Kimono aren’t cosplay

Don’t do it y’all, just don’t do it.

In about two weeks it’s Anime Boston, one of my favorite things ever in the city. Anime fans from all over are spotted across the city in different styles of cosplay, earning weird (almost scared) looks from normal people everywhere. I love cosplay, both wearing it and photographing it. But there’s one trend, specifically in the anime community, that needs to stop: wearing a kimono as a costume. AKA: cultural appropriation. Continue reading

I love “Mulan” more as an adult than I ever did as a kid

A while back I was browsing through the YA section at Barnes and Noble and a bright red cover featuring Disney’s Mulan caught my eye. The book was Reflection, one of the special Disney-official fan fiction series Twisted Tale that includes spins on Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and my girl Mulan. I didn’t end up buying it that day, but I checked it out from the library recently and it was as much fun as I could have hoped Mulan fan fiction––written by a Chinese American, Elizabeth Lim––to be. Continue reading

All my social media thoughts after seeing “Crazy Rich Asians”

I saw an early screening and it totally convinced me the hype is valid.

So hardly a week or so ago, I wrote a big think-piece essay blog type thing about how skeptical I am about my expectations for the upcoming Crazy Rich Asians movie. Looking back, I’ve written a lot about this movie: a satirical dream cast, a presentation about the pressure it’s under, and that last post about hyping it on blind faith. Continue reading

Hyping “Crazy Rich Asians” on blind faith

I’m looking forward to this movie, right?

Every time I see the movie poster for the upcoming Crazy Rich Asians movie, I have to stop and take a photo of it for the ‘gram. I’ve seen the trailer so many times I know when all the claps happen. While waiting for a flight, I wandered around LAX looking for the special Entertainment Weekly cover with Constance Wu and Henry Golding. I bought the book a second time just for the paperback copy with the movie cover on it.

And I didn’t even like the book. Continue reading

The most empowering Olympics

The Asian American Athletes at Pyeongchang give me life.

(This was originally posted on the editorial blog of the East Coast Asian American Student Union, read it here.)

I live for the Olympic games every two to four years, ever since the 2008 Beijing opening ceremony changed my life. The pomp and circumstance of the ceremonies, athlete profiles, and feats of human strength always draw me in and rule my life for the next two and a half weeks. This year’s winter games in PyeongChang are no different. In fact my obsession has only been heightened by the amazing Asian American athletes competing this year. Continue reading

“Crazy Rich Asians” y’all

A presentation on the upcoming movie, and the intense pressure around it.

A while back, my friend asked me to give a presentation on anything, as long as it had something to do with books. I had 0 ideas, but got inspired by the special Entertainment Weekly edition of Crazy Rich Asians, so I decided to talk about every reader’s favorite topic: book to movie adaptations.

It went pretty well, and I ended up having a lot of fun making my slides. So for fun, and because I have a lot of thoughts about the upcoming movie, I’ll share them and my speaking notes here.
(I should note that the event was hosted by one of my school’s publishing clubs, hence the literary event references.)

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It all comes down to representation. You can read a book and know in your head that this whole cast looks like you, reflects your family and culture. But it’s a completely different experience when you see it, especially in a mainstream format like a Hollywood movie. I’ll let the professionals explain it better:

Plus, all the other major movies with Asian American casts came from books: The Joy Luck Club premiered in 1993. Memoirs of a Geisha premiered in 2005, and it only made the list because it’s one of the few mainstream American movies with an entirely Asian and Asian American cast. The book was written by a white man and there’s a number of conversations about the validity of Memoirs. Not going to lie, it’s pretty problematic, but the movie soundtrack was really good. Fresh Off the Boat aired in 2015, and even though it’s not a movie it was a big deal in recent pop culture. After the second season it split off from Eddie Huang’s life story, and I think it’s become a better show for it. Would not recommend the book, to be honest.

