Movies Notes

“The Opening Act,” Reviewed: A Portrait of The Artist As A Young Comic

Stand-up is a form of art, and if you hadn’t already known that, “The Opening Act” is proof evidence.

Written and directed by Steve Byrne, “The Opening Act” dives deep into what is often the driving force behind what makes a comic become a comic.

Will Chu (played by Jimmy O. Yang) is an insurance adjuster who moonlights as a comic — and as all types of moonlighting go, as in other art forms, like literature and painting, there will come the time when that moonlighter, or artist, enters a crossroads that forces the artist to choose between life in dedication to the art or just — life.

And so Will chooses and this is where we first begin to root for our hero, at the start of his journey as so many before him have done. 

His antagonists are played by three other comics who are dealing with their own personal journeys:

Billy G, who is played by Cedric The Entertainer; Chris played by Alex Moffat; and a brief-yet-important appearance by the comic who plays Whitney Cummings. Each one haunts Will like Ghosts of Christmas Past as he endeavors on his first real challenge of his quest, and each moment he spends with these three comics, he is pushed into all types of directions, some inspiring, others dire. 

And that’s the main keyword here that I took from the movie, a keyword that I have experienced each time I come to a blank page, having quit my own career to pursue the Letters, and that main keyword is “dire.”

Every art form worth its mettle, an ever-present Ghost of Dire stands in the corner of every room the artist sits in to serve as a reminder that if and when the art is disrespected, the scythe of failure will strike with the swiftness. There are levels to everything, and the Ghost of Dire doesn’t give a damn about your kids, your money issues, the pandemic. Always respect the art. And what looms over Will is his response to that: Will he disrespect the art form? Or come at it on both knees begging for any help?

There are also plenty of treats in this movie that is simply a must-watch. One is the huge treat getting to see Asian Americans in film. Jimmy O. Yang does an outstanding job in this movie. Steve Byrne is a great writer and director — he should be nominated for an Oscar in Screenwriting for this script and that’s not hyperbole, dead serious — and also dead serious about how Cedric The Entertainer owned every scene that he’s in. He should also get an Oscar.

Cedric embodied that darkness, that dire, and it was inspiring to watch — not gonna lie, the movie made me tear up just a little. Another treat is the messaging, which is key for the moment that we’re all in, that it’s never a good idea to quit, not in these moments, not in our lifetimes, and not in what we want to do. 

“You in pain,” Billy G says to Will, “When we find that pain, got to learn to embrace it.” 

Again — stand-up is an art form and every art form comes with levels and each level welcomes you with a more profound level of both enlightenment and pain — even in its last level, the ultimate demise — as pain and enlightenment is what I believe we will feel before we die, and it’s up to us while we’re still here to live through it, to get to know about that pain and enlightenment intimately so when the last one of them hits, we will be comfortable, we will welcome it, and then we can truly pass on.

Notes The Writing Process

To Become A Full-Time Write-At-Home Dad

It was January, 2016 when I realized that I was dying inside. Nothing medical, though had I continued on my path, I was sure to lose a part of myself that was critical to who I was, my identity, which never even had a chance to blossom — the part that wanted to be a novelist, a writer, an artist of words — and I would’ve surely degraded into some stranger, a foreigner to my own family, my wife, and to myself. I might as well have been dead.

“Identity is crucial in ideology and action — central to the problem of self-determination at any level.”

— Franklin Odo, Preface to Roots: An Asian American Reader

When I was 16 years old, I decided that I wanted to be a writer. Something in the words of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye pulled me in, something hypnotic about Holden Caulfield, something altogether magical — and not in the Mark David Chapman kind of way.

From Catcher to my studies in English at UC Riverside to graduation, writing remained a career goal but I then quickly realized that there was no money in writing, and as someone who grew up in near poverty, what I needed most at that time was a job that paid. So I promised myself that I needed to stack up some chips first before I pursue something so … broke. You see, at the time, I was tired of being broke.

And so I got a job as an editor for a car magazine, which led to a job as a content producer for a dot com, which ultimately led to multiple jobs in marketing and advertising, each one a major step up the corporate ladder, each one more lucrative than the other, and each one another pull away from that initial goal, like a strong magnet, a dark force, a bite from some zombie. I was losing my way. Some may have even called it a successful career, but to me, they were all just jobs. At each company, at every meeting, from business trips to business retreats, from a cubicle to an office, all I wanted to do was write.

And so January, 2016 came along and my firstborn had just turned six months old, and I remember whispering to him as I fed him his bottle, “You can do whatever you want to do when you grow up. You can even be the first Filipino-American President of the United States of America.”

And then I thought about what he would’ve said to me had he had the power of language, “Did you do what you wanted to do, dad?”

This imaginary question was like a mountain of bricks falling atop my head. I realized that I had no business telling my son to follow his dreams when I hadn’t even attempted to do the same.

I decided then to end what was killing me inside — another meeting, another conference call, another motherfucking business trip, another cubicle, another day at the ditch, digging and digging and digging.

I also took in account of that broke-ness that so drove me away from writing and of my status as a person of color in America, raising another person of color in America. Cliché alert: I really had nothing to lose and so much to gain. Being a person of color requires triple the work in the face of triple the hardship, and so I might as well do something about it now lest my child be in the same situation with no one to give him advice. And so I promised myself that my being broke will be temporary — and put in my notice.

