For every film playing in a theater today, there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) which never get the chance to find their way into the projector of a commercial venue. The vast majority go unseen for a very good reason: they are so awful that don’t deserve to be seen. But there are a precious few which, for a variety of reasons, are suffering under the injustice of not getting the attention they are truly deserving.
One of the most delightful unseen gems in today’s indie cinema is “Cupid’s Mistake,” a wonderful Los Angeles-based love quadrangle which explores the agonies and ecstasies of romance. Filmed on a teeny $980 budget (yes, $980!!!), this cross-cultural comedy of missed passion and unexpected surprises provides a unique casting opportunity for Asian-American actors, most notably the beautiful Toya Cho as a model who can decide between two suitors and the muscular Ken Yasuda as the bodybuilder who is more focused on building his biceps instead of warming his heart. At a time when the Asian-American presence in films is basically limited to martial arts chopping and token supporting role sidekicking, it is a wonder to experience this unique non-stereotypical big-screen presentation of this community.
“Cupid’s Mistake” is the creation of Young Man Kang, a 34-year-old filmmaker whose training and experiences straddle two worlds. Born in Korea, he studied fine arts at Hong-ik University in Seoul and taught fine arts at a prestigious prep school there which bears the Beckettian moniker of Godot Art. He moved to New York in 1994 to study filmmaking at the New School and created several short subjects including an animated film. Moving again in 1996, he came to Los Angeles and began work directing commercials, with duties as a storyboard artist and camera operator thrown in for good measure.
“Cupid’s Mistake,” on which he wore three hats as director-writer-producer, was shot in classic Cassavetes-style guerrilla cinema: a shoestring budget (no money for filming permits), the bare bones of a story outline but no written script, and a remarkable free reign for improvisation among his actors.
Unlike many indie films in waiting, “Cupid’s Mistake” has a distributor: Phædra Cinema, which is best known for its foreign films “The Terrorist” and “La Séparation.” However, the production was shot on digital video and has yet to be transferred to film stock–a technological situation which has hindered a wide release (although plans for a San Francisco exhibition and an Internet pay-per-view screening are in the works). To date, the film has had exactly one public screening, at the weekly Light+Screen Film Festival held in New York City’s celebrated Siberia Bar–to overwhelmingly positive audience reaction.
Film Threat spoke with Young Man Kang about his film and the cross-cultural currents which permeates his work and outlook.
[ FILM THREAT: Korea has a vibrant film industry, but very few Korean films are shown in the West. In your professional opinion, what is keeping Korean films out of Western theaters? ] ^ [ YOUNG MAN KANG: ] I think that the reason is the U.S. distribution system. Korean films, as with other foreign films, have a better chance to screen at art house theaters than the studio distribution line. Studio distribution companies hardly ever distribute foreign films, and when they do it is only a few films a year. In addition to this, independent distribution companies dealing with art house theaters don’t have much of a budget to pay the MG (minimum guarantee) to a Korean producer due to a smaller number of theaters and audiences. Korean producers are expecting almost the same amount of MG as major studios would pay.
Many independent companies want to distribute upcoming Korean films, but they can’t afford to buy them. There is a large MG aspect gap between Korean producers and U.S. indie-companies.
Even though U.S. company suggest to Korean producers a higher percent of gross instead of a MG, they would rather get a MG. They’re worried about being ripped-off from the retrieve of the box office.
Secondly, Korean producers don’t have direct connections with U.S. companies, so they hire middle men who has already connections in the U.S. However, these middle men (film brokers) have bad reputations in the eyes of many Korean producers.
[ What are the major differences between Korea and the US regarding the cinematic experience–both from the approach to film making and in how audiences react to films? ] ^ These days, Korean films develop very fast. Many young directors have studied abroad in the U.S. and Europe and then came back to Korea dedicated in their careers to filmmaking. Korean audiences used to watch Hollywood films all the time–there were no space for their own Korean films. Today, it’s a different story. Korean audiences watch more Korean films than Hollywood films. For example, last year, one of the Korean film ‘Shiri’ beat out the ‘Titanic’ at the Korean box office.
[ You’ve directed commercials. What is your secret of creating successful commercials–telling a story and selling a product within the confines of a minute or less? ] ^ Everybody says a commercial is a commercial–that it is not art. I took this statement personally, and then tried to add an artistic vision to it, yet still based the main idea on the focus of the commercial. Usually, clients want a lot of information in 30 seconds. I have to cut down and confine all of the information into one word, action, or simplistic idea for 30 seconds.
