The Cheat (1915) Directed by Cecil B. DeMille. Cast: Sessue Hayakawa, Fannie Ward, Jack Dean. As you might guess from the year it was made, this movie is basically a “yellow peril” potboiler. A white American woman (Ward) borrows money from a Japanese merchant (Hayakawa), and when she can’t pay it back, he brands her–literally–as one of his possessions. The most disturbing scene shows a white mob calling for the merchant to be lynched. But a funny thing happened on the way to vilifying the Japanese character: it made a star out of Sessue Hayakawa. While not representative of his subsequent starring roles (which are hard to find on video), this xenophobic melodrama enabled the Japanese-born Hayakawa to become Hollywood’s first Asian American movie star. Looking back, one has to wonder if the film is in denial about any erotic attraction between the white woman and the Asian man, an attraction that couldn’t be acknowledged at the time. Hayakawa is probably best-remembered for his role as the prison-camp commander in the excellent war film “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957), for which he received an Academy Award nomination. He died in 1973. (Kino on Video)

The Tong Man (1919) Directed by William Worthington. Cast: Sessue Hayakawa. One of Hayakawa’s own productions, this silent movie presents the actor in a more sympathetic role. However, the story is still set against a typical backdrop: the intrigues of the Chinese mafia. (Grapevine Video)

The Toll of the Sea (1922) Directed by Chester M. Franklin. Cast: Anna May Wong, Kenneth Harlan, Beatrice Bentley. Don’t get too excited. The story is basically “Madame Butterfly” transplanted from Japan to China (at least the creators could tell the difference between the two cultures). However, this movie features Anna May Wong (1907-1961) in one of her first starring roles. More significantly, “The Toll of the Sea” holds a place in motion-picture history as the first feature film shot in the old two-color Technicolor process (which would be supplanted in 1933 by the more realistic three-color process). (Nostalgia Family Video)

Shanghai Express (1932) Directed by Josef von Sternberg. Cast: Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong, Warner Oland. Set in civil-war-torn China, this Marlene Dietrich vehicle portrays Asia as little more than an exotic backdrop for a Hollywood icon. However, it’s one of the few Anna May Wong talkies available on video. Although she plays only a supporting character, her role is pivotal. Also, it’s fascinating to see her talents utilized by a top-notch director like von Sternberg. What’s more, when Anna May stabs a yellow-faced Warner Oland as the Chinese villain, the moment may be seen as an allegory: an Asian American actress “puts the knife to” Hollywood’s misrepresentation of her ancestral culture. (MCA Home Video)

Wuthering Heights (1939) Directed by William Wyler. Cast: Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier, David Niven. Hey, wait a minute. What’s this movie doing on the list? It’s an adaptation of the classic Victorian novel by Emily Brontë. It doesn’t have anything to do with Asia. Or does it? In fact, the film’s star, Merle Oberon (1911-1979), is part-Indian. She was born in Bombay to an English father and a Sunhalese mother. This lineage gave Oberon her “exotic” looks that British audiences, and later Hollywood audiences, found so fascinating. What makes Oberon’s story of particular interest is the great lengths to which she went to conceal her Asianness. She denied being Indian, cultivated her makeup and lighting to look as pale as possible, and even concocted a phoney life story that had her born in Australia. The biographer Charles Higham believes that Oberon’s perpetuation of this ruse ultimately wore her down emotionally and led to her death at age 68. Oberon’s portrayal of Cathy in this highly acclaimed adaptation is probably her best-known and best-loved performance. The film ranked no. 73 on the American Film Institute’s list of “The 100 Best American Movies,” the only entry on that list in which an “Asian” performer gets top billing. (HBO Video)

Phantom of Chinatown (1940) Directed by Phil Rosen. Cast: Keye Luke, Grant Withers, Lotus Long. This is a very low-budget B-movie of poor quality. Its uninspired story of an Asian detective, James Lee Wong, solving a murder mystery is only a cheap attempt to cash in on the Charlie Chan movies of the era. But unlike Chan, the Asian detective hero in this film is an acculturated American , and he’s played by Chinese American actor Keye Luke, not by an actor in yellowface. Luke’s character is a confident, clear-speaking man of action. In an era when Asian stereotypes ran rampant in Hollywood, Luke’s stereotype-busting lead role redeems this otherwise lackluster thriller. (VCI Home Video)

The Jungle Book (1942) Directed by Zoltan Korda. Cast: Sabu, Joseph Calleia, John Qualen. If Merle Oberon was technically the West’s first South Asian movie star, its first openlySouth Asian star was Sabu. This native of India first broke into films as the child star of the British-produced “The Elephant Boy” (1937). As he grew, he continued starring in such British films as the re-make of “The Thief of Bagdad” (1940). “The Jungle Book” features Sabu in his first real adult starring role as Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli. The film was produced in the United States by the British-based Alexander Korda, driven overseas by World War II. The story is set in India, and all of the supporting characters appear to be played by white actors in brownface. Still, Sabu holds the screen as the heroic main character, and this Technicolor movie remains very enjoyable as an example of the era’s fantasy filmmaking. Sabu would go on to have a career in Hollywood, playing “exotic” supporting roles in A-movies like “The Arabian Nights” (1942) and lead roles in B-movies like “Sabu and the Magic Ring” (1957). He died in 1963. Although quite popular in his time, Sabu is barely remembered today. Jason Scott Lee would inherit the role of Mowgli in the 1994 re-make of “The Jungle Book” (see below). (Memory Lane Home Video)

Go for Broke! (1951) Directed by Robert Pirosh. Cast: Van Johnson, the Heroes of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. While unexceptional by today’s standards, this Hollywood combat movie features real Japanese American war heroes playing themselves–albeit in supporting roles–as they re-create their tour of duty in World War II Italy. The Nikkei stay firmly in the background, and only a fleeting mention is made of the internment. But the film is a dignified and refreshing change from the “yellow peril” stereotypes so widespread at the time. Next time, Hollywood, let the 442nd soldiers tell their own stories–and show us the camps! (MGM/UA Home Video)

Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) Directed by Alain Resnais. Cast: Emmanuele Riva, Eiji Okada. Aside from being a ground-breaking work of cinematic art, this celebrated French film features one of the first times the Western screen has shown a white woman in bed with an Asian man. The movie begins with a startling blend of documentary footage and fictional voice-over, and it ends with a stunning personal revelation that finds a common thread in suffering the world over. Credited with initiating the international “New Wave” cinema of the 1960s, this is still one of the most respected and riveting films of all time. Scripted by Marguerite Duras, whose similarly themed novel “The Lover” was turned into a piece of soft-core trash in 1992. (Public Media Home Vision)

