A Family Affair
Wedding Palace is a romantic comedy about a quirky Korean American family that will be hitting theaters nationwide later this year. KoreAm spoke with writer/director Christine Yoo and leading man Brian Tee for a behind-the-scenes look at how the movie— filmed with two separate crews in the U.S. and Korea—got made, how Yoo wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and how a community said “yes” to a dream.
by Oliver Saria
They say to make it in Hollywood, it takes moxie, grit and a bit of good luck. You might want to add a PowerPoint presentation to the list.
“I had a PowerPoint presentation, and I literally walked in off the street and would talk to anybody that would talk to me,” Christine Yoo, director of the romantic comedy Wedding Palace, tells me as we sit in a coffee shop in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, where much of the film was shot. “If I wanted to shoot here in this location. I would just come in, I would introduce myself, and I would ask who do I need to talk to.”
Her ambitious indie film certainly needed all the production help it could muster.
With a sizable cast, a flashback sequence set during the Joseon Dynasty, and the film touted as the first U.S.– Korea independent co-production, Yoo had no choice but to go big.
Wedding Palace tells the tale of Korean American Jason Kim (played by Brian Tee of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) doomed by an ancient family curse to die if he does not wed by his fast-approaching 30th birthday. Left at the altar by his fiancée (played by Joy Osmanski), Jason must contend with a family frantically scrambling to find him a new wife, and thus save his life. But Jason chooses to tempt fate by holding out for true love, which he finds during a business trip to Korea, embarking on a long-distance, online relationship with the enchanting Na Young Song (played by Korean starlet, Kang Hye-Jung, the ingénue in the critically acclaimed classic, Oldboy, in her first English-speaking role). But when the family finally meets Na Young, some aren’t convinced she’s the right one to break the curse. Continue Reading »
An exploration of why there seems to be a glut of Asian American graphic novel superstars.
by Oliver Saria
For those interested in seeing a window into the arcane world of Asian American graphic novelists, but who are too lazy to actually read their books even with all the pictures, it’d be worth your time to check out Mythomania, the live-action Web series written and directed by award-winning graphic novelist and budding filmmaker Derek Kirk Kim. (Full disclosure: I know a thing or two about Mythomania because Kim is one of my housemates and he shot it in our condo.)
In the second episode, a group of cartoonists gathers for a dose of actual human contact in what is otherwise a very lonely, arduous endeavor—writing, drawing, lettering, stapling and selling a self-published mini-comic. The Web series is based partly on Kim’s real-life experiences from about a decade ago when he was a fledgling cartoonist living in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he would regularly meet with other fledgling cartoonists for Art Night. Gatherings of visual artists are not uncommon in cities like Chicago, New York and Portland, Ore.—places generally in close proximity to an art school or anywhere artists happen to coalesce. Other Art Nights across the country may go by less generic names, but few have reached the kind of semi-legendary status associated with Kim and his cohorts, who have produced some of the most acclaimed graphic novels of the past decade.
Kim went on to achieve the rare feat of winning the comic industry’s “triple crown” of awards—the Ignatz, the Harvey, as well as the “Oscar” of comics, the Eisner—for his groundbreaking graphic novel Same Difference and Other Stories (First Second Books).
Gene Yang, who actually proposed the first Art Night, was a finalist for a National Book Award in 2006 for American Born Chinese (First Second Books), the first graphic novel to ever be considered for the prestigious prize. In 2007, the book won the Eisner Award for best new graphic album and the Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature. Lark Pien, another Art Night alum, won the Harvey Award for her color work on American Born Chinese. Kim and Yang both won their second Eisners in 2010 for their collaboration, The Eternal Smile, a collection of short stories. Other notable alums include: Jason Shiga, another Eisner winner for his mind-boggling work of genius, Meanwhile, a choose-your-own-adventure story on steroids; and Korean American Hellen Jo’s coming of age mini-comic Jin and Jam #1 (Sparkplug) was nominated for an Ignatz in 2009.
Jo, an art school dropout who now works as an assistant story board revisionist for The Regular Show on Cartoon Network, states unequivocally, “I definitely learned more at Art Night than art school. I kind of developed my stylistic choices there.” Continue Reading »
The Scholar Rocker
Jeff Schroeder, the guitarist of The Smashing Pumpkins, gives us the inside scoop on the resurgent band, drops hints about the forthcoming album and explains how a Ph.D. in literature fits into the picture.
story by Oliver Saria
photographs by Jeff Liu
Jeff Schroeder is no James Iha, the original guitarist for The Smashing Pumpkins. He’s better. Yeah, I said it. He can actually hang musically with Billy Corgan, the tortured genius behind the Pumpkins’ signature guitar- heavy sound. Other ways Jeff isn’t James: Jeff isn’t Japanese American. He’s biracial—Korean and Caucasian. Jeff didn’t drop out of college like James; in fact, he’s finishing his Ph.D. in comparative literature at UCLA. And Jeff, unlike James, is actually on speaking terms with Billy.
