Sunday, September 19, 2010


Excerpt from an interview on September 18, 2010:

Many people say that non-white actors are often the "first to go" in horror movies and/or always the "non-important" role in such films. Tell us how you think Hollywood views Asian actors, where you think Asians in Hollywood are going and what you think about your character in the film Resident Evil: Afterlife.

My fundamental belief is that we need to stop complaining and create the roles ourselves. That’s the main reason I started writing and directing films and plays. I’ve written characters named Jorge, Davinder, Safina, Giancarla, Shiraz to suggest they be played by diverse actors. My play Pu-Erh offers three huge, complex roles to Asian actors who speak both English and Cantonese. My goal is to create opportunities for under-represented actors. Instead of crying out foul, we should become creators and create the change we want.

In terms of Asians in film and TV, it’s getting better. I’m noticing a lot more roles for Asians, and the roles are getting better. I’m happy to see prominent roles being played by Sandra Oh, Grace Park, Maggie Q, John Cho, Ken Watanabe… the list goes on… It’s getting better but there’s still work to be done. Our screens still don’t realistically reflect the Asian and visible-minority numbers. Look at many North American cities, especially multicultural cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, Vancouver, etc. You stand on any street corner in these cities and you’ll see every race. Then look at what’s being represented in our movies and TV shows: an unrealistic ratio that is hardly diverse.

I appreciate the diversity in Resident Evil: Afterlife. The L.A. survivors are a myriad of races and authentic accents: a Korean, a Latino, an African-American, a Brit… Kim Yong never struck me as The Asian Guy. Paul (W.S. Anderson) never asked me for a bogus accent or for martial arts or anything stereotypical, and I appreciated that. Still, the issue of tokenism and stereotypes always comes up whether a movie, any movie, has few visible minorities or lots of them, and I can see how some people might be critical about Resident Evil: Afterlife’s diversity. I believe that one solution to stereotyping is to inject more humanity into the role. Stereotyping is merely shorthand to understand a character instantly, so to combat stereotyping, let’s make the character more complex, more nuanced, so that an audience has to spend more time considering the character rather than making instant judgement. That is how I approached Kim Yong: I gave him a journey. I start as an obedient lackey, then I make a decision on my own to not betray my fellow survivors, then I conquer my fears and decide to go down the tunnel. My journey with Kim Yong was to grow from timid submissive to being my own man, especially since my mentor, Bennett, has abandoned me. Kim Yong’s journey is one of maturing.

Paul did indeed write moments where Kim Yong was more forceful and commanding, and I created some moments myself. We shot moments where I kept guard (yes, with a big-ass machine gun) while Angel burned through the lock to the garage. We shot me discovering the disassembled engine and chastising Angel for not being able to put the engine back together. We shot me making the decision to defy Bennett, in the airplane, by refusing to betray my fellow survivors. We shot me performing my own stunt: Kim Yong versus the oncoming plane. Also, I do decide to go down the tunnel, albeit a split-second too late. But as is the case with almost every movie ever made, certain moments get cut out and we don’t see Kim Yong’s moments of bravery.

According to the script, it’s easy to pass off Kim Yong as simply “the scared guy”. So I tried to give as much depth to Kim Yong as possible in a small amount of space. His role among the group of survivors, and his role as a character in the movie, is simply human. Kim Yong is not a superhero. Kim Yong is a young man (only twenty) stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong world. I wanted him to be a sympathetic and empathetic character, a point of access for the audience. Sure, it would be cool to be a hero like everyone else, but that’s simply not Kim Yong’s character. Yeah, it would have been fun to mow down zombies with expert aim, but we’ve already got Alice, Claire, Chris, Luther doing that. Kim Yong’s role – my job – is to contrast the many bad-asses in the group, and I remained faithful to that dynamic. Kim Yong is hanging desperately to some kind of hope, hanging on to his father-figure Bennett. When Bennett betrays him, his already-destroyed world becomes a lot more destroyed. And that is why he doesn’t have a gun.

While shooting the scene where we are ambushed by a horde of zombies after Bennett has stolen the plane, we all contemplated why Kim Yong doesn’t have a gun. Milla (Jovovich) was the first to say, “Why doesn’t Norman have a gun?” And we all stood there for a moment, Paul’s arms akimbo, considering. I looked at the given circumstances: my friend Angel was just murdered right before my eyes by my father-figure; my father-figure has just betrayed me; we are being attacked by an enormous mob of zombies; and while everyone around me is firing guns -- and my arms are up to shield me from Ali (Larter)'s shells, which are pelting my face -- I’m forced to confess that the vehicle ain’t working and Angel’s dead (this got cut out). …All things considered, Kim Yong is fucking terrified. And justifiably so. So he doesn’t get a gun.

Resident Evil: Afterlife is full of bad-asses and heroes. Kim Yong doesn’t have to be a bad-ass. He adds a different dynamic. He is simply human. And I believe that a character with some depth and journey – a realistic human – is the antithesis of a stereotype.