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SDAFF: A Thousand Years of Good Prayers

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (Magnolia Pictures)

Back in the 80s, Wang exacted sly humor from the struggles of his fellow Chinese American immigrants. Learning a new language and navigating a cultural minefield of miscommunication provided rich material for the young filmmaker. But now a more mature Wang sees cross-cultural misunderstandings occurring within the Asian community and across generations. Wang found the perfect vehicle to explore these themes in a pair of short stories by Yiyun Li that span three generations of Chinese immigrants. In the first film, A 1000 Years of Good Prayers , a father visits his adult daughter in California. They may share a common language but they cannot communicate.

"The father and the daughter are from two different generations," Wang says, "The father went through the Cultural Revolution and specifically suffered a lot of injustices at that time, and the daughter was very much affected by it."

The daughter has come to America to distance herself from her past in China.

"She learned a new language and new culture," says Wang, "and [she] became a new person. And she learned how to express herself actually more."

A 1000 Years of Good Prayers focuses on a Chinese immigrant who's been in the U.S. for years. But the second film Princess of Nebraska looks to a much younger immigrant who's just arrived in the U.S. Sasha lands in San Francisco with plans to get an abortion. She speaks English and is quite Westernized in her behavior, attitude, and clothes. At a dinner party, the older Chinese Americans question her about her homeland and are surprised that she knows so little about events such as Tiananmen Square.

Princess of Nebraska (Magnolia Pictures)

These two new films returns Wayne Wang to his indie roots. He spent the last decade making formulaic Hollywood films such as Maid in Manhattan and Last Holiday . But it's Wang's independent films such as Chan is Missing and Smoke that made him a role model for aspiring Asian American filmmakers.

"I think I'm just a bad influence," Wang says, "all these young kids think, & 'Oh I can go into filmmaking and make a lot of money,' and then they quit their real jobs."

Richard Wong was one of those young kids inspired by Wayne Wang. The 32-year-old filmmaker (whose previous film was Colma: The Musical ) was tapped by Wang to co-direct and shoot the second film Princess of Nebraska. Having two generations of filmmakers behind the camera brought depth to the generational clashes in the movie Princess of Nebraska .

"When I read script," Wong says, "all I saw was this spoiled brat who for the first time in her life is forced to make a decision because she can't get away with a pregnancy, whereas she can steal something and get away with it or weasel her way through. I certainly related to that because I think a lot of us growing up are that way."

But Wayne Wang is a longtime cultural observer who has been making films about Chinese immigrants for more than 20 years. So Wang sees Sasha's particular experiences as part of the larger and ever changing immigrant community.

"She's in her 20s," Wang points out, "she grew up in the last 20 years of china's economic boom and also the sexual revolution too, I mean she slept with a guy who's bisexual, and she slept with a guy without knowing him very well and then got pregnant."

The way these two films have been released emphasizes even more the differences between the generations. Magnolia Pictures released A 1000 Years of Good Prayers in theaters last year (but the film never played in San Diego). Princess of Nebraska was released on YouTube last October, which Wong sees as quite fitting.

" A 1000 Years of Good Prayers is classical and is being distributed classically; and it's about an older generation and it makes sense. Princess of Nebraska is about a new generation. It's shot in a very contemporary way. It was very guerrilla style and we used a lot of cell phone stuff and it made sense for that to go to the Internet."

The Internet appeals to a young, more global audience. Both Wayne Wang and Richard Wong hope that the innovative release strategy will provide a bridge across generations and cultures. Now San Diego audiences will get a chance to see A 1000 Years of Good Prayers on the big screen thanks to SDAFF.

Companion viewing: Chan is Missing, Colma: The Musical, The Joy Luck Club

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