HIFF40: 5 Asian American films to watch & 1 special birthday to celebrate

With the focus of Asia-Pacific Rim cinema at the Hawai‘i International Film Festival presented by Halekulani, Asian American films are an important component of our festival programming. The late and famed film critic Roger Ebert hailed HIFF as a destination for emerging Asian American filmmakers, and this year is no different. Therefore, here are five Asian American films that we highly recommend to check out this year.


Rejected by Hollywood, Bruce Lee returned to Hong Kong to complete four films. Charting his struggles in two worlds, BE WATER explores questions of identity and representation through rare archive, intimate interviews, and his writings. BE WATER world premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was an official selection of SXSW and Cannes this year. The film would make its broadcast premiere on ESPN in June, where it garnered record ratings.

(L to R): Director Bao Nguyen; Shannon Lee (Bruce Lee Enterprises), Phil Yu (Angry Asian Man); David Chang (“Ugly Delicious”); Chi-hui Yang (Ford Foundation)

On November 27, to commemorate the 80th birthday of the legendary icon, HIFF will present a free screening of this critically acclaimed ESPN 30 for 30 film to be followed by the BE WATER 80th BIRTHDAY BRUCE LEE CELEBRATION AND PANEL with director Bao Nguyen, Bruce Lee’s daughter Shannon Lee, Angry Asian Man founder Phil Yu, “Ugly Delicious” host and Momofuku founder David Chang, and the Ford Foundation’s Chi-hui Yang. This special screening and panel discussion is free.
November 27:
3:00pm: BE WATER (FREE Screening)


Young Monica Chowdry was an Indian parent’s paragon of a child: beautiful, smart, artistic, and a Scripps Spelling Bee champion. Now that she has grown up, however, the future seems tenebrous: she is still single, lives at home, and works part-time as a spelling tutor. When her estranged brother suddenly shows up, she wonders how much more abstruse life can be, when all she is asking for is some DEFINITION PLEASE.


At the height of Christine’s career, she learns the unbearable news that her father has passed away after months of silence between them. Upon returning home, Christine undertakes the burdens of the family’s failing restaurant and attempts to contend with her past choices. THE GIRL WHO LEFT HOME is a live-action musical that paints a colorful portrait of a working-class Asian-American family and a girl who must choose between her home and her career.
Update: We have added an extra in-person screening at HIFF Drive -In at Ala Moana on November 20, 8:00pm; November 22, 2:00pm at Consolidated Mililani; Streaming November 5-29


17 years after the events of the first Lumpia movie, the characters of the cult classic are back for some more butt-kicking, arnis-wielding, and of course, lumpia-eating. Although they are back with a bigger, crowdfunded budget, the cheesy, campy “home movie” feel still sticks like lumpia grease on your hands. This time, the LUMPIA-armed avenger reappears in Fogtown and teams up with high school student Rachel to prevent a crime syndicate from selling drugs masked as… lumpia???
In-person screening on November 19 at HIFF Drive-In at Ala Moana at 8:00pm; Streaming (Hawai‘i only) November 16-29


Three former Kung Fu prodigies known as The Three Tigers have grown old and apart, and lost their fighting abilities. But after the suspicious death of their master, the three reunite to investigate. First step: challenging a group of young Kung Fu practitioners. Yet soon the trio learn that their true foe may actually be a secret protege of their former master…

HIFF40 Limited and All-Access Passes provide the best value to view as many films online via HIFF’s streaming platform. Buy your pass today!

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