Flower Drum Song (1961) Directed by Henry Koster. Cast: Nancy Kwan, James Shigeta, Jack Soo. Looking for a realistic, incisive view of 1960s Chinatown? Forget it! This Rodgers & Hammerstein musical is all fluff. But it’s also Hollywood’s only (almost) all-Asian movie. (Juanita Hall, who plays Madame Liang, is African American. She originated the role on Broadway and replaced Anna May Wong, who was originally set to play the role in the movie but died before filming began.) Ignore the sitcom plot, the corny jokes, and the silly musical numbers (including the embarrassing “I Enjoy Being a Girl”) and relish the sight of some veteran Asian American talent taking the spotlight. Jack Soo (in a role played in yellowface on Broadway) is not to be missed. (MCA Home Video)

Bruce Lee and the Green Hornet (1966-67) Various directors. Cast: Van Williams, Bruce Lee. This cassette contains three episodes from the campy, cartoonish 1960s TV series “The Green Hornet,” featuring martial-arts legend Bruce Lee (1940-1973) as the masked hero’s Asian sidekick, Kato. The tape also includes Bruce’s screen test, which led to his casting in the show. Although his kung fu stole all of the action scenes from the title character (Williams), Bruce was still forced to play Kato as either a white-jacketed “houseboy” or a masked chauffeur–in other words, as a subordinate. Watching “The Green Hornet” today, it’s fascinating to see Bruce’s lithe, lightning-like martial-arts moves. But at the same time, it’s infuriating to see such a potential star cooped up in a subservient role. Still, this video is a good opportunity to see some of Bruce’s work before his rise to kung fu stardom in Hong Kong. And judging by the title of the tape, it looks like Bruce gets the last laugh. (Facets Video)

Red Sun (1971) Directed by Terence Young. Cast: Charles Bronson, Toshiro Mifune, Ursula Andress. For those who prefer their Asian heroes of the Old West to be played by actual Asians, there’s always this enjoyable alternative to “Kung Fu” (see below). This Italian-French-Spanish co-production features Japanese legend Toshiro Mifune (“The Seven Samurai,” “Yojimbo”) in one of his few heroic roles set on American soil (albeit shot in Spain). This Euro-Western teams samurai Mifune with cowboy Bronson as they race to recover a precious sword stolen from visiting Japanese dignitaries. Thankfully, Mifune comes off as Bronson’s equal, not his sidekick. James Bond-veteran Young keeps the action so brisk that you’ll never notice how trite the story is. (Infinitely superior to that other Asian-themed Euro-Western, 1973’s “The Stranger and the Gunfighter,” starring Lee Van Cleef and Lo Lieh–an appalling waste of talent.) (Video Gems)

Kung Fu (1972) Directed by Jerry Thorpe. Cast: David Carradine, Barry Sullivan, Keye Luke. Not everybody is going to agree with including this title in the list. After all, Carradine was cast in the lead role of Kwai-Chang Caine, the role that Bruce Lee had developed as his own Hollywood starring vehicle. Bruce was robbed of the role. However, as a 1970s TV pilot, this story of Asian struggle in the Old West is quite well-done. Besides, the film does give its supporting Asian cast–Keye Luke, Philip Ahn, Robert Ito, James Hong–their moments in the sun. More importantly, the enormous success of the “Kung Fu” TV show (1972-75) did as much as any of Bruce’s movies to popularize Asian culture and martial arts in ’70s America (including making “kung fu” a household word). Each week, the TV series brought a positive awareness of Asian American history into homes throughout the country–albeit in a highly stylized and compromised manner. Ironically, “Kung Fu” also helped to bring about “Enter the Dragon”: both were produced by Warner Brothers. The updated 1990s series “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues” was a wretched knock-off, not worthy of its predecessor. (Warner Home Video)

Enter the Dragon (1973) Directed by Robert Clouse. Cast: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly. The plot is pure pulp. The drama is contrived. The outcome is illogical. Who cares?! This cult classic has martial artist and Asian American superstar Bruce Lee gracefully beating the bejeezus out of the bad guys! After years of obscurity in the U.S., Bruce triumphantly punched and kicked his way into the Hollywood spotlight (via Hong Kong). But in a bitter twist of fate, Bruce died only a month before the movie was released to great success. We can only speculate how different Hollywood’s image of Asians would be if Bruce had lived and persevered. Now available in a 25th anniversary commemorative edition, which includes the documentary short “Bruce Lee: In His Own Words.” (Warner Home Video)

The Yakuza (1975) Directed by Sydney Pollack. Cast: Robert Mitchum, Ken Takakura, Brian Keith. Although this is mainly Mitchum’s movie, Takakura’s empathic portrayal of a Japanese hit man–who turns against his employers to avenge his family–is so full of intensity and integrity that it transcends the “sidekick” label. This is an above-average action film. Director Pollack (“The Way We Were,” “Tootsie”) treats his martial-arts material with unusual seriousness and believability. This respectful presentation of a prominent Asian male character is rare for a Hollywood crowd-pleaser of the ’70s. (Warner Home Video)

Isamu Noguchi: Portrait of an Artist (1980) Directed by Bruce W. Bassett. An informative documentary on the important Japanese American artist who created a distinctive style of abstract sculpture and introduced Japanese objects and materials into American art. This tape is part of a documentary series of world artists. (Home Vision)

Chan Is Missing (1981) Directed by Wayne Wang. Cast: Wood Moy, Marc Hayashi. Why should I watch this? It’s just a couple of Asian guys yammering for 80 minutes. No stars. No breathtaking scenery. It’s even in black & white, for Pete’s sake! But using the rudiments of filmmaking technology, ace director Wayne Wang bursts the myth of San Francisco’s Chinatown as a mysterious, unknowable “foreign” territory. This is a story of American characters dealing with dilemmas specific to the Asian community. Its insider’s look at Asian American culture remains a breakthrough for Asian American fictional cinema. Yes, it’s a mystery, but don’t expect Charlie Chan. He’s missing, too. (New Yorker Home Video)

