ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
From the newsroom to the screening room now, and filmmaker Wayne Wang. His specialty, the friction produced when cultures collide. His first feature, "Chan is Missing," followed a pair of cabbies trying to negotiate San Francisco's Chinatown. His breakout, "The Joy Luck Club," traced the intertwined histories of four women born in America and their mothers in China.
This fall, Wayne Wang takes on clashing cultures with an unusual double feature of new movies. Beth Accomando of member station KPBS has the story.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Back in the '80s, filmmaker Wayne Wang exacted sly humor from the struggles of fellow Chinese-American immigrants. Learning a new language and navigating a cultural minefield of miscommunications provided rich material for the young filmmaker. But now, a more mature Wang sees cross-cultural misunderstandings occurring within the Asian community and across generations. Wang found the perfect vehicle to explore these themes in a pair of short stories by Yiyun Li that span three generations of Chinese immigrants.
In the first film, "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers," a father visits his adult daughter in California. They may share a common language, but they cannot communicate.
(Soundbite of movie "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers'")
Mr. WAYNE WANG (Filmmaker): The father and the daughter are from two different generations. The father went through the Cultural Revolution and specifically suffered a lot of injustices at that time, and the daughter was very much affected by it.
ACCOMANDO: Wayne Wang says the daughter has come to America to distance herself from her past in China.
Mr. WANG: She learned a new language and new culture and became a new person. And she learned how to express herself, actually, more.
ACCOMANDO: "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers" focuses on a Chinese immigrant who's been in the U.S. for years. But the second film, "Princess of Nebraska," looks to a much younger immigrant who's just arrived in the U.S. Sasha lands in San Francisco with plans to get an abortion. She speaks English and is quite westernized in her behavior, attitude, and clothes. At a dinner party, the older Chinese-Americans question her about her homeland.
(Soundbite of movie "Princess of Nebraska")
Unidentified Actress: I was recently speaking to some 20-year-old female students from Baidu, and I asked them about the Tiananmen Square incident with the tank man, and they knew nothing about it. Isn't that amazing?
Unidentified Actor: Sasha, do you remember the tank man?
Ms. LI LING (Actress): (As Sasha) I heard a little from my grandmother.
Unidentified Actor: Sasha, what do you do?
Ms. LING: (As Sasha) Precisely. What do you think?
Unidentified Actor: That is?
Ms. LING: (As Sasha) Nothing.
Unidentified Actor: Nothing? Tell us, what does that mean?
Ms. LING: (As Sasha) Mind your own business.
ACCOMANDO: These new films returned Wayne Wang to his indie roots. He spent the last decade making formulaic Hollywood films such as "Maid in Manhattan" and "Last Holiday." But its Wang's independent films, such as "Chan is Missing" and "Smoke," that made him a role model for aspiring Asian-American filmmakers.
Mr. WANG: I think I'm just a bad influence, where all these young kids think, oh, I can go into filmmaking and make a lot of money, and then they quit their real jobs, you know?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. RICHARD WONG (Filmmaker): My real job at Costco.
ACCOMANDO: That's Richard Wong. He's the 32-year-old filmmaker that Wang tapped to co-direct and shoot the second film, "The Princess of Nebraska." Having two generations of filmmakers behind the camera brought depth to the generational clashes in the movie, "Princess of Nebraska," says Richard Wong.
Mr. WONG: When I read the script, all I really saw was this spoiled brat, who for the first time in her life is forced to make a decision because she can't get away with a pregnancy, whereas she steals something, but she just can kind of weasel her way through. I certainly related to that, because, I mean, you know, I think a lot of us growing up are that way.
ACCOMANDO: But Wayne Wang is a longtime cultural observer who's been making films about Chinese immigrants for more than 20 years. So Wang sees Sasha's particular experiences as part of the larger and ever-changing immigrant community.
Mr. WANG: You know, she's in her 20s. She grew up in the last 20 years of China's economic boom and also the sexual revolution, too. I mean, she slept with a guy who's bisexual, and she slept with him without knowing him very well and then got pregnant.
ACCOMANDO: The way these two films will be released emphasizes even more the differences between the generations. Magnolia Pictures releases "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers" in theaters this month. "Princess of Nebraska" will be available on YouTube in October. That excites Richard Wong.
Mr. WONG: "A Thousand Years" is classical and is being distributed classically. It's about an older generation, and it kind of just makes a lot of sense. And "Princess" is about a new generation. It's shot in a very contemporary way, and it makes sense for that to go to the Internet.
ACCOMANDO: Both Wayne Wang and Richard Wong hope that the innovative release strategy will provide a bridge across generations and cultures. For NPR News, I'm Beth Accomando.
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