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“Journey of a Paper Son”

Short Film by Ming Lai
Is a Bona Fide Festival Hit!

Click here to visit our "Reels" page to view a trailer and clip from "Journey of a Paper Son".
  Production Stills by Sari Makki
Now available on DVD at CreateSpace or Amazon

The Movie’s Back Story from Jack’s Point of View

         (March 12, 2010) -- From the very beginning of production on filmmaker Ming Lai’s “Journey of a Paper Son,” it was a matter of art imitating life for me.

         Certainly it was a great privilege to be cast by Ming in the role of a dying old man who asks his children to change his name back to its original (because he came to America as a “paper son,” something he never told his family). But the role was rooted deeply within me – my father had assisted at least three paper sons, the last of whom died two weeks before we began filming. I officiated at his funeral, where meeting “village cousins” I hadn’t seen for decades rekindled some startling memories from the murky shadows of the past, like my parents’ regular, hushed reminders to “Be careful! Never tell anyone that so-and-so isn’t really your brother. If the immigration authorities find out, Baba and Mama will be deported along with him, and you’ll be left here all alone.”

         Back in those days (the 40s and 50s), my brothers and sisters and I were too busy trying to be American to give much thought to the Chinese Exclusion Act which triggered the paper son phenomenon. We felt plenty excluded as it was; we knew enough to keep the dark family secrets to ourselves.

         So Ming’s excellent script -- which piqued my interest the moment I read it -- was, frankly, one I also had a lot vested in immediately: its little-known subject was certainly well known to me, the universality of its dysfunctional family and immigrant patriarch were equally familiar, and the emotions of the desperate old man were deep within the wells of my own experience. In all humility (and with great faith), I told Ming I felt I was born to play the role he’d written. Thank God our writer/producer/director agreed!

         As “Journey of a Paper Son” began production, the media reported that a diary of a paper son was discovered and donated to the Museum of Chinese in America, New York, where it would be exhibited. Then, on July 17, two days after we finished filming, came the monumental news that the California Assembly passed legislation (ACR 42) apologizing for the state’s support of Chinese exclusion laws.

         All of our movie’s cast and crew were amazed at the serendipity of these propitious events, knowing one of the main purposes of Ming’s 19-minute motion picture was and is to provide additional focus on the historic era of Chinese “paper sons” in America, a period of desperate immigration efforts perpetuated by anti-Chinese sentiments and governmental legislation such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (finally repealed in 1943).

         We all believed in Ming’s vision and goals, confident that if we succeeded in our collaborative efforts to bring our director’s vision to fruition, “Journey of a Paper Son” would achieve those goals and would help Ming launch his plans to turn the story into a feature length film.

         While the 19-minute version was still in post production, buzz about the dramatic short produced for Humanist Films (Ming is CEO) began arousing the interest and encouragement of scholars, educators, historians and Asian American community leaders. Now, just a few months later, it has already been accepted for presentation in several upcoming film festivals…and we look forward to many others as “Journey of a Paper Son” commences on its own remarkable odyssey!

A Humanist Films Production
Written, Produced and Directed by Ming Lai
Story by Ming Lai and Patrick Lew
CAST: Jack Ong, Patty Toy Chung, Angelina Cheng, Teddy Chen Culver, Mario Cortez
Cinematography and Film Editing: Matt Steinauer; Original Music Score: Pakk Hui; Costumes: Laraine Matsuyama and Lena Wong; Hair & Makeup: Tamami Ito; Sound Supervisors: Jeff Hutchins and Otis Van Osten; Visual Effects: Ryan Thompson and Michael Vaglienti; Titles: Doug Tower, Tim Osterreicher and Sven Igawa. Complete production credits: IMDb.


