The Top Chinese/Taiwanese United States of American Narrative Feature Filmmakers of All Time

EDIT 08.02.12 I have made the title of the list a bit more kosher for the whole Taiwanese and Chinese thing.

Hands down, the Chinese and Taiwanese are kicking ass. Even though the official list has about the same amount as both the
lists, the consistent quality of work from the C/T.U.S.o.A.N.F.F. is much higher
and in terms of the Honorable Mention category, the Chinese and Taiwanese take it for
sure. I am sure I still missed some obvious ones, so help me out.

Remember the rules: 1.5 or 2nd+ generation Chinese American or Taiwanese American who has
directed a narrative feature film. And their film must be verifiable through a reliable source.

EDIT 08.02.10: In the mall the other day, I passed by a poster for “Step Up 2 the Streets” a hip-hop dance movie and noticed that the director had a Chinese last name. Jon Chu brings the C/T.U.S.o.A.N.F.F. list back up to a healthy 18.

me update the list from here. (Also, I know that I included Taiwainese
which is very uncool of me, but it’s hard for me to figure out if
someone is Chinese or Taiwanese from their IMDB etc.

1. Eric Byler “Charlotte
The model from which so many digital filmmakers aspire to.
Proved that digital film is both affordable and critically viable. I
don’t know if this is actually a good thing, because that means a lot
of folks are making bad movies for cheap.

2. Kris Chin (with co-director Ron Oda) “Asian Stories (Book 3)”

FROM CT (from the J.U.S.o. A.N.F.F. list): “In my nostalgic daytripping
recollecting the old school JA filmmakers, I neglected these guys, of
the newest generation of DIY filmmakers who were amongst the 18 or so
who had AA indie features on the festival circuit in ’06. Modestly
understated, I found the film engaging, and in particular, give them
props for presenting characters who, though simple and flawed, remained
sympathetic and intriguing.”

3. Jon Chu “Step Up 2 The Streets” I’m not sure if I will understand what is going on in this film if I haven’t seen Step Up 1, but apparently Mr. Chu is out to prove that Asian boys can dance… or at least shoot people dancing. His bio from IMDB is quite impressive though:

“Jon is an alumni of the USC School of Cinema-Television. There, he won the Princess Grace Award, the Dore Schary Award presented by the Anti-Defamation league, the Jack Nicholson directing award, and recognized as an honoree for the IFP/West program Project: Involve.

After making his student short, ‘When the Kids Are Away,’ Jon was scooped up by the William Morris Agency and attached to several high profile projects.”

4. Dayyan Eng “Waiting Alone”  I hadn’t heard of this film, but according to its site, it seems like it made a pretty big splash in China.

SSAAF Member Cate Park: “banged my head against the wall for neglecting
my friend, dayyan eng, who was born in taiwan and grew up in the u.s.
his short, bus 44, is quite possibly one of the best shorts i have ever
seen in my life! his feature debut, waiting alone, was impressive, too”

James Wong Howe “Go, Man, Go!” I am so glad he made the list because I
have always considered him the patron saint of Asian American
filmmakers. I was also delighted to find out the movie he directed was
about the origin of The Harlem Globetrotters.

6. George Huang
“Swimming With Sharks”
Easily one of my favorite indie films. I am so
surprised that this guy never went on to do more amazing work. I think
the industry he mocked turned around and bit him back.

7. James Huang “The Perfect Party” Never heard of this one, but my buddy James Bai said the film shares one of his actresses.

Tom Huang “Freshmen” I never saw this one either, but I remember when
it was making the festival rounds. And it also reminds me of another
film which I can’t remember the title to. It was about students
studying abroad in China. Came out about the same time, maybe a little
earlier. Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

9. Fay Ann Lee “East
Another good friend of mine. I first met Fay when we were
both cast in a staged reading for a really terrible play. Flowers do
bloom from manure. Years later she wrote, produced and directed (though
not originally the director, but she had creative differences with the
original director BD Wong and ended up taking the helm). The film
premiered at 2006 Tribeca Film Festival. I think it is getting a
theatrical later this year.

10. Georgia Lee “Red Doors” My good
friend and sister-in-arms. Her film is doing the festival ciircuit now
and getting awards and soon she will be too big to remember me.

Justin Lin “Better Luck Tomorrow” I never heard of this guy or this
film. It must be something that played a festival and then dissappeared.

