Ivy Liao had written about whitewashing in the form of short stories. After hearing of a white man headlining a movie based around the Great Wall of China and other questionable Hollywood casting choices, however, she decided to explore whitewashing through a more intense lens: a horror movie.
This film marked Liao’s first time making both a horror film and a film about whitewashing, though she had made multiple shorter films and one bigger-budget movie previous to this idea. The third-year film student wrote, directed and produced “The Chase,” a dialogueless five-minute thriller movie about whitewashing.
Since the film crew finished the film in August 2016, the film was nominated in December for the “Best College Short” award at the Irvine International Film Festival. Liao hopes the uncommon combination of the horror genre and the topic of whitewashing will give viewers a new way to perceive whitewashing, she said.
“(In) horror you can add drama into a lot of realistic elements, and I felt like that was fitting for whitewashing,” Liao said.
The movie follows an Asian girl around a house as she does chores and contemplates Western ideas of beauty, since she is wearing oppressive pieces, such as a blond wig, a corset and a Western-style dress, Liao said.
Liao wrote the script for the short film in the summer of 2015. Her inspiration for the topic of whitewashing came from both her personal experiences as an Asian-American and from seeing whitewashing in the news and in Hollywood, such as the news of Scarlett Johansson playing an originally Japanese character in “Ghost in a Shell” and Matt Damon playing the main protagonist in “The Great Wall.”
Liao’s film, on the other hand, has one Asian actress around which the plot centers.
The cast and crew’s reactions to the script ranged from being able to relate to the script to being confused after reading it for the first time, Liao said.
“A lot of people didn’t quite get what I was trying to say with the whitewashing because there was no dialogue,” Liao said. “But people who related to her culture kind of understood where the film was going.”
Beijo Lee, a third-year cinema and digital media student at University of California, Davis played the lead actress.
“Since there was no dialogue, I really had to use my body language to show the audience what my character is feeling or what my character is doing,” Lee said.
Liao helped direct her facial expressions and body movements, like when her character fights against a corset and a blond wig by throwing them on the ground and continually taking them on and off.
Lee could relate to the topic because whitewashing affects her in her day-to-day life, such as how she should act or dress, she said. Presenting whitewashing in a thriller movie can evoke the scary feelings of whitewashing in everyday life for people of color, she said.
“The topic and the genre go hand-in-hand,” Lee said. “Having (the film be) horror, thriller, it kind of shows how people who are not white feel about whitewashing and how it kind of takes over our lives.”
The technical aspects in the film, such as its single-take and lack of dialogue, added to the suspense that complimented both the genre and topic, said Kasra Afzali, a fifth-year neurobiology student at UC Davis and director of photography for “The Chase.”
Third-year film student Terrence Jerard Garcia saw “The Chase” in 2016 while taking classes with Liao. They have been friends since they met on Bruin Day last year. Garcia, who has seen some of Liao’s previous works, thinks the film is typical of Liao’s edgy style. He said using horror as the genre for a film about whitewashing is distinct.
“(The horror genre) enhanced it because whitewashing in the industry is definitely a problem, and seeing it in this type of way was very fresh,” Garcia said.
Liao hopes that Asian viewers can relate to the film, and those who can’t relate will walk away with more awareness of the topic.
“I do want to press this issue further and express the voices from Asian identities,” Liao said. “I feel like there isn’t enough of that voice right now in the media.”