One of Bee Vang’s friends said to him, “You started all the way at the top. Where do you go from here?”

If only all actors had such problems.

Without a lick of acting experience — he was plucked from a crowd of hundreds of boys screen testing for the part — the 17-year-old Bee landed a plum role in Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino.” Eastwood, who starred in and directed the film, was determined to use authentic actors for this multicultural tale of a cranky old man living in a Detroit suburb that has shifted to a predominantly Hmong-American demographic. The famed Oscar winner picked a slate of fresh faces for the film.

The 17-year-old Bee, who was born in Fresno but moved to Minnesota when he was a toddler, met Eastwood on the first day they had a scene together.

“Never once had I imagined I would be working next to Mr. Eastwood,” he says in a phone interview from his home in Robbinsdale, Minn.

Pretty heady stuff, especially for a kid who’d grown up watching Eastwood’s Westerns.

Bee plays Thao, a gentle-souled young man who lives next door to Eastwood’s character, the cantankerous Walt Kowalski. Thao is coerced by local gang members into trying to steal Walt’s prized Gran Torino car from his garage. When Walt thwarts the robbery, it sets in motion a chain of events that includes a grudgingly developing friendship between the two.

Films often are shot out of order, and “Gran Torino” was no exception. For his first scene with Eastwood, which takes place in the second half of the film, Bee had to shoot at a construction site. He remembers it was really hot that day. And he was really nervous.

He tried to think of something he could do to make a good first impression, but he sort of faltered. It didn’t matter.

“When I first met him, he was really down to earth, really humble, a really nice guy,” Bee says. “I started to tell myself every day that maybe we forget that these movie stars are human beings. I told myself that to get relaxed and not be so intimidated.”

Up until his first moment on camera, Bee’s only dramatic experience was backstage with a local theater group. He painted sets and worked on the sound.

He asked Eastwood early on if the director wanted him to rehearse by running lines together. The response: no.

“He told me that acting is not an intelligent art form, it is an instinctive art form,” Bee says.

As I talk with Bee, I’m struck by how refreshingly “un-Hollywood” he seems. Actors spend lots of time promoting their films in interviews, and they’re almost always effusive about how well the cast got along — how everyone was so friendly and got so close, etc., etc. (At least, that’s what they’re likely to say about their current film. Sometimes you can get them to open up about a past film experience.)

But Bee hasn’t developed that tendency toward spin. He doesn’t try to build his relationship with Eastwood into something it wasn’t. Even though the two of them forge a tender chemistry together on film — it’s one of the emotional high points — off-camera their contact was limited.

“I invited him to dinner once, but he was too busy,” Bee says.

It just goes to show what acting and editing can do to create the magic of movies — to create a relationship that is most poignant in the minds and hearts of the audience.

“Gran Torino” is the first mainstream film with a prominent Hmong-American story line. Eastwood takes great pains to have the film serve as sort of a primer for an American public that might not be familiar with Hmong culture — from the cuisine and local customs to an explanation of the historical Hmong involvement in the Vietnam War.

Bee isn’t sure what the overall reaction to the film will be, especially from members of the Hmong- American community. Some people likely will take issue with some of the small details of the film, such as the way a soul-calling ceremony with a shaman is depicted.

And he suspects that some will object to the emphasis on gangs. That’s just a device used in the film, he says. “It was never just about the Hmong community. It uses the backdrop of the gangsters to show the struggles that Walt and Thao are going through.”

Still, he hopes that people walk away from the film with a better awareness.

“I’m hoping that it does introduce people,” he says. “There are still some parts of the U.S. that haven’t heard of the Hmong people. We played a big role in the Vietnam War, and we deserve to be known.”

In many ways, Bee seems so unlike an “average” teenage movie star: cooing over the excitement of going to the world premiere of the film in Burbank; joking with his friends that he’ll be too shy to go with them when it opens in his hometown; hypercritical of his facial blemishes on-screen.

He wants to be a doctor, and the high school junior — who takes college classes already — is pretty sure that he’ll continue his honors- student path toward a pre-med degree.

Still, he likes this acting thing. “All I know is that I enjoyed this experience so much,” he says, almost shyly. “I think I want to pursue this some more.”

So, yes, he started at the top. Where does Bee Bee go from here?

Anywhere he wants.

