‘This is the golden age’: How the Class of 1997 changed Asian American filmmaking forever

Justin Lin (left), Quentin Lee, Rea Tajiri and Michael Idemoto were being filmmakers taking part in the San Francisco Global Asian American Movie Festival in 1997.

Photo: LIZ HAFALIA/Staff

The San Francisco Intercontinental Asian American Movie Competition had now recognized by itself as the oldest and premier event of its sort, but in 1997 — its 16th year — it delivered an unparalleled lineup that is however regarded a benchmark.

1 could make the argument that with no Quentin Lee and Justin Lin, directors of the dim horror comedy “Shopping for Fangs” Rea Tajiri, director of the street film “Strawberry Fields” Chris Chan Lee, director of the significant school comedy drama “Yellow” and Michael Aki and Eric Nakamura, makers of the black-and-white slacker piece “Sunsets” — recognised as the “Class of 1997” — there would be no “Crazy Prosperous Asians,” “The Farewell,”  “Everything All over the place All at Once” or “Beef.”

Even “Joy Experience,” the rollicking woman-electricity comedy that opens the competition, now called CAAMFest on Thursday, Could 11, might have never been greenlit.

So it totally looks correct to have Tajiri, who has manufactured a vocation of discovering how internment camps in the course of Planet War II have informed the Japanese American experience, and indie genre filmmaker Quentin Lee in the residence for the celebration, which runs via Might 21. 

Rea Tajiri’s “Wisdom Absent Wild” portrays her mother, Rose, and her journey by way of dementia.


Tajiri is getting honored with a 3-movie tribute, like a retrospective screening of “Strawberry Fields” as properly as her new “Wisdom Absent Wild” Quentin Lee’s latest aspect, “Last Summertime of Nathan Lee,” is established to make its environment premiere.

More Information

CAAMFest 2023: Thursday, May perhaps 11, by way of Could 21. Basic admission: Free-$15. Particular shows: $20-$135. Film venues involve the Castro Theatre, Wonderful Star Theater, Roxie Theater and the San Francisco Museum of Fashionable Artwork in San Francisco, additionally the New Parkway Theater in Oakland. For information, pay a visit to caamfest.com.


“It’s actually great to be honored in this way, and it is coming at a seriously very good time,” Tajiri reported. “It’s a good time to showcase these movies and to consider about some of the themes as we assume about recovering histories and ancestral knowledge that operates by means of ghosts.”

“Rea’s strengths and my strengths are very comparable,” Quentin Lee included. “We observe our passions and our hearts to do what we genuinely want to do. Even with our latest films, they are really experimental. You wouldn’t do that film except if it’s anything you genuinely want to do. We really care about them.”

Harrison Xu and Natasha Tina Liu star in Quentin Lee’s “Last Summer of Nathan Lee.”

Photo: Margin Films

Both equally are set to maintain court docket at the Castro Theatre on Sunday, Could 14, when “Wisdom Long gone Wild” screens at 3:30 p.m., followed by Tajiri and affiliate producer Reiko Tahara in dialogue and “Last Summertime of Nathan Lee” screens at 6:30 p.m., with the director and a great deal of his younger and gifted cast in person at a Q&A afterward.

Tajiri is also anticipated to introduce “Strawberry Fields,” with a fantastic early functionality by Suzy Nakamura (very best acknowledged as the co-lead, with Ken Jeong, of the Television sitcom “Dr. Ken”), at 12:15 p.m. Saturday, May possibly 13. An early brief documentary, “History and Memory: For Akiko and Takashige” (1991), is scheduled to monitor at noon May well 20 at the San Francisco Museum of  Modern Art’s Phyllis Wattis Theater.

The two Tajiri and Lee have invested 3 decades fearlessly producing unbiased movies. Tajiri, an associate professor of film at Temple College due to the fact 2008, helps make personal movies inspired by her family members history — her mother, Rose, was incarcerated in an internment camp, and her father, Vincent (afterwards Hugh Hefner’s initial picture editor at Playboy magazine) served in the famed all-nisei 442nd Regimental Fight Group.

Suzy Nakamura stars in Rea Tajiri’s “Strawberry Fields” (1997).

