Amoeblog

Made in Taiwan - Taiwanese Cinema and Television

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 7, 2010 06:30pm | Post a Comment


Taiwan’s official status is complicated. Some view it as a region of China, others as the sole legitimate government of the mainland. Still others believe it to be an island with a unique history stretching back thousands of years and with a distinct culture made up of Austronesian, Han, Japanese and other influences ...and then there are those that think it's the same thing as Thailand, or as the mysterious origin of all our stuff. 

Taiwanese Film Under the Japanese

The first films shown in Taiwan were brought by the Japanese, as early as 1901. As with Japanese films, they relied on a narrator (rather than intertitles) by figures known in Taiwan as benzi. The first Taiwanese benzi was also a musician and composer, Wang Yung-feng.

In 1903, Japanese director 高松豐次郎 (Takamatsu Toyojiro) began exhibiting films from Europe and Japan and built eight theaters. In February 1907, he filmed 台灣實況の紹介 (Introducing Taiwan today), a documentary shot in over a hundred villages and meant to showcase Japan’s civilizing influence on Taiwan. The first Taiwanese feature film was Tanaka King's Da fo de tong kong (The eyes of Buddha), a 1922 film that starred Liu Xiyang, the country's first film actor.

Continue reading...

California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Rowland Heights, Los Angeles County's Little Taipei

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 28, 2010 08:30pm | Post a Comment
ROWLAND HEIGHTS


A view of lower Rowland Heights from the hills

Little Taipei is a nickname for Rowland Heights, a city in the San Gabriel Valley. To vote for more Los Angeles County communities to be the subject of a future entry, click here. To vote for Los Angeles neighborhoods, click here. Rowland Heights is a community neighbored by City of Industry to the north, Diamond Bar to the northeast, Chino Hills to the east, unincorporated Orange County to the south, La Habra Heights to the southwest, and Hacienda Heights to the west.


Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Rowland Heights -- made without aesthetic consideration for my eyes only




World Journal, International Daily News, Sing Tao, the Epoch Times, the China Press or the Zhong Guo Daily at a bus stop

THE RANCHO PERIOD

Rowland Heights' location in the southeastern corner of the SGV was earlier part of the Mexican Rancho La Puente. In 1842, shortly before the Mexican-American War, the land was sold to John Rowland and William Workman. In 1868, they divided it and established the Workman Temple Homestead near what's now the corner of Gale and Nogales. Much of what became Rowland Heights was covered with hog lots and later orange groves until nearly a century later, when postwar prosperity, the extension of the 60 Freeway and a greater trend toward suburbanization led Angelenos eastward into the area.


A BRIEF HISTORY OF TAIWAN IMMIGRATION TO THE US

In 1949, after the defeat of the Nationalist Kuomintang army by the Communist Party of China, approximately two million mainland Chinese refugees (waishengren or 49ers) moved to Taiwan, joining the population of indigenous Austronesians (a group which also includes the Malagasy of Madagascar, Filipinos, Indonesians and Polynesians), who'd lived there from some four to eight thousand years as well as Mainland Chinese descendants who'd lived there for centuries. Following Mao Zedong's death in 1979, a power struggle erupted between the Gang of Four, Hua Guofeng and Deng Xiaoping. The political uncertainty that ensued over the next four years provided the impetus for some relatively wealthy residents in Taiwan and Hong Kong to pack their bags and move to the San Gabriel Valley, especially in Monterey Park, which was advertised in China as "The Asian Beverly Hills."

Soon, Monterey Park acquired to new nicknames, "Mandarin Park" and "Little Taipei." Those appellations were soon dropped after many ethnically Chinese (Hoa) left Vietnam after experiencing anti-Chinese persecution there. After a moratorium against development of new shopping centers in Monterey Park went into effect, Chinese-Americans began to move to neighboring Alhambra.  Meanwhile, given the growing wealth of mainland Chinese and Monterey Park's reputation abroad, many mainlanders began to move to the San Gabriel Valley as well. In 1990, Monterey Park became the first Asian majority city in the US, albeit one where Vietnamese and Cantonese were by then heard as often as Mandarin.


BEYOND MANDARIN PARK

A few years earlier, as Monterey Park and Alhambra had begun to grow increasingly crowded, wealthier, established Taiwanese-Americans began to eye other nearby cities like San Gabriel, Rosemead, Arcadia, Temple City, Artesia, Irvine, Cerritos, Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights. Although Monterey Park was marketed as "The Asian Beverly Hills," if anything that nickname seems more appropriate for Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights (or Arcasia or Chan Marino... fine!). If anyone wants to film a reality show in the vein of MTV's The Hills and BET's Baldwin Hills, I highly recommend that someone pitch The Heights to the good folks at LA-18. The city is characterized by green, rolling hills with sprawling (if not especially attractive) hillside McMansions in the south, and the Asian-American shopping district along Colima in the north.


