Asian American ’80s

Asian American ’80s

11 Episodes

The 1980s marked the first decade of Asian American feature filmmaking—a period defined by restless thematic and stylistic exploration as trailblazing directors sought to express their complex cultural identity on-screen. In this decade, filmmakers like Wayne Wang (whose CHAN IS MISSING emerged as an indie landmark), Steven Okazaki, Peter Wang, and Kayo Hatta sought to define “Asian American” anew, whether through comedic contrast with Asians on the other side of the Pacific (THE GREAT WALL, LIVING ON TOKYO TIME), or via tender melodramas of the second generation (DIM SUM: A LITTLE BIT OF HEART, OTEMBA). Supported not only by the burgeoning American independent market of the 1980s, but also by new Asian American film festivals and media centers in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, the films in this program—curated by Brian Hu—imagined for the first time what a community in the shadows might do with the spotlight.

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Asian American ’80s
  • Asian American ’80s Teaser

    Episode 1

  • Chan Is Missing

    Episode 2

    Directed by Wayne Wang • 1982 • United States
    Starring Wood Moy, Marc Hayashi, Laureen Chew

    A mystery man, a murder, and a wad of missing cash—in his wryly offbeat breakthrough, Wayne Wang updates the ingredients of classic film noir for the streets of contemporary San Francisco’s Chinatown. Whe...

  • They Call Me Bruce

    Episode 3

    Directed by Elliott Hong • 1982 • United States
    Starring Johnny Yune, John Louie, Bill Capizzi

    This unabashedly goofball martial-arts spoof gave an Asian American comedian a rare chance in the spotlight. Stand-up comic Johnny Yune stars as a Korean immigrant living in California whom everyone ca...

  • Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart

    Episode 4

    Directed by Wayne Wang • 1985 • United States
    Starring Laureen Chew, Kim Chew, Victor Wong

    Wayne Wang’s follow-up to his watershed indie CHAN IS MISSING is a family portrait that gracefully combines the director’s signature gentle humanism and eye for poignant detail. Offering another fresh pers...

  • A Great Wall

    Episode 5

    Directed by Peter Wang • 1986 • United States, China
    Starring Peter Wang, Kelvin Han Yee, Sharon Iwai

    This delightful comedy was the first American feature shot in the People’s Republic of China. When San Francisco computer programmer Leo Fang (cowriter and director Peter Wang) is passed over fo...

  • West Is West

    Episode 6

    Directed by David Rathod • 1987 • United States
    Starring Ashutosh Gowariker, Heidi Carpenter, Pearl Padamsee

    Handsome and broke, Vikram (played by Ashutosh Gowariker, future director of the Oscar-nominated LAGAAN: ONCE UPON A TIME IN INDIA) arrives from Bombay to find his college plans have fall...

  • The Wash

    Episode 7

    Directed by Michael Toshiyuki Uno • 1988 • United States
    Starring Mako, Nobu McCarthy, Sab Shimono

    Adapted from a play by Philip Kan Gotanda, this keenly perceptive drama focuses on the upheavals that rock a Japanese American family when the sixty-something Masi (Nobu McCarthy) announces she is ...

  • Community Plot

    Episode 8

    Directed by J. T. Takagi • 1984 • United States

    Four neighbors form an uneasy alliance after a case worker from family court is accidentally killed in their building. With a gutsy sense of humor, this satiric comedy captures the chaos and cultural diversity of New York’s Lower East Side.

  • Pak Bueng on Fire

    Episode 9

    Directed by Supachai Surongsain • 1987 • United States

    Two young Thai men struggle to survive in Los Angeles.

  • Otemba
    Episode 10


    Episode 10

    Directed by Kayo Hatta • 1988 • United States

    Cultural traditions blend as a Japanese American family celebrates Christmas and a young girl tries to find her place within the family structure.

  • Two Lies

    Episode 11

    Directed by Pamela Tom • 1990 • United States
    Starring Sala Iwamatsu

    Doris Chu (Dian Kobayashi), a recently divorced Chinese American woman, has plastic surgery to make her eyes rounder. For her teenage daughter, Mei (Sala Iwamatsu), her mother’s two eyes equal two lies. When the family journeys...