FILM: A Killer Premise

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Jason Tobin and Eugenia Yuan in a scene from “Chink.”

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

The team behind “The People I’ve Slept With” is going in a different direction with their new film, “Chink.”

The first film is a romantic comedy about a woman trying to determine which of her male friends and acquaintances is the father of her child. The second is about a serial killer.

Stanley Yung and Quentin Lee, the producer and director of the previous film, have switched jobs this time. The screenwriter for both films is Koji Steven Sakai, whose other credits include “Death Ride” (aka “Haunted Highway”).

The trio’s two projects do have something in common, according to Sakai. “Our goal was always to make two films — one that featured an interesting Asian American man and one that featured an interesting Asian American female.”

“Chink” will be screened Saturday, May 4, at 9:30 p.m. at the Directors Guild of America, 7920 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, as part of Visual Communications’ 29th L.A. Asian Pacific Fest.

Jason Tobin (“Better Luck Tomorrow,” “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”) stars as Eddy, a Chinese American who grows up being called “chink” and “gook” and being ridiculed by kids at school. Embarrassed by his immigrant parents’ heavy accents and emasculated by media depictions of Asian men, he suffers from self-hatred even as he graduates from college and lands a good job. What people don’t know is that he is also a closet sociopath whose victims include the office receptionist and his own parents.

Jason Tobin and Tzi Ma in a scene from “Chink.”

The cast includes Eugenia Yuan (“Charlotte Sometimes,” “Memoirs of a Geisha”) as Karena, a co-worker for whom Eddy develops feelings, and Tzi Ma (“24,” “Rush Hour”) as Mr. Chang, Eddy’s boss.

Eddy’s role model is Ted Bundy, a serial killer and rapist who was executed in 1989. He confessed to 30 homicides in seven states but is believed to have committed many more.

“Bundy is the quintessential serial killer,” Sakai explained. “He is generally considered very handsome, personable, and intelligent … Eddy wants to be like Ted. He looks up to him … I’ve always been fascinated by serial killers. They offer an insight into what humans are capable of, in a bad way. I have been especially interested in serial killers such as Edwin Kemper, Ted Bundy, Zodiac, and Charles Ng.”

Asked if any real-life serial or mass killings were connected to anti-Asian prejudice, Sakai admitted that he is not an expert on the subject but said, “I think some of the school shootings involving Asians/Asian Americans had some sort of racism, or at least perceived racism by the shooter … They could have just been insane, but from what I have read about Cho Seung-Hui, the Virginia Tech shooter, he was bullied and suffered racism as a child. And there is some discussion about racism playing a role in the Gang Lu shooting (committed by an exchange student at University of Iowa in 1991). The one exception to the rule  — isn’t there always one? — is Wayne Lo (Simon’s Rock College in 1992), who others thought was a racist and a fascist.”

Koji Steven Sakai

Sakai pointed out that there is a distinct difference between serial killers and mass murderers. “Most people don’t know, but the FBI defines a serial killer as a person who kills three or more times with a cooling-off period in between each killing. Mass murderers are defined as killing a group of people in one or two centrally defined places. My main character is a serial killer, so most of my research for the movie focused on serial killers of the past.”

Regarding the casting of the lead, Sakai recalled, “Jason Tobin was one of the first people we thought of. Not only is he an amazing actor but we thought he could bring an intensity to the character that would make him feel real and scary. Plus, he loved the idea from the very beginning and wanted to be involved.”

A decade ago, Justin Lin’s “Better Luck Tomorrow” created controversy within the community. While it was a breakthrough — a feature film directed by an Asian American with an all-Asian American principal cast — it also showed bright, college-bound students becoming involved in thrill-seeking and crime, including murder. Some questioned the subject matter, while others argued that an Asian American filmmaker isn’t obligated to show only positive images. The first movie (as far as Sakai knows) about an Asian American serial killer is raising those issues again.

“Are we past the point where filmmakers are criticized for negative and violent portrayals of Asian America? I thought we were,” Sakai commented. “But I have gotten some negative feedback from people that I shouldn’t portray Asian Americans as murderers, which is confusing to me because there are good Asian Americans and there are bad Asian Americans just like any other group of people. A lot of people don’t know this, but there was an Asian American serial killer, Charles Ng. He and his partner are accused of killing 11-25 people in Northern California during the 1980s.”

Ng was convicted on 11 counts of murder in 1999 and is on Death Row at San Quentin. His partner in crime, Leonard Lake, committed suicide after being arrested.

Sakai is well aware that the film’s title will raise some eyebrows. “It was the first title we came up with. We wanted to have a title that reflected an Asian American person who hated themselves. However, we got such a negative reaction from people, we changed the title. Apparently, no one wanted to read a script called ‘Chink.’ We had another name for a while, but then a friend came out with a movie with that title. So we decided to go for it.”

He’s not sure how the film will be received, but “I’m hoping that people will be entertained but also (to) make them think a little. If one of those things happens, I feel like I’ve done my job.”

Sakai, whose day job is at the Japanese American National Museum, has another film coming out later this year called “Monster & Me,” a family Christmas movie. “I’m pretty excited about that movie because it’ll be the first movie my infant son will be able to see,” he said. “He’ll have to be a teenager before he’ll be able to watch ‘Chink’ or ‘The People I’ve Slept With.’”

The film festival runs from May 2 to 12. Tickets for most screenings are $13 general, $11 for students, seniors and members of VC and DGA. For more information, call (213) 680-4462, ext. 68 or go online to www.vconline.org/festival.

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