, Slim,
NOV. 23 to NOV. 29 Japanese researchers initially thought that the Saisiyat Aborigines’ Pasta’ay festival was a New Year celebration. A drawing of a Saisiyat man dancing with a kirakil, a ceremonial headdress used during the Pasta’ay, appeared in a 1906 issue of Record of Taiwan’s Customs, where the author noted that it “represented reverence to their ancestral spirits.” Ten years would pass before the Temporary Taiwan Old Customs Investigation Committee published the earliest description of the ceremony. “The Pasta’ay is held to worship the Ta’ay people, who were a diminutive race living in the caves of the Maiparai Mountains,” the
A row over a Thai woman who held up a placard alleging sexual abuse in schools has put a spotlight on harassment in the education system even as she draws threats of legal action for misrepresentation and attacks for soiling Thailand’s image. The issue is the latest on which discussion has become more vocal as an anti-government protest movement seeking reform of the monarchy also emboldens people in a society where conservatism has often constrained criticism of the powerful. “I hope my case will raise awareness for people in society, for students in schools, for adults who send children to schools, for