Gandhi (1982) Directed by Richard Attenborough. Cast: Ben Kingsley, Ian Charleson, Roshan Seth. While a bit too self-consciously noble, this highly honored epic remains an inspiring parable on the power of peace over violence. Besides, British star Ben Kingsley (formerly Krishna Bhanji) is, to date, the only ethnic Asian with a Best Actor Oscar. And there’s something slightly subversive about the sight of such a grand, opulent spectacle being harnessed to tell the story of a modest, ascetic man in a sack cloth. (Columbia/TriStar Home Video)

Utu (1983) Directed by Geoff Murphy. Cast: Anzac Wallace, Bruno Lawrence, Wi Kuki Kaa. In 1870, Te Wheke (Wallace), a Maori corporal in the colonial New Zealand Army, snaps after the army’s massacre of his village and vows “utu” (vengeance) against the British colonists. This story of Te Wheke’s guerilla war (taking more than a few cues from the Hollywood Western) is superbly crafted and stands as perhaps the most highly praised New Zealand film of all time. But even though Te Wheke is the film’s central figure, the story seems more concerned with the colonials’ hunt for him. This blunts our understanding of both Te Wheke as a character and the workings of colonialism. (Fox Video)

The Karate Kid (1984) Directed by John G. Alvidsen. Cast: Ralph Macchio, Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, Elisabeth Shue. Pat Morita’s character, Sensei Miyagi, is basically a variation of the stereotypical Asian “wise man.” However, his moving monologue about the Japanese American internment earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Morita as Best Supporting Actor in this very popular movie from the director of “Rocky” (1976). Morita returned to the role of Miyagi in three sequels. The role also enabled Morita to play the title character in the 1987-88 ABC police series “Ohara.” (Columbia/TriStar Home Video)

The Killing Fields (1984) Directed by Roland Joffé. Cast: Sam Waterston, Haing S. Ngor, John Malkovich. This highly acclaimed film tells the true story of reporters Sydney Schanberg (Waterston) and Dith Pran (Ngor), set against the bombing of Cambodia and Pol Pot’s death camps. For his portrayal of a man who narrowly escapes Cambodia’s harrowing holocaust, Ngor won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. However, some will argue that Ngor’s role is the film’s true lead character. (Warner Home Video)

Dim Sum (1985) Directed by Wayne Wang. Cast: Laureen Chew, Kim Chew, Victor Wong. Departing from the rough-hewn quality of “Chan Is Missing” (see above), Wang delicately observes the misunderstandings and unspoken affection between an immigrant Chinese mother and her American daughter (played by a real-life mother and daughter). The script is richly nuanced, and the performances are radiant. A wonderful film. (Pacific Arts Video)

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) Directed by Steven Frears. Cast: Gordon Warnecke, Daniel Day Lewis, Saeed Jaffrey. Skillfully scripted by Hanif Kureishi, this small British film was one of the year’s most unexpected hits. A young South Asian Englishman (Warnecke) tries to please his business-minded Pakistani family while secretly carrying on a homosexual relationship with a working-class Londoner (Day Lewis). The film deftly blends gritty “kitchen sink” realism with an aura of magic. The low-key performances are all completely on-target. (Warner Home Video)

A Great Wall (1985) Directed by Peter Wang. Cast: Peter Wang, Sharon Iwai, Kelvin Han Yee. A diverting comedy about a successful Chinese immigrant who returns to the old country with his new Asian American family in tow. This small film has a very light touch, and it uses the inevitable clash of cultures as a way to illuminate the characters, not as the butt of cheap laughs. Reportedly the first U.S. production shot in post-revolutionary China, its view of U.S.-Chinese friendship now seems a bit too optimistic in the wake of Tiananmen Square. (Pacific Arts Video)

Slaying the Dragon (1987) Directed by Deborah Gee. This PBS documentary blends vintage film clips with interviews of well-known faces (Kim Miyori, Amy Hill, James Shigeta, etc.) to chronicle Hollywood’s blinkered understanding of Asians and Asian Americans. If you need proof to back up your gnawing doubts about the entertainment industry, here it is! (Available from the National Asian American Telecommunications Association, 346 Ninth Street, 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA, 94103, 415/552-9550)

Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987) Directed by Stephen Frears. Cast: Sashi Kapoor, Frances Barber, Claire Bloom. A dazzling Molotov cocktail of a movie. Frears and screenwriter Kureishi (“My Beautiful Laundrette,” see above) team up again to celebrate the fluidity and eroticism of multicultural London. A thoughtful but joyous meditation on the fall of empire and the confusion of identity, this British film is just as relevant to the United States as it is to the United Kingdom. (Lorimar Home Video)

The Last Emperor (1987) Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. Cast: John Lone, Joan Chen, Peter O’Toole. It’s not good history, but this luxurious multiple-Oscar-winner provides a panoramic canvas for some under-rated Asian American acting talent. The fascinating Italian director Bertolucci (“Last Tango in Paris”) brings his meticulous style to the story of China’s (ready for this?) last emperor, Pu Yi. The sumptuous cinematography by the famous Italian lensman Vittorio Stararo is absolutely yummy. Lone’s laser-like performance in the title role holds the sprawling epic together. But despite the fact that this movie won every single one of its Oscar nominations (a rare feat for a Best Picture-winner), it–tellingly–didn’t receive a single nod for any member of its Asian cast. The film stands a proof positive that there’s a broad audience for realistic Asian stories and Asian actors in lead roles. How come Hollywood dropped the ball? (Check out Bertolucci’s 1994 Asian-themed follow-up, “The Little Buddha,” only if you want to hear Keanu Reeves doing a bad Indian accent.) (Nelson Home Entertainment)

Aloha Summer (1988) Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace. Cast: Chris Makepeace, Yuji Okumoto, Tia Carrere. Although it latches on to some over-familiar themes (the Pacific as a tourist paradise, the “white knight”), this intimate ensemble piece treats Japanese American life in Hawaii with enough depth and respect to make it worthwhile. Tia Carrere claims this as her first film, but her performance in “Zombie Nightmare” appeared two years earlier. (Lorimar Home Video)

Witchtrap (1988) Directed by Kevin S. Tenney. Cast: James W. Quinn, Kathleen Bailey, Linnea Quigley. A cheesy, unexceptional horror flick. However, the charismatic Amerasian actor James W. Quinn is cast in the color-blind lead. Rumor has it that director Tenney cast Quinn as the male lead in his earlier “Witchboard” (1986), but the casting was vetoed by someone higher-up because an Asian was deemed undesirable for the role. Now, Quinn gets the opportunity to show what he can do. One only wishes he had better material. (Magnum Entertainment)

A Family Gathering (1988) Directed by Lise Yasui and Ann Tegnell. Co-director Yasui explores the Japanese American internment through the personal experiences of her own extended family. She not only broadens her own personal knowledge about an unknown chapter of her family’s history, but she also uncovers a painful family secret. By casting its light on the small-scale story of a single family, this deeply moving documentary illuminates a much larger history. (Available from the National Asian American Telecommunications Association, 346 Ninth Street, 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA, 94103, 415/552-9550)

Best of the Best (1989) Directed by Bob Radler. Cast: Eric Roberts, Phillip Rhee, James Earl Jones. A proficient action movie built around a martial-arts tournament. Although Roberts is touted as the film’s star, Rhee turns out to be the main character and saves the day once Roberts in incapacitated. Rhee was also one of the producers and followed this entry with two sequels. If you want to be an Asian American movie star, it looks like you gotta do it yourself. (SVS Inc.)