RELOCATING LITTLE TAIPEI

Up until the mid-1980s, Rowland Heights had been predominantly Anglo and Latino. Now they make up the minorities, with Latinos making up 27% and whites making up 17%. Although Taiwanese make up the largest ethnic group in the neighborhood, monied Korean-Americans, mainland Chinese, Hong Kongers and Hoa have followed the Taiwnese-American wave, creating something of a wealthy, pan-East Asian fusion suburb where Koreans and Mainland Chinese often serve Japanese or Taiwanese food and Hoa run foot massage parlors, hair and nail salons. There are also quite a few spas, come to think of it.


NEW GOLDEN TOFU SEAFOOD PHO NOODLE HOUSE GARDEN CHINA KING PALACE

Rowland Heights' main draw is its many restaurants. Every April, Pathfinder Park hosts the Taste of the Heights festival. Thankfully, chains are mostly eschewed. Not long ago a Taco Bell became a pho restaurant. On the day Tim and I were exploring, we popped into New Garden, a Mandarin Restaurant. I was first intrigued by the blue roof tiles, which I associate with Koreans. Inside the TVs were tuned to KBS. They started us off with onions, jjajang sauce and kim chi. The customers and employees engaged one another in Korean. It was slightly unexpected but, more importantly, it was delicious!

The most represented cuisine in Rowland Heights is Taiwanese, but as this not even comprehensive list hopefully shows, there are many Korean, Mandarin, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese and Mexican joints too... not to mention an above average number of yogurt places, tea bars, bakeries and even two Cajun restaurants. The first time I ate in Rowland Heights was a chilly winter night at a Macaroni Grill. Behold the variety!

#1 Pho, #1 Sun, 5 Minute Bowl/VNS Chicken, A Taco Pub 2, Abarca's Taco Pub, Ajisen, Aoyama, Apo Apo, BCD Tofu House, Baimon, Banana Bay, Banana Cafe, Banana Split Garden, Beef Noodle King, Beer Station, Berri Yogurt, Bin Bin Konjac, Boston Kitchen, Cake House Richmond, Cannan, Capital Seafood, Casa Alvarez, Casa Blanca, Cham Sut Gol, Chef's China Kitchen, China Gate, Chu Ga, Class 302, Coconut Bay, Coconut Station, Country Bistro, Country Chicken, Diamond Bakery, Ding's Garden, Dolphin Bay, Eastern Express, FFY Noodle House, Feedable BBQ Buffet, Flavor of Beijing, Food to Go, Four Seasons Steak House, Ga Ju Soon, Gaju Soft Tofu Restaurant, Genie's Donuts, Genki Living, Go Hyang, Golden China Restaurant, Golden Noodle & Grill, Good Morning Bakery, Good Time Cafe, Graziano's, Green Tea Terrace, Gungjung Sulruntang, Hainan Tasty Chicken, Hanashima Noodle House, Hang Out Tea House, Happy Dolphin Bay, Happy Harbor, Happy Sheep, Happy Veggie Garden, Hong Kong Fishball House, Hong Kong Palace, Howondang, Hsin Hsin Shao Mei, Hsin Hsin Shau Mei, Hunan, Ichi Ichi Fusion Shabu & Tempura, JJ Bakery, JMP, Jang Gun, Jang Mo Jip, Java Cafe, Java Spice, Jin Mae, Joe's Crab Shack, Jungle Teabar, Kanpai, Kee Wah, Kiki Baker, King's Bakery, King's Palace, Kingswood Teppan Steak House, Korea House, Korean Garden, Lee's, Leung Kee, Little Bean, Lollicup, Long Choa Shou, Lucky Panda, MJ Cafe, Manie's, Maxim Cafe, Michael's Cajun Seafood, Miga, Misong Sushi, Momo, Mountain, New Capital Seafood, New Garden, New Golden City, Newport Seafood, Niko Niko, Nini Bakery, No 1 Noodle House, Nodaji, Noodle House, Ong Ga Nae, Ong Go Jib, Ono, Pan Kitchen, Pho 2007, Pho Ha, Pho Mani, Pho Noodle House, Pho Rowland, Phoenix Food Bootique, Pizza & Chicken Love Letter, Plaza Deli, President Thai, Q Noodle House, Qoo Tea Stand, Red Ant Caft, Rockstar Noodle House & Tea Bar, Rolling Wok, Rowland Garden, Royal Spring, Ruby Palace, Sam Han, Sapporo Ya, Sato, Sea Harbour Seafood, Seafood Village Rowland Heights, Seo Ho Don Katsu, Shufeng, Simbala, Splash Corner, Supreme Dragon, Taipei Golden Garden Pork Chop Noodle and Rice, Tanbi, Taoyuan Small Eatery, Tea Station, Ten Ren, The Boiling Crab, The Brochette, The Hot Pots, The Noodle Island, The Shack, Three Family Village, Tianjin Goubuli, To Ten Ko, Tofu King, Tofu Village, Toku, Tokyo Shabu Shabu, Tous Les Jours, Tutti Frutti Yogurt, Vanille De Patissierie, Vietnam Restaurant, Vip China, Wonderful Japanese Cuisine, Yang-Pyun Shin Nae, Yei San Jib, Yogurtland, Yu Chun, Yuki Sushi and Yummy House.

