‘How To Fight In Six Inch Heels’ -A Conversation with Kathy Uyen
By Momo Chang
Kathy Uyen, the star, story writer and a producer of “How to Fight in Six Inch Heels,” left her home in California to pursue her acting dreams in Vietnam several years ago. Part romantic comedy and part-female friendship story, the film, directed by Ham Tran (“Journey From the Fall”), shows the creative possibilities when Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans get together to make a movie. With no previous screenwriting experience, Uyen drafted up a story idea more than four years ago. After many iterations and the collaboration with screenwriter Tim Tori and others, “How to Fight in Six Inch Heels” became a Vietnamese blockbuster hit. The film had its North American premiere last night at the CAAMFest 2014 Opening Night in San Francisco, CA. The movie will screen at other festivals, and producers also plan on a theatrical release in the U.S.
Uyen plays Anne, a Vietnamese American woman with a budding creative career and a love life that brings questions that land her in Vietnam. Uyen will star in a Vietnamese action-comedy, also written by Tori, later this year. I sat down with Uyen to talk about how she came up with the idea behind “How to Fight in Six Inch Heels.”
KU:I knew I wanted to write a story. Had I done it before? No, not really. But I thought, you know what? That’d be nice if I do it one day. As a Vietnamese, even going back to Vietnam but being a Vietnamese American, it was hard because not a lot of roles are written for Vietnamese Americans. So I thought, I’m going to get old and grey if I wait for a director or writer to write a script for me or a character for me that I want to play. So I thought, I’m just going to write my own story, and we’ll see where it goes. Because at least I’m doing something active about it.
All the amazing women I met in Vietnam, it really changed my perception of being an Asian American woman. Growing up all my life in the (San Francisco) Bay Area—up until my mid-20s, I was a California girl, born and raised in San Jose, CA, going to UC Irvine, then I moved to Los Angeles. Being Asian American, really, I found out I was more being American. I didn’t really know the Vietnamese side of me. But it wasn’t until I moved to Vietnam and I really got soaked in the culture that I really began to know what being Vietnamese American was about. I was very inspired by these Vietnamese women, and their mentality was so different from what I was raised to believe. “How to Fight in Six Inch Heels” grew from that. I wanted to do a female friendship story, like a “Thelma and Louise.” It wasn’t supposed to be a love story, it was originally for the purpose of female friendship and a tribute to the friendships I made in Vietnam and the women I met in Vietnam that inspired me.
I came up with the treatment one day. For some reason, one night it hit me. I was able to write 16 pages. I outlined the first version of the story. Then I showed it to (producer) Timothy Linh Bui, because he’s a really close friend of mine who is very experienced in filmmaking and he said, ‘Wow, it’s a very commercial idea. I see the potential in this.’
Of course, Tim Tori, and his amazing wit—he wrote the dialogue, he came up with more funny characteristics. And then (director) Ham (Tran) came in, and he worked with the Vietnamese translation, and he amped it up even more. I felt so happy and honored and privileged that everyone that came on board to this project was so passionate. And everyone added another layer, and another layer, and another layer. So to be honest, the original story that I wrote, is just so like 10 drafts ago, I can’t take the credit for it. Everyone has contributed in so many ways. So if I were to every say, well, who wrote the story, I’d say 11 people. It took that many minds. I mean, it took three different Vietnamese translators to add different layers and depth to make it also relatable and funny and localized for the Vietnamese audience to get it. it’s a tricky formula, how to write something that can also relate to Vietnamese, but then can also relate to Americans. It’s a very long journey, a lot of people helped along the way.
As told to Momo Chang. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Featured Film: ILO ILO
By Brian Hu
Temperamental Jiale is a terror of a 10 year old. At home, he viciously gives his very-pregnant mother the cold shoulder. At school, he gets into fights and buries himself in a scrapbook of lottery numbers. At the end of their ropes, Jiale’s parents hire a Filipina domestic worker to take care of the house, and, more importantly, keep Jiale at bay. They can’t predict that she’ll grow to know more about the Lim family than any of its actual members.
Winner of the Caméra d’Or at Cannes and Best Picture at the Golden Horse Awards (the top prize in Chinese-language film), “Ilo Ilo” is the riveting quasi-autobiographical first feature by 29-year-old Anthony Chen. With essentially no music and against the backdrop of the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s, the film slowly unfolds a family facing the brink, watching desperately as self-control slips from their grip. Their testimonies of global labor and a multi-ethnic Singapore continue to resonate, and their composed nakedness announces one of cinema’s most promising new talents.