While the harsh realities explored in Raskal Love may not be easy for some people to watch, the film holds a powerful message about why impoverished and disenfranchised youth join gangs. Screening at the Seattle Asian American Film Festival, Byron Q’s documentary points a spotlight at real life ex-gangbanger Vanna Fut aka “Lazy.” Initiated at just 11 years old, Fut was brought into the Tiny Raskal Gang (TRG’s) while living in Pomona, California. When his family moved to Seattle, he took up breakdancing and broke away from gang activities. Ironically, Fut went on to star in a cult movie about gangs, Bang Bang, also directed by Byron Q.

Below, both gentlemen discuss breaking, gangbanging, and moviemaking.

International Examiner: Byron, what motivated you to make Raskal Love?

Byron Q: I had met Vanna through a unique way, during the research for my first film Bang Bang. We met online. In the end, I brought Vanna onboard as an actor because I was looking for real gangsters to cast.

Through working with him, we developed a strong friendship and, as I got to know him, he began to tell me more about his life in the streets. Vanna is one of those rare characters that have the power to change your perception of life through his friendship. This is what motivated me to tell his story, in the hopes that I can share it with others, especially the young people of our generation who come from this background.

IE: Did you already have experience with gang culture, or did you have to research a lot?

Byron Q: I had known a couple of people who were in gangs when they were in high school, and I had known some drug dealers who told me a lot of stories. But it was only after making my first film that I began to understand gang culture through my experience working with Thai VG, Vanna, and others who were involved with the film. These guys were the real deal. Then, as we went to make this documentary, I was taken into the heart of it all. 

IE: In your documentary you have actors simulating certain real-life scenes juxtaposed alongside interviewees. How hard was it telling the story like that?

Byron Q: Many of Vanna’s photos were lost from his past when he became homeless. This was a challenge that we had to overcome, so we decided to use the reenactment scenes to visually complement his story.

IE: What’s the most important lesson you came away with after making this film?

Byron Q: Through the process of making this documentary, I was able to truly understand gang culture and the problems faced by these young kids who join gangs and, ultimately, the problems our society has shied away from. I think to truly solve a problem, we first have to understand the problem, and I hope this documentary can offer a lead to begin that discussion of thinking about gangs in a different way—how to empower these gangs to uplift their community instead of killing each other in the streets. 

IE: Vanna Fut, how did being a Cambodian refugee factor into your joining a gang as a necessary survival mechanism?

Vanna Fut: Coming from the Killing Fields, we had a lack of adult advice with unexperienced street peace here. Living in a city with a crowd, waiting for the news to play on murders, was a reminder that we’re the ones in a project stadium to entertain our future judgers outside the jungle of our corner. Robbers, deaths, drug dealers, crack smokers, and police sirens, arresting drunks for every child to view as an example, day-to-day, by our homes.

I know having a gang member’s blood in my veins is a bad example for all of today’s generations, but when I was young it wasn’t easy to find another route and I wasn’t even looking. I started without the thought of joining a gang, but standing with everything that related to the streets—skating, tagging, breakdancing, fighting. It was all fist first.

IE: Did any cultural aspects influence you in choosing to join a gang?

Fut: Just our street Raskal brotherhood’s footsteps. 

IE: You’ve mentioned that a pivotal moment in your life is when your mother passed away. What would she think about your successes as a dancer and actor?

Fut: I wish my mother was still here on earth like when she walked me to the first day of kindergarten class. She’s seen me put together my Legos.

Seems now like my mom is only getting letter notes in heaven of all my work that makes her smile for the son she named. I remember her taking me to all her friends’ homes and making me dance to Michael Jackson’s music and told me, if I was dancing to the beats like this in our country, I would be having a lot of ice creams.

My mother must be smiling proudly with tears to see her son, dancing in the storms then to wait for it to pass away on a sad, rainy day. Feeling like a dancing champ was a goal, survival to this age is a goal, making it in a few films was a dream. I’ve been honored and blessed with respects from people for the child she gave birth to. That’s my revenge after I lost her.

IE: What’s your advice to young people who want to join gangs?

Fut: I know there’s plenty of reasons behind their stories. I have met a few that have reminded me of my footsteps, and the only advice I can give is how ugly things can get to be if continued. I don’t want anyone to join gangs, world wars, or hate crimes.

IE: How do activities like music and breaking keep kids out of gangs?

Fut: It’s the greatest arts from the streets really. Breakdancing was a “proud of yourself” moment and, thankfully, with the music freestyles along the sides. Together, it kept the activities colorful, from being blind to street education, with poetry, being creative, being one step ahead and prepared for tomorrow’s win or lose situations. I believe all forms of art creations put together is a masterpiece. Everyone wants to accomplish one at a time. So that definitely trades in for the street guns.

IE: While you were making this film, did you ever feel you were revealing too much personal information? Or, was it more important to get the message out?

Fut: Yes, I was uncertain if it’ll bring some trouble and attention that can cause any problems out there. But due to a bad situation that I am steadily battling, it was important to have a memory waiting for me and not forget the good, the bad, and the ugly.

If you have watched the film, you’ll understand and there’s not yet an ending, of course. Me and my friend Byron Q was always kicking back and talking about life. I’m glad to have a friend that didn’t pull a pure gangster documentary-only type. We named it Raskal Love ‘cause overall that’s my life’s ID on top of every hat I have worn.

Raskal Love screens at the Seattle Asian American Film Festival on Saturday, February 8 at 1:00 p.m. at Ark Lodge Cinemas Screen 1. For tickets and more information, click here.

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