Sunday, April 22, 2012

Asian/Asian American Feature Movies that Kids will Enjoy

The LA Asian Pacific Film Festival is starting in a couple of weeks. We hope to see some of the movies showcased there. Like any American kid, we like the many of the mainstream American movies for kids. You all know how I am obsessing over the Hunger Games right now.

But beyond mainstream American movies, we get exposed to some Asian/Asian American movies because our parents like to watch them. While thinking about some of those movies, we thought it might be useful to start to compile a list of Asian/ Asian American movies that kids would like to watch. But sadly, it seems that there aren't that many such movies that are truly fun for kids, or about kids. But here are a few, and we hope that kids don't miss them because they are really good and give people a window into the lively Asian Pacific/Asian American communities.

We start with the movies that actually have kids featured in them, moving on to more general movies.

Feature Films: 

My mom watched this movie one night, and liked it so much that she had me watch it with her the next.  It's about Xiaochun, a young violin prodigy whose supportive and loving single dad takes him to Beijing in hopes of finding a violin teacher and a better life for him.  I cried so many times during this movie, but it isn't really sad; I just have a problem with crying during films that make me happy (Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., etc.).  If you're looking for a heartwarming film, watch it.  If you're not, watch it anyways.  You can thank us later. Directed by Kaige Chen

Ping Pong Playa.
This is about a trash talking Chinese American NBA star wannabe who can't do anything right compared to his older brother. But, when his mom and brother are injured in an accident he caused, he has to take over the family after school ping pong program and compete (with the encouragement from kids he taught ping pong to) for a ping pong championship for his community's and his own pride. The movie is so very funny and has a lot of heart. We watch it repeatedly and would recommend it to everyone. Directed by Jessica Yu, Jimmy Tsai starring Jimmy Tsai, Andrew Vo and Khary Payton(the black dude who speaks Chinese better than the Chinese dude).

 Whale Rider: This is stretching it as a movie about Asians, but since the movie is about a native girl from New Zealand, which is on the Pacific Rim, we'll make it count. The film stars Keisha Castle-Hughes as Pai, a 12-year-old Maori girl who wants to become the chief of her tribe. Her grandfather Koro believes that this is a role reserved for males only. After rejecting Pai repeatedly, Pai finally shows Koro why she is the "whale rider" and deserves to be the tribe leader. This is a wonderful and inspiring movie that seeks to destroy many cultures' age old prejudice against girls.

A Great Wall
Middle aged Leo Fang is passed up for promotion. In anger, he quits his job and takes his wife and teenage son played by Kelvin Han Yee. Mainland China to visit his relatives, the Chao's for a vacation. The clash of cultures, between the Asian American and Chinese cultures leads to misunderstanding and confusion.  The movie ends with a ping pong match between the American teen and the Chinese teen. The brashy American boy got schooled. Directed and stars Peter Wang. The Chinese cast was great too, but I can't find out much about them.

Bend it Like Beckham
It's been a while since I've watched this movie, but I've seen it at least a few times at this point.  And okay, maybe it isn't exactly an Asian-American film.  But it is about an Indian British girl whose love of soccer seems to be getting in the way of her orthodox Sikh parents' expectations for her to become a nice, Indian housewife.  It's a great girl-power movie to watch with your friends. Starring Parminder Nagra, and Keira Knightley.

Rumble in the Bronx
This is a Hong Kong martial arts comedy directed by Stanley Tong starring Jackie Chan and Anita Mui. It's about a young man visiting and helping in his uncle's in New York City convenience store finds himself forced to fight a street gang and the mob with his martial art skills. It's a fun romp.  One of the most entertaining scenes features Jackie's new aunt, an African American woman, singing in Cantonese.  Unfortunately, I can't seem to find out who played her. Hilarious. We should mention that other Jackie Chan movies are kid friendly too, such as Karate Kid, Shanghai Noon, Rush Hour, etc.