Image: Courtesy of CAAMFest

The Los Angeles-dependent Lee, whose journey has taken him from his native Hong Kong to Canada to UC Berkeley, helps make genre movies these as “The Folks I Slept With” (2009), “White Frog” (2012) and “The Unbidden” (2016) as a result of his unbiased production organization Margin Movies.

“Quentin is an amazing producer, and he’s an remarkable storyteller,” Tajiri reported. “I admire his means to just hold likely. He’s a superb director and pretty functional. I also admire that he’s able to be both equally artist and businessperson. He’s undaunted.”

That relentless generate is some thing the Course of 1997 has in typical. Lin scored an indie strike 5 yrs later with “Better Luck Tomorrow” and went on to immediate 5 “Fast and the Furious” motion pictures (he co-wrote and government developed a sixth, “Fast X,” to be produced May perhaps 19). Chris Chan Lee and Aki have long gone on to make and immediate many indie movies, while Nakamura is greatest identified for co-founding Giant Robotic, a well known but now-defunct magazine masking Asian pop culture.

Jeanne Chin and John Cho in “Shopping for Fangs” (1997), directed by Quentin Lee and Justin Lin.

Photo: Margin Movies

But possibly the biggest beneficiary of the Class of 1997 is John Cho, now potentially the pre-eminent Asian American actor of his era (recognized for starring in the “Harold and Kumar” and “Star Trek” films), who starred in each “Shopping for Fangs” and “Yellow.” They were among his initial film performances.

“When John walked into the room for the audition, equally Justin and I knew we needed to cast him. I knew he was going to be a star,” Quentin Lee recalled. “Both ‘Yellow’ and ‘Shopping for Fangs’ were taking pictures at the same time. For the duration of prep, I achieved out to Chris Chan Lee to do the job out the schedules, sharing John so that equally our productions could go as smoothly as attainable.”

The Class of 1997 remains close. The San Francisco fest was the very first of several Asian festivals throughout the United States that programmed all four videos, so the filmmakers were being primarily on tour with each other. On Monday, Might 8, with Tajiri now on the West Coast for CAAMFest, Quentin Lee hosted a evening meal in Los Angeles with Tajiri and Chris Chan Lee (the some others had been invited but could not attend).

Three members of the Course of 1997 gathered in Los Angeles on Monday, May well 8. Chris Chan Lee (left), Rea Tajiri and Quentin Lee.

Image: Chris Chan Lee

In a strange way, the two Tajiri and Quentin Lee’s recent films take a look at similar troubles, but from vastly diverse ways. 

“Wisdom Absent Wild” is a unique and touching portrait of Tajiri’s mother and her lengthy, slow descent into dementia and its impact on her household, as very well as a rumination on a background that is in hazard of getting neglected.

“Last Summer time of Nathan Lee” is about a higher university senior (Harrison Xu) who is identified with terminal brain most cancers and is established to have good periods with pals until the end. (Believe “Porky’s” satisfies “The Breakfast Club.”)

Nonetheless both of those films are about dwelling your most effective existence, even in the encounter of loss of life. In point, how Tajiri arrived at her title could discuss for both equally films.

“It’s linked to a Tibetan Buddhist idea, ‘crazy knowledge,’ ” Tajiri said.  “It could be that dementia is a little something that forces the particular person to sort of go wild. It is really based on a variety of instructing where the lama might get on some really erratic, irrational, estimate-unquote ‘crazy’ conduct in buy to provoke the university student. Preferably the scholar is supposed to see by the habits and see that their teacher is still there, to see that your beloved one particular is still at the main the very same man or woman.”

Not only has the Class of 1997 endured, their impact has been cited by many Asian American filmmakers as inspiring them to go after a occupation in movie and television. Quentin Lee sees the results of “Crazy Wealthy Asians,” “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and the existence of Asian American material on streaming companies as a boon for people attempting to carry similar tales to the fore.

“This is the golden age,” he mentioned. “You have so a lot of extra distribution outlets and so a lot of far more alternatives than when we begun in 1997.”

Access G. Allen Johnson: [email protected] Twitter: @BRFilmsAllen