Eat a Bowl of Tea (1989) Directed by Wayne Wang. Cast: Cora Miao, Russell Wong, Victor Wong. While not as thoughtful or as well-crafted as Louis Chu’s 1961 novel (upon which it’s based), this adaptation still provides another humanizing look at Chinatown and features Media Achievement Award-winner Russell Wong (“Vanishing Son”) in his first starring role. (Columbia/TriStar Home Video)

The Wash (1989) Directed by Michael Toshiyuki Uno. Cast: Mako, Nobu McCarthy, Sab Shimono. Based on Phillip Kan Gotanda’s play, this small, intimate movie celebrates the perseverance of love in the face of old age and cultural inhibition. Released theatrically before being aired as part of PBS’s “American Playhouse” series, the film features some sterling lead performances from its Japanese American cast (despite Mako’s really bad dye job). (Academy Entertainment)

Kumu Hula: Keepers of a Culture (1989) Directed by Robert Mugge (in collaboration with Vicky Holt Takamine). A fascinating look into the world of traditional Hawaiian music and dance, this documentary combines energetic concert footage and insightful interviews with contemporary practitioners of this resurgent art form. In these images, we come to see not only an exuberant expression of the human spirit, but also the affirmation of an indigenous culture that came dangerously close to being completely suppressed. Along the way, the films helps to dispel many misconceptions. In the end, we learn that there’s a lot more to the hula than grass skirts and ukuleles. (Rhapsody Films Inc.)

Hawaiian Rainbow (1989) Directed by Robert Mugge. An enjoyable concert documentary on Hawaiian “roots” music by the director of “Kumu Hula” (see above). If you like Hawaiian music, the two films would make a great double feature. (SVS Inc.)

The Color of Honor (1989) Directed by Loni Ding. An informative and emotional documentary about the Japanese American servicemen of World War II. Balancing vintage newsreel footage and contemporary interviews with surviving veterans, this film begins with the internment, explores the lesser-known aspects of Japanese American participation in the war effort, and touches upon the post-war aftermath. Arguing that the Japanese American contribution to the victory was intentionally censored from the chronicles of war, this documentary succeeds in reclaiming that contribution for future generations. (Vox Productions)

Twin Peaks (1990-91) Various directors. Cast: Kyle McLaughlin, Michael Ontkean, Joan Chen. After his big-screen triumphs as an off-kilter movie director, David Lynch (“Eraserhead,” “The Elephant Man”) produced this bizarre, unsettling TV series, sort of a small-town soap opera on LSD. The show’s eerie aura and mind-blowing plot twists won a well-deserved cult following–but failed to find a popular audience. Joan Chen takes the intriguing role of businesswoman Josie Packard, a character not originally written as Asian. Chen’s performance is textured and nuanced, abetting the show’s weird, mysterious atmosphere. However, her character–predictably–turns out to be an ex-hooker. Given how the show upsets expectations, it’s hard to tell whether Chen’s character indulges or explodes the “dragon lady” stereotype. Maybe both? Available in two versions: the two-hour pilot with additional scenes not broadcast on television (Warner Home Video) and a six-volume set (Worldvision).

Hiroshima: Out of the Ashes (1990) Directed by Peter Werner. Cast: Max von Sydow, Judd Nelson, Noriyuki “Pat” Morita. Despite the fact that von Sydow and Nelson get top billing, this American TV movie is actually an ensemble film that makes good use of its largely Asian American cast: Morita, Tamlyn Tomita, Mako, Kim Miyori, etc. It tells a fictionalized story of Hiroshima on the day that the first atom bomb was dropped. We see the story primarily through the eyes of the Japanese characters, and we are asked to empathize with them. The awkward presence of von Sydow and Nelson notwithstanding, this above-average TV film affirms that an American audience can see itself in the faces of Asian people. (Trimark Video)

The Killing Beach (a.k.a. Turtle Beach, 1991) Directed by Stephen Wallace. Cast: Greta Scacchi, Joan Chen, Art Malik. This Australian production has “down under” journalist Scacchi investigating the Malaysian genocide of Vietnamese refugees. Chen’s role as Scacchi’s Vietnamese guide is meatier than most parts for Asian women, but she turns out to be (surprise!) an ex-hooker. More ground-breaking is Art Malik’s role as Scacchi’s sexy, confident South Asian love interest. But since this overseas movie never received theatrical distribution in the States, Malik will probably remain best-known for his villainous performance as the main Islamic terrorist in “True Lies” (1994), starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Columbia/TriStar Home Video)

Thousand Pieces of Gold (1991) Directed by Nancy Kelly. Cast: Rosalind Chao, Dennis Dun, Chris Cooper. Based on Ruthanne Lum McCunn’s well-known biographical novel, this film traces the struggles of a Mongolian woman (Chao) who is sold into slavery in 19th-century China, but who finds independence in the American West. While director Kelly (who co-produced this film with her husband, Kenji Yamamoto) treats her material with sincerity and respect, her approach lacks passion and urgency. Reclaiming a lost history isn’t enough–it has to mean something to us here and now. (Hemdale Home Video)

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) Directed by Nicholas Meyer. Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, George Takei. Captain Sulu takes command of his own starship–the “Excelsior”–and flies to save Captain Kirk’s butt in this pulse-pounding Cold War allegory (the Starship Federation and the Klingons try to get along). As Sulu, Takei sits regally in his captain’s seat, barking orders to crew members, and gives a coolly sarcastic retort to a junior officer played by Christian Slater (who makes an unbilled cameo appearance just to take orders). Finally, Sulu shows us what he can do when he’s not under Kirk’s thumb, and his heartfelt goodbye to his former commander at the end deserved Oscar consideration (did you read Takei’s autobiography, “To the Stars”? He hates Shatner!). One of the most dynamic performances by an Asian American male in an “action film.” [guy aoki] (Paramount Home Video)

