It was such an honor to attend and watch the 3 films which were the winners of the HBO APA Visionaries Short Film Competition. And all I can say is WOW. But more importantly I felt a lot of pride to be witness to the talent from our own Asian diaspora. These Asian American filmmakers and lead actors really showed why our content and our visibility needs to be seen and needs to be represented. It then got me thinking as an Asian Australian, whether we can someday, somehow have something similar because it is competitions and platforms such as this which really encourages and provides opportunities for Asians to showcase their talent and creative expression. I guess this will be added to one of my social activism goals in life.
In any case, the 3 winners provided not only entertaining but very deep and creative ways of presenting their film themes. The running theme I got from all 3 films was the idea of identity and that search that we as Asian Americans and as Asians alike have treaded on during our lives growing up. This is particularly relevant for those of us who were born or raised in the West and Europe, where we are forced to feel like the “unwanted minority”. These 3 films also represented growth and the importance of family and how family plays a huge part in our discourse and our Asian culture.
This year, HBO’s Silicon Valley star, soon to be star in Crazy Rich Asians and comedian Jimmy O’Yang was the ambassador for the HBO APA Visionaries Short Film Competition and he pretty much opened the event at the #LAAPFF with a huge bang of laughter. It was enlightening to listen to how he was able to cleverly frame issues of whitewashing, representation and visibility in such a comical fashion, but I guess that is his talent, and I personally appreciated it. I had the opportunity to speak with Jimmy and asked him a few important and relevant questions:
How was your term as HBO APA Visionaries Short Film Competition Ambassador?
I had a great time. But I need to give it up for the people who put this competition together. Honestly, I am just the face of the competition and I will say a few words at events. Really, it is all about the filmmakers who submit their work and it is so great to see that they now have an outlet to compete as a starting point for the promising careers.
Why did you decide to get into comedy?
It was really boredom. I started to do stand up comedy as I wanted to try it out and make some new friends and networks. I have always wanted to do things which were in the creative space. Initially, I wanted to be a musician and then a creative director, but was stopped by you know the usual Asian family thing who didn’t see being an “artist” was a lucrative career, so that is why I put effort into finding different outlets where I could be who I wanted to be.
Jimmy now hands over the honor of Ambassador to the one and only (Asian Australian brother) Leonardo Nam of HBO’s Westworld.
So how about the 3 films? Well I had the opportunity to interview the filmmakers and the lead actors of all 3 winning films. So here they are as well as some of the important questions I had the opportunity to ask.
1ST PLACE – Dinh Thai’s MONDAY
This is the story of a young drug dealer who finds himself struggling with the moral implications of his illicit profession.
Wow oh wow! It was extremely compelling and riveting that I wish it went on for longer. It really touched on a lot of deep issues of justifying and validating doing something which is illegal for the love of family.
So I asked both the mastermind behind this short Dinh Thai and his lead actor Kevin David Lin about whether they had any emotional attachment to the film and how they personally dealt with the confronting themes.
Dinh: Well, the revelation at the end of the film ( I won’t say what to prevent any spoilers) is really to satisfy Kwan’s personal journey and that he himself being a drug dealer is somewhat justified, and as a consequence the law isn’t always right or moral and he realised as well that life isn’t always fair on you.
Kevin: Growing up my mom doesn’t really speak much English, so I have always had the protective shield for her no matter what the situation. So playing the character “Kwan” in this film was really emotionally close to me and hit home about the importance of family.
2ND PLACE – Tiffanie Hsu’s WONDERLAND
This short film explores the lonely and surreal world of a 12-year old girl whose mother (played by Joan Chen) is a gambling addict.
I loved it. Not only because it showed some of the dirty side of a gambling addiction, but it also demonstrated that despite Asians being categorised as a model minority, many of the personal problems we face are always hidden and never made public. The struggles 12 year old Adeline is faces are bigger than she can handle, so she needs to find a place to disappear to be herself. This short also starred Joan Chen, so you know it will be an awesome flick.
I also had the opportunity to speak with both filmmaker Tiffanie and lead actor, young Audrey Hui, and asked how both of them were able to relate to the confronting themes and how they were able to absorb the intensity of the themes presented.
Tiffanie: The main character 12 year old Adeline is dealing with a lot of issues. Externally she is focused on keeping her family together – to do everything she can for her mom and to essentially be the perfect kid and forced to be the grown up in the family. As Adeline is still very young, it is an impossible task for her and so she needs to find another outlet to have peace and solace.
Audrey: Tiffanie and my mom helped me a lot with managing the role. I would have many conversations with my mom about what my character Adeline had to deal with and how she was feeling.
3RD PLACE – Jingyi Shao’s TOENAIL
This short film is about a career-obsessed yuppie having to care for his ailing father on the eve of his big promotion.
I found this short film extremely layered and multi faceted, in that it was all about the relationship between father and son, father and son’s boss and son and “alpha” male colleague. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but I must say I resonated a lot with this because it was about the clash of cultures ( immigrant parents and Western born/raised children) and the dilemma of constantly seeking approvals and trying to live up to certain expectations, which are either imposed or perceived. So all in all a great short film.
I also had the opportunity to speak with both the filmmaker Jingyi and the lead actor Justin Lee who played “Frank” in the short film. I asked both of them about how the themes presented in the short film resonated with both of them as Asian American men.
Jingyi: In this short film I aimed to discuss a lot of different issues. Masculinity is a major one (the interactions between Frank’s father and boss) and Frank and his co-worker Joe. The film is about not quite understanding what to do and how to fit in as a young career driven Asian American man. The dilemma for Frank is that his father/family grew up in a different time and in a different culture (in this case Korean) whereas Frank grew up as an American, so it is really about him trying to figure it all out. He dismisses his father a lot as he feels his father doesn’t understand him.
Justin: I can definitely relate to the themes in the film. My parents are from Korea and they hold very traditional values, and that is why sometimes our different cultural views will clash. It is very confusing for Frank to work out what is right because essentially both your Asian and American cultures are right, so you need to decide to choose or to embrace both. Frank was so focused on deciding that he wasn’t able to absorb his father giving him universal life advice.
To end, I would like to add that in celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, HBO will debut HBO Asian Pacific American Visionaries, a collection of three short films by emerging APA directors, on May 1st across various HBO platforms.
Exploring a range of controversial issues, the award-winning shorts examine crime, addiction and family turmoil within the APA community. Visionaries will be available on HBO NOW®, HBO GO®, HBO On Demand® and HBO Zone® throughout the month of May.
Don’t forget to catch these 3 films and support our own Asian American content!
Additional images provided by HBO