Starring Kimberly-Rose Wolter (who also wrote and produced the film), the film follows Lily, a thirty-something woman who returns home to mend a broken heart and figure out why marriage just is not in her cards. The answer might lie in her nutty family and its wedding planning business, busily run by her thrice-divorced mother (Illeana Douglas) and half-sisters Twinny (Mia Riverton) and Hoku (Janel Parrish). Wedding planning and personal marital bliss don’t seem to align for the four women…until Lily unexpectedly joins the family business and runs into an old flame, Kai (Sung Kang)…
Michael Kang sat down for a short interview ahead of the launch of the film:
Four Wedding Planners is a collaboration between you and Kimberly-Rose Wolter, who wrote, produced and acted in the film. This is new terrain for both of you; your first time directing a film you didn’t write, and Wolter’s second feature film project and first with you. You’ve both had quite different paths, which crossed with this film; how did this intersection begin, and point you to a film set in Hawaii?
MK: Kim wrote and starred in “Tre” which Eric Byler directed and seems to be making the rounds of the Asian American filmmaking world. Maybe she’ll upgrade to Justin Lin or Jon M. Chu next. Our meeting was actually due to the tight-knit Asian American film community. We didn’t know each other before the project, but we were introduced by our mutual friend the actress Michelle Krusiec (“Saving Face”). I was itching to shoot something and Kim was looking for a director.
The hardest part of filmmaking is how much time and energy you spend just trying to get projects funded. With “4 Wedding Planners,” the production was all set up and just needed a director slotted in to man the helm. On an artistic level, this was exactly the kind of story I wanted to work on to counter balance the very male-centric and dark films I had done in the past. I am always looking for new challenges and Kim’s script had all the things I was hungry to work on — comedy, lighter tones and strong female central characters.
On a cosmic universal level, there seemed to also be something that was drawing me towards Hawaii. I had been out to Hawaii for the film festival in the past but then when I was in the ABC / DGA Television Directing Fellowship, I had the opportunity to shadow the directors on “Lost” for a couple months. (Watch every episode of “Lost” here.) Because of that experience, I got a great crash course on production in Hawaii and felt really comfortable when we started prep on “4 Wedding Planners.”
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Your previous two feature films, “West 32nd” and “The Motel” both told Asian American stories but were set on the mainland. Asian American politics and culture function quite differently in Hawaii; was there a tangibly different cultural sensibility you had to adjust to when making a film there?
MK: Hawaii is kind of like the mecca for Asian Americans and I think all Asian Americans should try to spend some time there. Shooting there was actually quite liberating. To be able to tell a love story with a Hapa lead and an Asian American male and not have to go through the maneuvering of having to justify why these are the people we are watching made it so much more empowering. In Hawaii, these two leads are just people that can fall in love. I always feel when I watch Asian American mainland movies that have this kind of forced dynamic they have to fight or that the race-identity politics end up overshadowing the love story. In Hawaii, these two leads are just people that can fall in love.
I would say in terms of subject matter, it wasn’t that difficult to make the leap into telling the story in that cultural landscape because I was able to let go of those ideas like “Am I representing Asians properly”. It was good to just focus on the real heart of the story which was about universal ideas of family and relationships. The more subtle difference behind the camera though is that on the mainland, I always feel like there is a moment at some point during production when someone in the crew would be unsure if I am actually the director; in Hawaii, it never felt like there was a record skip in anyone’s head that I as an Asian American would be running the show. Of course, this could all be my own neurosis that I’m projecting unfairly onto mainland crews, but it reminds me of an episode I had with a non-Asian friend in college who once said to me (trying to give a compliment, mind you): “I don’t think of you as Asian” to which I replied in my head “But I am very aware all the time that I am and you are not.”
The cast and crew of Four Wedding Planners is like a dream team of Asian American talent; yourself, Wolter (Tre, Charlotte Sometimes) and actors Sung Kang (Fast & Furious) and Mia Riverton (Red Doors). What is the effect of having such a deep talent pool at a time when independent filmmaking in general and Asian American filmmaking in particular are being transformed by major changes in technology, distribution and demographics?
MK: You can’t leave out Janel Parrish (“Pretty Little Liars,” “Bratz“) and Samantha Quan, both of whom are rising stars and enormously talented and been kicking ass in the TV world. To your question though, I think this is a really exciting time for Asian Americans and indie film. We are in a period of serious transition and I am really excited by the possibilities. As a filmmaker, I feel like I have newly stepped into my journeyman stage and it is so awesome to see that there are others like me who also have been around for a while and ready to move to the next level. Being able to work with Sung again after having both gone off and done some stuff on our own was a great checkpoint for both of us; it validated the sense that we had both grown and we were able to bring so much more to the table.
What is exciting for you right now? Are there larger trends in the film, media and entertainment landscapes that are invigorating you?
MK: There is so much happening at a breakneck speed with the interwebs that it’s hard not to be excited by all of it. It’s really cool to see all this new talent coming up like the youtube stars (Ryan Higga, Kev Jumba, Wong Fu, etc). I am hoping to see a greater openness and communication between us old farts and these new kids in order to harness the infinite possibilities. It’s also awesome to see good people that I’ve known for a long time start to make in-roads and establish themselves in the mainstream like John Cho, Tim Kang, Daniel Dae Kim, Grace Park, etc. (Sorry I mentioned only Koreans, there are others too).
The most exciting thing though is the idea of access. Growing up, I had no connection to contemporary Korean culture, my understanding of Korea was through a filter of my parents’ time capsule perspective. Now I see kids who are able to access Asian pop culture through the web and it makes me feel like this new generation is going to be more well-adjusted and have a better sense of themselves because of it.
You’ve decided to take the untraditional route (but one with increasing currency and impact) of bypassing a release in movie theatres and going directly to video-on-demand with this film. Why?
MK: The indie theatrical model is just about dead. What people think of indie film these days is actually what the old Hollywood studio system used to call B-movies. To do the traveling circus show and four-walling a film is nowadays either an exercise in vanity or a PR tool. Either way, it shouldn’t be seen as the goal anymore. The goal is and has always been to get the film seen by as many people that can appreciate it as possible. I am really happy to bypass that old system which took a lot of money and energy and just try to focus on getting our film in front of people. This film is 1000x more accessible than either of my first two films because of the digital age.
What are you working on now?
MK: I’ve got some projects ranging from down-and-dirty to delusions-of-grandeur. Nothing is quite ready to promote yet, but I can guarantee that none of them will be anything like anything I’ve done in the past (which seems to be the one common theme in my work — nothing is the same). I’m always looking for new challenges. I also never know what might come along. “4 Wedding Planners” fell into my lap by stroke of luck. I try to stay open to all possibilities.