With the coming of May is the celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and HBO is using that opportunity to showcase their Asian Pacific American Visionaries, a collection of three short films by emerging APA directors on May 1 across various HBO platforms. I had the pleasure of watching them during the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and I’m excited that they will available for the public to see starting today on HBO NOW, HBO GO, HBO On Demand, and HBO Zone throughout the month of May.
The three shorts are:
Monday (dir. by Dinh Thai) — A young drug dealer finds himself struggling with the moral implications of his illicit profession.
Wonderland (dir. by Tiffanie Hsu) — The film explores lonely and surreal world of a 12-year-old girl whose mother is a gambling addict.
Toenail (dir. by Jingyi Shao) — A career-obsessed yuppie comes at a difficult crossroad when he must take care for his ailing father on the eve of a major promotion.
Out of all the wonderful shorts, the one that got my attention the most was Dinh Thai’s Monday, whose first place winning edge has drawn attention to the filmmaker and an interview with the Hollywood Reporter on the film and his life. Regardless of it winning first place, the film is a unique and captivating one where it follows a day in the life of Kwan (played by newcomer Kevin David Lin), a young street hustler who runs contraband all across L.A. The use of hyperkinetic language, editing, cinematography, and the acting helps elevate this short film into a compelling experience as we see the lead change into ease with each transaction that he makes.
This marks Thai’s first narrative work since graduating from Pasadena’s Art Center with a BFA in film in 2002 but has been working as a commercial director since then so he is no novice when it comes to filmmaking. Monday is partially based on his life and has been a culmination of everything he has experienced as a Vietnamese immigrant. In his own words:
I was born in Saigon, Vietnam just two years before it was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. I could barely walk when my family (mother, father and six kids) fled the country to find refuge in a commune called Boulogne-Billancourt in the western suburbs of Paris, France. You can image the visual and emotional contrast. We arrived empty handed, from the hot south to the cold north. Our neighborhood was pleasant enough for me to eventually start walking home alone from preschool. Routinely, I would take the elevator up to our two-bedroom apartment, but one day the drive mechanism failed and I was stuck in the elevator alone at the age of five. Being trapped for a few minutes felt like a lifetime of solitude, but eventually the security guard’s voice crackled through the tiny speaker. Barely speaking French and through my teary voice, I chirped out, ‘AIDEZ-MOI!’ I’m sure you can figure out the two-word English translation. After being freed I sat waiting for my mom to get home from her second job. When the front door crept open I ran into her arms crying. For the rest of our time there, I never rode the elevator again. To this day, my Mom still gets teary-eyed when she retells the story.
My uncle eventually sponsored our way to America — San Gabriel Valley, California to be exact. I quickly acclimated to American culture. I learned English and made many friends from diverse heritages living in the quiet suburb just east of Los Angeles. This cultural contrast is the foundation of my life. I absorbed a mixed bag of pop culture: films, music, cartoons, urban fashion, street-art, ethnic foods, playground sports, video games and even street-lingo. The ’80s and ’90s were an amazing explosion of creativity, quenching my impressionable senses. My friends describe me as a banana; yellow on the outside and white on the inside. I’d add the adjective ‘over-ripened.’
Six years after graduating high school, I was accepted into the film program at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.
In the latter part of 2016, I found some free time to write and direct my first narrative piece since graduating college. It’s a project that captures characteristics from my diverse suburban childhood — part fiction and part autobiography titled, Monday.
Be on the lookout for this one as quickly following his contest win, he has signed with managers at Echo Lake Entertainment. They, along with Stone Village Pictures producer Dylan Russell, a friend of Thai’s, are interested in developing Monday as a potential television series. The same can be said for Tiffanie Hsu and Jingyi Shao as they, along with Thai, will have their shorts be broadcast by HBO throughout this month.
The films were the winners of HBO’s first Asian Pacific American Visionaries Short Film Competition, a contest dedicated to discovering and showcasing up-and-coming American filmmakers of Asian Pacific descent. HBO will launch the 2017–18 edition of the competition this summer. For official rules and guidelines, visit www.hbovisionaries.com.