APA looks back on some of the biggest Asian faces and fads to hit the fashion world this year.
2006 saw a jump from 17 to 24 Asian faces cast in regular roles on prime time television shows. With shows like Heroes, Lost, and Grey's Anatomy, is diversity becoming more mainstream?
Time Magazine named "You" man of the year. For the Asian and Asian American communities though, YouTube put the emphasis on "Us." APA looks at the video clips that defined the year.
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Our list of artists include filmmakers and actors, professionals and amateurs, household names and up-and-comers. They made videos, graphic novels, songs, and costumes. They won awards, turned heads, and reflected the sophistication and diversity of Asian and Asian American creative talent.
Bong Jun-ho is a young man still, but if he wanted to he could already rest quite comfortably on his laurels. We're lucky though, because the director and screenwriter keeps bringing us some of the best films Korea has to offer. In 2006 he busted just about every box office record with The Host, a monster movie with more intellectual heft than Mothra or Godzilla ever managed. Before letting monsters ravage Seoul, he'd already written and directed the flawless and haunting Memories of Murder and the sublime Barking Dogs Never Bite (A Dog of Flanders). His polished, sophisticated filmmaking style makes him the most accomplished and consistent of the bright crowd coming out of Korea today. -Jennifer Flinn
If you'd like to suggest a better living filmmaker in 2006 than Jia Zhang-ke right now (with apologies to Hou Hsiao-hsien), we'd like to respectfully disagree. Still Life, his stranger-than-fiction take on dislocation and cultural revisionism, will undoubtedly (and rightfully) end up on many critics' end-of-the-year lists, while its equally absorbing companion piece Dong, might very well be the definitive documentary on all things Three Gorges-related. So when Jia recently put forth the assertion that the only way to advance the artform in China is through independent filmmaking, we see it as less of a exhortation and more of a simple declaration of fact. Which is that, by keeping his scope large and his budget small, he'll continue to uncover the truths, lies, and everything in between about today's China, and make it more relatable than a gatrillion CGI armies ever could. -Chi Tung
Gene Yang is a mild-mannered San Francisco Bay Area high school teacher by day, but by night, he is a full-fledged cartoonist and comic book artist, creating such works as The Motherless One and Duncan's Kingdom. Yang also stays true to his Asian American roots, incorporating Asian American themes into his works with other titles including Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order and Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks. In 2006, Yang released his graphic novel, American Born Chinese, through First Second Books. The novel generated rave reviews from not just his immediate fans, but also from mainstream literary critics. Then something extraordinary happened: American Born Chinese was nominated as a finalist for a National Book Award in the category of Young People's Literature, the first-ever graphic novel ever to be nominated for the coveted literary prize. Through Yang's original work of humor and creativity, 2006 became a breakthrough year for graphic novels as a mainstream medium. -Larry Kao
Perhaps it's fitting that the sole screenwriting credit of Letters from Iwo Jima, Clint Eastwood's companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers, goes to Japanese American Iris Yamashita to bring home the impact of the Asia Pacific War for both Japanese and Japanese Americans. But the trajectory between Yamashita's birth into a first-generation Japanese American family in Missouri and screenwriter to adapt Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi's letters to his family as he leads his soldiers to battle is all but straightforward. In the midst of studies in northern California (in engineering, no less) and a stint at the University of Tokyo, Yamashita found herself leaning to fiction writing. Her 2002 screenplay, Traveler to Tokyo, won top prize at the Big Bear Lake Screenwriting Competition. Making Paul Haggis' acquaintance wasn't bad either, for whom she helped to research Flags of Our Fathers. It was at his suggestion that she be the screenwriter for Letters from Iwo Jima. Involved in such a highly trumpeted production helmed by Eastwood, future projects will hopefully demonstrate that Yamashita's name and talent goes beyond suggestion. -Rowena Aquino
Salon.com named Jim Webb campaign volunteer S.R. Siddarth its 2006 Man of the Year for inadvertently changing the course of American history. Saddarth is, of course, the South Asian American cameraman who incumbent Senator George Allen lampooned as a "macaca," leading to a media frenzy across the nation, a resurrection of an obscure racial epithet, and somehow fittingly, a narrow victory for Webb in the Virginia Senate race and consequentially for the Democratic Party, which won the Senate by a single seat. To some extent Siddarth was an accidental hero -- at the right place at the right time. But less is said about how he actively spoke out after the video became an internet and media sensation, showing his American face on the news and even writing a commentary for the Washington Post. And while Salon.com called Siddarth "not much of a cameraman" for allowing his camera to shake, I applaud his artistic instincts. The camera may have been shaking, but as he was insulted by a racist Senator surrounded by laughing and cheering supporters, Siddarth didn't put his camera down and taunt them back, he didn't leave in shame, and he didn't interrupt Allen's ignorant tirade. Siddarth simply kept Allen in his viewfinder, and the rest is history. -Brian Hu