Bertha Bay Sa Pan “Face” I am losing face for having forgot about her.
She is a good friend and her film was out in theaters this year. I suck.

13. Jennifer Phang “Half-Life” This film has gotten some great reviews. I think I remember hearing about this project back in the late 90’s. I think it took a long time to finally get it together. But from the trailer, it looks like it was worth the wait. It premiered at Sundance in 2007.

David Ren “Shanghai Kiss” This premiered at the 2007 San Fran Asian Am
Int’l Film Fest. It has a pretty big cast including Ken Leung, Kelli Hu
and Hayden Panettiere (from Heroes). Save the cheerleader, save Asian
American film.

15. Sandy Tung “Across The Track” You could argue
that Sandy had discovered Brad Pitt; this was the film Brad did right
before Thelma and Louise. You could also say Sandy helped keep Rick(y)
Shroeder relevant by casting him as Brad’s brother. Or you could just
say Sandy is an inspiration for having a career that spans three
decades now and the dude is still kicking it — he’s currently in post
on a new film called “Alice” which is based on a popular young adult
book series.

From Erin Quill: “I worked with Sandy Tung – he was
my director for the Fox Diversity Showcase a while back. He was a great
guy to work with, very insightful director with a lot to say – and he
helped me get my NYPD Blue credit – which makes me eligible to be on
this list. And he did mention that he was the first guy to put Brad
Pitt in a film. Said there was just ‘something about him’ – I believe
Brad was the brother of Rick Schroeder in that film.

“So I say – any list of Chinese American filmmakers would not be complete without Sandy Tung. I owe him a lot.”

Wayne Wang “Chan Is Missing” My mentor, my sensei, my friend. He is our
Oscar Micheaux. He is our Spike Lee. He is our Martin Scorcese. You
must give him props.

17. James Wong “The One” Known best for his
role as writer, director, consulting producer, and co-executive
producer for “The X Files,” I had a sneaking suspicion that he had a
feature or two under his belt. And I was right. He also did “Final
Destination.” I haven’t seen either of his films. But he is quite the
sci-fi icon.

18. Richard Wong “Colma: The Musical” You must check out this film. It is a genius
approach to DIY filmmaking. A movie musical shot on digital video.
RIchard is also co-directing a new project with fellow CUSoANFF Wayne
Wang which should come out later this year.

19. Alice Wu “Saving
Another good friend and great filmmaker. I couldn’t ask for a
better contemporary. I hope I can keep up with her. She rocks.

20. Jessica Yu “Ping Pong Playa”
Besides winning an Oscar for “Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien,” Jessica has directed many
feature docs, directed episodic TV and now is trying to dominate the narrative feature world with her Ping Pong skillz. I’ve met her a couple times and she seems super cool.


Adam Chin “Maladaptive” I found this one as I was perusing another fun
blog — The Unofficial Weblog for the 28th AAIFF. I had not heard of
this film (hence it being classifed “under review.”) The bio for Mr.
Chin does not state anything about growing up here or somewhere else,
so until I meet him in July at the Festival, I will have to keep this
film in this sub-category.

* Timothy A. Chey “Fakin’ Da Funk” I
remember hating this movie back when I was programming for ACV. But it
did have Dante Bosco and Margaret Cho in it. Both used terribly. I am
not sure if Chey is Filipino or Chinese. But in researching this, I
came across a more recent work of his called “Gone” which was voted
Best Christian Movie of the Year (2003) by ChristianBeats Magazine. A
quote from the director, “The beauty of the filmis you have these
rather smart corporate lawyers who try to rationalize their way out of
the Rapture, but in the end it’s useless – the only true road leads to
Jesus Christ. It’s a hard-core evangelical film.” Er… I don’t know
what to say. And this may be totally racist of me, but because the film
is set in the Philipines and because of its overall Christian zealous
tone, I am banking on this guy being a flip.

* Bruce Lee “Meng
Long Guojiang (aka Return of the Dragon)” and “Game of Death”
(uncredited) I don’t think I can put him in the big list. Yes, he was
born in San Francisco, but he was raised in Hong Kong from the age of
one. Also, Return was a Hong Kong film so that puts him in the
honorable mentions next to Michael Wong and Stan Lai. And on Game, he
was uncredited and shared with Sammo Hung and Robert Clouse at best.
Also, the film was never finished. It hurts to put Bruce below anyone,
but sometimes even the best can not be the best of everything.

