Any good documentary informs and asks viewers to re-consider what they’ve always known to be true. So it is with Karen Cho’s gorgeous and heartbreaking documentary, Big Trouble in Little Chinatown. Cho’s storytelling is as expansive as it is intimate as she introduces us to stories we need to hear now more than ever. With the continued rise in anti-Asian hate in North America specifically, the documentary couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.
Big Trouble in Little Chinatown tells the story of the plight of Chinatowns across North America. These communities have been here for generations. Although many decedents of these original immigrant communities remain, they face new challenges. So many of these communities are being pushed out by developers who care nothing for the communities’ vibrancy. Rather, they see a chance to make a lot of money by building multi-million dollar condos and massive highways.
Cho captures the relatable struggle between immigrants and their subsequent generations. So many from the older generation see remaining within the community as a mark of failure. Many from the current generation of want to preserve the culture and tradition of their elders, and usher their community into a new age. This dichotomy exists perfectly, and it’s emblematic of the plights of so many immigrants.
It’s heartbreaking to hear these communities pleading to be seen at all. It’s dehumanizing, to hear government and developers extol the dollar value of the land itself. It’s not really about the land, however. There’s no mention from either government nor private entities the plight of the Indigenous People. Instead, this is about making money, no matter the human cost. In the end, it’s infuriating to see how Chinatowns everywhere are treated with such disrespect.
While Cho does a phenomenal job of delving deeper into the community as a whole, she also does a superb job at highlighting individual stories. People are able to talk about how they themselves and their families have fought for their communities over the years. They’re also able to discuss the challenges they face today. There’s rarely a nice easy solution to these issues. Everything always comes back to the importance of community.
When Cho does delve into the history of anti-Asian racism in North America, it’s horrifying. The Chinese head tax ripped families apart in one of the most violent ways. The trauma of dealing with generations of racism has evidently had a massive impact on the community. While it’s inspiring to see activists who have risen up in every generation, it’s saddening to reflect on why their work remains necessary.
What Big Trouble in Little Chinatown does is pay tribute to a community with an incredibly rich present, that has an equally rich history. If Canadians truly pride ourselves on being multicultural, that means appreciating all cultures who live here. Rather than idealizing the past, this documentary is a wake-up call and a call to action to remain firmly in the present moment, and awake to the struggles of those who helped build this country.
Big Trouble in Little Chinatown premiered DocNYC.