And finally, the one we’ve all been waiting for: Crazy Rich Asians. Release date: August 17, 2018. As the third major movie, and following “Fresh Off the Boat,” CRA has to be a verifiable box office success. Because if it “fails,” studios will use it as an example to affirm all the old stereotypes and misconceptions about casting Asians in movies and telling their own stories.
And if this fails, publishers might not pick up as many books by Asian authors because clearly if Crazy Rich did poorly, there’s no mass market for our stories.

…To be honest, the book wasn’t that good. It switches points of view between a lot of characters, Kwan uses footnotes as personal asides which can take you out of the world he’s writing about, and a lot of the drama is so rich it feels a little unrelatable.
So I’m scared that this movie will be bad — and it can’t afford to be.

I believe that if CRA does well, then that gives the first nudge for others to follow. And there are so many others that can follow. Including 2 more books in the Crazy Rich Asians series! Movies, mini series, TV shows, Netflix originals — we’re at peak media right now, and of course that comes from books leading the way. And no matter what movie comes out, the book is always better, so more movies will lead to more book sales — right? That’s how that works?

And look at this cast! Don’t you want to support this cast?

2017: The whiplash year for K-pop

What does it mean to go from one of the most validating years to its most heartbreaking.

2017 was the year that put Korean pop (K-pop) on the map. And not in a mocking, other-ing way, like how “Gangnam Style” swept pop culture in 2013. No, this year K-pop, specifically boy bands, hit mainstream America and made an impression. As a fan since 2012 (I came late to the game, I know) watching K-pop’s rise was both one of the most amazing things to see… and eventually one of the most heartbreaking.

Let’s start with the one, the only, BTS. Wow. What a year. Historic is just the start of it. Their meteoric rise to fame really began earlier this year when they won the Billboard 2017 award for Top Social Artist (and beat Justin Bieber’s 6-year record), but this year changed everything when they were invited to perform at the American Music Awards — the first Korean boy band to ever do so. As a part of their time visiting Los Angeles, the group appeared on The Late Late Show with James Cordon, performed a mini concert on Jimmy Kimmel Live , and took over Ellen. Then of course the AMA performance itself was legendary.

There were fan chants, light sticks, people dancing —it was the best part of the AMAs (but admittedly it was the only part I watched.) After that I heard BTS on the radio, my friend heard it played at her work, and mainstream American celebrities on Twitter were declaring themselves ARMY (their official fan name.) I’m not even a big BTS fan, but I could feel the change they brought to the game.

And it was so validating. For all those times in high school I felt like an idiot fangirl (which, to be fair, I was pretty obnoxious) for liking K-pop, I finally saw it becoming the next big thing. Not to dismiss Psy and the work he did with “Gangnam Style.” But the entire time he was promoting, it always felt like people were laughing at him, and I was never sure what part of the craze was the joke. For many people, Psy was as far as their knowledge and care for K-pop went. At least, until this year when BTS brought “DNA” into the mainstream to be celebrated.

But still not fully understood. K-pop brings a whole new culture and its own context to American/ Western standards. I’m not saying K-pop gets a pass for its problematic practices —issues best pointed out and discussed by Sandra Song in Teen Vogue— but there are different standards and learning curves at play. Fans, idols, labels, and agencies from both sides need to reconsider and re-educate themselves on what they think pop music and culture means. And in the wake of the hyper-consumption of BTS, I wonder what that means for new fans coming to K-pop at one of its most tragic times.

On December 18, 2017, lead singer of Shinee and angel too good for this world Kim Jonghyun passed away. It’s most likely a suicide. He was 27.

If you’re going to be a fan of K-pop, either the whole genre or just one person, you need to understand its place as a part of larger context. Part of larger cultural contexts of South Korea (parts I don’t fully understand as an outsider) K-pop can be brutal and that causes real damage to its idols.

“The 27-year-old’s passing highlights South Korea’s alarming suicide rate, which an October 2017 report from the Berkeley Political Review says claims the lives of 40 people every day and is the fourth-most common cause of death in the country,” Jeff Benjamin in NPR.

