Emerging Filmmakers Share Unique Perspectives of Asian Pacific American Experience

Up-and-coming storytellers explore identity, grief, and assimilation in three short films now available on HBO and HBO Max.

The theme for the 2020 APA Visionaries Short Film Competition was “Breaking Barriers,” which implored filmmakers of Asian and/or Pacific-Islander descent to provide a unique lens into the challenges and victories of overcoming obstacles from their perspectives. The three finalists’ films focus on appreciating one’s identity, overcoming grief, and the idea of assimilation. The short films are now available on HBO and HBO Max. We’ve got the exclusive insights from the rising stars themselves, including what they hope viewers will walk away feeling after watching the films.

Writer/Director: Thomas Percy Kim

About Si: One Asian-American adoptee surrounded by a Caucasian community is left to fend for himself within the jokey and aggressive playground of high school. The events that transpire escalate as he is forced to choose between the protected facade of his American life or face the truth of his otherness.

From the filmmaker: “I was raised in a similar environment as our main character, but I never had Si's revelation with my own Korean identity. To me, the feelings of self-oppression and the desire to assimilate were always subconscious; only in the desperate attempt to make a film did I uncover this iceberg and ultimately explore my truth. I could only hope that this film will open other hearts and guide them in the same way it did for me. This piece is far from any magnum opus, but I think I'd be satisfied if just one, young, Asian-American soul could see this film and realize that they are beautiful the way they are.”

Fine China

Writer/Director: Tiffany So

About Fine China: An average dinner at Lily’s house begins quiet, save for the sound of slurping soup and chopsticks hitting bowls. But when tragedy strikes, the quiet becomes unbearable. Lily finds herself alone in her grief as her parents blatantly deny their own feelings. In an effort to break free from the silence, Lily erupts in a song and dance that threatens everything her parents believe to be true.

From the filmmaker
: “Fine China is the antithesis of the boisterous ‘all-American’ dinners we so often see onscreen. This short explores the complexity of silence in a Chinese household. Like a blanket, it is at once a comfort and a weight. And though this short is about quiet, it is anything but. Outbursts of song and dance find themselves to be the perfect vehicle for this quiet family’s drama. This short is specifically about a Chinese family, but the difficulty in sharing grief is universal. In seeing a musical about the struggle of communicating with loved ones, I hope viewers feel a little less lonely in their own homes.”

Lonely Blue Night

Writer/Director: Johnson Cheng

About Lonely Blue Night: An awkward family reunion at a business karaoke dinner leads a Chinese mother to realize the consequences of leaving her daughter in the care of an American homestay family.

From the filmmaker: “The title of the film, Lonely Blue Night, is taken from the title of the song which the film is centered around. I've always had a complicated relationship with karaoke. I was never a fan of it (because I'm a terrible singer), but later on in life I began to feel this strong feeling about this seemingly trivial activity to express something underneath through someone else's words in a song. Through the film, I try to unpack these ideas of aspiration, assimilation, performance, and longing. Different viewers will hopefully get different feelings from the film — those with a kind of ‘baggage’ or familiarity will have a different experience — but the film is designed, at least shots-wise, in a sort of mathematical way. If the viewers come away from the film feeling at least one sense of connection, then I'll be happy.”

For more information about the HBO APA Visionaries Short Film Competition, check out the website here.

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