Honorable Mentions:


Tony Chan “Combination Platter” I remember seeing this in the theaters
when it came out. And I remember being told that Tony owns Go Sushi on
6th Avenue. I’ve never met him, so I can’t figure out if he is 1st or
2nd generation Chinese American. Anyone know? (Thanks to Peterdarock,
we have verified that he is indeed first generation from HK. It’s a
film worth putting on the Honorable Mention list though since it had
won the Best Screenplay Award at the Sundance Film Festival and had a
modest theatrical run.)

* Joan Chen “Autumn in New York” She
grew up in Shanghai. (thanks routed for reminding me of her and
bringing Stan Lai to my atttention)

* Ann Hu “Shadow Magic” Came to America in her 20’s.

Stan Lai “Feixia Ahda” and “Anlian Taohuayuan” Though he is born and
bred in the US, both of his films listed in IMDB are Taiwanese, so I
have to treat him like Michael Wong (who has now been moved to the
honorable mention list).

* Quentin Lee “Shopping For Fangs” If
there were no Quentin Lee, there may never have been a Justin Lin.
Sadly, I have never seen any of his films. I remember when “Shopping
For Fangs” came out, I kept putting off seeing it and then it was gone.
Can you rent this film? Why is he an honorable mention? He is a double
foul. Canadian and came to North America as an adult. From the Ethan
Mao official website: Ethan Mao is Quentin Lee’s third feature as a
writer/director. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Quentin is a Canadian
citizen and U.S. resident.

* Julia Kwan “Eve and the Firehorse” Amazing film, but unfortunately she is very much a canook.

* Ang Lee “Pushing Hands” Came here for NYU film school.

* Anthony Ng “212” Though he is pretty damn American-seeming to me, his bio states that he was born and raised in Hong Kong.

Mina Shum “Double Happiness” Okay, there is a double whammy with this
one. First, she’s Canadian. Second, I was never a big fan of this film.
One of my big pet peeves is when filmmakers cast a family that doesn’t
look like a family. Sandra Oh looks Korean because she is Korean. And
the Mom in the movie looks like they spray painted her hair grey.

* James Wan “Saw” He’s Australian which means he talks funny. But his movie made a multi-million dollar franchise.

Michael Wong “Li Cheng (aka Miles Apart)” I was hesitant to put this
one on the list since it’s really a Chinese film, but Michael Wong is
Chinese American (brother to Russell “Vanishing Son” Wong). For now, I
will keep him up here while the council reviews both him and Mina Shum.

Stephen Ning “Freckled Rice” (once again, thanks to the research of
routed) Hadn’t known about this film, but unfortunately, it is 22
minutes short of being considered a feature film.


Karin Chien “The Motel” – Producer extraordinaire. She is cornering the
market on all the hot young Korean American talent out there. I think
she is secretly a Koreaphile — that or a total masochist. She’s gotten
producer credit on “Robot Stories” by Greg Pak, “The Motel” by yours
truly and the upcoming “Undoing” by Chris Chan Lee.

* Joan Huang
and Jeff Gou, Cherry Sky Films – they helped produce “Better Luck
Tomorrow” and Jessica Yu’s documentary on Henry Dodger “In the Realms
of the Unreal.” According to routed, “One of the best (if not the best)
AA production team!” I can not comment since I havent worked with them
directly, though I have talked with Joan a few times and she seems nice.

* A Kitman Ho “Hotel Rwanda” (Thanks for the reminder routed… once again)

Stephen Tao, Beuna Vista Pictures – Development executive at Disney who
was instrumental in starting the ABC / Disney Fellowship, aimed at
helping out artist’s of color. The program has since grown to include a
directing fellowship and other programs. Factoid: his aunt played the
deli-owner wife who O-Dog blasts in the face in the opening sequence of
“Menace to Society.”

* Janet Yang “Joy Luck Club” She’s been at
the game for a while and she has a pretty impressive string of films
including the breakthrough Asian American film “The Joy Luck Club”
(love it or hate it, it’s a milestone for the community).

Teddy Zee “Saving Face” Have to give it up to Teddy for pushing this
through at Will Smith’s company. (FYI This list was compiled a while
ago, Teddy can now be accredited with helping get “West 32nd” made too
— without the help of any jiggy).