White on Rice
White on Rice documents 40-year-old Hajime's numerous attempts to find a girlfriend while living with his sister and her husband and son.  Unfortunately, when he falls in love with Ramona, his brother-in-law's niece and co-worker's girlfriend, things only go from bad to worse...Watch this if you're looking for a good laugh and family movie. Directed by Dave Boyle, and starring Hiroshi Watanabe, James Kyson Lee, and Lynn Chen. We love Lynn Chen.

Bride and Prejudice
This is a Bollywood musical version of Jane Austen's awesomely timeless novel. We blogged about in an earlier post and highly recommend it to viewers 10 and above. Directed by Gurinder Chadha who also directed Bend it Like Beckham, and starring Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai and Martin Henderson who plays handsome and haughty Mr. Darcy really well.

Shall We Dance Shall we ダンス? Sharu wi Dansu? (THIS IS AMAZING!!! One of the funniest movies I've seen.  Much better than the American version). This is a Japanese film with subtitles. Directed by Masayuki Suo, it portrays asuccessful but unhappy Japanese accountant who finds the missing passion in his life when he begins to secretly take ballroom dance lessons. His band of dance class classmates make the movie entertaining and fun.  Starring Kôji Yakusho, Tamiyo Kusakari and Naoto Takenaka.

 The Wedding Banquet
The perfect balance between humor and touchy subject, The Wedding Banquet tells the tale of Wai-Tung, a Chinese man living in Manhattan, whose parents are setting him up with numerous young women in the hopes that he will marry and bear them grandchildren--but it isn't as simple as that: Wai-Tung is gay, and happily in love with his roommate, Simon.  He enlists the help of his female tenant, Wei-Wei, to act as his fiancee when his parents decide to pay an unexpected visit.  To all readers who are under 17, this movie is rated R. It is however, funny, heart warming and touching. Directed by Taiwanese director Ang Lee and stars Winston Chao, May Chin, Ah Lei Gua, Sihung Lung, and Mitchell Lichtenstein.

Flower Drum Song (I think this is the weirdest movie EVER, but as the first Asian American musical about the lives and romances of Chinese Americans in San Francisco, we think it deserves a mention. It's a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical starring Nancy Kwan, James Shigeta and Benson Fong The movie is a milestone in portraying Asian Americans, but it is also dated and difficult to appreciate by modern American kids.

It is surprising to us that so few features films are made for, or about Asian/Asian American kids. So, all you filmmakers and producers out there, think about this growing cool Asian kids market.  We may have missed many good Asian/Asian American movies for kids.  If  you know of any, please let us know by commenting below.  We'd like to check them out.

Now, anime and animation is another story.  They are full of stories with Asian themes and Asian kids in them. We will mention a few of our favorites at a different time.

Also, it seems that many Asian filmmakers have gone on to do indie movies, great documentaries and TV episodes on their own through youtube, etc.  There are some hilarious and good ones out there, but again, more on those later.


  1. This from a reader, Christao(??) Thank you Chris.

    @coolasiankids - There are lots of fantastic Asian and Asian American film makers who produce kid-friendly content, but I feel like a lot of the films don't receive much US distribution. I worked for many years as the theatre operations manager at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival and felt privileged to meet many filmmakers who are doing some very interesting things, even as they struggle to find distribution.

    A quartet of suggestions to add to your list:

    Definitely kid-friendly and worth sussing out (although technically Asian Canadian) is Eve and the Fire Horse by Julia Kwan. It is the story of Eve, a precocious nine year-old with an overactive imagination, who was born in the Year of the Fire Horse, notorious for producing the most troublesome children.

    The story of a sixth grade teacher whose students raise a pig leads to some interesting moral questions (What to do with the pig at the end of the school year?) in School Days with a Pig by Testu Maeda, a 2008 Japanese film.

    The touching coming-of-age story Sayonara, Kuro by Japanese director Joji Matsuoka is a bit of a tear-jerker about an all-boys school and the dog (Kuro) who becomes their class pet.

    The teenage appropriate Rak Haeng Siam (Love of Siam) by Chukiat Sakveerakul follows four teenagers as they struggle with their feelings for each other. The story focuses mostly on two boys and their budding, if uncertain, attraction.