by Erin Chew
The Inaugural Stars International Film Festival rolled out its red carpet on November 12, 2023, in Los Angeles (LA).
The festival opened with Bhutan’s entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards – Monk and the Gun. This marked the first among a showcase of films that celebrated Asian cinema and spotlighted a broad range of exceptional films by Asian filmmakers.
The Stars Gala was a major part of the film festival. The who-is-who of entertainment from Hollywood to Asia and the Far East were present at this gala, decked out in elaborate suits, cultural and unique dresses, to celebrate diversity and equity in global entertainment.
AsAmNews spoke with a few of the stars at the gala.
Distinguished Chinese actress, producer and entrepreneur Yuxin Yoyo Liu, known for her performances in hit Chinese dramas and films such as Eternal Love, The Pillow Book, Scarlet Heart, and Mulan (2009), spoke to AsAmNews on the gala’s red carpet about her hopes for the future for Chinese films. Yoyo was also one of seven recipients at the Stars Gala awards for Female Filmmaker of the Year.
“Our world is so globalized now and we are seeing more cultural exchanges and engagements. Film, television and entertainment are ways where we speak the same language even if the spoken language is different. I want to see more Chinese speaking films become box office successes in Hollywood and in other parts of the world. As an entrepreneur and filmmaker that is my wish for the future and what I plan to hopefully achieve,” Liu stated.
Anupam Tripathi, an Indian actor based in Korea, is a go-getter type of guy. Having played a number of roles in Korean dramas, films, theater and commercials, Tripathi’s life altered drastically when he became famous after playing Abdul Ali in Netflix’s 2021 Korean sensation, Squid Game. He spoke about his life since Squid Game and stated that he is up for all the opportunities and challenges the industry throws at him.
“I was very surprised at the changes my life had after Squid Game. I act because that is my passion and becoming famous was very unexpected. I love Korea and love what it has given me, and I plan to keep on working there and in Hollywood to improve on my acting and performing skills. Throw any and all opportunities and challenges at me and I will tackle it one at a time,” Tripathi told AsAmNews on the Stars Gala red carpet.
Screenwriter, producer and director Adele Lim, known for her work as a writer for Crazy Rich Asians, producer and director for Joy Ride and screenwriter for Disney’s animated film Raya and the Last Dragon, felt proud being Asian American and being among other filmmakers and actors from all over Asia. Like Yoyo, Lim was also one of seven female recipients of the Stars Gala Female Filmmaker of the Year Award and the only Asian American female filmmaker to win this award.
“As a Malaysian and an Asian American, I feel proud in any and all settings where there are Asians working in film in all areas. At this gala, we have an opportunity to build bridges with Asia – learn from them and their experiences as they too learn from us in Hollywood and see where we can collaborate to promote more cultural diversity in entertainment globally. I feel promoting diversity is something I take to my work and I hope to see more of this domestically and internationally,” Lim expressed.
Thai actor and martial artist Tony Jaa needs no introduction. He has a distinguished career in Thailand, with big-name films such as Ong-Bak (one, two and three) and Tom-Yum-Goong (one and two). He has also made a name for his martial arts/Muay Thai stunt work in Hollywood blockbusters, such as Fast and the Furious (seven), Master Z: Ip Man Legacy, Expend4bles and Netflix film Triple Threat. Jaa is humble, and extremely proud of his Thai roots. A seasoned performer making martial arts poses on the gala’s red carpet, he was also the recipient of the Stars Gala award for Breakout Star of the Year.
“Muay Thai is my life and the martial arts of my country Thailand. Every time I use my Muay Thai skills, I feel I am bringing part of my home country to my work and to the world. I am lucky that working as a Muay Thai stuntman for fourteen years has given me so many opportunities in my home Thailand, in Hollywood and in other parts of the world. I am a global citizen but at the end, my heart is with Thailand and my Thai culture. Never forget your roots,” Jaa mentioned on the Gala’s red carpet.
