Tuesday, May 3, 2016

“Breathin’ ”: Guangzhou Immigrant Eddie Zheng’s Inspiring Story

For a KUCI Subversity Online interview (recorded 22 April 2016) with Eddy Zheng, director Ben Wang and composer Scott “Chops” Jung, click here:

Eddy Zheng
One could say that Eddy Zheng (left) made something of himself despite being incarcerated at San Quentin prison for 19 years plus another two in immigration detention.   The Cantonese immigrant from Guangzhou, China, was only 16 when he waved a gun and participated in a home invasion.  
While he buffed up his body from careful exercise, he also took care of his mind. Reading about Asian American and other people of color struggles in the prison library – led him to enhance the collection as he managed to get the prison authorities to add many more books on such struggles.  He petitioned the authorities to implement Asian American studies in prison – instead he got put in solitary confinement – the hole – as punishment for daring to ask that.

Ben Wang, director
In the meantime, he earned an associate degree by enrolling in a prison program. And through it all, the activist community reached out to him, offering him support even as he got turned down repeatedly by the parole board, until the last time, which was successful.  But then he was placed in immigration detention because he was not able to apply for citizenship while incarcerated.

In the end, it was through a gubernatorial pardon (from California Governor Jerry Brown) that saw him officially released.   Now free, he managed to get San Quentin to implement Asian American studies.
This man, now 37, remains committed to community service, and through an intermediary, successfully reached out to the mother he victimized when he was 16, with his written apology (in Chinese) accepted.

Scott "Chops" Jung, composer

Director Ben Wang (above, right) has put together a tightly edited documentary, "Breathin': The Eddy Zheng Story," on the power of reconciliation and redemption and about how writers like Helen Zia (author of Asian American Dreams and other works) inspired this inmate to commit his life to community work, while even within the dark recesses of solitary confinement. 

The film screened twice at the 2016 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.  -- Daniel C. Tsang.

 Photography © Daniel C. Tsang 2016.
Here's also a Cantonese audio interview found online:

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Comedic Take at Immigration Travails from the Philippines - A Film Review

"Toto" tells the story of a Manila hotel worker who seeks every way to get a visa to America.  Sid Lucero plays Antonio Estares, the Toto in the film, who in his jovial and friendly self tries to flirt his way with hotel guests – all with U.S. passports – to try to get one to sponsor him on his American Dream.   

This comedic look at the hopes of many outside U.S. to get to the land of many dreams exposes the harsh reality that without money, such a dream often becomes a nightmare.  The very hetero Toto even gets cruised by an American tourist staying in the hotel - will he succumb and sleep with the American just to get a chance at a visa?  

 The film tackles his dilemma (and that of the American) in an unexpected way.  Instead of depicting the American David Yeltsin (played by Blake Boyd) as a sexual predator after Asian young men, the director of Toto, John Paul Su, manages to resolve the dilemma in this feature drama (115 minutes) to the ultimate satisfaction of both parties, with Toto retaining his dignity and David also gaining what he needed.  I'm not revealing what happens in the end; I'm afraid you will have to catch the film somewhere.

But Toto (the film) did manage to get to America, screening last Sunday at the 2016 Newport Beach Film Festival at tony Newport Beach in sunny Southern California.  The festival ends today.

-- Daniel C. Tsang

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

"Finding Phong" (Tim Phong): A Review & Interview with Phong

For a Subversity Show Online bilingual (Vietnamese/English) interview with Phong, click here.  Thanks to Thuy-Van Nguyen for interpreting! 
Garnering the Community Spotlight Award at the 2016 Vietnamese Film Festival held in Orange, California, “Finding Phong” (Tim Phong) is an exquisitely beautiful and revealing 2015 film about a young Vietnamese man’s journey to become a young woman. 

Scene from "Finding Phong":  Mother (in background) with Phong
 Although the film lists two veteran indie filmmakers Tran Phuong Thao and Swann Dubus as co-directors, credit nonetheless also belongs to the subject of this documentary, Le Anh Phong.  Phong manages capture with small video cameras her own journey (while trapped in the body of a male), as she filmed herself talking to her mother who is far away back in their rural home in Quang Ngai province in Central Vietnam.  

Selfie scene from "Finding Phong"

Phong with Subversity Show host
Self-identifying as a girl in her childhood, the star of the film also manages to capture what must be an ethnographer’s dream footage, as sister, brother and friends talk explicitly about heterosexual sex including ejaculation and oral and penetrative sex.  In addition to her mother, in her 70s, who wonders why she is fated to have such a son (she had been happy the boy was born), the bearded father (in his eighties) is shown saying that it doesn’t matter boy or girl as long as there is support for the Revolution!
The film has been expertly and carefully edited out of 250 hours of footage and ends right after Phong manages to complete the physical transition at a Thai clinic.  It was totally unscripted, and could not have been, given the gems of humanity that remain in the film after its length was trimmed. 
Kudos to the producers Gerry Herman and Nicole Pham who have partnered with Phong to see this amazing film reach the festival audience worldwide.  It won France’s Nanook GrandPrix at the 34th Festival International Jean Rouch last fall, and furthermore a DVD of the film has been added to every French school library in an attempt at helping overcome discrimination against the transgendered.  

Phong at VFF
Most significantly, Phong tells me in our brief Subversity Show Online interview, Phong’s mother testified before state legislators, and Phong’s story of her gender transition no doubt was instrumental in the passage of Asia’s first law permitting transgendered to register in their chosen gender, when Vietnam’s legislature passed such legislation last November.  The law comes into effect in 2017 after 282 legislators voted in favor of it, out of 366.  Unlike Phong, who had to travel to Thailand for her operation, future Vietnamese transsexuals will be more likely to find receptive clinics within Vietnam.  Phong, who had moved to Hanoi to go to university and discovered she was not alone as a transgendered, now works for the state Puppet Theater there, painting the figurines that are used in Vietnamese cultural productions.  – Daniel C. Tsang.