Asian film directors such as Ang Lee of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and action film guru, John Woo, the first Asian to direct a major motion picture, "Broken Arrow", (1996) have earned respect in Hollywood. This undercurrent of fascination for Asian culture is also shown in the success of Tom Cruise's "The Last Samurai" and Bill Murray's Tokyo-filmed comedy, "Lost in Translation".
"There are only so many buildings and cities that you can blow up or create crisis situations in America... everything's been done. Now the ideas and inspiration for motion pictures are directed east - it's a mystery out here for Americans", said Wonsuk Chin, Korean-American film director based in New York.
Chin, 36, was born in Seoul, and moved to New York to study filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts in 1989. An energetic and inventive person, Chin is currently working in Korea for his third movie, and action comedy called, "Expats". The film will make cinematic history: "Expats" is mainly a U.S. production with partnerships in Canada, Britain and Korea; and the movie is shot in Busan, featuring Hollywood stars. Pleiny Porter, formerly of Julia Robert's company, "Shoelace Productions", is the producer for the film.
The film will follow the comical adventures of a young, underachieving American man straight out of college who becomes an English teacher in Busan. The story will depict his culture shock experience and his discovery of Busan's seedy and infamous "Texas Street" meeting a cast of 'odd' foreigners. The main character and his unusual band of friends decide to rob Korean mobsters - renown for not carrying guns.
"Korea is a very obscure place to Americans; it's in between China and Japan, with no identity of its own for the world to recognize. I want to create a visual picture of Korea for Americans. When I visited Texas Street for the first time, I was totally amazed, because it was just perfect for film. Busan is unique because of the Russian sailors, Russian hostess bars, English teachers, and gangsters", Chin explained.
Chin began his research in Busan in 2001, meeting English teachers from the Internet who volunteered to show him around. Chin eventually met many Russians and other unique character-types for the film, though he had yet to meet a mobster.
"It was really funny because I told my English teacher friend that I needed to meet a gangster, and he knew one, and when I asked him how, he said that he taught him English!" Chin laughed.
"Expats" will be a neutral depiction of Korea, through the milieu of the English teacher's experience. The portrayal of Korean gangsters and Texas Street is risky for 'image-conscious' Korean audiences, who boycotted the 2002 James Bond film, "Die Another Day" for its allegedly 'negative' portrayal of North Korea.
"Many will say 'Expats' is negative because it's about some reckless Americans who come here. I have to make the best movie I can; I am not interested in making a public advertisement for Korea", Chin commented.
Like his idol, Ang Lee, Chin is making headway in Hollywood as an Asian director, having already released two films: "Too Tired to Die" (1998), starring Mira Sorvino, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Jeffrey Wright, Michael Imperioli, Kim Hyesoo, Ben Gazzara and Gretchen Mol. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and was released in over 30 countries.
Chin's second film, "E-DREAMS" (2001) was a documentary that followed the rise and fall of a dot.com company. Chin won the Best Documentary Award at AMMI, the aMagazine-sponsored Asian-American "Academy Awards" (Ang Lee won the award for Best Feature Film for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" that same year). Chin was also awarded the special jury prize at the Hampton's International Film Festival. "E-DREAMS" will be released on DVD May 24.
As a note of amusement, The Korea Herald awarded Chin the first prize for the "Korea Herald English Speech Contest" in 1985 when he was 17. Chin won the nation-wide contest with his original and funny speech, "Do you like to dance?", a title that forces a smile.
"All the other speeches were pretty boring and really serious, so I came out, all zany and fun, and it worked", Chin said.
By Krista Kim