Some people talk; some people go out there and fight. As much as we can disparage the mainstream, the business of Hollywood isn't going to take on any talents that don't deliver. And by deliver, we mean sell. So, in addition to embarking on the passion projects made with purely artistic ambitions, one must also speak to the masses in order to have a viable voice in society. 2006 marked the year that Justin Lin, respected for his indies Shopping for Fangs and Better Luck Tomorrow, broke into Hollywood with two films: Annapolis and Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Critically speaking, the films may not have made a huge mark (although, you have to admit, the drifting was pretty cool), but Lin succeeded in putting the likes of Sung Kang, Roger Fan, and Brian Tee in prominent roles on the big screen. And particularly with Tokyo Drift, where each little step of refusing to cater to stereotypes suggested by the studio was a passionate fight, Lin proved that he was a pioneer. The film ended up making $157 million worldwide. And now he's back to his roots shooting another indie with the Better Luck Tomorrow gang -- Finishing the Game, opening at Sundance. -Ada Tseng
The line between life and art can be very fine and Deepa Mehta's filmography is a testament to this. On the screen, she presents Indian characters and narratives that explore taboo issues such as gender, sexuality, human rights, and religious differences; behind the camera, she herself is one such character as she encounters death threats, production delays, and protests. The third film of the "elements trilogy," Water is also a testament to her continuing perseverance and commitment for, dare I say it, freedom of expression, and against the continuing negative backlash in India that began with the first film of the trilogy, Fire. To say, then, that the release of Water is a miracle would be a mockery of Mehta's struggles with her work as an Indian woman filmmaker. It'd be more productive to say that through the example of having almost given up making Water in 2000 when the local government and inhabitants made shooting impossible only to resume clandestinely in Sri Lanka in 2003, Mehta embodies the belief that filmmaking is political commitment in itself. -Rowena Aquino
This year's Man Booker prize went to Kiran Desai, a South Asian writer based in the US, for her novel The Inheritance of Loss. At 35, Desai is the youngest woman to win the Man Booker Prize, the UK's leading literary award. Written while she was studying creative writing at Columbia University, The Inheritance of Loss centers around a teenage orphan girl named Sai, her Cambridge-educated judge grandfather, and her math tutor, Gyan, the descendant of a Nepali Gurkha mercenary, who eventually finds himself attracted to a group of Nepalese insurgents. The story also follows their cook's son who is struggling with immigration issues in the US. The New York Times book review raves that the novel "manages to explore, with intimacy and insight, just about every contemporary international issue: globalization, multiculturalism, economic inequality, fundamentalism and terrorist violence." However, after the Man Booker Prize was won, news reports circulated about book-burning threats, as Kalimpong natives are incensed about her "insensitive" portrayal of their locals. Desai has maintained that this was a very personal story, and in fact, very close to her own family history. For both its praise and its potential controversy, the novel has made an impact in 2006. -Ada Tseng
For the past few years, the Pusan International Film Festival has announced the winners of the annual "Asian Filmmaker of the Year Award." Previous winners include legends Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Hou Hsiao-hsien. This year, however, the award went to Andy Lau, best known for his roles in Hong Kong soap operas and films, as well as his status as one of the "four heavenly kings" of Chinese popular music. What many don't realize is that for years now, Lau has been one of the biggest supporters of independent filmmaking in Hong Kong, particularly as one of the main forces in launching the career of Fruit Chan. In the past two years, however, Lau has formalized his position as a spearhead of the Chinese indie scene as one of the heads of Focus Films Limited, which, along with Golden Village Pictures, initiated the successful Focus: First Cuts series, a set of six features from Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore. All are shot on HD, and all have been shown in festivals around the world, notably as a special sidebar at the Hawaii International Film Festival in the fall. One of the features, Crazy Stone, even became a surprise box-office hit in mainland China. While there's more to Focus Films than Andy Lau, the superstar lent his celebrity to the project and was integral in getting young Chinese filmmakers behind the camera and global audiences in the theaters. -Brian Hu