I was also fortunate — because I know how difficult it is to make it in the writing game — that I have a wife who was is beyond supportive and understanding and willing to switch roles that society has set upon all of us, that I stay at home to raise our child (now two children) and she work and take home that bread.

It’s been four years since I decided to become a write-at-home dad, and nothing’s been easy. I need to cook, wash the dishes, shop for groceries, clean the house, fold the laundry, find ways to keep the kids busy other than sit them in front of the TV, manage my time, forego some sleep, enjoy my coffee breaks, take care of my health, and all of that and more before I can even put words onto paper.

But after 15 years in the office, multi-tasking in other ways with no positive results other than my salary, I’m glad I found the courage to let it all go for this — to make art with confidence, to be creative for my own purposes, and simply, to write. Times felt like they were ending for me in January, 2016, and times are certainly ending for many now (i.e., climate change, Iran, the continued genocide of black and brown men in America, etc.) so — on the real — there is no better time to do what you want to do than right now, at this very moment.

And if I’m lucky enough to have that imaginary discussion about following your dreams with my children when they’re a little bit older, that they can do whatever they want to do, I can actually back it up and show them the way.

And to those struggling with the same issues (work vs. passion) just know that you’re not alone.

My journey is not over, it really is still the beginning, but I don’t ever regret ending my marketing career jobs to pursue this, to be a full-time write-at-home dad.

Poetry Vignettes

Beetle on a String

We looped a thread around the beetle’s body.

It buzzed over our heads.

Circling, circling, circling.

No remorse. No retreat.

Wasn’t about life. Wasn’t about a game.

Was about the day, was about time.

The Scarab Beetle, lost in the world.


Only to be handcuffed for being strong.

Held down, flight cancelled for the night.

The next day, dead. The thread tied around its corpse.

Limp-like, breathless.

The salagubang. A friend.

Notes The Writing Process

Three Books I'm Reading Today

I’m not sure if this is common knowledge among writers (you never really know) but it’s always worth pointing out that if you want to become a better writer than you were yesterday, you must read everything.

”I’m influenced by everything I read, shamelessly. ‘In a review someone said, ‘Oh, she sounds very much like Amis.’ I was flattered by that. I love Amis. Thank you very much. I think if I carry on plagiarizing for 15 years, it will settle like silt, and I’ll write something really great.”

— Zadie Smith, via The New York Times

And that goes with anything that involves words and sentences. Even as relatively innocuous as a tweet, which requires one to read enough tweets to become one decent enough to gain a multitude followers. (Of course, the alternative is to just blurt shit out and I guess that has impact, too.)

But if you want to be thoughtful and be able to convey what you want to say in such a limited word space, you’d have to study the best twitter accounts and the best twitter accounts are often created by writers who write often — and presumably read often.

For me, when it comes to writing, nothing boosts my will to put words down on an empty Word document than reading a fine line of prose or poetry, and so I read as much as I can, and the three books that I’ve picked up recently — that I would also recommend to anyone who loves to read — are:

  1. Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash by Eka Kurniawan
  2. Yakuza: Japan’s Criminal Underworld by David E. Kaplan and Alec Dubro
  3. The Open Boat: Poems from Asian America edited by Garrett Hongo
The three books in their natural habitat.

I haven’t finished any of these books, but if you happen to be reading or have read any of these books, let’s start a discussion.

The Open Boat will definitely be part of my ongoing rotation with so many gems that I will for sure come back to for many years to come. Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash is original and endlessly entertains. Yakuza not only details the criminal underworld of Japan, but it also provides some insight on how the Japanese people live, their values, their core.

What are you reading today?


To Write in 2020

It’s time to tear down all the decorations and all the bullshit. It’s a new year, new decade, and I’m fucking 40 years old.

I bring my age up because I tend to compare. Like “How old was he when he dropped his first novel?”

But despite that, I know that wisdom still persists. I know in the end it doesn’t matter. What matters is the doing, the act, and that’s exactly what I’ve not been doing — is the doing.

I have so many excuses.

If you write, good ideas must come welling up into you so that you have something to write. If good ideas do not come at once, or for a long time, do not be troubled at all. Wait for them. Put down little ideas no matter how insignificant they are. But do not feel, any more, guilty about idleness and solitude.

— BRENDA UELAND (courtesy of

And so this, on the first day of 2020, my first act of writing is this very post and it will serve as my constant reminder for my days to come that there will be no excuse bigger than this, to write:

One blog post every day.

One sentence (at least) toward the novel every day.

One sentence (at least) toward a short story every day.

Though it may not seem like much, it’s a big step for me. You see, my main excuse thus far is that I’m the primary caretaker of two toddlers with a part-time job and the big responsibility to make sure that our home is live-able, clean, and conducive to a life of action, health, and woke-ness.

This challenge, if you will, at the face of it may seem innocuous especially when it’s compared to what I’ve done prior, which was to write at two in the morning, half asleep, exhausted from the day, balancing out time with my wife and children with other interests, and at times, dealing with whatever else life decides to throw underneath my path to trip me up, but I assure you that it is indeed a challenge, one that I have to face if I’m to complete anything worth completing.

So here goes.