* Doug Jung “Confidence” – high profile cast, but I don’t remember it being in theaters very long.

Alex Tse “Sucker Free City” A Spike Lee Joint. Originally was supposed
to be a series on Showtime then became a one-off movie. But it is hard
to classify this as a feature film since it wasn’t meant to be and it
never saw theaters. But still it was directed by Spike.

Additions to the Honorable Mentions via Chris Tashima:

Freida Lee Mock “Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision” I only mention that
film because she won an Academy Award for it. Freida, in fact, is
likely our most honored filmmaker by the Academy, with a whopping five
nominations. She is also currently (and was the first) Academy
Governor, of the Documentary Branch.

* Arthur Dong – too many
films to pick from, and all on such important and under-represented
communities and topics, largely Gay oppression and AA history and
identity. Also served as an Academy Governor.

* I was reminded by Cate Park, of Jessica Sanders “After
Innocence” Jessica is another doc filmmaker, and was Oscar nominated
(with her mom, FLM), for the doc short, “Sing!” in 2002.

* From
David Ren: “Dan Lin? Development Executive at Warner Bros and Executive
Producer of the upcoming Masters of the Universe and Mel Gibson flick
Under and Alone.”


32 thoughts on “

  1. I nominate the following:
    Ann Hu – directed “Shadow Magic”
    Quentin Lee – directed “Ethan Mao”, “Flow” and “Shopping for Fangs”
    Bertha Bay-Sa Pan – directed “Face”

  2. i’m gonna have to disagree VERY strongly with BETTER LUCK TOMORROW.It’s a bad film…ok mediocre at best.

  3. hate to beat a dead horse but…the best thing i’ve heard out of it was that the film was important in allowing asian americans to be more visible in film and film far as i can tell, it strengthened asian american stereotypes.sorry i was just really angry at how much hype the film got and how much it was… disappointing and pandered to a specific audience.

  4. I really liked shopping for fangs. I watched it in a film class at berkeley and it was one of the few films that really seemed to show a world of asian america that was familiar to me.

  5. can’t find links with info on Stephen Ning’s feature either.Joan Huang and Jeff Gou from Cherry Sky produced for Justin Lin and Jessica Yu. One of the best (if not the best) AA production team!

  6. Routed,If Stephen Ning is the same as the one who did Freckled Rice, then he does not make the list because the film is not feature length (feature length is defined as 70min+). If he has another film I am not aware of, please let me know.

  7. Yes, it’s the same Stephen Ning who directed Freckled Rice. Thought he was signed and made(?) a feature before he passed away.Wayne Wang had a contemporary in NYC who spoke out against whites playing yellow faces when Miss Saigon came on Broadway. Keep thinking his name is Peter Chan. NYU grad, I believe.Does A. Kitman Ho qualify? can anyone forget the great Bruce Lee? in San Fran!

  8. I think we’re going to have to hire routed on full time to the Mike2Cents team. I am guessing his specialty would be the Chinese American area since he never spoke out until this list came up.

  9. not just Chinese American. All Asian Americans. Korean American film makers didn’t surface til after the 97 financial crisis so don’t need to search as far into the archives. Chinese Americans have a longer history.Was just introduced to your site. Had to express myself.

  10. You can rent SHOPPING FOR FANGS (first film by Justin Lin and Quentin Lee), as well as YELLOW (by Chris Chan Lee) and STRAWBERRY FIELDS (by Rea Tajiri) (all from 1997 next gen wave of AA filmmakers) on .. you can also find DRIFT (by Quentin Lee) at Blockbuster sometimes I think. You can also rent IN REALMS OF THE UNREAL (by Jessica Yu)Thanks for the honorable mention. 🙂 You should a AA doc filmmakers list and see how many names we can gather together.

  11. i really enjoyed saving face, it was very pleasantly entertaining. my favorite scene was when the main character’s black friend is sitting with her mom eating friend chicken in front of the tv watching chinese dramas.
    better luck tomorrow was a slightly less than mediocre movie that kind of just released in the theaters of major cities for about 2 weeks. your buddy john cho was in it. theres not much i can say about that one though..

  12. James Hsiao, Water Lilies his college thesis, he also produced “Voices,” a film on the February 28 incident in Taiwan. (He’s pretty well-known for this film among Taiwanese-Americans active in the community.)

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