Asian-American Cinema Part VIII - the 1990s

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 26, 2009 11:55am | Post a Comment
The eighth of a nine part series on Asian-Americans in front of and behind the camera


In the silent film era, a few Asian-Americans braved decidedly limited opportunities and even attempted to create a cinematic outlet for their voices. By the dawn of the sound era, Asian-American cinema disappeared and Hollywood once again controlled depictions and roles. In the post-war era, roles for Asian-American actors grew in number, if not diversity. As a result, Asian-American theater arose to fill the void, ultimately leading to the rebirth of an authentic Asian-American Cinema that grew slowly over the next two decades before expanding rapidly in the '90s and continuing in the 2000s.


The 1990s were a time of tremendous growth in the Asian-American population, resulting in a notable demographic milestone when Monterey Park became the first Asian-American majority city on the US mainland. It was soon followed by several others, including Cerritos, Cupertino, Daly City, Milpitas and Rowland Heights in California as well as Millbourne in Pennsylvania.

Chay Yew   Diana Son  Han Ong  Ralph Pena  Sung Rno
           Chay Yew                      Diana Son                     Han Ong                      Ralph Pena                     Sung Rno

With Hollywood depictions of Asian-Americans surpsingly minimal and unsophisticated, not surprsingly APA theater exploded to exploit the ignored audience. Prominent new APA playwrights included Chay Yew, Diana Son, Euijoon Kim, Han Ong, Ji Hyun Lee, Mrinalini Kamath, Ralph Peña and Sung Rno. By the decade's close there were about forty APA theater companies. APA companies founded in the '90s included The Bay Area's NaatakChicago's Pintig Cultural Group; Nevada City's Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra; Los Angeles' 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors, Lodestone Theatre Ensemble, Propergander Theatre and TeAda Productions; Minneappolis's Mu Performing Arts; New York's In Mixed CompanyMa-Yi Theater Company Second GenerationNational Asian American Theatre Company, PEELING,  The Slant Performance Group and Yangtze Repertory Theatre of America; Philadelphia's Asian Arts Initiative; Sacramento's InterACTSinag-tala Filipino Theater and Performing Arts Association; San Diego's Asian American Repertory Theatre; San Francisco's Bindlestiff Studio; San Jose's Contemporary Asian Theater Scene; Seattle's Aono Jikken Ensemble, Isangmahal Arts Kollective and Pork Filled Players.


On TV, Margaret Cho's All-American Girl became only the third TV series in American history with a predominantly Asian cast.

Margaret Cho Henry Cho Stir-Friday Nights  OPM
           Margaret Cho                                Henry Cho                               Stir-Fridays                                         OPM

In the '90s, the concept of a mainstream APA comic was still novel, with Henry Cho and Margaret Cho undoubtedly the most visible. Meanwhile, new APA (and largely APA) groups like Chicago's Stir-Friday Night and Los Angeles' OPM nurture APA stand-up, sketch and improv comedy.


Despite the revival of Asian-American Cinema in the 1980s, it wasn’t until the 1990s that it truly took off, part of the larger boom in independent film. Some films, like Joy Luck Club, enjoyed a great deal of crossover success with non-Asian audiences. In Hollywood, Rush Hour became one of the first mainstream films to star no white actors in decades. Perhaps an unintended consequence is that whilst Jackie Chan's performance opened doors for Hong Kong compatriots like Jet Li, Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh and others in Hollywood, it simultaneously closed doors for Asian-Americans and subconsciously reinforced notions about Asians as foreign martial artists from the exotic east.