Talking about mental health in Korea does not happen. Again, it’s part of a greater Korean cultural context I’m not qualified to talk about. But it needs to be start getting discussed by those who can affect change. Reading Jonhyun’s final letter shows how much pain he felt, how it was clearly unaddressed, and that he never found the help he needed. I can’t offer answers or guesses for what will happen in the future of the industry, but all I know is that it can’t stay the same. I can only hope that maybe the new (buying) power BTS brought to K-pop will be that catalyst.

This genre, fandoms, and performers are valid parts of the music industry. We’re way past my days in high school when I when tried to explain K-pop to some of my friends, and no one bothered to try and listen to songs or watch a music video. Now we’re hearing BTS on the radio, K-Con is a massive concert in New York and Los Angeles every year, and idols are starting to collaborate with big-name musicians here and abroad. That means fans, artists, and labels need to recognize all aspects of the industry. Because blindly following the next glittery thing only perpetuates the system, when it’s time to change it.

Please remember there are always people to talk to, if you need to reach out. Here’s a list of international hotlines to call, and if you don’t see a country listed please call your local emergency number.

You did well, Jonghyun. You did so well.

Overlooking Japanese anime film “Your Name” discredits an animated hit

Leaving the movie of the 2016 Academy Awards shows its inherent bias.

Out of the 89 years of the Academy Awards, only one Japanese anime film won Best Animated Feature Film: Hayao Miyazaki’s classic Spirited Away in 2003. In the almost fifteen years since then, very few anime films and shorts show up in the list. The snobbery for anime showed up again last year when the Academy did not nominate the internationally successful film Your Name (Kimi no Na Wa) from director Makoto Shinkai. After its release, multiple awards worldwide, and critical acclaim, the Academy missed recognizing Your Name as an example of a work that goes beyond the standard anime genre to tell the story of fate, missed connections, and first love.

Set in contemporary Japan, Your Name revolves around two students who intermittently switch bodies for no apparent reason or cause. Taki Tachibana lives the modern dream, attending a good school and living in a nice Tokyo apartment. He feels discontent though, an unknown missing piece weighing down his life. Across Japan, in a (fictional) mountain village of Itomori, Mitsuha Miyamizu lives a quaint rural life that she can’t stand. As a keeper of her ancestral home shrine, Mitsuha longs to leave her town, explore the larger world, and become a handsome Tokyo boy in her next life.

Her wish comes somewhat true when she and Taki realize that their “dreams” of switching places with each other actually take place in reality, and the two form a bond over their fated connection. Their story, however, doesn’t remain a cheery romantic comedy and innocent slice of life for long — an impending comet flying over Japan breaks off, the chunks landing in Mitsuha’s town, and destroying all of Itomori. When Taki realizes he actually lives three years ahead of Mitsuha, he must figure out how to use their connection to save her and her town.

Your Name became an early contender for Oscar fodder at its release in the summer of 2016. It premiered at the massively popular anime convention Anime Expo in Los Angeles, California, and became a crowd favorite following its debuts around the world. When it made its theatrical launch in the United States the following April in 2017, it grossed over $5 million dollars on opening weekend. Over a year later, Your Name earned over $355 million worldwide, and its deluxe DVD pre-orders already sold out in the United States. For the first major work and feature-length film from up-and-coming director Makoto Shinkai, Your Name had no reason to get overlooked by the Academy.

Shinkai’s trademark on the industry remains his hyper-real animation of his settings, characters, and an almost otherworldly Japan. From glistening Tokyo, to Mitsuha’s small mountainside village, all of the backgrounds and settings look like real places in Japan. Other anime styles look realistic when they take place in Japan, but Your Name works on a higher level for the photographic clarity of every scene. On top of that, the comet acts as a driving force in the movie, but he animated it so well it looks almost innocent. The celestial look to the way Shinkai drew the sky, the town of Itomori, and the comet created a more magical feel to an otherwise everyday life movie.

