#ReelAsian22: Karen Cho Talks ‘Big Trouble in Little Chinatown’ and the Power of Community Action

The 2022 Reel Asian Festival featured art from Canadian and international filmmakers, including Karen Cho. Cho is the mind behind Big Trouble in Little Chinatown, which tells the story of Chinatowns across North America. The documentary premiered at DOC NYC, followed by its Canadian premiere at Reel Asian. 

Ahead of the Canadian premiere, I had the chance to speak to Cho about her documentary and her artistic process. We talked about the evolution of the project, and the revelations that were uncovered along the way. 

According to Cho, “The idea for the film came after researching the history of the Chinese Head Tax”. This racist policy has left a legacy of discrimination across North America. 

When Cho visited these Chinatowns, she observed, “Some of these places had a period of neglect and had been erased”. Her journey took her across Canada and the United States. There are active movements to displace many of these communities. 

Cho found that the documentary took on a new meeting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Globally, there has been an unprecedented rise in anti-Asian hate. Cho spoke about how each person and family featured in this documentary has been impacted by this. 

Cho found Chinatowns have to rely on one another now more than ever. She observed, “The resiliency of community is how they support each other”. This reliance on community has sparked both survival and innovation, which Cho featured prominently in Big Trouble in Little Chinatown

Cho is hopeful that viewers will get a sense of the community spirit that remains in these Chinatowns. This is why these communities have survived for 200 years. 

In terms of future projects, Cho would like to explore the relationship between early Chinese immigrants and the Indigenous peoples of North America. There is a rich history here, and Cho says “there are so many stories left to uncover”. 

The Jia Foundation aims to promote the inclusive place-keeping and placemaking of Chinatown.

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