Recently, Jeff Liu premiered his work-in-progress of “Yellow Face” at our 29th Annual LA Asian Pacific Film Festival. Based on the Obie-winning play by Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang, “Yellow Face” chronicles the misadventures of an Asian American playwright named DHH who leads the protest against the yellow face casting in the Broadway production of “Miss Saigon”, only to mistakenly cast a Caucasian actor in an Asian role in his own play. Mashing up elements of theater, film and YouTube, this is the first-ever online adaptation of a play from producer Justin Lin (“Fast and Furious 6”) and the YOMYOMF Network.
It will have its world premiere online
SATURDAY, JUNE 8 (Act I) — CLICK HERE TO WATCH
and SUNDAY, JUNE 9 (Act II) — CLICK HERE TO WATCH
We had a chance to discuss with Jeff the origins of “Yellow Face”, how he hopes it will shape the way we consume content, and his ideas for a tennis-themed bio-pic.
1. Congratulations on having the first public screening of YELLOW FACE at the 29th LA Asian Pacific Film Festival, and winning the Audience Award for Best Narrative Film! Can you tell us a little bit of the timeline of how the feature film came to be?
The idea came from Philip Chung and Justin Lin at YOMYOMF. They had the vision of trying something different with the channel, to explore what might be possible in this relatively new medium. I came on board around October 2011, and started adapting the script. Over the next year or so, we tackled the various producing tasks, notably finding the right space and the right production designer who could make it all happen for the right budget. Building a relationship with Francois-Pierre Couture (a set designer I worked with at East West Players) and through him, East LA College (where he teaches) is what made it all possible. We were able to find a window when the students were on vacation (the last two weeks of December 2012), and shot the film in 12 days.
2. Since Yellow Face was originally a David Henry Hwang theater play, what themes and messages do you think come across better in film? What were some of the hurdles?
This adaptation is really a hybrid, in that we don’t conceal the theatrical roots of the material at all. If anything, we embrace it. The challenge was always to find a combination of theatrical, cinematic, and YouTube languages and devices that would somehow cohere into a whole. I’ve actually tried to keep the play as intact as possible.
Having said that, the film is significantly shorter than the play, and that may make it more focused. Also, we realized that the lead character’s relationship with his father is really what gives the play its emotional heft, so we tried to emphasize that in the adaptation. For instance, the father character has been added to a major scene that did not include him in the play.
3. How much did the controversy with THE NIGHTINGALE and CLOUD ATLAS (utilizing “yellow-facing” actors) affect you and the production of YELLOW FACE?
It made us think that this piece might be more relevant than ever, which was a great feeling. There was always the danger that the MISS SAIGON controversy, having happened over 20 years ago, might be old news. But just last year we had those incidents with THE NIGHTINGALE (La Jolla Playhouse) and THE ORPHAN OF ZHAO (Royal Shakespeare Company), and if anything, it gave us more urgency to get this project done.
I put CLOUD ATLAS in a slightly different category, because that film also includes the reverse (Asian actors in white face), and there is a legitimate attempt to dramatize a theme, though how well they execute it is a different matter. Some of the makeup in that film is just scary looking.
4. We’ve seen all sorts of fictional and biographical sports films and plays, but none really on tennis (I don’t count “Wimbledon”). As a huge tennis buff, playing in weekly matches, if you were to pitch a tennis film, what would it be?
What about a Michael Chang biopic? Of course, you’d probably need to have the right Asian American star first (and I’m sure they’d rather play Jeremy Lin).
There is also Li Na’s story, which could explore how one is groomed to be a professional athlete in a country like China. But you’d need so much access to get that story right. The time is also ripe for a sports story featuring a gay lead, so Martina Navratilova might be a great character to tackle. The rivalry and contrast between her and Chris Evert could be a very interesting exploration of where we’re at with gender issues and identity.
5. What other projects should we be looking forward to seeing from you in the near future?
There’s another indie feature I’m involved with called THE LAST TOUR, which might be described as a desert kidnapping thriller with a twist. It’s directed by Ryun Yu, who plays the lead in YELLOW FACE. We’re hoping to have it done by this fall.
TUNE IN TO THE WORLD PREMIERE OF YELLOW FACE! Saturday, June 8th the YOMYOMF Network will be showing Act I, followed by Act II on Sunday, June 9th. http://youoffendmeyouoffendmyfamily.com/