I stress their differences to make a larger point: This ain’t the ’90s anymore. And it would behoove fans to remember that, if they happen to catch the band on their 12-city U.S. warm-up tour this fall in preparation for what promises to be a busy 2012 for the reinvigorated band, packed with more tour dates, reissues of their past catalog and a brand new album, Oceania. Be forewarned, though, the Pumpkins aren’t interested in reliving the past.
“We’re not going to be a ’90s retro nostalgia band,” Jeff insists. “We have no desire to do that. We’ve been offered tours with other ’90s bands. We just honestly feel like it’s the kiss of death. Once you’ve done that, you’ve accepted that your moment in the present is over, and all you can do is recreate people’s past fantasies.”
Oddly enough, Jeff was one of those people. As a teenager growing up in Orange County, California, in the early 1990s, he, like many of his peers, loved The Smashing Pumpkins, one of that decade’ s most commercially successful and critically acclaimed bands. Continue Reading »
Celebrating A Decade of In-Your-Face Funny
After years of performing in Los Angeles, OPM—the hilarious, groundbreaking, multiethnic comedy troupe—plans to pack it in. But is it really the end for this L.A. institution?
by Oliver Saria
It was, by far, the oddest meal at a Denny’s I’ve ever witnessed. The cast of OPM’s forthcoming retrospective sketch comedy show, “Decade of Hits,” assembled for a table read in the corner of the restaurant with a view of traffic creeping along Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. The multicultural-butmostly-Asian troupe noshed on Buffalo wings and illicitly shared a plate of all-you-can-eat pancakes while they read aloud some of their best (and most outrageous) sketches, such as: “The Sex Olympics” (actress Diana Toshiko felt compelled to swallow the more graphic lines for the family dining within earshot, while artistic director/actor/writer Charles Kim felt no such compulsion) and “Chuy the Environmental Cholo“ (Kim—not Latino, by the way—performed the titular character who spouts eco-dogma with a heavy “cholo” accent. For a second, we feared we might get beaten up.).
In between sketches, the group—which also includes co-producer/actor/writer Ewan Chung; performers Rodney To, Nika Williams, Jae Suh-Park and Brian Slaten; and director Eddie Mui—caught up on personal and professional news, reminisced about old shows, and ribbed one another. You’d never know from their relaxed demeanor that the show was only three weeks away. But since this is old-hat for the professional performers who all have television/film credits, the most stressful task will be whittling down 10 years worth of material.
OPM (Opening People’s Minds) actually started earlier than that in Seattle, Washington, in the mid-1990s by founder Leroy Chin, an aspiring actor who wanted an inclusive comedy troupe that represented voices not normally spotlighted in mainstream media.
At the time, Ewan Chung, a recent college grad from Virginia, knew eventually he’d move to Hollywood to pursue acting, but decided to first wet his feet (literally and figuratively) in Seattle. Meanwhile, Charles Kim, an L.A. native, was practicing law in Washington when the acting bug hit. At separate times, Chung and Kim, answering a casting call, performed with OPM, but their paths didn’t cross until Chin took the group to Los Angeles. Continue Reading »
Love, Hawaiian Style
Kimberly-Rose Wolter, Michael Kang and Sung Kang dish about Knots, their new romantic comedy set in Hawaii—how their film moves beyond loud shirts and luaus, and how it even saved Sung’s life.
by Oliver Saria
The list of mishaps that befell actor/writer/producer Kimberly-Rose Wolter while shooting the new romantic comedy Knots in her home state of Hawaii might lead one to believe that she had touched a cursed tiki. There was the gash on her foot that had festered; telltale red streaks began inching up her leg, an indicator of sepsis, potentially fatal blood poisoning. Then there was the jellyfish that stung her forehead when she went night swimming after production had wrapped for the day.
And there was also the centipede in her slipper that stung her foot three times. But, despite all of that, the shoot sounded more charmed than cursed.
“Everyone really got a chance to know each other,” says Wolter. “We formed a really nice relationship like a little family.”
That’s a sentiment shared by director Michael Kang (The Motel and West 32nd) and co-star Sung Kang (no relation), of Fast Five and Better Luck Tomorrow fame, who not only embraced Wolter’s script, but also the film’s other star: Hawaii. Continue Reading »