Kenneth Eng: The Man Behind “Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball” and “My Life in China”
Chinese-born, Boston-bred, and LA-livin’ filmmaker Kenneth Eng will be visiting Orlando once again on May 1, 2016. He will be presenting two of his award-winning, internationally recognized documentaries: “Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball” and “My Life in China.” The screenings will be held at the YESS Center in the Orlando Fashion Square Mall beginning at 1:30 pm followed by a Q&A session with Kenneth himself afterwards.
Eng studied film at the School of Visual Arts in the bustlin’ heart of NYC. His talent in filmmaking has been nothing short of amazing and is evident in how well-received his work has been. One of his most prominent documentaries, “My Life in China” – a film that recounts his father’s reasons behind immigrating to the United States – has been featured on numerous airlines and is also a proud recipient of various awards, including the 2015 “Best Documentary Feature” in the 18th Annual ARPA International Film Festival and winner of the “Audience Award” from the 2015 Boston Asian American Film Festival.
Eng is without a doubt talented and his success is demonstrative of the passion he has for telling stories that resonate with his audiences. Beyond mere entertainment, his films enable others to understand the heart that anchors every experience – whether it is a sporting event or a nerve-racking escape towards the unknown. However, his path to success was not always easy. It is often a stereotype that Asian American parents deplore any job not typically considered “stable,” deeming it a risky path not worth pursuing. Despite this stigma, Eng took a leap of faith by following his heart and delving into the Arts, stating:
“I think it’s a generational thing. People from older generations didn’t have life as good as we have it today. They want what’s best for their children and choosing jobs that are low risk for achieving financial stability is usually the motivator. It was a difficult decision to try to be a documentary filmmaker because it’s very competitive and there’s not much money in it. I’ve had to fight for every part of this journey…I want to leverage everything that I’ve been through and the places I’ve been – to be someone who came out of the poor immigrant community of Boston and to really show that it is possible to go through the Boston Public School System and go to NY for Art School at the School of Visual Arts and to work my way up to being an independent filmmaker. I want to prove that it IS possible. The American Dream is still alive.”
“Making these films has taught me the power, privilege, & responsibility that comes with being a filmmaker. It’s taught me the true meaning of my life: to be a bridge that connects different communities with hopes to deepen the understanding and building compassion of our humanity.”
“Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball”
Although I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting Japan, as a North American I can understand the widespread appeal of national sports. From the NBA to the NFL, despite not being an avid spectator or active participant, I can relate to the collective source of satisfaction associated with victory and defeats; with the immense pride and communal pleasure that comes with your team winning and advancing to the championship. It sends shivers down your back, forms goosebumps on your neck, and makes you genuinely proud to represent a team whose hard work manifests itself in the rewarding nature of healthy competition.
Basking in the nature of sports is equivalent to being a part of something bigger than yourself; it’s extraordinary. When your team loses, you vicariously feel a pang of loss. When your team wins, you feel an overwhelming sense of pride. It’s an odd yet astonishing sense of familial connection that, like love, can be the closest feeling a human being has to magic. Victories and losses can ignite a fire in you that rightfully cements in your heart and becomes internally eternal.
The film “Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball” illustrates the deeper meaning behind the Japanese art of baseball. More than the desire to compete and win, it shows the strength of the “Japanese spirit” through athleticism, emphasizing the invaluable powers of leadership and determination. For Eng,
“Kokoyakyu taught me how anything is possible as long as we have an open heart and put in a good effort.”
When asked what inspired the film, Eng states that it came “…around the time when Ichiro & Matsui came over.. There was not much information in English about them. However, a book “You’ve Gotta Have Wa” by Robert Whiting featured a chapter in his book about the Koshien Tournament. Alex Shear (Producer) and I thought – Yes, that’s where the true story lives. How can we use Baseball as a lens into the Japanese Spirit. Japanese are famous for taking great ideas and making it their own: Baseball, an American sport has been transformed into a Martial Art. Japanese have infused Samurai Spirit into baseball and use it as part of Education. The inspiration comes from the desire to understand Japan more…”
“My Life in China”
For anyone growing up or living as a minority in the United States, it can be both a blessing and a curse. It is a unique experience to be able to embrace distinct cultures but it can come with struggles as well. At times, trying to remain true to your roots while wanting to acclimate to the dominant culture can warrant feelings of confusion and conflict, ultimately creating an identity crisis.
“My Life in China” explores Eng’s father’s journey immigrating to the United States in an attempt to leave a communist society and in search for a better life. It documents the struggles associated with the process and the formidable effects it can have on defected immigrants – from culture clash to the desire to fulfill the American dream. An honest work of art, “My Life in China” shows the resilience behind misfortunes, the meaning behind sacrifice, and the overwhelming power of spiritual awareness.
For Eng, creating “My Life in China” was more than just an experience but a moment of growth. Learning the meaning of unconditional love as well as the value of self-worth, Eng has developed a deeper understanding for the hardships that his father endured immigrating to America. Further, he has learned to not only accept himself but also appreciate the qualities that make him unique as an Asian American.
“Through the process of making the film, I was able to rediscover myself. I have learned to accept and love who I am and where I come from. I’ve also developed a deeper respect and understanding for all the people who make America richly diverse and special.”
“With every film I make, it becomes a part of me. Making “My Life In China” changed my life forever in the way I treat people. My understanding of my father is deeper and I have a deeper appreciation for my culture and heritage. It’s allowed me to learn to love myself which help me learn to love others!!”
more info about My Life in China