BY NHIEN NGUYEN
Michael Kang’s debut feature film, “The Motel,” screens at the Northwest Film Forum (1515 12th Ave., www.nwfilmforum.org). “The Motel” deals with an adolescent boy, Ernest Chin, and his problems with growing up – specifically puberty. The International Examiner interviews Kang during production of his next film.
IE: The young male actor was perfect for the lead, was it difficult to find him?
MK: It took about six months to find him. We were actively searching for him on the streets of Chinatown and in every after school program, boy scout meeting, anywhere we thought 13-year-old boys clustered. I was stopping kids in the playground and asking if they wanted to be in a movie. We got very lucky when we finally found Jeffrey. He was in a batch of kids we auditioned from the Columbia University Chinese Sunday Language School. He is a unique kid. Really smart and comfortable with himself and incredibly open. I think that is mostly due to his upbringing. His mother is very supportive.
IE: With the success of movies like “Better Luck Tomorrow” and “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle,” do you think audiences are more ready and willing to see films with Asian American male leads?
MK: I think audiences are and will always be open to watching any movie as long as it is well done. I think the major movement in Asian American film has been that the quality of storytelling has gotten more mature. We learned from the great leaders in the community like Wayne Wang and Ang Lee.
IE: Many Asian American films require grassroots marketing. Has this been the case with your film?
MK: A lot of the support has come from the Web. That has been a great tool in spreading the word. When you have a modest distribution company like Palm Pictures that can’t afford to open the film in hundreds of screens across the country, you have to rely on the word of mouth. So far that has been key and for the most part really been working.
IE: I love the book that the movie is based on and I feel that it did not get the attention it deserved in the literary world. What was it about the book that prompted you to make a movie based on it?
MK: I actually was friends with Ed Lin back when the book was still just a short story. I was really struck by the themes that the setting allowed for. As time went on, his short story became a novel and my inspiration from his short story became the screenplay. The two are like Rashomon companion pieces. We each deal with the subject of sexuality with unique voices and attitudes. When it came time to finish the film, I felt like it was good to put a “based on” credit for the book despite the differences. If the movie helps inspire someone to pick up a book or realize that more than just one Asian American artist exists out there, I thought that would be a good thing.
IE: Many emerging Asian American directors start off making a movie with Asian American themes, then they move on to more mainstream films. What do you think about this? What is your next project?
MK: It is really hard to get a film made, let alone a second film. I can’t speak to the subject matter of other filmmakers. Knowing how much work it is to get a film made, I don’t think it would be possible for any filmmaker to create something that they didn’t feel deeply connected too. For some, Asian American themes aren’t as important to them. My next film is a Korean American gangster film set in New York. It stars John Cho (“Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle”) and Grace Park (“Battlestar Gallactica”) as well as the Korean actor Jung Jun Ho (“My Hero My Boss”) and newcomer Kim Jun Sung. I am very excited about the film. We are in the middle of production and so far the experience has been amazing.
IE: If you had your wish, what would be the ultimate movie you’d want to make?
MK: I don’t like to think about one movie being the end all. I like to look to careers like that of my mentor Wayne Wang. He has a true body of work and has vacillated between big budget Hollywood films to small indie films. He is the godfather of Asian American film. I think a lot of younger people forget who he is because they don’t know their history.