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

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-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 Balagtas                    Charles Chun                           Christina Ma                               Cici Lau

            Cindy Cheung                         Colin Foo                         Constance Wu                            Corrine Hong Wu

              Derek Basco                              Elaine Kao                        Elizabeth Tsing                        Eugenia Yuan 

             Fann Wong                         Garrett Wang                                    Garz Chan                          Greg Watanabe

              Irene Ng                           Jade Wu                             James Sie                                 Jeanne Chinn 

        Jen Sung Outerbridge                      Jennifer Tung                         John Cho                         Joy Bisco   

                Kal Penn                            Kathy Shao-Lin Lee                Keiko Agena                           Keisuke Hoashi    

          Ken Leung                            Kenneth Choi                             Kristy Wu                             Lee Wong

              Lela Lee                    Louis Ozawa Changchien               Lucy Liu                            Luoyong Wang

     Michelle Krusiec                Mina Shum                         Parry Shen                                     Peggy Ahn 

               Phil Young                         Ray Chang                                  Reggie Lee                        Richard Chang  

                  Rick Tae                              Robert Wu                                  Roger Fan                                Roger Yuan 

                  Sara Tanaka                      Sarita Choudhury                       Sharon Omi                           Shazia

Susan Chuang 
           Sung Kang                         Susan Chuang                                  Suzy Nakamura                     Terry Chen     

                  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 (1990), I'm British But. . .

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

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


Rebuilding the Temple - Cambodians in America (1991), Toxic Sunset (1991), Troubled Paradise (1991),


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


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


A Personal Matter (1992). Picturing Oriental Girls (1992)

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

Voices of the Morning
(1992), Walking the Mountain (1992)

Act of War  
(1993), Acting Our Age (1993), Art to Art  (1993)

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

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


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

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

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

 Chinese Roots  (1994),  Chrysanthemums and Salt (1994), Eat Drink Man Woman (1994),

Filipino Americans  (1994), The Great Pinoy Boxing Era (1994), Hunting Tigers (1994)

Letter Back Home (1994), Maya Lin (1994), Meeting at Tule Lake (1994)

Mod Fuck Explosion (1994), Momiji - Japanese Maple (1994), NY Geisha (1994)

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

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? (1994), AKA Don Bonus (1995), American Fish (1995)

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

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

A Forgotten People - The Sakhalin Koreans (1995), The Gate of Heavenly Peace (1995), Good For Her (1995),

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


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

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

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

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

Islands on Fire 1996, My Life as a Poster 1996

Silencio 1996, Spirit of Hiroshima 1996

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

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

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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chinatown (1999), Chutney Popcorn (1999),

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

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

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

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

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)

Become a fan of Asian-American Cinema on Facebook!

Become a fan of Eric's Blog on Facebook!

Relevant Tags

Independent Film (5), 1990s (46), Korean-americans (16), Asian-americans (40), Japanese-americans (14), 1990s (46), Asian-american Cinema (12), Filipino-americans (8), Television (50), Asian-american Comedy (2), Chinese-american (3), Hollywood (86), Asian-american Cinema History (10), Asian-american Theater (4), Minorities (6), Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (58), Vietnamese-americans (13)