History and Memory (1991) Directed by Rea Tajiri. Disturbed by her parents’ silence about their internment during World War II, video artist Tajiri digs through old documentary footage and visits the ruins of her mother’s camp to answer her nagging questions. However, the real subjects of this half-hour video are the uncertainty of perception and the vagaries of history. Tajiri skillfully mixes thoughtful personal insight with pointed criticism of the media as she grows to understand her parents’ “loss of memory.” A moving and haunting work. (Ghost Pictures)

Masala (1991) Directed by Srinivas Krishna. Cast: Srinivas Krishna, Saeed Jaffrey, Zohra Segal. Krishna directs himself as an Indian Canadian ex-junkie named Krishna trying to find his moorings in modern-day Toronto after the death of his parents. Meanwhile, the Indian deity Krishna (do you see a pattern here?) visits the young man’s grandmother over her TV set. Like “My Beautiful Laundrette” (see above), this color-drenched Canadian movie (released in the U.S. in 1993) is another intriguing mix of gritty South Asian reality and fantastical South Asian magic. Not to be confused with Mira Nair’s “Mississippi Masala” (see below). (Fox/Lorber Home Video)

Mississippi Masala (1992) Directed by Mira Nair. Cast: Denzel Washington, Sarita Choudhury, Roshan Seth. Yes, it’s yet another interracial romance with an Asian American woman. But wait! This time, the leading man is African American. The thought-provoking flip side to all those annoying “white knight” movies. Not to be confused with Srinivas Krishna’s “Masala” (see above). (Columbia/TriStar Home Video)

Rapid Fire (1992) Directed by Dwight H. Little. Cast: Brandon Lee, Powers Boothe, Dustin Nguyen. One of the few Hollywood films with an acculturated Asian American hero who is also in touch with his ancestral roots, this above-average, action-packed movie boasts some fine acting and rescues Brandon Lee (Bruce’s son) from his insulting sidekick role in the loathsome “Showdown in Little Tokyo” (1991). This film also led to Brandon’s casting as the non-Asian title character in “The Crow” (1994) and–sadly–to his untimely death. (Fox Video)

Who’s Going to Pay for These Donuts, Anyway? (1992) Directed by Janice Tanaka. Sansei artist Tanaka confronts a momentous chapter in her personal history: the discovery of her long-missing father, an evacuee during World War II, in a halfway house for the mentally ill. Tanaka’s hour-long video interrogates perceptions of her father’s mental health, an interrogation that stretches into the history of the Japanese American internment. But rather than making any hard and fast assertions, Tanaka questions the very subject of perception and looks inward to fathom the internment’s impact upon herself and the rest of her family. Unusual and absorbing video images permeate this thought-provoking work. (Available from the National Asian American Telecommunications Association, 346 Ninth Street, 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA, 94103, 415/552-9550)

Strangers (1992) Directed by Daniel Vigne, Wayne Wang, and Joan Tewkesbury. Cast: Linda Fiorentino, Joan Chen, Timothy Hutton. This HBO-produced omnibus film consists of three separate stories, one of them directed by Wang and starring Chen as an Asian American woman who becomes erotically obsessed with an unseen man in Paris. Refreshingly, the race of Chen’s character is incidental to the story. Wang’s segment does a fine job of capturing Chen’s sense of disorientation (so to speak), but it’s hard to tell what the point of the story is supposed to be–beyond the sexual titillation of the audience. Although the erotic material clearly required Chen to cut loose and bare all, she self-consciously keeps her body strategically covered. This draws our attention to the artifice of Chen’s performance, and it makes us wonder why such an inhibited actress was hired for such an uninhibited role in the first place. (Prism/Turner Home Entertainment)

Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993) Directed by Rob Cohen. Cast: Jason Scott Lee, Lauren Holly, Nancy Kwan. More of a highly stylized kung fu flick than a realistic bio-pic, this is one of those rare Hollywood movies to examine the immigrant experience from the perspective of a strong, resourceful Asian man. A box-office hit, this film also affirmed Bruce Lee’s importance to American popular culture. Cohen made a point to include several scenes depicting the discrimination that Bruce (played by Jason Scott Lee) endured in the U.S. Particularly notable is the scene where he sits stone-faced through a screening of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” while his fellow movie-goers laugh hysterically at Mickey Rooney’s insulting, stereotypical performance as an Asian. Another shows Bruce’s pain and frustration when the lead role in “Kung Fu” is taken away from him and given to David Carradine. The movie is also uncommon for its positive portrayal of an interracial romance between an Asian man and a white woman. But then again, that’s how it really happened! The film earned MANAA’s first Media Achievement Awards for director Cohen and star Lee. (MCA Home Video)

Surf Ninjas (1993) Directed by Neal Isreal. Cast: Ernie Reyes Jr., Rob Schneider, Leslie Nielsen. Don’t laugh! (Not until you watch the movie, anyway.) This is actually a very enjoyable action-adventure yarn for younger viewers (the rating is PG). The sight of Filipino American teen heart-throb Ernie Reyes Jr. defeating the bad guys and winning the admiration of the love interest (a young Kelly Hu) can provide a much-needed role model for Asian American boys. Intriguingly, Ernie’s “white” sidekick is played by Rob Schneider, who is actually half-Filipino! (New Line Home Video)

The Wedding Banquet (1993) Directed by Ang Lee. Cast: Winston Chao, May Chin, Mitchell Lichtenstein. At the urging of his white lover, a gay Taiwanese immigrant marries an undocumented Chinese woman to keep her in the U.S. Then, the Taiwanese man’s parents–who don’t know he’s gay–pay a visit. This sitcommish plot could have easily degenerated into a feeble farce. Instead, it poignantly contemplates the meaning of love, family, and commitment–all in the context of Asian America. This U.S.-Taiwan co-production is one of the most richly human comedies of the decade. (Fox Video)

The Buddha of Suburbia (1993) Directed by Roger Michell. Cast: Naveen Andrews, Roshan Seth, Susan Fleetwood. “My Beautiful Laundrette’s” Hanif Kureishi (with director Michell) adapts his own novel into this compelling four-hour BBC mini-series. The show is at once a moving drama of a South Asian family in 1970s England and a hilarious send-up of how the West “exoticizes” Asian people. When the young lead character, Karim (superbly played by Andrews), becomes an actor, he finds himself face to face with the demands of stereotyping–even from the “progressive” theatre. And when Karim is cast as the lead in a film, “The Buddha of Suburbia” even mocks itself for appearing to be the “definitive” look at South Asian life in Britain. A rich and rewarding work (but definitely not for kids). (BBC/Fox Video)

