This the first time we’ve seen you as a guns-blazing, stunt-pulling action lead. We’ve talked a bit about the physicality, but what other things did you discover in the performance?
I guess what I was pleased with was trying to put character into all of those action moves. I’ll take the opportunity to pat myself on the back. Looking back at it, I was like, “I know who that person is that’s executing those moves.” We didn’t use templates. I think it was expressive of the show, and of the character, in all those fight scenes. There was a story being told during those fight scenes. Coming into it, that’s one of those things I was like — can we do that? Can I do that? Can I do those moves and act at the same time? [laughs] And I think we got there.
Holy shit. [laughs]
These are before Better Luck Tomorrow, during this wave of independent Asian cinema in the ’90s. How do you look back at those movies, at this stage in your career?
Very fondly. The only regret I have is that those filmmakers didn’t break through in the mainstream — those films didn’t break through in the mainstream the way they might be able to do now, with the help of technology. You know, I do feel like the internet has made so many things possible. It has allowed audiences to find films that they couldn’t find before. Those films are of high quality, or that’s how I remember them, and if we had the help of that technology, I think we could have gotten there.
I look back on it with admiration for those filmmakers, for what they were trying to do at that time. It was a time when I felt like it was much more— what was going on in the air was people were trying to do something very original, all the time. It was a really special time in feature filmmaking. I feel like now, the best ideas are in television, but that was a time when features really ruled culture. People would talk about features at dinner, and it’s much less so now. And so I look back on those movies — those are my first two features — with real fondness and admiration.
I was struck by something you said in a previous interview: that you thought you would literally never see the day of Asian representation happening more in Hollywood. And given where we are now, I was wondering how that compares with what you and the Asian filmmakers around you talked about.
When I was young, I was like, “I look back 50 years, and in terms of representation, we’ve barely made any progress.” Extrapolating from that — 50 years from now, the math tells me it’s not going to be much better. [laughs] I was pessimistic, and just hopeful that I could make a living. That was the biggest win I could think of, at the time — just to survive.
So what we’re living in now is beyond what I ever imagined. I don’t know what to make of it, really. There’s just so many people, and I’m trying to make a real concerted effort to know more of them, to reach out to them, to talk with them. I want to work with the Asian-Americans who are coming up right now. And there are so many, I don’t know where to start. It’s exciting; there’s so much going on, I’m almost disoriented from it.
This is very unprofessional, but I have to say that Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle remains one of the most important movies for me. I always say it was my Crazy Rich Asians.
[laughs] I always say that that movie is — it’s not traditionally seen as an Asian-American movie, but it is to me. I like it being seen as an Asian-American movie, you know?
Jeremy Gordon is a writer in Brooklyn whose work appears in the New York Times, The Nation, The New York Times Magazine, and elsewhere.