In Sunset Stories, Sung Kang plays JP, a man who is unexpectedly reunited with his ex-girlfriend (Monique Curnen) who is now a nurse that just lost a cooler full of bone marrow that she was supposed deliver for a transplant. She has 24 hours to retrieve this lost marrow and JP, being the nice guy that he is, helps her find it. During their hunt through the streets of Los Angeles, they go through some unexpected discoveries.
The film directed by Ernesto Foronda (who wrote Better Luck Tomorrow) and Silas Howard made its world premiere earlier this month at SXSW and I had the chance to chat with Sung Kang (of Fast and the Furious fame) about the movie, the current state of Asian American actors, and his fledgling career in comedy.
What was your initial reaction to the script when you read it?
Well I worked with the Ernesto (Foronda) on a Better Luck Tomorrow. There’s already a history with him. So I was excited to be able to participate in this directorial debut. Ernesto is also a wonderful writer, he can really write intimate scenes. I knew it was going to be good.
So how do you approach independent film versus the commercial films you’ve been in? Do you approach them differently or do you just like go into it with the same mindset?
It’s easier on the studio films because they approach it for you because their money is there to provide you all the comforts. Whether it is your hair, your food — there’s nothing you have to worry about except for your work. In independent film, you have to worry about your wardrobe, driving there and getting there, finding your own food — there’s a lot of that. Basically it’s like a privileged private school compared to public school systems. That’s about it.
Would you have handled the situation differently from your character?
Well, that’s a good question — I guess I would handle it the same. If I gone through the same experiences as the character.
What do you think the current landscape for Asian Americans in entertainment versus when you first started?
It’s a great time now if you understand that you have control. Before, it was very traditional. You had to wait for the network or the studio to give you a job. So you are at the whim of somebody else. to wait for somebody else. The internet has leveled the playing field. These YouTube stars are able to make a pretty good living. It’s not like they’re just getting by — they’re far more wealthier than I was at 21. They’re able to have a voice. As an artist you can now create your own content and share it with an audience. So in that respect, the opportunities are amazing compared to when I started.
How did you get started in acting? And what do you think is the current state of Asian Americans in movies, TV and media?
A lot of people have dreams. As a child we watch movies and say, “I wish I could do that” — and it doesn’t have to be the stereotypical kung fu thing. When you grow up in America, you identify with people that you see on TV. You grow up with them. I was lucky enough to meet people that I made films with that have allowed me to stay in the game — to give me encouragement and give me hope. Being an actors is tough to begin with — adding the colored stuff makes it more difficult. There’s always an excuse to quit.
Did you ever get so frustrated with your acting career to the point where you just like, or maybe I should be doing something?
Everyday. You wonder if you were a white guy with an entire cast that was all white, what kind of love you’d be getting. Those kind of thoughts just give me motivation — fuel for that fire. I don’t think it’s just because I’m Asian, it’s because I’m an actor. I mean women have it tougher than I do. So I think it’s all part of getting older. You realize you can’t really appreciate things if you don’t go through bad things. If there aren’t obstacles, you’ll never be able to see what you’re really made of.
At what point in your life did you realize that you wanted to be an actor?
In ’92, I saw this film called Map of the Human Heart starring Jason Scott Lee. That’s when I realized maybe the world is changing — global cinema was changing They put a leading Asian American male in that movie — and it’s not some kung fu/chop sue role. You know as a kid, you know you watch everybody — you watch Gary Coleman, James Dean, Ricky Schroeder — whatever pop culture is in your specific generation — I couldn’t really identify with them. So I think this film gave me affirmation — a sense of hope. Seeing Jason Scott Lee up there made me say ” Hey, that’s the kind of role I’d like to do. Hopefully, I get that opportunity.” If I hadn’t seen that film, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here today.
Many of your characters are pretty straight-laced and stand on the dramatic side of things. Did you ever want to get to into comedy?
That’s why I started acting.
If you hung out with me, you may realize that I am better suited for comedy. But physically, you work with what you have. I think there’s an idea of what people think they want me to be. So you know things like Fast and the Furious is just an easier fit.
Do you think comedy is more difficult that drama?
Yeah, because there has to be a sincere sense of fun if any. Once you force it, it doesn’t work — it explodes in your face because it’s instant. Either you have it or not. I love it more than drama stuff because you feel like you’re actually making a contribution right away. If I make you laugh, I did pretty good for the day. I cheered you up man!
What comedy shows do you watch?
Curb Your Enthusiasm — those type of shows.
Stuff like Arrested Development?
Yeah, that and Eastbound and Down. That’s so funny — it’s so ridiculous.
I know, Danny McBride’s character is ridiculous. You kind of hate him, but you can’t. In a way you feel sorry for him.
Because he doesn’t mean any harm! The beauty of those characters is that they’re all actually clowns.
Yeah, that’s a good way to put it.
They’re all clowns and clowns can never come from a malicious place. He actually thinks he’s giving something to the world.
Even when he’s racist and makes all those racial slurs.
But speaking of comedy myself, Justin Lin, Kev Jumba, Ryan Higa, Cash Warren, and Baron Davis are launching a YouTube channel for “You Offend Me, You Offend My Family” in May.
We already shot the first series which is called “Acting for Action” where I play this like obnoxious clown in Hollywood where I teach these actors how to act for action.
Acting for action? (laughs)
I teach them how to play a character in action or die in action. I teach them nothing. So that is amazing. So if you like Eastbound and Down, you’ll love this.
You have any other future projects that are in the works?
I have a movie coming out in November with Sylvester Stallone and Walter Hill — he’s a big action director of the ’80s. He did 48 Hours, he wrote Aliens, and produced the Warriors.