In 1966, China was in chaos. The Cultural Revolution had begun, and Mao had unleashed his Red Guards to uproot “revisionists” — intellectuals, professionals, educated people — whom he deemed enemies of the revolution.
It was a country in which almost everyone was poor, starving, and terrified. America was the place to go for those with the courage and resourcefulness to make the forbidden journey.
People like Yau King Eng.
He walked for seven days from Toisan to the coast and then swam for four hours to Macau. From there, he crossed to Hong Kong and eventually made it to the land of opportunity, settling in Boston.
But the American dream didn’t unfold as expected.
Though educated in America, Eng could only find menial work in Chinese restaurants. Finally, he opened his own restaurant. It went bankrupt. He had to spend much of his time caring for his wife, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.
Meanwhile, back in China, siblings he had left behind were prospering.
Had he made the right choice? Was it still possible to return?
He did return in 2007, accompanied by his son, the filmmaker and Guggenheim fellow Kenneth Eng, who made the documentary “My Life in China” about the experience. In it, the elder Eng visits his now empty family home and is awestruck by what has been achieved by the China he left behind. And his son Kenneth finally understands the harsh truth of his father’s past, and realizes that the American Dream is his to fulfill because his father made those sacrifices.
“My Life in China” can be seen on Tuesday at 8 p.m. as part of the World Channel series “America Reframed” on PBS.
For more information go to www.worldchannel.org/programs/episode/arf-s4-e17-my-life-china.
While serving his tour of duty in Vietnam in 1970, Peter Sorensen took a picture of a church in ruins, caught in the crossfire of two battling armies. When he returned to the US, he ruefully made the image into a Christmas card with the inscription, “Peace on Earth.”
In 1985, Sorensen visited the Vietnam War Memorial with his 10-year-old son, Soren. The boy was puzzled when his father took rubbings of two unfamiliar names, Loring M. Bailey Jr. and Glenn Rickert. They were his father’s friends.
Years later, now a filmmaker, Soren Sorensen decided to make a film about his father’s recollections of war and about those fallen soldiers who lived on in granite inscriptions and in the memories of those, like Peter Sorensen, who knew them long ago. “My Father’s Vietnam” features wrenching reminisces of those who fought in a war now widely regarded as folly and is a tribute to their courage and suffering. It also serves as a warning to those who would waste young lives in needless wars to come.
Soren Sorensen’s “My Father’s Vietnam” will be available on VOD platforms Tuesday, with a DVD release to follow this summer.
For more information go to www.myfathersvietnamdoc.com.
War and peace stories
Complementing “My Father’s Vietnam” is the PBS premiere of the “TED Talks: War & Peace Series,” kicking off on Memorial Day at 9 p.m. It takes place in the Town Hall Theater in New York, where author and comedian Baratunde Thurston hosts several guests with experience in both conflict and resolution.
They include ex-Marine Adam Driver, the actor known for playing Adam Sackler in the HBO series “Girls” and Kylo Ren in “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens.” Noting the similarities between his experience in the acting community and in the military (“you have a role in a team, every team has leader, you’re forced to be involved intimately with a group of complete strangers”), he talks about his nonprofit organization “Arts and the Armed Forces,” which brings together actors and those in uniform to collaborate on dramatic productions.
Another guest is journalist Sebastian Junger, who’s made the powerful documentaries “Restrepo” (2010) and “Korengal” (2014) about those serving in Afghanistan. He argues that the political, social, and economic polarization that veterans confront when they return home intensifies their struggles with PTSD.
There’s also humanitarian Samantha Nutt, who’s visited some of the most war-ravaged places on earth. She explains the economics of bloodshed, how rich countries in the Northern Hemisphere make billions selling guns to impoverished countries in the Southern Hemisphere.
All of these names contribute to a worthwhile program that honors those who’ve served their country, and offers some suggestions for how to make war obsolete.
For more information go to www.pbs.org/program/ted-talks/ted-talks-war-and-peace.
What happened to the punk movement, which blew up the pop music scene and briefly reigned in the 1970s? Didn’t it burn out, its ashes absorbed by the mainstream?
Filmmaker Angela Boatwright doesn’t think so. As she demonstrates in her documentary “Los Punks: We Are All We Have,” punk has merely relocated to the backyards of South Central and East Los Angeles, where Latino youths gather for neighborhood bashes. There, people drink, dance, and revel, and local punk bands play loud and strong. Anarchy has moved from the UK to East LA.
“You can party, you can drink, you can mosh,” Boatwright, a follower of the punk scene for the past 27 years, told The New York Times in January. “There’s no security guard telling you to get off the stage. And then maybe the police will come and raid it! There’s nothing greater than that.”
“Los Punks: We Are All We Have” will be released on iTunes on Friday.
For more information go to www.lospunksfilm.com.
Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.