The columnist can be reached at dmunro@fresnobee. com or (559) 441-6373. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com/ donald.
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Charles Wong, who was born in Vietnam, is part of a four-generation household in Milpitas. He lives with his mother, his 33-year-old daughter, her husband and their two children, and the arrangement feels normal. The average Vietnamese family has more than four

people in Santa Clara County, census data shows, compared with 3.03 people for whites.”In Vietnam, we usually live together with the parents, unless we have different jobs that are far away,” Wong said. In California, it’s also a way to share culture, especially home cooking, “so we don’t have McDonald’s every day,” he said. It made sense, Wong said, to take in his daughter and son-in-law when they had job problems.

Wong, a real estate agent who wants to retire but whose income helps support the family, views the arrangement as temporary.

“I want to help my daughter for awhile, until they are able to move out,” he said. “At my age, I want more quiet.”

California has the second-largest family size in the U.S. at 3.52 persons per family, behind only Utah.

In California, family size “is certainly driven more by immigration than by economics, but they are both responsible,” said Hans Johnson, a demographer with the Public Policy Institute of California.

After World War II, the average American family peaked at 3.72 persons in 1966, before dropping steadily through the 1970s and 1980s. Family size reached an all-time low of 3.13 persons in 2003. But average family size has not declined for the past five years, for the first time since World War II, according to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey.

Meanwhile, a Census Bureau survey that covers a much larger share of U.S. households indicates the average American family is actually growing — particularly white and African-American families. Contrary to stereotypes, average family size for Latinos and Asians is shrinking.

First (extended) family

In Washington, the Obama family has determined that the new first lady’s mother will live in the White House.

“Mrs. Robinson has been a rock for the Obama family and an active grandma for the girls, especially over the last year while their parents were campaigning,” said Katie McCormick Lelyveld, a transition spokeswoman for the family. “Mrs. Robinson will be coming with the family to help the girls get acclimated, and she will determine in the coming months whether or not she wants to stay in D.C. permanently.”

A century ago, extended-family households were common in America. Today, beyond economic stresses and immigration, other forces are also reshaping American families.

With young people waiting longer to marry, and parenting styles becoming more “democratic” over the past 30 years, baby boomers’ adult children are likely to have closer relationships with their parents, Coontz said. More young adults get to know their parents as equals.

The increase in extended-family households is a well-developed trend, “but people haven’t recognized its implications,” said Coontz, author of “Marriage, A History.”

Even the Fielder-Erickson-Roberts family struggles to explain why their arrangement works.

“For the married-ons, for the husbands in our case, it takes a great deal of understanding to live with your in-laws,” Sondra Erickson said. “I think it takes a special person to do it and be comfortable with the situation.”

Sitting at their dinner table, Lynn Fielder, a Planned Parenthood executive in San Jose before Parkinson’s forced her to retire, agrees.

Recovering from brain surgery in October to stabilize her motor function, Fielder can focus on creating her jewelry in part because her mother drives Maya and her to appointments. Just now, she is working on a Parkinson’s fundraiser this month at Vino Locale, an art gallery in downtown Palo Alto.

Because of the family’s closeness, Maya gets to have special family experiences like playing music with her great-grandmother.

And Roberts, a vibrant nonagenarian who rides an exercise bike, quips that she won’t break up the family.

“I love it,” Roberts said of her living arrangement. “I promised Maya I would be around for her high school graduation, so I have another year to go.”

Contact Mike Swift at mswift@mercurynews.com or (408) 271-3648.


The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) by Ellen Kuras

Written and directed by Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath, The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) follows a family of Lao immigrants in New York struggling to rebuild their lives after being forced to leave their native country. (Phrasavath’s father had collaborated with the CIA, choosing targets for U.S. bombings.)

Reviews have been highly positive. The New York TimesA. O. Scott called The Betrayal “contemplative and impressionistic,” while Newsweek’s David Ansen proclaimed it a “moving, lyrical … epic.”

The Betrayal has been nominated for the 2009 Spirit Awards and is one of the 15 semi-finalist documentaries in the running for the 2009 Academy Awards.

The Betrayal opens at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills on Jan. 16.

Official Site.

Jeremy Kay in Los Angeles
15 Jan 2009 19:34

Timothy Linh Bui, Stephane Gauger, Ham Tran and Wyn Tran’s newly launched distributor Wave Releasing targeting Vietnamese-American and discerning independent audiences and will roll out its maiden title Owl And The Sparrow on January 16.

The Vietnamese-American partners have worked in various capacities on each other’s projects and were inspired to launch the company when Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo del Toro launched cha cha cha.

