A Tribute to the Creativity in my Favorite Asian Films & Novels
Asian storytelling is powerful – from the ghost stories and superstitions my mom told me, to Amy Tan’s tales, often about mother/daughter relationships, to Lulu Wang’s 2019 film The Farewell. Learning about other Asian stories always strikes a chord with me – whether fictional or not – because of how deeply rich Asian culture is. My most formal introduction to Asian storytelling are the novels of Amy Tan.
Stories such as The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife, and The Bonesetter’s Daughter. The minor fantasy elements in the story are often representations of Asian superstition. Visiting a fortune teller in China, communicating with dead relatives, or simply a lot of luck in a game of MahJong. The subtle fantasy elements present in these novels are rooted in Asian superstition and spirituality, making an often otherworldly topic feel much more realistic and relatable to Asian audiences. Asian literature is often thought of as heavy books like The Art of War, thus contributing to the academic asian stereotype.
In reality, Asian literature is extremely diverse. For example, Hotel on The Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a historical romance novel set during World War 2. Hotel on The Corner of Bitter and Sweet seamlessly blends the racist history of the United States during World War 2 and the implication those actions had on Asian people at the time, with a beautiful and timeless story of love. I often see plenty of gorgeous landscape shots in the cinematography of Thai indie films. Thailand is a beautiful country everywhere, from the beaches, to the countryside, to the city. This is extremely prevalent in Thai stories, whether they revolve around the setting or not. Thai artists are able to show the pride they have in their heritage through their art.
Lulu Wang’s 2019 film The Farewell is a true story based on her life. The film is about Billi, a Chinese-American woman who immigrated to the United States with her family as a child. Her grandmother (“Nai Nai”) is dying of cancer, and the family decides to keep it a secret and stage an elaborate wedding as a final goodbye. Zhao Shuzhen, the actress who played Nai Nai, acts so perfectly I felt as if I was seeing my own grandmother on screen. The Farewell is heartbreaking and beautiful. It’s a film that people who aren’t Asian may not fully understand. They find it weird and horrible to keep a secret like that from someone.
But the film discusses the difference between the East and the West, why the family doesn’t want to burden Nai Nai with their pain. I absolutely love how original Asian stories like this one can be popularized in American cinema. These stories inspire me to tell my own stories – about my family, my culture, and my country. Asian culture can often pressure people into avoiding creative pursuits in favor of a more stable or high-paying job. But when we break out of that mold and pursue art, what we create is really exceptional and unlike anything else. Asian art and creativity is authentic and genre-redefining.
Our stories are rooted in our culture and history. I don’t need to read any history books about Asia to learn about our culture – it’s so prevalent in our creative outlets. I admire the Asian trailblazers that dared to be creative and tell a story that was important to them, and I absolutely cannot wait to see more.
Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.
Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.
We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.
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We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.