[ What is the genesis of “Cupid’s Mistake”? And why did you decide to allow your actors to improvise their dialogue rather than create a specific script to work from? ] ^ I knew all of my actors in this film, and would call them my friends. I then came up with an idea, that one character goes after another…A (guy), B (girl), C (guy), D (girl)– A likes B, but B likes C, but C like D, D likes A…and in the end, nobody gets anyone. To me, that’s a normal love story.
I gave the actors the basic idea. I told them directions that after they are dating, then one proposes to the other. The camera follows them through the course of dating one another. That’s why they look natural on film. I asked them to act natural, just like real dating. Then, in post-production, I cut and edited, and made the sequences.
[ Asian-Americans are virtually unseen in Hollywood films, or if they do appear they are often subjected to blatant and subconscious insults and stereotypes that other minority groups would never tolerate. “Cupid’s Mistake” is refreshingly free of the Hollywood typecasting, offering Asian-Americans as characters rather than caricatures. In your opinion, why can’t the Hollywood system take the same approach to Asian-American characters as indie films like yours? ] ^ There are a few Asian filmmakers in Hollywood. The more Asian filmmakers that come into the business, then the more Asian actors will be seen because they have Asian subjects to tell. With “Cupid’s Mistake,” I created two Asian characters, Toya & Ken, with the actors in mind–each showing their own natural personas. For example, I’ve shot several commercials with Toya and I know that she’s really good for the part of a playful and energetic character. Also, I’ve known Ken to be a gentle sportsman, even though he’s a muscular person. In reality, he’s very quiet and genuine.
[ “Cupid’s Mistake” marked your debut as a feature film director. What did you learn about yourself and your abilities during the creation of the film? And do you feel that you properly told your story? ] ^ First, you must start small– not with a huge budget. I made the film that I wanted to make, with no outside pressure from executives and no pressure from stars. Also, I wanted to use actors who felt genuinely connected with this film. I wish I had a little bit of a larger budget than I did, then I could do more takes of each scene. Also, I would have liked to have spent more money in post production, specifically, editing.
Some people joke with me that this film is “Young’s Mistake.” Even though I made mistakes in this film, I learned a lot about filmmaking. Even though there was no script, I wish I had rehearsed more with the actors. Some dialog did not flow, so it was difficult to edit.
On the second part of your question: from my prior experiences, people in the world all have had the same experiences with a one-sided relationship. That’s life. I tried to make a film that’s not too serious, but more of a diminutive film with a little bit of humor.
[ A wider distribution of “Cupid’s Mistake” is being hindered by the fact the film was shot on digital video and relatively few commercial venues will exhibit films which are on video. Why do you feel that exhibitors are slow in presenting new features shot on DV…and do you see their attitude changing any time in the near future? ] ^ That’s the reality of it. Only a few theaters have video projectors, thus, it is extremely difficult to find a theater in which one can show their film. I need to transfer to 35mm print, but it costs at least $40, 000. It’s difficult to make that amount of money back from art house distribution. That’s why my film distribution company doesn’t want to take the risk.
Today, DV filmmaking is becoming more and more popular, and even the larger theaters have begun to set up digital projection systems. We’ll see what’s going to happen in the near future.
[ You are currently working on three films with very intriguing titles: “Desire L.A.,” “The Last Romantics” and “Goddess of the Orient.” Please tell us about these productions and your involvement in them. ] ^ “Desire LA.” focuses on love, hate, frustrations, loneliness in Los Angeles in six-to-seven episodes, all coming together to create one unique vision. Also, dearfilm.com production is looking for a synopsis for one of the episodes on its online site. Anybody can submit their stories to dearfilm.com!
“The Last Romantics” (or “No Regrets”), which is being developed with Phædra Cinema, finds love and relationships unfolding in a drama about young aspiring actors in Hollywood. “Kumiho–Goddess of the Orient” is in pre-production & casting. The film’s script and casting is also developing through members’ opinions as posted on dearfilm.com. It is an Asian ghost story inspired by the Korean folk tale “Kumiho”– a 1,000-year-old nine-tailed fox eats men’s livers to become human and is reincarnated in LA. (You can find more about that online at Kumiho )
Young Man Kang’s “Cupid’s Mistake” can be found online at Cupid’s Mistake and Phædra Cinema
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Posted on June 25, 2000 in Interviews by Phil Hall
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