On the brink of the re-release of Chink, the low budget thriller about the first Asian American serial killer, CHOPSO talks with producer Quentin Lee who was the brainchild behind this feature film originally released in 2013. Directed by their UCLA film school buddy Stanley Yung, Chink world premiered at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival winning Jason Tobin, who plays the titular protagonist, a Breakthrough Performance Award. Chink also won Best Thriller Feature Film at Burbank International Film Festival.
What is the genesis of Chink?
QL: Chink began as a companion project to The People I’ve Slept With in 2008 when I met writer Koji Steven Sakai. Stanley Yung, Koji and I started developing two features, one about a modern Asian American woman and the other about a modern Asian American man. They are both meant to be edgy and fresh. I decided to direct The People I’ve Slept With and suggested Stanley should direct Chink. Chink was meant to follow the roots of African American literature and filmmaking like Richard Wright’s Native Son and Mario Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasss Song that confronted the black identity head on. In the development process, because of Stanley and my interest in horror films, the titular protagonist became a serial killer.
QL: In its original reincarnation, Eddie was a rapper and anarchist and MC Jin was attached to play the role. And of course we couldn’t raise the money and MC Jin moved to Hong Kong to launch his Asian career. Jason Tobin, whom I befriended from Better Luck Tomorrow days, visited me and said he wanted me to make a film with him playing a transgender character. I was like, “I don’t have that movie yet… but I have Chink which is about the first Asian American serial killer.” And Jason came on-board. Stanley pulled Eugenia Yuan and Tzi Ma into the project and we crowdfunded to raise the initial budget of Chink.
What was making the film like?
QL: We raised about 30K or so and put the film into production. Again, following the Mario Van Peebles’ model, we shot 12 days and some of the days were really long. We got a lot in-kind support and because of Koji’s connection we were able to shoot a major chuck of the movie at the Japanese American National Museum, which was an unofficial incubator of Asian American filmmakers because back in the days both Justin Lin and I worked for JANM around our film school days when Bob Nakamura (one of our UCLA professors) and his wife Karen Ishizuka were running the media center there. Bob was one of the founders of Visual Communications, the first Asian American non-profit media organization in the history of U.S., where I was their first intern in 1989.
And then the film became an instant success?
QL: Not exactly. We struggled with the festivals a bit but eventually got it world premiered at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival where Jason Tobin won the Breakthrough Performance Award and we also won the Best Sound Design award. Kudos to my Emmy winning re-recording sound mixer Kenneth L. Johnson who took the film on. We didn’t use a sales agent and I was the one selling the film. I reached out to a lot of buyers and I was on the verge of getting an offer from a major premium cable but at the last minute it didn’t come through. We ended up working with Indican Pictures who insisted on changing the title of the film before distribution. As the movie didn’t really mean much without its original title, I waited until their agreement expired and decided to relaunch the film as Chink.
You did get some flak and backlash from the title, right?
QL: Yes, absolutely real bullshit. Some notoriously irrelevant “Asian American media activists” came out of the woodwork and had a meeting with us… asking us to change the title. Even though I told them to “fuck off,” the distributor changed the title on us. I took this BS for a decade and now we’re releasing the film the right way… despite it’s now a decade later. Better late than never, right?
So how can we see it?
QL: Chink will stream worldwide starting 2/10 Chinese New Year Day 2024 on Asian American Movies (AAM.tv). It will also be streaming on other platforms like Amazon Prime soon!