The hunky and romantic Korean guy on Celine Song’s film Past Lives – Teo Yoo, had a shy and genuine persona when he played Hae Sung. This persona appears to be the real Yoo, as he played down his infamy since the film’s release and was humble when asked about his eye-catching looks.
“I feel I am the same as Hae Sung in my day-to-day life. I don’t feel famous and I don’t know if I have reached or will ever reach that status. I just want to work hard in acting and do the best I can. In terms of being good-looking, that is such a compliment and the way I see it we all are good-looking in our own ways.”
In addition to the awards already mentioned there were other awards being presented at the Stars Gala including Emerging Filmmaker of the Year, Rising Star Award, Multicultural Award etc. Taiwanese American personality, model and violinist Janet Hsieh MC’d the gala’s ceremony that evening.
To close this inaugural film festival, the Chinese epic fantasy film Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms was screened. Directed by Chinese director of Mongolian descent Wuershan, the film is adapted from the 16th-century fantasy novel Investiture of the Gods written by the Ming dynasty author Xu Zhonglin.
Director Wuershan and supporting actor for the film Xia Yu, spoke with AsAmNews on the closing evening’s red carpet. For director Wuershan, he hopes audiences in America and the West will enjoy the film which is a very unique genre of fantasy specific to Chinese films and television.
“I am extremely happy that my film is part of the closing ceremony for this momentous film festival. I want audiences tonight and audiences in the future to see the talent we have in China and how films are a universal language that we can all speak. I hope they will enjoy it and be interested to see how much growth our entrainment industry in China has come.”
For seasoned Chinese actor Xia Yu, he was just proud to be present, to be part of this film and to represent his home country of China to the world. He also credits how it was so much fun to work with Wuershan on this film.
“Tonight is a happy occasion, and it has been such a pleasure to work with director Wuershan on this epic film. I am proud of this film and proud to be Chinese and this is what I would like to bring when I travel and attend events and film festivals.”
Hmong American actor and writer Doua Moua known for his performances in the film Gran Torino and the 2020 live adaptation of Mulan was at the event representing the film he was the writer on The Harvest. Moua has been very active in pushing for more diversity for Hmong American voices to be heard and seen in entertainment and this is something he does in almost all of the projects he is a writer on.
“The Hmong community are seen as minorities in countries like Laos, Thailand etc and we are also seen this way when we move to Western countries such as the US. Growing up in Minnesota, I was surrounded by the community and understanding the issues we face and how invisible we are, I want to use the platform I have to amplify our stories and our voices,” Moua stated.
Indian actress in Marathi and Hindi films, Smita Tambe walked the red carpet at the closing ceremony in a beautiful pastel pink sari, proudly representing her Indian heritage. Speaking with AsAmNews, Tambe passionately discussed how she wants to see films unite as opposed to creating divisions and that is her goal when she works on a film.
“Whether it is Bollywood, Hollywood, Europe and other film industries all over the world, our purpose in acting, making, writing and directing films should be to unite different cultures and bring us together as a global community. Films are about education, but more importantly it is about building bridges and entertainment. That is my goal of what I always try to bring to the films I am involved with”.
Malaysian filmmaker Tunku Mona Riza, who produced and directed the Malaysian film Rain Town, spoke with AsAmNews on the red carpet about being of Malay origin and making a film that is spoken in Cantonese. Malaysia is a nation that has a long history of political and racial conflicts and turmoils. For Tunku, making films is her way to see Malaysia heal from the hurt, but to also showcase the cultural diversity Malaysia has.
“Malaysia is a country which has experienced and been through a lot. I am of Malay cultural background and it is rare to see a film made where it is speaking a different language to my mother tongue. I did this to contribute to unite Malaysia and show the world how beautiful our diverse cultures of Malay, Indian, Chinese and Indigenous cultures are,” Riza said.
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