Bernadette Balagatas Charles Chun Christina Ma Cici Lau
      Bernadette Balagtas                    Charles Chun                           Christina Ma                               Cici Lau

Cindy Cheung Colin Foo Constance Wu Corrine Hong Wu
            Cindy Cheung                         Colin Foo                         Constance Wu                            Corrine Hong Wu

  Derek Basco Elaine Kao Elizabeth Tsing Eugenia Yuan
              Derek Basco                              Elaine Kao                        Elizabeth Tsing                        Eugenia Yuan 

Fann Wong Garrett Wang Garz Chan Greg Watanabe
             Fann Wong                         Garrett Wang                                    Garz Chan                          Greg Watanabe

 Irene Ng Jade Wu James Sie Jeanne Chinn
              Irene Ng                           Jade Wu                             James Sie                                 Jeanne Chinn 

Jen Sung Outerbridge Jennifer Tung John Cho Joy Bisco
        Jen Sung Outerbridge                      Jennifer Tung                         John Cho                         Joy Bisco   

Kal PennKathy Shao-Lin LeeKeiko Agena  Keisuke Hoashi
                Kal Penn                            Kathy Shao-Lin Lee                Keiko Agena                           Keisuke Hoashi    

Ken LeungKenneth Choi Kristy Wu Lee Wong
          Ken Leung                            Kenneth Choi                             Kristy Wu                             Lee Wong

Lela Lee Louis Ozawa Changchien Lucy Liu Luoyong Wang
              Lela Lee                    Louis Ozawa Changchien               Lucy Liu                            Luoyong Wang

 Michelle Krusiec Mina Shum Parry Shen Peggy Ahn
     Michelle Krusiec                Mina Shum                         Parry Shen                                     Peggy Ahn 

 Phil Young Ray Chang Reggie Lee Richard Chang
               Phil Young                         Ray Chang                                  Reggie Lee                        Richard Chang  

  Rick Tae Robert Wu Roger Fan Roger Yuan
                  Rick Tae                              Robert Wu                                  Roger Fan                                Roger Yuan 

  Sara Tanaka Sarita Choudhury Sharon Omi Shazia
                  Sara Tanaka                      Sarita Choudhury                       Sharon Omi                           Shazia

Sung Kang Susan Chuang Suzy Nakamura Terry Chen
           Sung Kang                         Susan Chuang                                  Suzy Nakamura                     Terry Chen     

 Vivian Bang Will Yun Lee Yi Ding
                  Vivian Bang                                           Will Yun Lee                                                   Yi Ding 

Not pictured: Ben Wang, Bobby Lee, Brady Tsurutani, Dan Koji, Daniel Dae Kim, Danton Dew, Diana C. Weng, Donald Fong, Emmy Yu, Goh Misawa, Gregory Hatanaka, Howard Fong, Jenny Woo, Jina Oh, Johnny Mah, Lenny Imamura, Margaret Cho, Mary Chen, Mia Suh, Michael Li, Mai Vu, Nathanel Geng, Radmar Agana Jao, Shannon Dang, Susan Fukada and Yoshimi Imai

Banana Split 1990 Dreaming Filipinos I'm British ButBanana Split (1990), Dreaming Filipinos (1990), I'm British But. . .

The Story of Vinh Animal Appetites Come See the Paradise
The Story of Vinh (1990). Animal Appetites (1991),  Come See the Paradise (1991), 

En Ryo Identity Issei Wahine 
En Ryo Identity (1991), Issei Wahine (1991)

Rebuilding the Temple Cambodians in America 1991     Toxic Sunset - On the Trail of Hazardous Waste from Subic and Clark (1991),
Rebuilding the Temple - Cambodians in America (1991), Toxic Sunset (1991), Troubled Paradise (1991),

  Fated To Be Queer 
Fated to be Queer (1992), 
The Kiss (1992),

  Memories from the Department of Amnesia 
Mixed Blood
  Memories from the Department of Amnesia (1992), Mississippi Masala (1992), Mixed Blood (1992),


 A Personal Matter - Gordon Hirabayashi vs. the United States Picturing Oriental Girls – A (Re)Educational Videotape,
A Personal Matter (1992). Picturing Oriental Girls (1992)

Reflections - Returning to Vietnam Toc Storee
Reflections - Returning to Vietnam (1992), Toc Storee (1992)

Voices of the Morning Walking the Mountain Who's Going to Pay for These Donuts Anyway
Voices of the Morning
(1992), Walking the Mountain (1992)

Act of War -The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation Acting Our Age Art to Art - Expressions by Asian American Women
Act of War  
(1993), Acting Our Age (1993), Art to Art  (1993)

