Exploring the Full Range of Asian Experience : Film: Festival offers views of real-life issues that organizers say Hollywood movies ignore.


The recent box-office success of “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” may be heartening to some as a sign that Hollywood sees Asian-Americans as more than just sideline characters steeped in stereotypes. But to others, this little step only touches the surface of the Asian-American experience.

That’s where the Asian/Pacific American Film and Video Festival at UC Irvine comes in.

The two-day program, beginning today and continuing May 29, features films and videos primarily by and about Asians and Asian-Americans. Subjects range from assimilation to the gay lifestyle and culture to interracial love to the history of Japanese internment during World War II, among others.

As Peter Pham, one of the program’s organizers, puts it: “There’s just not enough representation for Asian-Americans. There’s a lot of important work being done out there, by both filmmakers and video artists, but it’s usually relegated to obscure venues; you won’t see these films at Edwards Cinemas.


“These movies also explore topics of great interest--assimilation, acculturation, issues of identity (that are) relevant to any minority, any immigrant,” Pham said.

The festival, sponsored by UCI Interdisciplinary Studies, also has a political edge. Besides presenting a fuller view, Pham, a 21-year-old UCI film student, said he hopes the series will draw attention to students who are in their fourth week of a hunger strike to protest the university’s lack of an Asian-American studies program.

“We were certainly (aware of the) hunger strike when we planned this,” Pham said. “The strike is also making the distinction that Asian-American studies deal (not only with) experiences in America, but a whole study of what the culture (here and abroad) means to us.” (The UCI administration said it is already recruiting for three positions for such a program.)

Pham said festival organizers tried to reflect that by choosing films of varied interest from several countries. Experiences of Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese and Indians, among others, are represented.

Pham also hopes the series’s impact will reach beyond the campus, giving the general public a clearer view of what it means to be Asian-American. “So much of who and what we are is blurry to many people. If we can (bring definition to) that vagueness, then everybody benefits.”

With that in mind, Pham said he has mixed feelings about the box-office success of “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story.”


On one level, he’s pleased Hollywood has finally realized that an Asian-American hero, with many ethnic distinctions, can have wide appeal. On another, Pham is disappointed with the picture’s broad stereotypes.

“Hollywood still falls to a certain formula; I still think that representation has very rigid boundaries,” Pham said. “Progress is being made, but not enough. . . . Too often (‘Dragon’) is all flying hands and feet; it falls into a very cliched view of what an Asian-American male is.”

As for realistic portrayals of Vietnamese in American mass media, “there’s nothing going on out there, and it’s the same for other minorities,” said Pham, who is Vietnamese-American. “I guess we’ll all have to fight for that representation.”

All festival entries were made by professionals, but Pham said student work has not been forgotten. There are plans for a student festival to be offered at UCI, possibly next year.

“There’s so much interesting pieces being done, pieces that really look at the culture, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Laotian, all that,” he said. “We just have to get it out there so people can see it.”

* The Asian/Pacific American Film and Video festival at UC Irvine begins today at 4 p.m. with Helen Lee’s “My Niagara” (1992). Also on the bill are Arthur Dong’s “Forbidden City” (1989) and Spencer Nakasako and Vincent DiGirolamo’s “Monterey’s Boat People” (1982).


At 8 p.m., Christine Choy, Dai Sil Kim-Gibson and Elaine Kim’s “Sa-I-Gu: From Korean Women’s Perspectives” (1992) will screen. It will be followed by Valerie Soe’s “Mixed Blood” (1992) and J.T. Takagi and Christine Choy’s “Homes Apart: Two Koreas Divided” (1991).

On May 29, Rea Tajiri’s “History and Memory: For Akiko and Takashige” (1991) will screen at 4 p.m., followed by Christine Choy and Renee Tajima’s “Who Killed Vincent Chin?” (1988). At 8 p.m., Rachel Rivera’s “Sin City Diary” (1992) will be offered, followed by Richard Fung’s “Fighting Chance: Gay Asian Men and HIV” (1990) and Nidhi Singh’s “Khush Refugees.”

All films to screen in UCI’s 262 Humanities Hall, Campus Drive and Bridge Road. Admission is free. (714) 856-4978.