If you're a chef, there are also several large markets targeted toward Asian-Americans: 99 Ranch Market, Shun Fat Supermarket (which replaced a Vons), Do Re Mi Market (formerly known as Han Gook Market), Greenland Market, Galleria Market, T S Emporium and HK2 Food District. Tim pointed out what he thought was a supermarket just selling varieties of mushroom. On inspection I surmised that these "mushrooms" were dried sea cucumbers.


STUFF TO DO FOR UNDERAGERS

Being thoroughly suburban means most of the things to do are typically suburban. There are many shopping plazas to hang out in.


Diamond Plaza on a slow night

The center of nightlife in the city is Diamond Plaza. On weekends, the plaza and the businesses are descended upon by young, mostly Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese and Vietnamese, who cruise the parking lot, hang out, play cards, etc.




Hong Kong Plaza is another popular destination, albeit tending to draw a somewhat older crowd.





Yes Plaza is home of Cue Studio, a popular photo/sticker joint and some of the buildings have fake, multi-story facades with shimmering lights behind them at night that give it a kind of Disney simulacrum effect. In fact, Plazas are so popular that at least two restaurants, Life Plaza and Dynasty Plaza are named after... plazas. Other plazas include Colima Plaza, Kumar Plaza, Eagle Plaza, Rowland Heights Plaza, Pacific Plaza, Golden Square and the alleys between plazas.


Colima Plaza

Rowland Heights Plaza

Golden Square

Pacific Plaza


NIGHTLIFE

There are few bars (not counting Tea Bars) - 9PM, Stubby's, Lucky 101, Beer Station and Whitney's, a hostess bar. JJ Music Studio is a popular noraebang (song room) where you can sing karaoke with a private audience. There's a pool halls - Man-Wha Billiard. There are some top notch arcades as well: Arcade Infinity, Tilt and MVP Shooters Club.


MOVIES & MUSIC & GAMES

I couldn't find any movies that were filmed in Rowland Heights other than a couple of shorts, The Reclamation of David Simms and Escape. I'm sure there are some budding musicians, too. Rowland Heights, not surprisingly, has several piano stores. Amoeba has a very healthy Asian Cinema section, although one that tends to favor artier fare. There are a few really good DVD/VCD/VHS/Video Games/Music stores with a wide array of more popular stuff. Video 94 rents films and video games. Amax has a variety of music, movies and knick-knacks from China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan as well as English-singing acts favored by Asians such as Air Supply and The Carpenters. Jade focuses mostly on Chinese music and movies. Sunrize Video mostly specializes in rental of K-Dramas. There's also KJ Video.



Amax Music House
Jade Entertainment


Sunrize Video

*****

Special thanks to filmmaker and musician Tiffany Huang, who, as a former Hacienda Heights resident had helpful tips about Rowland Heights, where her doctor's office was, and where she studied for her SATs.

*****

Like the Far Eastside on Facebook

Follow Eric's Blog and check out more episodes of California Fool's Gold

California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Chinatown

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 6, 2010 06:00pm | Post a Comment
FORGET ABOUT IT, JAKE


Rooftops of Chinatown



Cathay Manor (where I've wanted to party since moving to Los Angeles
A quiet street in Chinatown


Chinatown (洛杉磯唐人街) is Los Angeles neighborhood located just north of downtown. To vote for other neighborhoods, click here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities, click here.



Continue reading...

Yellowface -- Hollywood Chinese

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 18, 2007 09:34am | Post a Comment
Famed Asian-American rights activist Ngoc-Thu Thi Nguyen and I watched this documentary about depictions of Chinese in Hollywood film called ... Hollywood Chinese. I love observing how Hollywood deals with all races and ethnicities. Sometimes it's hilarious and sometimes it's pretty appalling and then there's the rare occasion on which it rings true, which usually catches me by surprise. The development of an Asian-American Cinema has interesting similarities and differences with more often discussed and documented minority film genres like Black Cinema and Gay Cinema, which sprang up to tap into markets Hollywood mostly ignored for decades. In the 1948 case of the U.S. vs Paramount the government ruled against the studios and they were no longer allowed to control the studios, the distribution and the theaters and Hollywood opened up, to a degree, to the minorities which they'd systematically ignored up to that point.

