In 1982, two men in Detroit lost their jobs because of outsourcing to Japan. Looking for someone to blame, they stumbled upon Vincent Chin, a Chinese American man they had never met. The two men chased Chin around their town with a bat, brutally killing him in the middle of the street while people stood by.
For Kyle Lau, a fourth-year mass communications student, telling Chin’s story was a combination of aligning his professional filmmaking goals with an exploration of his Asian American heritage. Lau wrote, directed and produced a 17-minute dramatic comedy “Greener” to accomplish these goals. While the film is not an exact replica of the events surrounding Chin’s murder, Lau calls the film his interpretation of the hate crime, spiced up with a bit of romance.
“Greener is about a town where “˜East is East’ and “˜West is West.’ East side kids don’t like the West side kids and vice versa. Similar to the Chin murder, the loss of a job is the last spark to ignite the tensions between the two sides of the town,” Lau said.
“Greener” premiered at Paramount Studio’s Sherry Lansing Theatre Friday.
“My motivation for filmmaking is to transcend the stereotypes I was given (for Asian Americans) growing up … I hope that “˜Greener’ will be a start to show a different side of minority characters, as it shows Asian Americans in a starring role; they’re not just nerds. Right now I’m focusing on Asian American roles, but in the future I hope to transcend all these stereotypes with my work,” Lau said.
Jeff Bee, who plays the main character Kevin Lin in “Greener,” said that he was drawn to the film because it offered a rare chance for him to star in a leading role.
“This film is about the people. Of course, being Asian American is integral to the premise of the story, but the Asians represented aren’t there because of a certain quirkiness or comedic relief,” Bee said. “We’re there to be a presence in the movie. As an Asian American actor, that’s our goal.”
According to Bee, his character is a fairly normal guy who is thrust into an abnormal situation created by racial tension. Bee said that “Greener” was the most challenging film he had ever performed in and attributed the challenge both to his background in comedy and the cultural boundaries “Greener” tackles.
“Right now in Hollywood, you can’t see an Asian actor on screen without thinking “˜Oh hey, he’s Asian.’ It even takes me by surprise, simply because it’s something you don’t see that often. I think this film is a step in the right direction,” Bee said.
“Greener” has been submitted to film festivals such as Sundance and the Los Angeles Film Festival. Lau said he took pride in being able to make “Greener” in the most professional way, using a RED ONE Camera, casting agencies and a real insurance policy. Steve Rizzo, a stunt double for “The Green Hornet” and “No Country For Old Men,” was the stunt coordinator for the fight scenes in “Greener.”
Lau also said keeping this project in the UCLA family was important to him. The director of cinematography, Yusuke Sato, is a recent UCLA graduate and Lau’s roommate. Sato, who is currently assisting on the television show “Boss,” said that he and Lau have been working on projects together since their freshman year.
“Kyle is very specific about style. Spike Lee is one of his biggest influences, so we looked at a bunch of his films to give this movie a more “˜street’ feel,” Sato said.
Lau said he hopes that this will be the first of many films for him.
“UCLA will be the foundation of my filmmaking. This is where I honed my craft,” Lau said.