At the 11th annual San Diego Asian Film Festival that kicked off on October 21st, a screening entitled “Young and Restless” featured two shorts by Vietnamese filmmakers: Nadine Truong’s “Egg Baby” and Adele Pham’s “Fine Threads.”
“Egg Baby,” which Truong directed and co-wrote with Korean screenwriter Christine No as her American Film Institute thesis, follows Alison, an Asian Catholic school teen, through some of the seminal American coming-of-age experiences—making out with a cute grocery store clerk in the back of his van, taking her first hit off of a joint, fighting with her mother, confronting the “moose-like” shape of the uterus during her sexual education class, and steals the egg for which the film is titled. As the “baby” for her sex ed parenting project, the purloined egg, named Eggbert, is the object through which Alison negotiates the ever-shifting boundaries of her first romantic relationship and, most importantly, the rapport with her parents.
Like the other six films in the screening, “Egg Baby” explores the conflicts arising from generational and cultural differences between Asian youth and their parents. For Alison, Eggbert prompts her to explore and express her burgeoning sexuality in the face of her parents’ enforced silence about the topic. This tension erupts in a showdown between Alison and her mother, wherein fragile Eggbert, version 2.0 with a sloppily drawn face, is hurled at the mother’s slammed bedroom door. While this moment points to the complex struggle Asian teens reconcile their parents’ cultures and their own identities in shaping the type of adults and parents they want to become, this scene and others, especially the one in which Alison catches her parents having sex (don’t we all have a deeply buried memory of this traumatic moment?), elicited the multi-cultural, multi-generational audience’s sympathetic groans and laughter. Their responses suggest that films can be (and are!) at once specific to Asian/Asian-American issues of identity and culture, yet universal in capturing the joys and pains of adolescence.
Notable about the cinematic representation of these struggles is the depiction of varied spaces—the bright, austere classroom, the darkened hallways of home, the lights punctuating nights of teenage secrecy and sex. Commendable, too, are the acting talents of the young cast recruited by casting director Stacy Tannenbaum, each of whom is convincing, funny and sad in the in appropriate moments.
After the screening, Truong told me that she is impressed with the recent growth and diversity of Vietnamese films, and both “Egg Baby” and Pham’s documentary speak to this trend. Likewise, it seems that Truong’s film career is burgeoning right along this trajectory. Another of her short films, “Shadow Man,” was screened over the weekend at the film festival, and she is currently working on her first full-length feature. You can keep up-to-date on Truong’s films on her website: www.NadineTruong.com.
Previously featured on HBO, Adele Pham’s “Fine Threads” is a documentary featuring interviews with teenaged first-generation Indian-American girls who discuss the varying ways in which they express their bi-cultural, bi-lingual identities, namely through threading. This grooming practice, as the documentary elucidates, carries with it various religious and cultural implications. All incredibly well-spoken and insightful, the teenage subjects share their varied uses of threading and the corresponding struggles to balance two cultures in their lives, paying due respect to their parents’ cultural and generational expectations while forging their own identities as Indian-Americans in New York. The film is beautifully shot and well-edited, shaping a narrative that ends on the positive note that youth living between cultures are provided a new space in which to discover themselves. Unfortunately, Pham was not in attendance at the festival, but her information can be found at www.adelepham.com
The other films included in this panel were Shion Takeuchi’s “When the Time is Ripe” (a hilarious and creative short animating a Jewish family on steaks and their adopted son as a lone pear), Adam Lee’s “The Prodigy” (a dialogue-less story of abuse and depression set to classical piano music played by the title character), Joanne Park’s “Just Curious” (an entertaining and well-written narrative set in a college creative writing workshop), “Struggle” (a film by Pacific Islander teens that addresses drugs, violence, teen pregnancy, and suicide), and “Top Spin” (a well-done documentary about 14-year-old table tennis champion Ariel Hsing).
If you want to catch films and panels at the film festival continuing through this week or indulge in the delicious eats from the foodtruck and other vendors in front of the festival’s host theater in Mission Valley, check out www.sdaff.org.
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