We’re finally in the season of all things fun, sun, and adventure. And of course, summer is also the perfect time to catch up on the latest blockbusters, binge-watch your favorite series, and discover some hidden gems.
Though we took a brief hiatus in the past few months, Short Takes is back and we’re excited to continue highlighting all of our favorite new Asian American films, TV shows, music, books and other media that you should know about.
See below for four recommendations to watch this summer.
Past Lives, Dir. by Celine Song
After having no less than four of my friends recommend this film to me in the span of one week, I had high expectations going into Past Lives, A24’s newest romantic drama film. Directed by Celine Song in her feature directorial debut, the film centers on two childhood friends named Hae Sung and Na Young (who later goes by Nora).
Past Lives jumps from several different decades throughout the film, as you learn the origins of Hae Sung and Na Young, and watch their relationship and personalities develop over the course of 24 years. Hae Sung and Na Young begin their friendship as classmates in South Korea before Na Young’s family immigrates to Canada. Fast forward to their young adult lives, Nora is now a budding writer in New York and Hae Sung has completed his mandatory military service and is studying to become an engineer. The two reconnect online and viewers watch their new adult friendship blossom and hit roadblocks as their individual lives unfold.
Though the pacing of Past Lives can feel slow at times, it’s clear this is an intentional choice by Song and one that absolutely pays off at the close of the film. Having now seen Past Lives myself, I understand why it has captured the attention and hearts of so many of my friends and other Asian Americans. It is an incredibly raw film with gorgeous cinematography, brilliant acting choices, and some genuinely tender and thought-provoking moments. If you’re not bawling at the end of Past Lives, at the very least, you’ll be reflecting on the film long after the credits roll and you leave the theater. If you’ve ever pondered or mourned the what-ifs or what-could’ve-beens of life, this is one you’ll definitely want to check out in theaters.
Elemental, Dir. By Peter Sohn
Pixar’s latest animated film Elemental is described as a romantic comedy, and though there is a sweet romance story at its core, I also deeply resonated with the familial relationships depicted on screen. The film opens with the story of Ember’s parents, Bernie and Cinder Lumen, who immigrate to Element City and struggle to find a new home while facing xenophobia. They welcome their daughter, Ember, and open a store called The Fireplace, which quickly becomes the family’s safe haven. Ember essentially grows up in the store, and Bernie promises her the shop will be hers one day.
Though the story is not overtly an Asian American one, it’s clear this story is a personal one, highlighting emotions and experiences that many immigrant families will be able to relate to. In interviews, Sohn has shared that the film was inspired by his own parents, who immigrated from Korea to New York in the 1970s and opened up a grocery store. In an interview with Variety, Sohn shared, “I never thought I would be connected to something so personal. [The film] is about thanking our parents. I got lost in making this and every time I did, I’d go back to the north star of appreciation for them, and it wasn’t easy making that sacrifice. It’s also about bridging that gap between someone from a different culture, and that empathy.”
It’s apparent that Sohn poured his heart and soul into this film, and the result is a deeply personal and beautiful work of art. The animation is gorgeous, the characters are undeniably charming, and the story is one that is sure to pull on your heartstrings.
Joy Ride, Dir. by Adele Lim
Though I haven’t been able to check out Joy Ride in theaters yet, this is one I definitely have on my radar after its sold-out screening at the Castro Theatre as a CAAMFest 2023 Opening Night film.
This much talked-about film stars Stephanie Hsu, Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, and Sabrina Wu as four unlikely friends who go on an international business trip that turns into a no-holds-barred, epic journey of bonding, friendship, belonging, and wild debauchery. My CAAM colleagues who were able to see it on Opening Night had rave reviews, although they noted that this R-rated film is definitely not safe for work (or kids).
The film will hit theaters this weekend and as of now currently boasts an impressive 97% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics praising its raunchy humor balanced with quite a bit of heart. With everything I’ve heard about the film, it seems like the perfect movie to check out with a group of friends this summer.
Owner of a Lonely Heart, by Beth Nguyen
Award-winning author Beth Nguyen opens her new memoir, Owner of a Lonely Heart, with the following line: “Over the course of my life I have known less than twenty-four hours with my mother. Here is how those hours came to be, and what happened in them.”
Released this month, Owner of a Lonely Heart explores Beth’s fragmented relationship with her birth mother. Readers learn that Beth fled Vietnam with her father’s family as a baby toward the end of the Vietnam War, and Beth would not meet her birth mother again until Beth was 19 years old. In her memoir, Beth reflects on a handful of visits with her mother, dissecting her memories and reexamining the visits from different angles.
Owner of a Lonely Heart is a powerful memoir that details the aftermath of war on real relationships and families. Beth beautifully describes her experiences and feelings about identity, belonging, and motherhood as a Vietnamese refugee in America. It’s a worthwhile read that’s worth picking up this month.
American Born Chinese, Created By Kelvin Yu
Though American Born Chinese has been out for a couple months at this point, it’s still worthy that we include it on our summer must-watch list for Asian American media—because it’s that good. The show was previewed at CAAMFest 2023 back in May of this year, and all eight episodes are now available to stream on Disney+.
For those unfamiliar with the show, American Born Chinese is originally based on Gene Luen Yang’s beloved graphic novel that was published in 2006. The show, created by Kelvin Yu, tells the story of a high schooler named Jin Wang, whose life is changed forever when he befriends an exchange student named Wei-Chen, who is later revealed to be the son of Sun Wukong, a legendary figure from Chinese mythology.
The coming-of-age action comedy is a delight to watch and strikes the perfect balance juggling fantastical action sequences while also depicting the everyday lives of seemingly ordinary high school students. And if the premise of the show isn’t enough to sell you (though it should), the cast sure will. American Born Chinese features a stand-out, all-star lineup including Academy Award winners Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan, Ben Wang, Daniel Wu, Jimmy Liu, and Sydney Taylor, among others.
Madeleine Fernando is a second-generation Asian American writer based out of New York City. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, she is currently a public relations specialist and freelance writer.