 

Early Gay Films

Race Films

In the Classic Hollywood era, Chinese women (like all Asians) were generally played by white actresses as shy, subservient innocents totally devoted to their white lovers. Chinese men were usually portrayed as cruel, buck-toothed, long-fingernailed mystics who delighted in tormenting the white heroes who'd fallen for their women. Or, they were depicted as simple, asexual, buck-toothed peasants who almost always wear a queue. Either way, it's only the women that are sexualized.

Of course, a lot of uncomfortable humor and unpleasantness arises from the way the actors portray Chinese, which Hollywood Chinese shows in great cringe- and laughter-inducing clips. One particularly funny scene in Arthur Dong's documentary is taken from Dragon Seed, which features white actors speaking in a varied assortment of accents (none even attempting to sound stereotypically Asian), including Canadian, Austrian, Russian, Katherine Hepburnian, western accents and more. Once pointed out by the film, it proves so distracting you wonder how audiences were able to follow the dialogue at all.

  

It's also shocking to see how actors like Lon Chaney (noted for his amazing observation and make-up skills) managed to make himself look more like a bespectacled macaque or a Westside Botox disaster than a human being of any variety. Only Christopher Lee seems to have the slightest awareness of epicanthic folds and even (especially) "well-meaning" portrayals result in discomfort for modern viewers.  Austrian-born actress Luise Rainer makes the argument that anyone should be able to play anyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, as long as they're able to portray them convincingly, which she feels she and her Jewish co-star did admirably, one supposes, in The Good Earth. In the Q & A after the screening, Nancy Kwan made the same argument, claiming that she was discriminated against recently when auditioning for a Latina role.

But the question is, who's deciding what's convincing? Nancy Kwan has a pretty thick Chinese/British hybrid accent and doesn't look typically Latina by any stretch (although there are, of course, significant numbers of Latasians). Conversely, white actresses seem to find scooting around like a wind-up doll with furiously batting eyelashes a convincing depiction of Chinese women. Personally, if I were trying to pass as Chinese, I would talk only in an outdoor voice and ask my white friends to not park in front of my house, but that's just my experience and I'm not an actor. Besides, the fact remains that there's never been a shortage of Chinese actors willing to play Chinese extremely convincingly, just a shortage of roles in which they've been allowed to do so.

To me the most interesting revelation of Hollywood Chinese, as a lover of early film, was its discussion of recently discovered attempts at creating an independent Asian American film industry. The Curse Of Quon Gwon, filmed by Marion Wong in 1916, is now acknowledged as the first Chinese-American movie.

 
                                   Curse of Quon Gwon                                                    Marion Wong

Had Wong's films been successful, there may have been another interesting chapter in minority and independent films. From 1915 to 1947, black filmmakers and actors produced 500 "race films" which were among the first financially successful independent American films. Perhaps with a much smaller minority and, one assumes, smaller potential audience, Asian-American cinema somehow just wasn't viable until Chan Is Missing.

The main shortcomings of the film are its reliance on a completely color-by-numbers Ken Burns-ish presentation which makes you feel like you should be watching it on PBS and not in a theatre. Talking heads, that incredibly familiar sort of clarinet-heavy score and lots of stills being panned across and zoomed in on upon make it feel made for TV. It's always disappointing when a documentary chooses that easy, tired look. The information is good though. It's great, however; to hear Nancy Kwan, James Hong, Wayne Wang, Christopher Lee, Ang Lee and the rest's observations and anecdotes but it's presented in such a visually dull fashion that it almost seems like it'd make a better book if it weren't for the amazing clips (that I wish there were significantly more of).

I also wondered why they focus just on depictions of Chinese. The director is Chinese but the film made the point that once you're in America, being Chinese is trumped by being Asian and Japanese play Chinese, Vietnamese play Indians, and (of course) white people play everything. The specifics of ethnicity are blurred, erased and distorted. Therefore I'd have liked the scope to open up a bit more and then we could've been treated to more perspectives (like France Nuyen!) and more clips illustrating the same issues (e.g. Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi). I don't think it would've drastically changed the nature of the film-- just added some insight and accounts of a few more Japanese and Korean actors.

And my last gripe is that the structure seems rather haphazard. It bounces around, back and forth through time, dropping and then revisiting films again as they come up again randomly in different actors recollections. A small thing. Anyway, May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month so just wait until it's on KCET or KOCE. The information is interesting, the look isn't so much.

When it was over we went to Palms Thai. We saw Amy Tan eating.

I Pass For Chinese:



 *****

Follow me at ericbrightwell.com