 Do 2 Halves Really Make a Whole 
Combination Platter
(1993), Do 2 Halves Really Make a Whole (1993), Dragon - The Bruce Lee Story (1993)

Foreign Talk Joy Luck Club Maceo -  Demon Drummer from East L.A
 Foreign Talk (1993), Joy Luck Club (1993), Maceo -  Demon Drummer from East L.A (1993)


Me, Mom, and Mona On Cannibalism Sa-I-Gu From Korean Women's Perspectives      Me, Mom, and Mona (1993), On Cannibalism (1993), Sa-I-Gu From Korean Women's Perspectives (1993)

Terminal USA Unforgettable Face Wedding Banquet
Terminal USA (1993), Unforgettable Face (1993), The Wedding Banquet (1993)

White Christmas Yuri Kochiyama - Passion for Justice Bui Doi - Life Like Dust
White Christmas (1993), Yuri Kochiyama - Passion for Justice (1993), Bui Doi - Life Like Dust (1994)

Chinese Roots - The New Americans Series  Chrysanthemums and Salt - The New Americans SeriesEat Drink Man WomanChinese Roots  (1994),  Chrysanthemums and Salt (1994), Eat Drink Man Woman (1994),

Filipino Americans - Discovering Their Past for the Future The Great Pinoy Boxing Era Hunting Tigers
Filipino Americans  (1994), The Great Pinoy Boxing Era (1994), Hunting Tigers (1994)

Letter Back Home Maya Lin - A Strong Clear Vision Meeting at Tule Lake
Letter Back Home (1994), Maya Lin (1994), Meeting at Tule Lake (1994)

Mod Fuck Explosion Nancy Tatebe's Momiji - Japanese Maple Etsuko Kizawa's NY Geisha
Mod Fuck Explosion (1994), Momiji - Japanese Maple (1994), NY Geisha (1994)

The Polynesians Separate Lives, Broken Dreams Sisters 'n' Brothers
The Polynesians (1994), Separate Lives, Broken Dreams (1994), Sisters 'n' Brothers (1994)

Some Questions for 28 Kisses  Viet Nam - At the Crossroads
Some Questions for 28 Kisses (1994), Something Strong Within (1994), Viet Nam - At the Crossroads (1994)

What Do You Call an Indian Woman Who’s Funny?  A.K.A. Don Bonus American Fish
What Do You Call an Indian Woman Who's Funny? (1994), AKA Don Bonus (1995), American Fish (1995)

American Sons Back to Bataan Beach Camp Arirang,
American Sons (1995), Back to Bataan Beach (1995), Camp Arirang (1995),

Dirty Laundry  Flow
Dirty Laundry (1995), Double Happiness (1995), Flow (1995), 

Dai Sil Kim-Gibson's A Forgotten People - The Sakhalin Koreans The Gate of Heavenly Peace Good For Her
A Forgotten People - The Sakhalin Koreans (1995), The Gate of Heavenly Peace (1995), Good For Her (1995),

I Will Always Tell This Story Mamie Tape - 1995
I Will Always Tell This Story (1995), Mamie Tape (1995)

Picture Bride Searching for Asian America

Picture Bride (1995), Searching for Asian America (1995)

With Our Own Eyes Xích-lô
With Our Own Eyes (1995), Xích-lô (1995)

Another America 1996 Asian Treasure Bag of Folk Tales 1996
Another America (
1996), Asian Treasure Bag of Folk Tales (1996)

Drinking Tea 1996 From Madera, California to Kaiping, China 1996
Drinking Tea
(1996), From Madera, California to Kaiping, China (1996)

Islands on Fire 1996 My Life as a Poster 1996
Islands on Fire 1996, My Life as a Poster 1996

Silencio 1996 Spirit of Hiroshima 1996
Silencio 1996, Spirit of Hiroshima 1996

Stretchmark 1996
Beyond Barbed Wire 
Stretchmark (1996), Beyond Barbed Wire - Go For Broke (1997)

Double Solitaire 1997 Hawaii's Last Queen
Double Solitaire (1997), Hawaii's Last Queen (1997)

