Reel Asian: Asian Canada on Screen

The Reel Asian Film Festival, one of my favourite film festivals, has inspired the first anthology of its kind that focuses on the independent Asian film community. Editor Elaine Chang put together a very comprehensive book with artists from across Canada, both emerging and established, to discuss the different challenges they face whether it is being typecast in stereotypical Asian roles, enduring the culture wars or coming out.

Much of the book is laid out in conversations where creative types are paired up to produce an interesting timeline, history or perspective of Asian Canadians on film. Some of the conversing duos have known each other for years like Midi Onodera and Richard Fung, who candidly talk about activism and the connection between the gay and Asian community.

Lily Chow, a writer who focuses on politics and food culture, is partnered with Cheuk Kwan, the man behind the doc Chinese Restaurants, to make one of my favourite conversations in the book. They explore the topic of Chinese restaurants as the epitome of the Chinese Diaspora. It was very insightful, as I never viewed restaurants as iconic before. Other themes in Reel Asian: Asian Canada on Screen includes community, identity and the future.

One conversation between Anne Marie Fleming and Mina Shum look at F words: family, friends, film, food and the future. Their candidness is quite sweet, especially their exchange on bonding over Keanu Reeves in Speed and inspiring each other to hold dinner parties. Another fun exchange is “Chinatown Tomb Raider: A Reflection on Kung Fu Fridays”, an old film series which was started by Midnight Madness programmer, Colin Geddes. Jason Anderson and Phil Tsui join in the chat about collecting obscure kung fu flicks during pre-internet days. Other highlights include Keith Lock in “Adventures in Celluloid Gold Mountain”, a fascinating look into his early days in film with Michael Snow and Claude Jutra. An unforgettable story is his time in Buck Lake where he makes his very own tipi. Away from social frustrations, he can truly be one with nature and himself–the classic Canadian narrative.

“Men and Monsters” from David Eng and Leon Aureus is a disheartening piece in the book. They reflect on their own experiences as actors and the dissatisfaction with the limited amount of roles that are offered to Asian men. The casting call for an Asian male in the role of a monster that makes coffee drinks with his tail was very disturbing. Reel Asian: Asian Canada on Screen is an absorbing gaze into the pitfalls, triumphs and challenges in the Asian and film community. (Andrea Nene)

edited by Elaine Chang, $29.95, 300 pgs, Coach House Books, 401 Huron Street on bpNichol Lane, Toronto, ON, M5S 2G5, chbooks.com

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