M. Butterfly (1993) Directed by David Cronenberg. Cast: Jeremy Irons, John Lone, Ian Richardson. David Henry Hwang’s 1988 Broadway play about European misrecognition of Asia was justly rewarded with several Tony Awards. A French diplomat falls in love with a Chinese opera star, whom he believes to be the “lotus blossom” of his dreams–only to learn that “she” is a man. However, when the time came to turn the play into a film, the material was handed over to a director with no appreciation for the playwright’s critique of East-West relations. Horror-movie maestro Cronenberg (“The Fly,” “Naked Lunch”) miscast the part of Chinese transvestite Song Liling with the masculine John Lone, who (unlike B.D. Wong, who won a Tony for the role on stage) could never convince an audience that he was a woman. Then, the director took out Song’s defiant speech to the French court (“And being an Oriental, I could never be completely a man”) and made him a passive whimp. This film does a severe injustice to the play. Rather than renting the movie, try to catch a stage production. Or else rent “Golden Gate” (see below). (Warner Home Video)

The Joy Luck Club (1993) Directed by Wayne Wang. Cast: Lots of Asian Americans! It’s that Wang fellow again. This time, he has a Hollywood-size budget and two continents to work with. Just as the Amy Tan novel (upon which it’s based) slowly won over the literary world, this deeply moving story of eight Asian American women was the surprise sleeper hit of the year. This film–arguably the first Asian American Hollywood movie of the sound era–was produced by Media Achievement Award-winner Janet Yang. (Hollywood Pictures Home Video)

Bhaji on the Beach (1993) Directed by Gurinder Chadha. Cast: Kim Vithana, Jimmi Harkishin, Sarita Khajuria. A group of South Asian women in England–of various ages, nationalities, and emotional attachments–take off together for a day at the beach (Blackpool, to be exact). This small British film exquisitely balances comedy and drama to create a thoughtful meditation on what it means to be an Asian woman in a man’s world. (Columbia/TriStar Home Video)

Heaven and Earth (1993) Directed by Oliver Stone. Cast: Hiep Thi Le, Tommy Lee Jones, Joan Chen. Not exactly known for his light touch, Stone beats his audience over the head with this bombastic true story of war and exile. What makes the movie worth watching is the chance of seeing the Vietnam War through the eyes of a Vietnamese woman. Instead of viewing the jungle–as usual–from the helicopters, we’re looking up at the war machines. This simple change in perspective tells us more than a whole slew of Rambo movies ever could. Joan Chen’s self-effacing performance is a stand-out. (Warner Home Video)

Golden Gate (1994) Directed by John Madden. Cast: Matt Dillon, Joan Chen, Bruno Kirby, This PBS film is scripted by Media Achievement Award-winner David Henry Hwang and is truer to his critique of colonialism than the compromised motion picture version of his stage play “M. Butterfly” (see above). Set in the 1950s and ’60s, a white F.B.I. agent (Dillon) feels remorseful about his persecution of an innocent Chinese American man (Tzi Ma), and he assuages his guilt by contriving a romantic relationship with the man’s daughter (Chen). But the agent’s past comes back to haunt him. This film’s criticism is incisive: assuaging white, male colonial guilt with erotic fascination for Asian women solves nothing. The European creators of “Miss Saigon” could probably learn something here. (Touchstone Home Video)

Hostile Intentions (1994) Directed by Catherine Cyran. Cast: Tia Carrere, Lisa Dean Ryan, Tricia Leigh Fisher. The portrayal of Mexicans in this straight-to-video, south-of-the-border thriller is kind of problematic. However, Filipina American heart-throb Tia Carrere is cast in a color-blind lead role. Now, how often does that happen? (Warner Vision Films)

Rapa Nui (1994) Directed by Kevin Reynolds. Cast: Jason Scott Lee, Esai Morales, Sandrine Holt. Set on Easter Island before its “discovery” by Europeans, this film is a parable of ecological devastation. Director Reynolds (“Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” “Waterworld”) etches his environmentalism with a heavy hand (at one point, we see Jason Scott Lee hugging a tree–literally!). Still, this take on the eternal love triangle is well-told and impressively photographed. And it’s a nice change of pace to see a story of the Pacific Islands with–get this!–Pacific Islanders as the main characters, played by an Asian/Latino cast (Easter Island is now governed by Chile). A refreshing reminder that the history of the South Pacific didn’t begin with the explorer Captain Cook and the painter Gauguin. (Warner Home Video)

Double Happiness (1994) Directed by Mina Shum. Cast: Sandra Oh, Stephen M.D. Chang, Alannah Ong. Bursting with all the energy and hunger of a first-time director, Mina Shum whimsically tracks the travails and triumphs of a young Chinese Canadian actress as she breaks away from her traditional immigrant family. Sandra Oh (“Arli$$”) won the Canadian equivalent of the Best Actress Oscar for her radiant performance in the lead role. Some have criticized this film’s portrayal of its Asian men (they’re either squares, gay, or middle-aged) and the lead character’s relationship with a white guy. But this is no “white knight” fantasy (the final image shows the Oh character setting off on her own–not in her white lover’s arms). And for all their faults, the Asian characters are ultimately human. Splendidly so. (New Line Home Video)

Once Were Warriors (1994) Directed by Lee Tamahori. Cast: Rena Owen, Temuera Morrison, Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell. A gritty, unflinching look at a blue-collar Maori family in modern-day New Zealand. The story stands as a scathing indictment of the second-class citizenship accorded to New Zealand’s indigenous people–and the unwitting ways they help foster it. However, the film also holds out the traditional Maori culture as one possible means to overcome the traps of self-loathing. The performances by the Maori cast are all top-notch. And Maori director Tamahori would go on to direct “Mulholland Falls” (1995) and “The Edge” (1997) for Hollywood. (New Line Home Video)

