Americanized: Review. By Scott Gilliland.
Getting through high school runs its own gambit of challenges; to do so when you are having a cultural identity crisis over where your place is in this world can amplify these stresses to an unimaginable degree. Stuck in this daunting scenario presented is Terry Hu’s Eng in the short film Americanized by writer-director Erica Eng.
There is a lot of confidence in Erica Eng’s short film, from the effective handheld camerawork that compliments both the action on the court and the awkward interactions our lead has with those around her. Constantly, you feel grounded within the story, present in the struggles of Eng’s day to day life. Be it the conversations in the classroom with other Asian American students or when she tries to fit in with her basketball friends. We are positioned perfectly to be a fly on the wall at this small but important juncture in her young life.
The confidence that resonates through the screen also comes from the strong writing from Eng. Taking influences from her own experiences, we see the troubles that many teenagers from a multitude of cultures go through during this period in their lives. Perhaps that is what strikes the most about Americanized. While it is presented as a story about Asian American children who have only really known an American culture due to how many generations of their family have been born in the country. We are given a glimpse of what life could be like for anyone whose family has come from an immigrant background and encountered such issues. This connection grabs you and allows you to connect with the characters and the story.
Taking this grounded nature to her film, Erica Eng does well to base a lot of Americanized loosely on some of her memories of her high school days. As good as the cast and production are, there is a great deal of strength in the script. Eng asks important questions: What happens to the younger migrants trying to find a foot hole in the only country and culture they know? By having Eng only understand English, care more for Western food etc., we see a typical American girl. Why should it matter what her skin colour is? Also, should it matter if she doesn’t open herself up more to her cultural heritage at such a young age just yet?
Hu does great work as the conflicted Eng; you see her drowning in self-doubt about where she should be heading as a person—seemingly making one mistake after another with her peers and family. You feel for her as her identity crisis takes too much of a grip upon her. A telling moment in the short is that the only moments in which Eng is confident and free are when she plays basketball. Free of the stresses of her personal life, she can just play, and this increases your emotions for her as we know those highs will not hang around for too long; they never do. With Hu giving her character a chance to relax and shine, she almost provides two different performances, the on-court Eng and the off-court Eng, both equally fascinating. As a result, the viewer is hit harder when reality comes in various ways to her in a hard and rather unforgiving manner. You want the best for this girl, and a lot of that is down to Hu’s work.
With our lead character, we have someone who cannot do anything right by those around her. If she veers away ever so slightly from the norm, she is admonished for it. It is easy to forget that your teenage years are meant to be about you discovering what type of person you are. However, Eng is limited, cynicism surrounds her, and her freedom is stifled constantly. Other Chinese Americans in her school dress and acts how they want to and, as such, fit in easily with the crowd. Tellingly though, from what is presented, Eng is the only female to do this and is mocked for it.
People like Eng are stuck in a callous limbo, not fully a part of one group because of their skin colour and not a part of the other because she is too removed from what is expected of her. For those 17 minutes in Americanized, you are fascinated with her struggles and honest dilemma. An intriguing short film that offers up questions and leaves you to ponder. Erica Eng has a clear vision with her film and with as strong a voice as hers. It is only a matter of time before we see more great work from her.
We hope you're enjoying BRWC. You should check us out on our social channels, subscribe to our newsletter, and tell your friends. BRWC is short for battleroyalewithcheese.