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Chinatown  cover image

Chinatown 2016


Distributed by C35 Films, C35 Films5410 Connecticut Ave. NW Suite 317, Washington, DC 20015; 202-688-5808
Produced by Yi Chen
Directed by Yi Chen

College - General Adult
Documentaries, Anthropology, Asian Americans

Date Entered: 02/03/2017

Reviewed by Brandon West, Social Sciences Librarian, State University of New York at Geneseo

Community, identity, and politics are at the heart of this short documentary about the historic Chinatown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Urban development has negatively impacted the Chinatown over the years, reducing the community to three hundred Chinese residents. The film captures a brief glimpse of the efforts being made by Chinatown's remaining resistance: a group of senior citizens who wish to keep their community and culture in tact.

The director employs a vérité-style approach to peer into the lives of three influential Chinatown residents. Two of the residents, Jia Tina Xu and Yam Chum Leung, live in WAH Luck House, a subsidized apartment complex that houses elderly Chinese residents. Ms. Xu is a retired nurse and coordinates a monthly trip to a Chinese grocery store in Virginia for the WAH Luck House residents, since all of the local Chinese grocery stores have gone out of business. Mr. Leung is one of the founding members of the WAH Luck House Tenants Association. He actively advocates for the tenants and organizes events to educate them on concerns brought forth by the city. The third resident, Raymond Wong, works toward maintaining Chinese traditions through his organization, Wong People Kung Fu Association. Mr. Wong teaches traditional Chinese martial arts and Lion Dance, which are performed at events throughout the city. While each of these residents bring forth a different perspective, their collective efforts boil down to maintaining the identity of the Chinese community in spite of what seems to be an uphill battle.

While the film details the decline of Chinatown and exposes the hardships that the Chinese residents face, the overall tone of the film is hopeful. This feeling of hope is exemplified in a scene where the WAH Luck House tenants meet for a town hall and demonstrate solidarity. While the focus of the film is on the residents, it would have been helpful if the director had provided more insights into Chinatown’s political history, since the information in the film seems to infer that Chinatown is destined to diminish. At times, the fluidity of storytelling could have been tightened. Namely, Mr. Wong’s story arc feels slightly out of place given that the film’s focus seems to be on WAH Luck House.

This documentary is ripe for pedagogical use in urban planning, sociology, and Chinese studies courses. There are many interesting concepts that are alluded to in the film that could be expanded upon in the classroom through discussion, case study analysis, or research. The overall originality of the documentary’s subject matter makes it a worthy addition to library film collections.

  • 2014 IndieCapitol Awards, Best Documentary Short