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Sung Kang on Directing ‘Shaky Shivers’ and Finally Being in the Driver’s Seat

Sung Kang knows people call him the “Asian dude” from the Fast and Furious movies and has begun embracing the title. 

As someone who has been in the industry for many years, Kang felt like he didn’t have the opportunities as an actor to play leading roles or fully three-dimensional characters. Everything was a bit on the surface and supporting the leads. So he began thinking about his prospects for the future.

That’s when Shaky Shivers came to fruition. 

Written by Andrew McAllister and Aaron Strongoni, Shaky Shivers is about two best friends, played by Brooke Markham and VyVy Nguyen, who find themselves dealing with the supernatural in their little town. Inspired by the campy ‘80s horror comedy films, Shaky Shivers deals with witches, zombies, werewolves, and all the monsters from the ‘90s. 

A product of Sundance and art films, Kang thought about directing a coming-of-age arthouse film, but felt like he didn’t have the skills yet. Also, the world was going through the start of the pandemic, so he wanted to do something fun and made people laugh. His writing partner Aaron Strongoni had written a horror comedy with McAllister celebrating the era of practical effects in horror — but also share McAllister’s love for kid horror films with his nine-year-old daughter. So, they created this journey of two friends and being comfortable in their own skin within his horror comedy. 

“That was my North Star,” Kang told The Nerds of Color over Zoom. “This is a story and theme that I can wake up in the morning and fight for. The horror part was great, but I don’t think Shaky Shivers is scary. [I] think it’s hilarious. It’s like Bill and Ted, Wayne’s World — two doofuses who are going on an adventure. That’s what it really is.”

Working with Cineverse and Fathom Events, Shaky Shivers was given only one night in the theaters nationwide on September 21. Despite several Official Selections in the film festival circuit, Kang is grateful and surprised the film was given a theatrical release.

“The fact that we’re even in a theater was something I did not fathom,” Kang admits. “I [thought] maybe this will just go to streaming or what not. But, the fact that the distribution team, Cineverse, is supporting us in this effort to have it nationwide — even one night — what a milestone in my life and my career. I get to celebrate this movie with people in the theater. If it does well in the end, then the victory is sweeter when you earn it.”

Kang is realistic and honest about how the industry works. He’s been outspoken about the difficulties being in the industry as an actor — let alone, an Asian actor. So, for Kang, the distribution to theaters is one he appreciates because not many are lucky to get this opportunity. 

“It’s show business,” said Kang. “These movies have to make money so [these kinds of films] can continue.”

As he begins to think more about the industry, he realized he could have more of an impact as a director. Kang says he feels like directing is his calling and gives him purpose as an artist.

“As I get older, I realize it’s less about me,” Kang shared. “If I’m behind the camera, I can give other people those opportunities because I understand their plight and the obstacles they are faced with. Instead of waiting for that phone call that might never happen and then slowly decaying inside. You know, that artistic light inside that slowly dims away because I’m waiting for somebody else to help write my destiny. As a director and writer, I realized I don’t have to wait for any phone call. I can just do it myself. Sure, it’s difficult to raise the money and stuff, but I have more control over it. I’m in the driver’s seat. It’s fulfilling.”

Kang was so focused on directing for the film, he never thought about being in the film at all. Though he makes a hilarious cameo in the film, it was not by Kang’s choice. He wanted the story to be all about the two leads, Markham and Nguyen, but eventually gave in to what the producers wanted. 

“I did not want [my character] in the film,” Kang laughed. “So [he] was never in the script. That was done on the last day. Most of it was just improv. It was like pulling teeth to get me in front of the camera. I have so many things to worry about as a director. I wanted the spotlight to be on the leads of our film. Brooke and Vyvy did such a fantastic job. Without them, this movie would not be what it is because we had very little resources to make this movie come to life and I really had to lean on them.”

With Shaky Shivers being his directorial debut, it gave Kang a better perspective of what creatives go through as well as his work as an actor. He stopped taking rejection personally because casting is extremely difficult. He explains, “You think, it’s going to be just one casting session and you’re going to fight to find that right person, but — don’t get me wrong — there are fantastic and amazing actresses that came in for the roles, but then you realize the role for the actor is like a tailored suit. You can’t just take it off the rack. It’s custom to that person.”

That said, Kang hasn’t given up on acting — although it is on hold due to the SAG/AFTRA strike. He realizes he has a platform and ability to help others in this new role of directing.  He thought about what legacy he wanted to leave to the world and in Hollywood. 

“If I can give other marginalized communities opportunities that I never had, what a great perspective to go into filmmaking,” said Kang. “They don’t have to explain themselves to me. I know what they’re facing and let’s create amazing opportunities and roles for them.”

So, for Kang, in order for more opportunities in the future, he hopes audiences go see the movie made by the Asian dude from the Fast and Furious movies. 

Shaky Shivers premieres one night only on September 21, in theaters everywhere.

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