Eng has grown up in Oakland, immersed in its hip-hop culture and mix of languages and cultures. But she still struggles with her Chinese American identity. She's the girl who sits on the bench on the basketball team, but she's also the "Americanized" girl to the other Asian kids, who stick together at school.
As Eng's sophomore year winds down to an end in 2002, she tries to find a sense of belonging. But never quite fitting in with her two different worlds, acceptance is hard to find.
Written and directed by Erica Eng, this short film has the propulsive energy of its sports drama genre, with games and practices captured with dynamic camerawork and editing. But it also has a naturalistic specificity in the milieu and character that give the storytelling grit and authenticity, rooting its young protagonist in the rangy energy of an Oakland high school, where students of all races and cultures commingle. Within this scrappy setting, Eng tries to find her place in the world, an exploration constructed with emotionally intelligent, keenly observed writing and direction.
Sports narratives often have a built-in forward drive, structured around games, matches and tournaments. But the story here is less interested in the march to victory. Instead, it's more attentive to Eng's emotional journey, captured in a charismatic performance by actor Terry Hu, who possesses both youth, swagger and insecurity as the young basketball player trying to find her place in the world. She has the bravado of a warrior taking the field -- or an actor in costume taking the stage -- but also the flickers of vulnerability and hurt that come through when she is teased and bullied on both sides. She soldiers on, almost darting from one group to another, until she achieves a personal win -- one that is more fragile and fleeting than she realizes.
Having a sense of belonging is a primal need, one that asserts itself more acutely when we hit adolescence and begin to explore who we are. For Eng, and the film in general, belonging isn't just about making friends or finding your crew. It's about navigating complicated social spaces while often falling through the cracks of them -- a tricky balancing act for anyone at any time, much less for a teenager pulled between two cultures where she will never quite belong. Beyond showing the diversity of the Asian-American experience, "Americanized" takes these complexities of being a descendant of immigrants in the U.S. and grafts them onto a classic coming-of-age arc, making for a fascinating, engrossing and universally relatable tale.