Picture Bride (1994) Directed by Kayo Hatta. Cast: Youki Kudoh, Akira Takayama, Tamlyn Tomita. A realistic and respectful glimpse back into Asian American history, this labor of love follows a Japanese woman who immigrates to Hawaii in order to marry a man she’s never seen before. There are fine performances all around from the Asian cast. For no extra charge, Japanese legend Toshiro Mifune makes a cameo appearance as a travelling showman. And despite all their flaws and antagonism, the Asian men come off as well-meaning, intelligible human beings. Writer-director Hatta earned her Media Achievement Award for this film. (Miramax Home Entertainment)

The Jungle Book (1994) Directed by Stephen Sommers. Cast: Jason Scott Lee, Cary Elwes, John Cleese. Fresh from his lead performances in “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” and “Rapa Nui” (see above), Jason Scott Lee is back as another macho Asian hero–Mowgli (see the 1942 version of “The Jungle Book,” above). And this time, the villain isn’t an Asian mastermind, but the kind of square-jawed British soldier who’s usually the hero in the typical Raj film. In the wake of all those annoying “Gunga Din” stereotypes of South Asians, this colorful, invigorating, tongue-in-cheek adventure comes as a breath of fresh air. (Walt Disney Home Video)

Maya Lin: A Strong, Clear Vision (1994) Directed by Freida Lee Mock. An informative look at the Chinese American artist who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, this film was the surprise winner of the Best Documentary Oscar of 1994. It begins by chronicling the controversy surrounding Lin’s Vietnam Memorial (including the role her race played in the dispute), but it also moves on to show us her other works: sculptures and designs which aren’t as well-known, but which are just as fascinating. Although the film itself is rather pedestrian, Lin’s art is anything but! Her designs are demanding, inventive, yet always accessible. And they endow the documentary with a sense of artistry and mystery that it might not otherwise have. (Available from American Film Foundation, P.O. Box 2000, Santa Monica, CA 90406, 1-800-472-1500.)

Rumble in the Bronx (1995) Directed by Stanley Tong. Cast: Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Françoise Yip. Okay, we’re bending the rules a bit here. This is actually a Hong Kong production, originally shot in Cantonese and then dubbed into English for its American release (in 1996). However, this very entertaining chop-socky comedy scored Jackie Chan’s first box-office success in the U.S.A. Jackie’s first two attempts to break into the American market, “The Big Brawl” (1981) and “The Protector” (1986), didn’t live up to expectations. But as the old saying goes, the third time’s the charm. The movie is also a positive look at the Asian immigrant experience. Its success encouraged New Line Cinema to release more of Jackie’s films, culminating in his first full-fledged Hollywood star vehicle, “Rush Hour” (1998). (New Line Home Video)

Mortal Kombat (1995) Directed by Paul Anderson. Cast: Linden Ashby, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Robin Shou. A fairly enjoyable action movie–if you don’t take it too seriously. But then again, how seriously should anybody take a film based on a video game? As the story gets going, it looks like yet another entry in the “white martial artist beats up the Asians” sweepstakes: with good-guy Johnny Cage (Ashby) pitted against the evil Shang Tsung (Tagawa). But seeming to borrow a page from “Best of the Best” (see above), Robin Shou’s limber Liu Kang seizes the spotlight, and he becomes the hero who dukes it out with the arch-villain in the rousing climax. This could mark a new trend: the Asian as stealth hero. Followed by a sequel, “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation” (see below). (New Line Home Video)

Wild Side (1995) Directed by Franklin Brauner (Donald Cammell). Cast: Christopher Walken, Joan Chen, Anne Heche. Chen plays a gangster’s wife who develops an unexpected lesbian relationship with (we’re not making this up!) a bank executive who leads a double life as a call girl (Heche). Mercifully, no big deal is made about Chen’s character being Asian. However, this straight-to-video production will probably go down in Hollywood history for having Anne Heche play a lesbian two years before she came out in real life. Chen, Heche, and Walken pour themselves into their roles, but–despite its flirtation with humanity’s dark underbelly–the material never rises above crime-movie clichés. Chen also associate-produced, and her self-conscious nude scene comes off as a desperate attempt to catch a casting director’s eye. Eight years after “The Last Emperor,” one would have hoped to see her in something better. (Evergreen Entertainment)

The Pillow Book (1995) Directed by Peter Greenaway. Cast: Vivian Wu, Ewan McGregor, Yoshi Oida. Is this the story of an Asian woman taking power over her own life–or just another irritating “white knight” re-tread? You be the judge! One thing’s for certain: this is one of the most visually imaginative films to come along in a long time. Known for his startling imagery, British director Greenaway (“The Draughtsman’s Contract,” “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover”) fills the screen with an explosive mix of color and design in his update of the Japanese classic “The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon.” But while the images are strong throughout, this story of a Japanese/Hong Kong woman (Wu) taking revenge on the murder of her British lover (McGregor) tends to lose its way. (Columbia/TriStar Home Video)

Irma Vep (1996) Directed by Olivier Assayas. Cast: Maggie Cheung, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Nathalie Richard. A washed-up French director (Léaud) has a shot at redeeming himself by re-making a classic French film, and he takes the unusual step of casting a Hong Kong actress (Cheung) as the female lead, Irma Vep. This intense, claustrophobic French chamber film (with some English dialogue) isn’t for everyone. However, one scene exemplifies the institutional resistance to non-traditional casting: When the director’s replacement assumes control of the film, his first decision is to fire Cheung because she’s Asian, not French. “Irma Vep isn’t Fu Manchu,” he says. Obviously, he can’t see beyond the actress’ race. One can only hope that Hollywood will see its own racial myopia in this scene. (Fox/Lorber Home Video)

Foxfire (1996) Directed by Annette Haywood-Carter. Cast: Hedy Burress, Angelina Jolie, Jenny Shimizu. An absorbing, well-crafted film about five high-school girls who rebel against the chauvinistic injustices of their small town. And one of them just happens to be Asian–model-turned-actress Jenny Shimizu as Goldie Goldman (apparently an adoptee). Shimizu switchblades the stereotype of the passive, bookish Asian American student. She may be a model, but she’s no “model minority.” And Shimizu’s off-screen identity as an out-of-the-closet lesbian underlines the ambiguous sexuality between the five females. (Columbia/TriStar Home Video)

Yo-Yo Ma: Inspired by Bach (1996) Various directors. This first-rate documentary mini-series on master cellist Yo-Yo Ma provides a rare and visually rich look at a talented Asian American musician at work–both on stage and behind the scenes. The elaborate creative works–dance, drama, film–centered around the music of J.S. Bach should have even the most adverse foe of classical music thinking of the venerable old composer in a new way. If you still think that Asians can only be waiters and rude grocers, you should definitely check this out! (Sony Classical Video)

