Showcasing different aspects of the Asian-American experience, from the governor’s mansion in Washington State to a medical clinic in Oklahoma to the studio of an actress/cartoonist in L.A., three-part docu, skedded to kick off new skein on PBS, starts blandly but picks up edge as it goes along. Docu should play well on the small-screen but lengthy opening segment about Chinese-American governor Gary Locke, though competently made and suitably inspirational, lacks drama and may limit bigscreen play to the Asian fest circuit.
First installment on the melting-pot theme delivers an ethnically uplifting anyone-can-be-president story that tends to dovetail too neatly with Gov. Locke’s own carefully crafted image. Filmmakers are unable to inject genuine spontaneity into the piece, although they do manage to point out the irony of a politician who reps empowerment of Asian-Americans but who must convince non-Asians in his constituency he’s not trying to empower the Asian community.
Far less predictable is Act Two about two Filipino doctors (Martin Bautista and Jeffrey Lim) living in the rural hog-farming town of Guymon, Okla. Although encountering prejudice, both Filipinos set down roots, interact with locals and establish practices, including among the rapidly increasing Hispanic population.
Though the two men were fast friends for 22 years, culture shock winds up tunneling diverging paths for the duo, their respective personalities and marriages leading one toward permanent assimilation and the other toward unresolved nostalgia for his homeland.
Engrossing segment presents nuanced, contrasting portraits of hyphenated nationality.
In the docu’s final segment, Korean-American actress Lela Lee, creator of the iconoclastic comic strip “Angry Little Asian Girl,” finds a way of simultaneously acting out and sublimating her frustration.
Militant feminism takes on a new relevance as Lee explodes the image of the docile little Oriental girl in her aggressive, foul-mouthed and generally sociopathic character Kim. Clips from Lee’s movie and TV appearances (including her guest stints on “Scrubs” and recurring role in Sci-Fi channel’s “Tremors”) further enliven the proceedings.
Tech credits are TV-friendly and work toward establishing uncomplicated intimacy with the docu’s subjects.