Take the moment when Mitsuha watches the comment fly over Itomori, on the same day as the town’s spring festival. Lanterns illuminate the traditional vendor stands in a soft orange hue, students walk around in traditional kimonos, and the early evening sun turns the whole sky pink. Mitsuha goes for a walk with her friends to the fields for the best view of the comet, and inbrilliant arc it sparks across the sky, like pastel fireworks. The audience feels the same awe as Mitsuha staring up at the dusky blue sky. As the stars fall, it dawns on you at about the same time it this Mitsuha the imminent danger Itomoria faces. The artistry of the scene going beyond any form of animation, because once immersed in Shinkai’s Japan, it doesn’t feel like watching an anime, it feels like enjoying a film.

Aside from its identity as modern Japanese pop art, anime as a medium affords certain factors that only work through its own definitions, tropes, and artistic styles — and even then some more specific references to Japanese culture. I think that this level of foreign media puts off a majority of Western viewers. When seeing anime imports like Pokemon, Sailor Moon, and Dragon Ball Z, the genre earns a reputation that only masterful works — but still heavily “other-ized” sensibilities — like Miyazaki can afford to pull off. But Your Name manages to keep Japan at its core as the characters move around it and tell an otherwise not too unbelievable human story. In the same vein as Disney’s trademark look, or the beauty of Pixar animation, the style of anime in Your Name uses its medium to tell a meaningful story.

The anime industry in Japan amasses about $18 million dollars, according to the Association of Japanese Animations in an NPR story, and yet preconceived definitions and misconceptions of anime discount its films for consideration from the legacy Western awards such as the Oscars. I believe that the Academy acted with a bias against anime when they didn’t consider Your Name for Best Animated Feature Film in 2016. Your Name compares easily to heavy hitters like Zootopia, and Moana, sharing the same core themes of good animated movies: family, friendship, saving the day, and doing good. Your Name marks Shinkai’s first major stake in the game of animation, and the Academy should not — and cannot — continue to ignore his work.

The Woman: The femme fatale in modern Sherlock Holmes

Irene Adler in Elementary is the perfect femme fatale.

In the vast canon of Sherlock Holmes, only one woman stands out: Irene Adler. Introduced in the short story, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” Adler receives the dubious introduction as “the woman.” She’s an object of affection or desire, because the great detective Sherlock Holmes could never feel something so base as love; instead Dr. Watson recalls that to Holmes Irene Adler “eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex.” Now over a hundred years and two successful TV shows later, Irene Adler evolved from a mildly scandalous New Jersey opera singer to the classic femme fatale.

A standard trope of film noir movies of the 1920s, the femme fatale served as the dangerous female to draw in and often trap the male protagonist using flirty banter, dark eyeliner, and well-angled shadows. She only served her best interests and escaped to live another day to torment the protagonist’s dreams. Sexy, dangerous, and a little basic, the femme fatale recently became a sort of ideal for women in action-mystery adventures. Black Widow in the Avengers, Catwoman to Batman, and in the case of the BBC and CBS, Irene Adler.

For context, Arthur Conan Doyle introduces Irene as a cunning and unassuming woman who only shows up once in all of the Holmes tales. The prince of Bohemia comes to the Baker Street detectives asking them to retrieve a scandalous photograph of him with Adler before the prince gets married. Holmes takes on the case, and in one of the rare times through the series, fails. He tricks Adler into revealing the location of the photo, but she realizes his deception and outsmarts him by escaping the city with the photograph. Holmes, awestruck but not in love, forever immortalizes her “under the honourable title of the woman.” This brief short story launched a thousand Irene Adlers, and all befall the fate of the femme fatale.

None more so than seen on the BBC and CBS with their respective modern retellings. Viewers can debate which show, Sherlock or Elementary, took their Irene-as-the-femme-fatale farther, as both versions took her in completely new and darker directions. However I believe Elementary had the most original and in-depth take on The Woman never seen before in the canon: spoiler alert, Irene Adler and the criminal mastermind Moriarty exist as one and the same. The twist follows the overall arc of season one, as Sherlock struggles with sobriety in the wake of a two year heroine addiction sparked by the bloody death of Irene Adler at the hands of Moriarty. As the season drew to a close, the writers pulled out all the stops to tease Sherlock’s final showdown with Moriarty — aka Irene Adler, aka Moriarty in disguise.