Owl And The Sparrow, which won the audience award at the 2007 Los Angeles Film Festival, will open in limited theatres in Los Angeles, Irvine and Westminster before rolling out to San Francisco, San Jose, Houston, Chicago, and other cities in the coming weeks.

The film takes place in Saigon where a ten-year-old orphan plays matchmaker to a zookeeper and a beautiful flight attendant.

“We’re at a crossroads point in indie filmmaking and this was our way of helping to ensure that we’re on the correct side as the paradigm shift occurs,” Wave Releasing’s CEO and co-founder Bui said. “Starting the company was our response to the digital revolution and a way for us to reclaim a strong film and storytelling legacy.”

“What’s great about our company is that we all know and like each other and we end up working on each other’s films, so the move to join together and distribute our films was very much a natural one,” Gauger added.

Happy New Year

We hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday. 2008 has been an exciting and challenging year for us. We’re excited to announce that Owl and the Sparrow will open in Los Angeles and Orange County theaters today, January 16th, and will expand to major cities in January and February.  If you’ve seen the film at a film festival, we invite you to experience this warm-hearted film again and bring your friends.

Check out the blog!



http://www.owlandthesparrow.com/blog.html

Owl and the Sparrow opens
January 16th in Los Angeles and Orange County and expands the following week to major cities:
January 16, 2008
Laemmle Sunset 5
8000 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Showtimes: 1.40p  4.20p  7.15p  9.45p
Regal Garden Grove
9741 Chapman Ave
Garden Grove, CA 92841

(714) 534-4777
Showtimes: 12.10p  2.40p  5.05p  7.30p  10.05p

Edwards Westpark
3755 Alton Pky
Irvine, CA 92604

(949) 622-8609
Showtimes: 1.30p  4.30p  7.30p  9.50p

Coming Soon:
January 23, 2008 – San Jose, Camera 3

Febuary 6, 2008 – Dallas & Houston, TBA
Febuary 13, 2008 – San Francisco, Sundance Kabuki Theater

Events:

January 16, 2009
Laemmle Sunset 5 -West Hollywood
Meet writer/director Stephane Gauger & Exec. Producer Timothy Linh Bui (Green Dragon, Three Seasons) @ the 7.15p & 9.45p showtimes for Q&A

January 17, 2009

Edwards Westpark 8 – Irvine
Q&A with writer/director Stephane Gauger @ 4.30p & 7.30p showtimes

By L.A. Weekly Film Critics
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
OWL AND THE SPARROW (Vietnam/USA) Writer-director Stephane Gauger’s lovely debut tracks a week in the lives of three young Vietnamese: a flight attendant on holiday, a zoo employee and a 10-year-old runaway. After suffering through multiple-storyline ensemble dramas like Crash and Babel, which resort to convoluted narrative coincidences to drive home humanistic messages, Owl and the Sparrow feels shockingly, refreshingly simple. Unfolding organically and honestly without a thought to making any larger points, the film’s look at loneliness and tentative connection is small-scaled but tremendously resonant. Special accolades to child actress Pham Thi Han, who doesn’t have a hammy or maudlin bone in her body.

For more dates, go to our website at:
http://www.owlandth esparrow. com

To view trailer, click on
http://www.youtube. com/watch? v=qJB9ZQQiClY

Here’s what else we’ve been up to lately:
* We had a benefit screening in Raleigh studios Hollywood where over $10,000 was raised for Vietnamese orphanages.
* Owl and the Sparrow was released theatrically in Japan and South Korea.

Owl and the Sparrow awards and nominations

2008 Nominee, Independent Spirit AwardsJohn Cassavetes Award
2007 Nominee, Gotham Awards – Breakthrough Director
Winner, Audience Award – Los Angeles Film Festival
Winner, Best Narrative Feature
San Francisco Asian American Film Festival
Dallas Asian Film Festival
San Diego Asian American Film Festival
Winner, NETPAC Award – Hawaii International Film Festival
Winner, Emerging Filmmaker – Starz Denver Film Festival

Click here to watch Owl and the Sparrow celebrity promo videos:
http://www.youtube. com/ WaveReleasing
Read our blog at:

htttp://www. owlandthesparrow . com/blog.html

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Tet films run the gamut

January 20, 2009

Kicking off last week, this holiday season’s Tet films celebrate love, lament loss, and are filled with both tears and laughs.

