When I first heard about this topic from a close friend of mine, I was shocked. It reminded me a lot of the documentary “Save My Seoul” from Jubilee Project, where they talk about how sex trafficking in Seoul is an open secret: open in that everyone in the community is aware of its presence (and may participate in it too), but secret in that it’s not something they would showcase to the world. Gambling in the Vietnamese American community came across to me as another open secret; my Vietnamese friends were all aware of this issue when I spoke to them about it, but all of my non-Vietnamese friends who I spoke to about the project were just as surprised as I was to hear about it. Hearing those two perspectives really did push me to want to make a film about the subject matter.
I wanted to tell the story from a Vietnamese American point of view because my friend was Vietnamese American and I wanted to provide the space and ability for them to convey the story in an authentic way, and that included the nuances of being a Vietnamese American for them. It wouldn’t have made sense for me to hear my Vietnamese American friend tell me this story and for me to say, “Okay, that’s a great story. Let’s put a Korean American as the protagonist,” because that is just not my experience. My personal perspective is that there are two steps that can be taken towards greater Asian American representation in media: the first step is putting Asian American faces on the screen (without necessarily changing the storyline), and the second step is putting Asian American narratives on the screen. I feel passionate about the latter, and I believe it is so important to have people in those identities tell their stories as purely as possible.
Haha, so this is a pretty funny story. I had actually already filmed this video back in March; it was a completely different approach to the same topic. It had dialogue and scenes acted out. But then I got a new laptop in August and in the process of moving over my data…I lost the footage. So I had to learn how to be scrappy with the limited time I had with Joanne, who is our narrator in the video. We ended up overlapping in Seoul for a week, so that’s when we filmed it: in a foreign city with basically no budget.
I knew that it was so important for the mother who has a gambling addiction to not be portrayed as an evil character; the mother is a good person who made decisions that ended up hurting her loved ones. And we wanted this video to focus on the perspective of the loved one, showcasing how complex her feelings of love, betrayal, pain, and forgiveness are towards this singular person. As a result, we decided to place the protagonist in the setting where her complicated feelings towards her mother began: a casino. Casinos tend to be dimly lit, so we put the protagonist in red mood lighting; red is always a daring and loud color. It means anger and aggression, but it can also mean love, and these are all feelings we wanted to convey.
The actress’s face remains hidden for the entire video, primarily because this story really could apply to anyone else. I think without placing an actual face/identity to the story, it allows people to focus on the card movements and the audible words to motivate the story rather than her facial expressions. Even without seeing her face, you can feel the intensity of the emotions without fail.
Speaking of card movements, the cards were used to help motivate the story. Cards are also often a key player in gambling; while to some people cards are just used for games, to others cards hold a lofty power over their loved ones. I saw the protagonist handling the cards as an opportunity for her to leverage that tool to her advantage and to tell her story. Especially as the lone character in the video, the cards provide a space to help orient the story, using them as dates or representations of characters.
I’m currently working on a short film that centers around Pilipinx dances and the meaning of dance for the community, a family, and a girl. In these 3 realms, we'll explore the issues/impact of dance by passing down anecdotes and history to a little girl being introduced to the world of her culture, eventually leading her to fully realize the spirit and fire of this passion across generations. We are currently in the process of finalizing the script and we’re set to film in February!
In addition, I’m working on 2 collaborative videos with another Asian American named Matthew Diep, who recently founded Psypher, a non-profit oriented towards instigating discussions around mental health and providing a space for it through dance. We’re working on 2 concept dance videos that grapple with Asian American LGBTQ+ mental health as well as substance abuse that is sometimes seen in Asian American Greek life.