Adler-but-actually-Moriarty could fulfill the trope of the femme fatale in all of the expected ways, but Elementary still managed to give both characters a new slant. Now the somewhat devious Irene Adler becomes the criminal mastermind Jamie Moriarty, the woman who runs one of the largest criminal organizations in the world, kills people regularly, and still fell in love with Sherlock Holmes. Complete with loose blonde curls, seductive eye contact, and a smooth British accent, the writers of the show took the woman one step farther and turned her into the ultimate villain, and in turn the ultimate femme fatale.

I think this twist in Elementary created a more intense show than its BBC counterpart and their female dominatrix whose ultimate downfall ended up showing in her devotion to an unloving man. But the real strength of Elementary lies in its casting between Jonny Lee Miller (Sherlock), Lucy Liu (Dr. Joan Watson), and Natalie Dormer (Moriarty and Adler). The natural chemistry between the three of them builds off their character’s backstories, which only enhances the tension of the plot. Their on-screen build up created the most dramatic moment of season one, and it’s not the final arrest. The final argument of the episode, when Joan realizes how close to the edge Sherlock stands, acts at the climax of the episode. The intensity between Sherlock, Joan, and Moriarty makes the audience ask: Will the duo have to really admit defeat at the hands of Moriarty?

Elementary built off the way all of the characters were running on high emotions, and the entire time the audience wonders if Sherlock will go over the edge: lose to Moriarty or use heroine to escape his fate. By combining the one woman Holmes loved with his nemesis, the show took all of the famed Conan Doyle characters in a new bent.

This is journalism goals with Lisa Ling

Exploring America with one of my favorite journalists.

I’d heard about the Taiwanese American journalist Lisa Ling, and in high school I read the book she co-wrote with her sister Laura — Somewhere Inside — about Laura’s captivity in North Korea. Both the sisters became huge inspirations and role models to me as journalists, women, and Asian Americans. So when I saw CNN put all of Lisa Ling’s series This is Life on Hulu, I knew how I was spending my weekend.

This Is Life is somewhat in the same vein as Ling’s previous series on OWN, Our America, where in both she travels around the country to different communities to talk to people and learn more about their lives. With CNN she’s talked to the Satanic Temple, the Mongol biker gang, explored the heroine and opiate epidemics, legal prostitution, and more. Ling really sheds a light on interesting and under explored people and groups in America, with a mix of understanding and genuine curiosity. I would say genuine objectivity, but often times Ling will say in brief self-recorded cut aways how she feels about each topic so people watching get a sense of how her thoughts change as the story goes on.

As a journalist who wants to write, watching Ling’s series is my own little crash course in how video journalism is done. Everything from her transitions, voice overs, and and the way she she talks during interviews is all about telling the complete story of these people. It’s an outsider’s point of view, but not in the exploitative, “Whoa, look at these weirdos!” kind of way. When I watch, I can see Ling trying to enter every new space with an open mind, her training as a journalist coming through to humanize the story and ask the long-term questions. Every episode isn’t the definitive nutshell for every case and person, but just a passing glimpse at a community you never knew about or had preconceived notions about.

Watching Ling tackle difficult stories and situations, like seeing a heroine addict shoot up, talking to survivors of abuse, or fathers in prison really shows the depth of a reporter’s understanding and investment in a story. She’s not afraid to cry, show she’s a little unnerved, or worried about the situation she’s in. This style of raw embed speaks more to the story than any classic journalistic objectivity ever could. You feel like you’re there with the people, and Ling, as events unfold. You feel like you understand, just a little bit more than before, what their life is like.

I’ve looked up to Ling and her journalism style since high school, and seeing a face like mine as a prominent journalist has been a big motivator throughout college. Right now, Hulu has three seasons of This is Life, and each one is only eight episodes. She’s filming season 5 right now, and I’m excited to see where she goes across the states, who she meets, and the stories she’ll tell.