The English Patient (1996) Directed by Anthony Minghella. Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Naveen Andrews. Every avid movie-goer probably knows about this multiple-Oscar-winning hit. But often overlooked is its tender subplot about the romance between a white French woman (Binoche) and a South Asian man (Andrews). (Miramax Home Entertainment)

Volcano (1997) Directed by Mick Jackson. Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche, Jacqueline Kim. In a rare Hollywood portrayal of Asian American audacity and heroism, Kim plays the supporting role of a doctor who–against the insistence of her selfish husband–risks her life to help the victims of a volcanic eruption in the middle of downtown Los Angeles. In addition to levelling L.A., this “Volcano” also devastates a few Asian stereotypes. [guy aoki] (Fox Video)

Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997) Directed by John R. Leonetti. Cast: Robin Shou, Talisa Soto, Irina Pantaeva. The only thing really notable about this sequel to “Mortal Kombat” (see above) is that–due to the attrition of the original’s big-name cast members–Robin Shou gets top billing. Oh, yes, and his romance with Kitana (Soto) is beefed up from the original. This movie also adds another Asian face by casting the Siberian model Pantaeva as the “femme fatale” who switches sides and joins the heroes. But the story keeps changing the goal post–keeps altering the stakes of the battle–so often that we’re not really sure who or what to root for. Not as good as the original. (New Line Home Video)

Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (1997) Directed by Mira Nair. Cast: Naveen Andrews, Sarita Choudhury, Indira Varma. An erotic and visually lavish story of 16th-century India, this international production provides a rare opportunity for some under-utilized South Asian talent to shine. Andrews makes a welcome return to the screen after his roles in “The Buddha of Suburbia” and “The English Patient” (see above). (Trimark Video)

One Night Stand (1997) Directed by Mike Figgis. Cast: Wesley Snipes, Nastassja Kinski, Ming-Na Wen. This highly contrived tale of adultery is ploddingly plotted and ultimately unrewarding. With Robert Downey Jr. in the supporting role of a gay catalyst, this story of sexual attraction between two married couples appears to be veering towards some kind of pan-sexual union–but ultimately cops out. Director Figgis (“Leaving Las Vegas”) gets screenplay credit, too, but only because Joe Eszterhas (“Basic Instinct”) took his name off the project. Still, this otherwise disappointing film features one remarkable quality: no big deal is made about the interracial marriage between the Snipes and Wen characters. It’s just taken as a given. Wen shocks in her uninhibited sex scenes–exploding her nice “Joy Luck Club” image. Word on the street is that African American star Snipes didn’t want his character to be seen leaving a black wife for Nastassja Kinski, so he was given an Asian American wife instead. (Maybe we should call using Asians to bridge divisions between blacks and whites the “Lance Ito solution.”) Although the film was a commercial and critical flop in this country, it found some admirers in Europe, and Snipes won the Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival. Go figure. (New Line Home Video)

Fresh Kill (1997) Directed by Shu Lea Cheang. Cast: Sarita Choudhury, Erin McMurtry, Abraham Lim. Video artist Cheang turns feature-film director with this surreal story of an interracial lesbian couple (Choudhury and McMurtry) trying to raise a daughter against a bizarre backdrop of corporate monopolization, ecological calamity, and cover-up. The photography (by Jane Castle) and set design stun the eye. The stream-of-consciousness screenplay was written by Filipina American poet Jessica Hagedorn, who has a small role. But the monologue-heavy individual scenes overpower the coherence of the over-all story. The film ultimately fails to engage. Still, one can appreciate the movie’s portrayal of multiculturalism in New York as a no-big-deal fact of life. (Strand Releasing)

Kundun (1997) Directed by Martin Scorsese. Cast: Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong, Gyurme Tethong, Tencho Gyalpo. Scorsese, one of the most respected directors working today (“Taxi Driver,” “GoodFellas”), sought to make a film about Tibet and–commendably–chose to make a Tibetan, the Dalai Lama, the main character. The film is visually lush and imbued with a sense of spiritual mystery. Regrettably, Scorsese and screenwriter Melissa Mathison never find a way to make the story compelling. A holy man removed from the realities of his realm, the Dalai Lama is a rather uncomplicated character, and the film never finds an effective way to make his battle of wills with Communist China palpable. Scorsese affirmed the old Hollywood saying that it’s tough to make a good movie about a nice guy, and the film proved to be a problem for its studio both financially and politically. But the real tragedy of “Kundun” is the fact that it was released the same year as the more financially successful “Seven Years in Tibet,” which dealt with similar material and treated the land as an exotic backdrop for Hollywood icon Brad Pitt. This will probably make it harder for projects with Asian main characters to get past the Hollywood executives. (Touchstone Home Video)

The Replacement Killers (1998) Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Mira Sorvino, Michael Rooker. For hard-core action fans only. This relentlessly violent shoot-’em-up marks Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun-Fat’s first attempt to make it as a leading man in Hollywood. The action scenes are impressively choreographed and shot (by the camera, that is), but a little more character and story would have been appreciated. Although Chow and leading-lady Sorvino (“Mighty Aphrodite”) are ideally matched as love interests, the story–in typical Hollywood fashion–doesn’t permit an Asian man to become romantically involved with a white woman. (Columbia/TriStar Home Video)

Chinese Box (1998) Directed by Wayne Wang. Cast: Jeremy Irons, Gong Li, Maggie Cheung. This time, Wang tries to stand the old Suzie Wong paradigm on its head with this tale of a British journalist (Irons) now dependent on the Hong Kong woman he once dominated. But whether Wang succeeds is open to debate. In case we miss the point, the story is set on the eve of Hong Kong’s hand-over to China. As the female lead, Gong Li, China’s first lady of the screen, makes her bid for Hollywood stardom. However, this meandering film’s real stand-outs are Maggie Cheung’s in-your-face performance as a scarred squatter who refuses to let Irons control her and the mind-bending second-unit photography by Hong Kong-based cinematographer Chris Doyle (“Fallen Angels,” “Temptress Moon”). (Trimark Video)

There you have it. Also consult such resources as Visual Communications (213/680-4462), the National Asian American Telecommunications Association (415/552-9550), and the Japanese American National Museum (213/625-0414) for specialty videos not usually found in mainstream video stores.

Anything we missed? Please let us know. Feel free to leave suggestions or comments. And don’t forget to rewind.

1998 Robert M. Payne/Media Action Network for Asian Americans