Justin Chon and Jackie Chung in Coming Home Again
By Erin Chew, AsAmNews Staff Writer
“Why did you move to America?” – Changrae Lee (played by Justin Chon) asks his mom (played by Jackie Chung), during a flashback scene where the mom shares her experiences about being a skilled basketball player during her college years in South Korea. This question resonated with me as I watched film “Coming Home Again” directed by Wayne Wang and based on the 1995 New Yorker essay by Chang-Rae Lee, who co-wrote the screenplay with Wang. The film is about a Korean American son, Changrae Lee (Chon) who takes care of his sick mother as she teaches him her traditional recipes.
It reminded me of the time I traveled and lived in Asia for a year, had the time of my life there and then returned home to Australia and asked my parents this exact question – “why did you move to Australia”. Questioning our cultural background, our identity, our sense of belonging, and the reasons surrounding why our parents migrated to a country distinctly different from where they were born and raised is an emotional journey many of us “kids” who are 1.5 to 2nd generation in the US, Australia or any other part of the West experience.
“This is an interesting topic, as what you have explained is similar to what I experienced growing up in America, and from working with Changrae on the film, but also reading his 1995 New Yorker essay, it is also his experience,Wang told AsAmNews. “My parents were traditional and I had to follow that. They would do this by implementing the “Asian ways” and “traditions” on what they knew was the way to raise us. They would bring over their beliefs and for East Asians in particular , the idea of being a dutiful child is a teaching which they try to instill in us as important.”
Wang questions whether the expectation that we need to obey and respect our parents is a cultural or “just a human thing.” At some point, Wang says we all need to live our own lives despite our parent’s expectations. The filmmaker sees this relationship with our parents and how we deal with frustrations of understanding our culture and traditions as central to Coming Home Again.
The film evolve around “Changrae Lee” giving up his Wall Street career to care for his mother who is dying from stomach cancer, and trying to re-create the family life his mom gave him and his sister growing up by cooking Korean dishes from traditional recipes he learned from his mom. To play a character like Changrae is not easy because of how real, deep and complex in nature the story surrounding the character is, but Chon, who played “Changrae” did it like it was second nature. Wang tells us that he knew Chon would be the right person to play Changrae because of his body of work as both an actor and as a director and his familiarity with his culture being Korean American.
“I knew a lot about Justin’s work and knew that he was a smart director after he made the film “Gook”. It hit me after reading about his body of work that he would add a nice essence to this character which is not easy because it is based on the biographical life story of Changrae Lee. Justin and I spoke on the phone a few times and from there I knew he was right for the role. We cast him quickly, and he really built the character into his own and also had a lot of input in how his character develops in the film. His understanding of being Korean American and son of Korean parents really saw him play the biographical Changrae to a tee”.
Having first premiered as part of the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and being officially released on October 23rd. The film itself, its premise and its depth is extremely significant during this time of COVID-19, where asides from the pandemic has seen racism and division. Wang tells us that there is an opportunity for this film to not only educate the wider audience, but also unite our Asian communities by showing us the strong connections with our cultural cuisines.
It also makes its US Premiere tonight at CAAMFest Forward, but is limited to San Francisco Bay Area Residents.
“The film delves into so many things which I think is relevant to our situation today with COVID-19. For someone from outside and not part of our Asian culture, I think it would be quite easy to pick up. If you think about it as humans what binds us together is food, and particularly with being Asian we pride in our different cultural cuisines and we are taught about the importance of preserving our recipes and eating well.”
“I also find it interesting that if I took out the narrations on Changrae talking about his mom having stomach cancer and replacing it with COVID-19, it would describe our situation of today. Trying to deal with illness is a process and an emotional journey and accepting life and death is part of our traditions and teachings. But what is most important is how things change so slowly but also so quickly and this brings us back to what I said earlier about how our lives are so transient.”
AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart. We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. Check out our new Instagram account. Go to our Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff, or submitting a story.