“JOURNEY OF A PAPER SON” Festival Screenings

Mexico International Film Festival
Rosarito, Baja California
May 20 – 28, 2011
Bronze Palm Award Winner

Santa Clarita Valley Film Festival
Santa Clarita, California
January 7 – 9, 2011

Delray Beach Film Festival, Florida - December 8-12, 2010
(Specific screening info TBA)

Chinese American Film Festival

November 8, 2010
Winner, Gold Angel Award, Best Short Film

 2010 Yosemite Film Festival - October 29-30, 2010

Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival
October 21-24, 2010
Presented by HBO
(Specific screening info TBA)


Eugene International Film Festival
October 7-10, 2010
 "One of the best (film festivals) in the country!" -- John Frohnmayer, former Chair, National Endowment of the Arts

3rd Annual ID (Identity) Film Festival – Oct. 8-10, 2010
Japanese American National Museum
369 East 1st Street
Los Angeles, California 90012
Tel: (213) 625-0414

“Journey of a Paper Son” will open the Festival screenings on Friday, Oct. 8, at 7 p.m.,
preceding “Fog,” the debut feature film directed by Kit Hui, starring Hong Kong-based
American actor Terence Yin and Eugenia Yuan. A reception will follow the movies in
honor of directors Kit Hui and Ming Lai.

$5.00 for members; $10 for non-members

For tickets and more information, go to www.idfilmfest.org
for Japanese American National Museum information, go to www.janm.org

Napa Sonoma Wine Country Film Festival – September 15-26, 2010
(On Moviemaker Magazine 2009 List of “25 Festivals Worth the Fee”)

Big Bear Lake Film Festival
One of Moviemaker Magazine's "25 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee: 2010"
Friday, September 17, 2010

L.A. Shorts Fest 2010
- July 22-30, 2010
(Largest short film fest in the world, annually attracting more than 15,000 moviegoers, filmmakers and entertainment execs.
One of a select list of Academy Award-qualifying film festivals.)

Saturday, July 24, 2010, 5:30 p.m.
Laemmle Sunset 5 Theaters
8000 Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90046


Philadelphia Independent Film Festival – June 23–27, 2010

(Specific screening info TBA)



The Chinese Historical Society of Southern California
Presents A Special Screening of
Ming Lai’s “Journey of a Paper Son”
Starring Jack Ong, Patricia Toy Chung, Teddy Chen Culver and Angelina Cheng
Followed by discussion and Q&A
With Mr. Lai and Cast Members

Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 7 p.m.
Castelar School
840 Yale Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(Guests with “paper sons and daughters” in their family history especially welcome!)

Lake Arrowhead Film Festival – April 22-25, 2010
"Journey of a Paper Son" screens on opening day,
Thursday, 4-22, noon - 2 pm program
Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa EVERGREEN ROOM
27984 Hwy 189, Lake Arrowhead, CA 92352

Big Island Film Festival – May 12-26, 2010
“The Talk Story Film Festival”
(On Moviemaker Magazine 2009 List of “25 Coolest Film Festivals”
and its 2007 List of “25 Film Festivals Worth the Fee”)
“Journey of a Paper Son” screens Saturday, 5-15, 11:30 am – 2 pm program
The Fairmont Orchid Resort
Indoor Amphitheater
1 North Kaniku Drive
Kohala Coast HI 96743


“Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America”
By Erika Lee & Judy Yung

“Paper Sons, Hidden Past” – LA Times
Like many immigrants, Chinese Americans sometimes conceal the details of their arrival -- but the truth behind “paper sons” can be among the most harmful and hurtful.

“A Family Delves Into the Mystery of a ‘Paper Son’” – LA Times


“California Apologizes to Chinese Americans” – TIME MAGAZINE

“Legislature Apologizes for Past Discrimination Against Chinese” – LA Times
The immigrants who built Caliornia faced deade of public and private injustices.

"'Sorry' Says Something" – LA Times editorial

“At America’s Door”…on its centennial, Angel Island offers a timely lesson as the U.S. again turns its attention to immigration reform. – LA Times

“53 Questions That a Life May Depend On” – NY Times
EXCERPT: “The paper son system was devised after the exclusion law passed in 1882,’’ said Cynthia Lee, chief curator for the Museum of Chinese in America downtown. “To be a paper son was something you didn’t advertise. A lot of times your own children might not have known the story. There are folks half a generation older than me who tell me that ‘Yeah, I’m a Chin but I’m actually a Wong,’ and they know this once their fathers reveal that was the family history.”

“With Reflection and Tears, Angel Island Turns 100” – San Jose Mercury News

ACR 42 – Legislative Counsel’s Digest

Media Release from Humanist Films

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