With a range of genres represented – comedy, romance, action and drama – there are pros and cons to this year’s Tet holiday films Giai cuu than chet (Hot Kiss 2), Dep tung centimet (Beautiful by the Centimeter) and Huyen thoai bat tu (Legend Is Alive).

Giai cuu than chet (Hot Kiss 2)

Giai cuu than chet (Hot Kiss 2) is the highly anticipated sequel to Nu hon than chet (Kiss of Death), Vietnam’s highest grossing film ever, which also won the silver prize at the 2007 Canh Dieu Vang (Golden Kite) awards, Vietnam’s answer to the Oscars.

The VND7 billion (US$410,000) film follows the story of a school girl who enlists the help of an angel of death to become popular at her new school. But the angel is young and inexperienced and most of his help backfires. Wacky antics ensue.

Director Nguyen Quang Dung said he wanted to send the youth a message with the film: “Nobody’s perfect in the world, you’d better be yourself,” he says.

Dung also wrote and directed “Kiss of Death.”

Dung, who’s earned the nickname Dung khung (Crazy Dung) for his unconventional directorial techniques, had previously said his goal with the film was to become Vietnam’s highest paid director.

So he looked to Hollywood for inspiration.

“My film is like ‘High School Musical,’ ‘Mean Girls’ and many other films in its portrayal of youth. In addition, I pay homage to the ‘Harry Potter’ films in the depiction of student-teacher relationships. I was also influenced by the social relationships set up in ‘Shark Tale’.”

“Hot Kiss 2” is a musical, like “High School Musical,” and follows a young girl who wants to be popular, like “Mean Girls.”

Dung said he loved the conflict in “Shark Tale,” where the main character is born into a criminal family but has a kind heart. Such was the inspiration for his angel of death character, a young man who wants to live a peaceful life rather than taking lives.

The group of characters are all popular, pretty and talented singers such as Minh Hang, Chi Thien and Dong Nhi.

The film’s female lead Minh Hang is an actress and singer. She became famous for her role in the TV series Goi giac mo ve (Calling back the dream), for which she received a Ho Chi Minh City Television Award in 2008.

But skeptics say that without the superstars’ involvement and frenetic chemistry of the last film’s two leads – supermodel Thanh Hang and Vietnamese American actor Johnny Tri Nguyen – the film might be a disappointment.

One viewer commented, and others agreed: “Hot Kiss 2 is a fun and humorous movie for the Lunar New Year, but it’s just for teenagers.“

Dep tung centimet (Beautiful by the Centimeter)

“Beautiful by the Centimeter” tells the story of a photographer and a model who try to take advantage of each other to get what they want. But of course, they fall in love.

The film’s two leads, Tang Thanh Ha and Luong Manh Hai, have already worked together on the hit TV show Bong dung muon khoc (Suddenly I wanna cry) and are sure to win audiences hearts yet again.

The film’s director, Vu Ngoc Dang, also directed the TV series.

But the chemistry among the artists can’t conceal the vapidity of the film’s content. The artists seem content merely to have a bunch of kissing scenes inter cut with scenes of deception.

Most of the dialogue is annoying, long and boring and the characters only fall in love after Hai’s character (the man) cheats on Ha’s character in order to learn how to kiss.

But no specific details or situations lead viewers to believe their love is true.

All we’ll remember from this empty film are the kisses.

Many viewers said they didn’t even feel the emotion in the kisses, accusing the director of not understanding how to express real affection or feelings.

“The characters seemed to kiss too easily,” said one viewer.

“The film seemed forced. It was almost as if it was completed prematurely. Perhaps the artists used up all their grace in Suddenly I wanna cry. That creative energy is not reproduced and the film seemed rushed,” said journalist and writer Hai Mien.

“The director didn’t have any real goals. He just wanted to make a blockbuster.”

Huyen thoai bat tu (Legend Is Alive)

“Legend Is Alive” has a style all its own. Produced by Phuoc Sang Studio, Saigon Media and Wonder Boy Entertainment for $800,000, the hefty budget has added hype and expectations to the film, which stars Dustin Nguyen.

The film is about a young man who wants to bring his mother’s ashes back to America to bury her next to his late father’s tomb.

Though the film deals with serious issues such as Agent Orange and human trafficking, its also a martial arts flick at heart.

In all three films, the plot often ties itself into knots and problems aren’t resolved well enough, and we therefore fail to relate to the characters.

Reported by Bao Tran