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The APAHM Project Day 31: Columbus




Film: Columbus

Director: Kogonada

Release: 2017

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime with Premium Subscription

Wanna Skip? Pick a Movie from APAHM Project 2020

For our final day of The APAHM Project 2021, we are joined with my friend, Simon Hua! Simon and I first met in 2010 at a Harry Potter themed party at my house where we were sorted into the same house (and won the House Cup, go Hufflepuff!) Since then, we have attended San Diego Comic-Con, played Pokemon Go, and watched Marvel movies premieres together.


Simon has selected "Columbus" for his film. He was very flexible with me to get this interview done, so thank you Simon! Read on to hear what we thought of this 2017 film.


Tell us about yourself! What is your profession, where are you from, what is your favorite snack, hobbies, etc.

Hi! My name is Simon, and I am currently a Digital Product Designer at AutoZone. I was initially from Shanghai, China. I moved here to the states when I was 9 years old and have been here in Memphis ever since. In terms of hobbies, I started photography when I was younger and got hooked ever since. What made you choose this film? Was it nostalgic? Do you strongly identify with it? How did it make you feel the first time you watched it? How do you feel watching it now?

To be honest, having a background in graphic design, I choose the film for the minimalistic poster design . I only found out later that it was directed by Kogonada, which I've seen a lot of the Film Essays he did for the Criterion Collection. When I watched the film for the first time, it gave me a sense of balance. The film brings this calm, playful, and candid tone of how two stranger's lives are connected by their surroundings. The characters themselves, Jin and Casey, share complex emotions that deal with family tragedy and loyalty. Each frame of the film was carefully shot to bring the surroundings to enhance the storytelling. This is Kogonada node to the legendary Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, known for these slice of life films that play a lot with negative space and landscape to enhance visual storytelling. Why are you proud to be an Asian American?

I am proud to be an Asian American of our vast history and culture. Still, most importantly, I am incredibly proud to be Asian American because of my family. My parents were first-generation immigrants who came here with only 4 suitcases to start all over. I value their dedication and sacrifices, all because they wanted for me to have a better life. When was the first time you felt represented on screen?

I grew up watching Jackie Chan films, so that's when I saw an Asian lead in an American movie. Besides Jackie Chan or Jet Li, it's hard to relate to any other Asian Americans on the screen.


In your opinion, is Asian Representation in Hollywood getting better? Do we need more? Are there specifics that they should include (i.e. more Southeast Asians, Asians with disabilities, Thai people playing ethnically Thai characters instead of Chinese actors, etc.) Besides movies made in Asia, we as a race have been entirely underrepresented in American films for ages. At times, the reason might be our own fault, as any major in the arts or entertainment has been shunned in Asian Communities. Most Asian Parents wanted their kids to focus on academia and have a stable job in life. This thinking has caused no representation in front of the camera and behind the camera. I only hope the recent Chloe Zhao win for best director this year's Oscars will inspire a new generation of filmmakers that will positively impact representation. I do feel representation is getting better in terms of the overall casting of Asians in significant roles. However, we still to do a better representation behind the scene. The screenplay is at the heart of every film, so we definitely need more Asian Americans to write stories from their perspective. It's so important we can accurately translate those experiences into cinema. What are some Asian-owned businesses, creatives, figures, role models, etc., you follow or want us to know about?

If you are into film, there's a YouTube channel called Every Frame a Painting. It's an old channel by Tony Zhu, but he does so many great video essays on many great film related topics. Culture aside, you and I are both designers and artists. How did you feel about the look of this film (i.e. color, framing, angles, etc.)? How do you feel it leans into the themes of the movie?

As I listed above, I feel like this Kogonada has a considerable influence from the legendary Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. The framing of every shot was planned accordingly, and it really enhances the overall visual storytelling. The generational family conflict is also drawn from Yasujiro Ozu Ozu. It gives an asymmetrical balance to the film, but the overall cinematography feels minimalistic as it puts more weight on the characters themselves. When Casey first meets Jin, she's surprised to find out he speaks English and mistakes his name for "Jim." Jin is quick to call Casey out. Names are a big part of our identity. When people mispronounce your name or assume you don't speak English, do you usually correct them? How has this made you feel? When I was little, I tend to not correct them when they pronounce my last name wrong, but over the years, I feel that my family name is a part of who I am, and it's vital to pronounce it right. Recently, I would make sure they would have the correct pronunciation. Jin says "Grow up around something and it feels like nothing" to describe architecture in Columbus. But he is also speaking about growing up with his father, who has a deep passion for architecture to the point where Jin despises it. I think this quote can also be used to describe some Asian cultural themes. Are there any specific traditions or customs that you grew up with that you feel like, due to ad nauseam, you feel has lost significance? Or even any traditions you go along with but don't really know the meaning behind? Growing up in China, the Lunar New Year is one of the year's most significant events. When I was little, I didn't really get the meaning or even care of visiting families during the Chinese New Year. After I moved here to the states, it became less apparent as my family is the only family here in the states. As I get older and try to find my identity in this world, the word family has definitely taken a turn in the significance in my life. Nowadays, I would make sure I would take the time and reconnect with my cousins and relatives back in shanghai during the Chinese new year celebration. Jin and Casey bond together over architecture and visit several buildings that are made up of glass. Jin makes the comment that the glass represents transparency and, as we see, Jin and Casey are able to be pretty transparent with each other. Even when they are not, they see through each other's facade. How do you think this theme correlates to the duality of being both Asian and American? Are there any facades you put up to be more accepted as one or the other? When I was watching the film, I do at times, feel relatable to Jin with his background. As I grew up here in the states, there has been an identity struggle as I sometimes feel I don't fit on either side. This became more apparent when I was in college. Until recently, I started to call myself "Asian American" as we are the intersection of many different Asian Cultures. At heart, yes, I am 100% Chinese, but every time I go back to China to visit my relatives, I feel like an outsider. As Asian Americans, we will always have our roots from the traditional upbringing, but over time, that has expanded with vast other Asian cultures. If you told me what food you related to the most, I would probably say Boba, Korean BBQ, and Pho, instead of traditional Shanghainese cuisine. LOL

The film feels almost mundane. The plot is relatively simple, the characters seem to take a back seat to the architecture in some ways. In your opinion, how normalized should seeing AAPI on screen be? Where is the line between feeling represented vs. getting lost in the crowd of characters? I feel this film does an excellent job of AAPI representation as Kogonada himself is South Korean. Casting John Cho was a good choice as it's scarce to see an Asian in a leading role like this. In my opinion, I feel like experiences and background are essential when it comes to seeing AAPI represented on screen. When a screenplay is written by someone who lived through it, you can tell from all the small details they include, as Worldbuilding doesn't just apply to fantasy movies. To normalize seeing AAPI on screen, we need the audience to truly understand our culture and background. That we are not just shoehorned into a role that was initially written for a white lead. Have you followed any of Kogonada's video film essays?

Yes, I have a few of his video film essays on a few of my criterion collection movies. He does an excellent job at presenting visual storytelling and breaking them down. Like Tony Zhu from Every Framing a Painting, Kogonada Video Film Essays are great resources for majoring in film. What was your biggest takeaway from this film?

The biggest takeaway from this film is that life is unexpected, but it's through these small moments in time that we find ourselves finding connections in the most unexpected places. I love the chemistry between Jin and Casey in this film. Both of them share similar personal struggles but found each other at the right time. I love the minimalistic approach to the movie as it removes visual noises and focuses on storytelling. I would definitely recommend this movie and looking forward to the next feature by Kogonada.


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