First-time feature film director Cheng Yu-Chieh burst on the Taiwanese film scene with his freshman effort, Do Over. Cheng, himself soft-spoken and contemplative, uses his equally tranquil and meditative film to address complex issues like minority rights (Cheng is half-Japanese and half-Taiwanese), and the place of Taiwan in the new world. Blending languages, the real, and the unreal, Cheng's work offers an exciting new direction for Taiwanese cinema. Cheng's lyrical and metaphysical depiction of a series of inter-related motifs all taking place over the course of one twenty-four hour period surrounding New Year's Eve and New Year's Day offer a creative and beautifully-shot work of cinema. Winner of Taipei Film Festival's Taipei Grand Award for Narative, Cheng's film is a stellar debut work that speaks of great things to come. -Aynne Kokas
You may not have ever heard of Min Un-ok before, but you've almost certainly seen her work. She's been the art director on some of Korea's most famous films, and is responsible for the sumptuous designs on the hit drama Princess Hours (Kung, or Palace). Denied the opportunity to film in the real remaining palaces in Seoul, she chose instead to create her own vision of Korean royal living, including elegant costumes, fabulous architecture, and rich interior designs drawing on both western and indigenous elements for an absolutely stunning yet unique look. While grounded in real, historical detail, Min has used traditional arts as a jumping off point for imaginative riffs on space and decoration. Still, she's had a lot of time and practice to become acquainted with the styles of the past, having served as art director for Im Kwon-taek's highly acclaimed film Chunhyang, and also having won an award for her work on the Chosun-era thriller, Blood Rain. -Jennifer Flinn
M. Night Shyamalan
This year, no director -- not even Mel Gibson -- drew as much bloodthirsty denunciation from the entertainment media than M. Night Shyamalan. Partly it's for the self-congratulating book written about Shyamalan's experiences against Disney; partly it's for the mildewy awkwardness that was Lady in the Water, Shyamalan's big-budget fairly tale about Heeps, Tartutics, Scrunts, Narfs, and other creatures whose names sound curiously like vulgarities for sex organs. Aside from the fact that Lady in the Water wasn't all that bad (supremely un-cool, but not bad), Shyamalan was the charismatic ringleader of a media frenzy that simply spun out of control. Shyamalan was never the kind of director who sat back and let studio marketing define him or his films. Let's hope a few missteps don't keep him away from the helms of the Shyamalan circus; Hollywood needs more idiosyncratic personalities like him. -Brian Hu
A pop musical about a sleepy town where the dead outnumber the living 1500 to 1. It sounds strange, but with the witty lyrics and sweet harmonies of Filipino American songwriter H.P. Mendoza, it just works...magically. Mendoza wrote the 2006 film festival hit Colma: The Musical as a joke album for a friend, and with the help of director Richard Wong, he developed it into a feature length teen musical that successfully steers clear of Dawson's Creek angst and takes full comedic advantage of musical theater kitsch. And on a small budget, I might add. Mendoza's infectious tunes (and charismatic performance as lead character Rodel) propel the film forward even through its darkest moments, and make "everybody [want to] fucking sing," festival juries included. Colma won the Special Jury Prize at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, The Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and The San Diego Asian Film Festival. Riding on his 2006 musical success, Mendoza plans to release a new indie pop album, Everything is Pop, so expect more quirky fun to come. -Ana La O'
20 years after Emi Wada won an Oscar for costuming Akira Kurosawa's epic Ran, the acclaimed designer of cinema's most memorable "Oriental" costumes has been keeping herself busy. Aside from her work on Zhang Yimou's Hero and House of Flying Daggers, Wada hadn't really worked in film since the late 1990s. 2006 saw a return with her relatively understated work on Tian Zhuangzhuang's quietly marvelous The Go Master, but what really drew public attention were her sumptuous costumes for the L.A. Opera's production of The Coronation of Poppea and the Metropolitan Opera of New York's box-office sensation The First Emperor. The former showed off her bold vision of Nero's Rome, while the latter saw 600 costumes for the story of Qin Shi Huangdi, also the basis of Zhang's Hero. While neither of the high-profile operas drew much praise from critics, everyone was unanimous about the stylization. And if you're relying on visuals over content, you're in good hands when the emperor's clothes are by Emi Wada. -Brian Hu
Director Ang Lee has definitely climbed his mountain this year. The director had already made his mark with Chinese films when Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was released internationally and reaped awards in 2000. But now he also reigns in the dominion of American filmmaking with his critically acclaimed and controversial film Brokeback Mountain, based on Annie Proulx's Pulitzer Prize finalist short story about the forbidden love between two homosexual cowboys in Wyoming, a far cry from the films Lee has previously directed, such as the 1995 classic Sense and Sensibility and the 2003 big-budget blockbuster The Hulk. Nonetheless, Lee won an Oscar for best director and was included in Time Magazine's TIME 100: The People Who Shape Our World, for his groundbreaking and eclectic vision in directing. -Julie Hong
Date Posted: 1/12/2007