Public outcry over the lack of Asian representation and visibility in Hollywood has been raging for almost two decades, and it is picking up steam.
Films such as ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ in 2018, with an all-Asian lead cast, pushed the cause into the mainstream. And now, with Chloe Zhao becoming the first Asian female to win a Golden Globe Award in the best director category on Sunday night, the industry is again reminded of the value of diversity.
In Australia, the movement to increase Asian representation and visibility in entertainment feels distant. The public awareness of the issue is not cemented in our domestic film and TV industries.
However, Asian Australians landing roles in Hollywood blockbusters and a growing presence of culturally diverse faces behind the camera signal some change is occurring, slowly but surely.
Australia’s Chris Pang, Remy Hii and Ronny Chieng starred in ‘Crazy Rich Asians’, with Chris also appearing in the ‘Charlie’s Angels’ reboot, Remy in the latest ‘Spider-Man’ film, and Ronny in the upcoming Marvel flick ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’, which was filmed in Sydney last year.
On Monday, the federal government funding body Screen Australia announced that $730,000 in development funding would go to six feature films, 12 television dramas and three online projects. Feature film ‘1989’ has made the cut. The film, directed and produced by Vietnamese Australian Khoa Do, is about a Vietnamese refugee family in Sydney during Australia’s 1989 recession.
With the Golden Globes having kicked off award season and encouraging moviegoers to binge-watch any films they haven’t seen, here’s a roundup of 14 must-see films featuring Asian Australians to celebrate their efforts in bringing a wealth of diverse stories to our screens.
RHAPSODY OF LOVE (2020)
‘Rhapsody of Love’ is a romantic comedy-drama, directed and written by Asian Australian Joy Hopwood, that focuses on the intertwined lives of four couples who meet at a wedding and at a film festival. The film is lighthearted and tracks the journeys and struggles young Australian couples face in their friendships, relationships and lives in general. ‘Rhapsody of Love’ centres on the relationship between an Asian Australian woman, Jess (Kathy Luu), and Asian Australian man, Justin (Damian Sato) – a romance hardly witnessed before in any Australian film.
FLOATING LIFE (1996)
‘Floating Life’ is a film many Asian Australians like me can identify with, being a child of parents who migrated from Asia. The drama, directed by Clara Law, simply tells the story of a family who moves to Australia from Hong Kong and charts the problems the family deals with in settling in Australia. In many ways, this film is ahead of its time in Australia, as before 1996, no other Australian-made film talked about the ‘Asian Australian’ experience.
FOOTY LEGENDS (2006)
‘Footy Legends’ is a lighthearted comedy that targets social issues such as unemployment, the loss of family members and financial troubles. Directed by Khoa Do, the film follows the journey of rugby league-loving Luc Vu (Khoa’s older brother Anh Do) as he rekindles his friendship with his old high school rugby teammates. At the same time, the state is threatening to take his younger sister from his care unless he can shape up and show them that he can be a responsible older brother and guardian.
THE HOME SONG STORIES (2007)
Directed by one of the most famous Asian Australian directors, Tony Ayres, ‘The Home Song Stories’ is an autobiographical film about Tony’s family life at age eight. It follows the journey of his mother, who was a nightclub singer in Hong Kong during the 1960s, and how she met an Australian sailor and married him to move to Australia. Most of the film centres on a life in Australia entwined in affairs, jealousy, deception, resentment and love. The film takes you on a tumultuous journey into the childhood of Ayres as he opens his life in the film.
THE JAMMED (2007)
Human trafficking and sexual slavery are taboos which are hardly discussed out in the open within many Asian Australian families and communities, despite it being an issue at home and in Asia. ‘The Jammed’ tracks the lives and journeys of three missing women who get caught up in this web of sexual exploitation in Melbourne.
The film stars Emma Lung, Sun Park and Amanda Ma, digging deep into a dark underworld and shining a light on the severity of human trafficking and sexual slavery in Australia.
CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018)
‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is a Hollywood film directed by Jon M. Chu. However, it makes our list because it features Asian Australian actors in its supporting cast. Chris Pang, Remy Hii and Ronny Chieng all play a role in this romantic comedy embroiled in the cycle of the ultra-rich in Singapore. It revolves around the romance between Chinese American Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) and Singaporean native Nick Young (Henry Golding), and the trials and tribulations of finding out your boyfriend belongs to the wealthy class in Singapore. Both travel to Singapore from New York to attend the wedding of Nick’s close friend Colin Khoo (Pang), with Chu meeting the often arrogant yet quirky Young family members, including Nick’s cousin Allistair Chang (Hii) and Eddie Cheng (Chieng), among many others.
MOTHER FISH (2009)
Khoa Do’s ‘Mother Fish’ depicts his own life and the lives of many Vietnamese who came to Australia as refugees in the mid-1970s. It follows the life of a middle-aged Vietnamese woman, Hyen Nguyen, who works all her days in a sweatshop as she reminisces about her escape and journey from war in Vietnam to Australia.
The film digs deep in exploring the emotions, the fear and the trauma many Vietnamese Australians faced as they sacrificed all to come to Australia by boat in the search for a better life. In addition to confronting a new country, the film delves into how Vietnamese refugees had to confront the stigma of being labeled “boat people”.
33 POSTCARDS (2011)
Directed by Pauline Chan, ’33 Postcards’ follows the life and relationship between a Chinese orphan, Mei Mei (Zhu Lin), and her Australian donations sponsor, Dean, who sends her postcards talking about his life in Australia. An opportunity arises for Mei Mei’s orphanage choir to travel to Australia to participate in a choir festival. In Australia, Mei Mei searches for Dean in the hopes she can become part of his family, but she finds out he is in jail. This film tackles the issue of what constitutes a family, but it also delves into the criminal world and how easily a person can get entangled in it. It is an enthralling production about living in a lie, provoking a person’s sense of disbelief and a family love that is world’s apart.
CARELESS LOVE (2012)
Living a secret double life describes the film ‘Careless Love’ to a tee. The film is about university student Linh (Nammi Le), who takes on a part-time job as an escort to support herself financially. Linh struggles to keep her two lives separate as she develops a close companionship with one of her clients as she falls in love with a fellow student.
Would you risk it all for love? This is the question ‘Unindian’ asks as it follows the romance between English language teacher Will Henderson and Meera, a divorced Indian mother. This film centres on the struggles of being Asian in Australia and engaging in interracial relationships, having to jump through cultural hoops of acceptance and giving it your all.
‘Unindian’ is directed by Anupam Sharma, with a supporting cast that includes South Asian actors Pallavi Sharda and Arka Das. It’s really just a feel-good, lighthearted rom-com that tackles tricky cultural norms and how to overcome them.
ALVIN’S HARMONIOUS WORLD OF OPPOSITES (2015)
A little unconventional and abstract, ‘Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites’ follows the life of sheltered Alvin (Teik Kim Pok), an agoraphobic who lives his reclusive life in a one-bedroom apartment. He does all his shopping online and works from home, with his only solitude being his panda soft toys.
A comedy of sorts, this film talks about different mental health conditions and their impact on a person’s life.
NEVER FORGET (2016)
‘Never Forget’ tells the story of a young Vietnamese Australian woman, Kim Tran (Ann Truong), as she struggles with both intergenerational and intercultural gaps. Having to travel back to Vietnam after 10 years to tend to her father’s death, Kim is taken on a roller-coaster ride as she reminisces, reconciles and heals from her past trauma.
REPENT OR PERISH (2018)
Breaking down the model minority myth is the focal point of Matthew Victor Pastor’s ‘Repent or Perish!’ The film centres on a Filipino Australian family that faces a number of issues: being gay, taking drugs, reconciling religious beliefs and wrestling with family dynamics.
With a leading cast of Asian Australian stars, including Alfred Nicdao, Celina Yuen, Kevin Pham and Yuchen Wang, ‘Repent or Perish!’ is an exploration of life and family without barriers.
THE FAREWELL (2019)
Despite this film being American and based on the life of Chinese American Lulu Wang, who is also the director, it needs to be on this list because one of its leads, Diana Lin, is Asian Australian. Diana plays Lu Jian, the mother of Billi (Awkwafina). ‘The Farewell’ will tug at your heartstrings, so have tissues at the ready.
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