Our obsession with cinema is at an all time high, with hoards of people headed to theaters to watch films, folks sharing Netflix subscriptions, and trying to find that film that speaks to you. Well, I'm here to share with you some of my favorite films that have inspired me, made me cry, had me contemplating the meaning of life, and aspiring to make something that one day has as much meaning to others as these following films have to me.
So if you want to be friends, talk about films over some pu-er tea and cookies, let's do it.
Director and writer Alice Wu's 2004 indie drama Saving Face changed my life. As I watched this love story between Wil (Michelle Krusiec) and Vivian (Lynn Chen), it was one of those cathartic moments of seeing other Asian Americans experience the crap that my parents put me through. Seeing them try to set me up with their friends kids, misunderstanding racial relations, and always trying to put up this front to save face.
This film brought me to a place where I understood that in order to grow up, you have to be honest with yourself and be ready to get hurt, be uncomfortable, and love yourself. Watching this on the big screen made me realize, that as Asian Americans we can make these big films, that get people talking, change lives, and really get our stories out.
A Brighter Summer Day
In this epic four-hour film by Edward Yang (R.I.P), one of the visionary directors of the New Taiwan Cinema movement, the story takes place in post Chinese Civil War Taiwan. It follows the lives of a family living in Taipei in the 1960s amidst this confusion of identity, country, adolescence, family, and so much more. The film brims with energy of the tumultuous times of being a teenager, trying to fit in and find the right path in one's life.
One particular scene where the parents of the family start questioning their parenting skills and try to take on the blame for some bad decisions made by one of their sons, hits home real hard for any kid, like myself, who caused too much trouble as a teen. Also, this film is Chang Chen's acting debut, and he's always been talented and grew up to be a stone cold fox.
If you're going to watch this film, I recommend trying to watch it on the biggest screen possible, because if you don't, you might miss some of the best cinematography, acting and story telling I'd ever seen. The subtlety is paramount.
If you ever watched Chungking Express and loved it, and were like damn, I wish there was a gangster version of this, say no more, Fallen Angels is it.
Wong Kar Wai's epic film of an assassin trying to get through his days, trying to find the meaning of life in what he does. All the while his associate tries to find a way for the two of them to fall in love, and then mixed in with a secondary plot line of a mute young man trying to find his purpose and place in the world.
One thing Wong Kar Wai does beautifully is use music that just matches the mood so well, so when the breakup scene comes about, and Shirley Kwan's, classic hit song, 忘记他 (forget him), comes on, as you watch Michelle Reis' character break down, it hits you so damn hard.
As with most Wong Kar Wai films from his Christopher Doyle collaboration period, they were visually awe inspiring and made you see this visual neon cacophony of beauty that is Hong Kong. This film changed the way I saw life, pushed the envelope on the ideas of sexuality, and gave new meaning to what unrequited love is.
That's just three of the films that have really impacted me and helped shape me as a storyteller and the type of director I want to be. There's plenty of other films that also inspire me, but that's for another time.
Would love to hear from you, and talk cinema and about your favorite films. Holla at your boy!
Love, An Rong
An Rong Xu is a photographer and director based in New York City. See An Rong's work at, AnRongXu.com, and follow him on Instagram @Anrizzy.