Heart Mountain - Three Years In An Internment Camp Indonesia - One Struggle, One Change 1997
Heart Mountain - Three Years In An Internment Camp (1997), Indonesia - One Struggle, One Change (1997)

Letters to Thien 1997 Mommy, What’s Wrong 1997
Letters to Thien (1997), Mommy, What’s Wrong (1997)

My America... or Honk if You Love Buddha 1997 Sunsets 1997 
My America... or Honk if You Love Buddha (1997), Sunsets (1997), 


Shopping for Fangs (1997), The Shot Heard ‘Round the World (1997),

Visas and Virtues 1997 Ancestors In America 1998 Visas and Virtues (1997), Ancestors in America (1998)

Blue Funnel 1998 
Blue Funnel (1998), Canton Army in the High Sierras (1998)

Fighting Grandpa 1998  In the Name of the Emperor 1998 
Fighting Grandpa (1998), Hundred Percent (1998), In the Name of the Emperor (1998),

Kelly Loves Tony Mixed Feelings
Kelly Loves Ton(1998), Mixed Feelings (1998)

Passing Through Red White Blue November Regret to Inform
Passing Through (1998). Red White Blue November (1998), Regret to Inform (1998)

Roots in the Sand  Yellow
Roots in the Sand (1998), Sleepy Heads (1998), Strawberry Fields (1998), Yellow (1998),

 Catfish in Black Bean Sauce Children of the Camps 1999
Catfish in Black Bean Sauce (1999), Children of the Camps (1999)

Chinatown 1999 Chutney Popcorn 
Chinatown (1999), Chutney Popcorn (1999),

Citizen Hong Kong 1999Fall 1990Life Tastes Good 1999
Citizen Hong Kong
(1999), Fall 1990 (1999), Life Tastes Good (1999)

Love Ltd. 1999 Not Black or White 1999
 Love Ltd, (1999), Not Black or White (1999)

 Silence Broken - Korean Comfort Women 1999
On Strike! Ethnic Studies 1969-1999
(1999), Silence Broken - Korean Comfort Women (1999)

Tagumpay We Came to Grow -  Japanese Americans in the Central Valley 1869-1941 1999
Tagumpay (1999), We Came to Grow -  Japanese Americans in the Central Valley 1869-1941

We Served with Pride When You're Smiling - The Deadly Legacy of Internment 1999
We Served with Pride
(1999), When You're Smiling - The Deadly Legacy of Internment (1999)

Not Pictured: The Best Hotel on Skid Row, Black Sheep and What Americans Really Think of the Japanese (all 1990), Bolo Bolo, Issei Wahine, Khush Refugees, A Nice Arrangement, Quiet Passages - The Japanese American War Bride Experience, Relocations, Why Is Preparing Fish a Political Act? and Yellow Tale Blues – Two American Families (all 1991), Anxiety of Inexpression and the Otherness Machine Eagle Against the Sun,  Moving Memories, No Rewind - Teenagers Speak Out on HIV/AIDS Awareness and Open Letter - Grasp the Bird’s Tail (all 1992), Declarations - All Men Are Created Equal?, A Grave Matter, Through Our Own Eyes and To Ride a Cow (all 1993), The Bhangra Wrap, The Colour of Britain, The Love Thang Trilogy, Out in Silence, Not a Simple Story (all 1994) BBQ Muslims, Express Lane, Get Off Your Koot, Just Deal With It, Looking Like the Enemy, The Seven of Us, X-Girl (all 1995), Bangs, The Brighter Side of Dark – Toyo Miyatake 1895-1979, Starting Over - Japanese Americans After the War, A Thousand Birds and a Pair of Shoes and Voices of Challenge - Hmong Women in Transition (1996) Beyond Asiaphilia, From Bullets to Ballots, Kung Pao Chicken, The Last Beat Movie, Mixed Plate, Mouse, Plantation Roots, Politics of Plate Lunch, Wrongful Death - Hattori vs. Peairs (1997) Aftereffects, CricketsDeath Threat, Lessons in Defensive DrivingPaper Birds and Shopkeeping (all 1998), J-town Rhapsody and My American Vacation (both 1999)

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