BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Option Now, Film Soon! [in East Wind ezine]

While texting with a (much younger) Korean American friend the other day about meeting at the movies, I gave her two choices: CRA or Searching. I was all giddy on my end, thinking how phenomenally lucky we were to have TWO APA choices, but my bubble burst a bit when the phone bleeped with “WTF is CRA? Searching for what?”

Well, then …

As much history-making APAs-in-Hollywood success we’ve seen in the last month alone (Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before from Netflix gave the yogurt drink Yakult its biggest commercial boost!), clearly we need more, more, more.

A plethora of literary source material is certainly out there. For interested readers, Kevin Kwan’s CRA is actually a trilogy – it continues with China Rich Girlfriend … and Warner Brothers has already announced it will reunite the original production team and cast for the sequel. Rich People Problems = CRA3, which is all but guaranteed to make it to the big screen. Who knows, maybe Kwan’s planning CRA4, CRA5 in perpetuity! Or at least as long as the tickets sell!

Where there’s bucks to be made, of course studios are taking notice. Bestselling author Celeste Ng has BOTH of her books going celluloid with Oscar-nominated producer Michael De Luca helming Everything I Never Told You and Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington adapting Little Fires Everywhere. Apple’s acquired Min Jin Lee’s National Book Award finalist-ed Pachinko with plans to turn it into a series.

For Hollywood’s makers and shakers in search of more literary fodder, for indies looking for quality inspiration, for film students in search of final projects – for anyone in need of great stories – consider turning these pages into celluloid success.


The set already exists for much of Vanessa Hua’s A River of Stars: San Francisco’s Chinatown is just waiting for the crew to arrive! Hua’s debut novel is a timely, rollicking comedy-of-sorts about another breed of crazy rich Asians – wealthy Chinese nationals who arrive pregnant in the U.S. to birth children who will provide “a foothold in America,” just in case the homeland gets a bit too unfriendly. Scarlett, a factory manager, gets sent by her wealthy married lover to have their love-child in a luxurious facility outside Los Angeles. Fearing she might lose her American-citizen-to-be to its manipulating father once her womb is no longer useful, Scarlett flees her gilded cage … with a knocked-up teen sidekick she never planned for! Move over, Thelma and Louise – Scarlett and Daisy are on the run!


Then there’s Don Lee’s multiple titles. Some angry young director could really jumpstart his or her career with The Collective, about three APA college friends and the violent suicide of one of their own that unravels their lives. Of course, any of Lee’s stories from his debut collection, Yellow – about the quirky, unpredictable residents of Rosarito Bay (not unlike Northern California’s Half Moon Bay) – would make for excellent source material. His two follow-up novels set in that same Rosarito Bay, Wrack & Ruin and his latest Lonesome Lies Before Us, would both make for excellent dramedies! Savvy studios should consider turning the Rosarito titles into a multi-season series.


Alice Stephen’s Famous Adopted People, which hits shelves next month, is a wild, wild ride featuring a Korean American adoptee who isn’t particularly interested in finding her birthmother but gets found instead by a birth family she could never, ever have imagined. Hot-topic buttons – North Korea, megalomaniacal dictators, the cosmetics überindustry, mysterious kidnappings – all get pushed here, with fabulous shooting locations, both real and imagined, all of which should incite substantial audience curiosity.


I’ve been longing to see Thrity Umrigar’s The Space Between Us on screen for over a decade. It’s one of those quiet stories with deep, affecting insights about everyday relationships. Here, the focus is on a privileged woman and her servant of many years who is both her closest friend and merely hired help. The novel is set in contemporary Bombay, but the story could happen anywhere that the haves and have-nots live side-by-side, alternately supporting and disdaining one another. Umrigar just this year finally published a sequel, The Secrets Between Us, making the two-book originals adaptable as either two films or even a series.


And then there’s the younger audience angle … because they go to the movies en masse.

Maurene Goo’s The Way You Make Me Feel features two 16-year-old frenemies forced to work closely together – on a tiny food truck in the L.A. summer heat! – to avoid suspension and pay off the damage they caused at school during prom. That the sparring antagonism will eventually turn to BFF-ship might seem predictable, but the bonding journey is delightfully unique, complete with Korean Brazilian culture and food (where have you seen THAT on screen before??!), a coffee-supplying entrepreneur named Hamlet, the “kimchi squat,” an impetuous runaway to Mexico, and a competition worth $100,000. And that’s just a few of the glories of The Way You Make Me Feel.


Emily X.R. Pan’s The Astonishing Color of After is, well, just astonishing! The debut novel already feels like a cinematic masterpiece, filmed in “carbazole violet,” “burnt orange,” “manganese blue and new gamboge yellow and quinacridone rose.” Yes, Leigh sees life in Technicolor, until her mother’s suicide turns her world to the “blackest black.” But her mother isn’t actually dead: “This isn’t like some William Faulkner stream-of-consciousness metaphorical crap,” Leigh insists, “My mother. Is literally. A bird.” And she makes avian deliveries: a box arrives from maternal grandparents Leigh has never met, with instructions to bring it to Taiwan for a first-ever visit where she’ll finally find much-needed answers. Can’t you already see the family drama, the teen first love, the heritage trip, the famous Taiwanese night markets? And the magic – the astonishing colors of magic!

You’ve gotta admit, we’ve got plenty of stories to tell. It’s soooo time for Lights! Camera! Action!

Published: “Option Now, Film Soon!,” EastWind: Politics & Culture of Asian Pacific America, September 2018

Readers: Young Adult, Adult


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