Relativity Media’s new comedy 21 and Over hit the theaters over the weekend. The newest project by the writers of The Hangover Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, 21 and Over is an outrageous journey as Jeff Chang (played by Justin Chon) celebrates his 21st birthday with his best friends (played by Skylar Astin, and Miles Teller the night before his medical school interview.
Here are 8Questions with Justin Chon about his new film and more from a phone interview done last week before the film came out:
What made you want to do this movie?
First of all, the movie is really great. There are not a lot of great Asian American roles out there, so for me, it was a big opportunity. I know a lot of my other Asian friends auditioned for it, so it’s a really dimensional character, he really knows what he needs. Also the writers Jon [Lucas] and Scott [Moore], they are amazing writers. I just wanted to work with them.
Is the movie reinforcing the Asian American model minority and tiger father stereotype as the movie trailer does?
No. I think anyone that thinks that should watch the movie. I am not stereotypical, which is why I wanted to do the movie so bad. Yeah, I had a tiger dad, since usually it’s a tiger mom. Also in the movie, I am actually failing school. I don’t want to become a doctor. I am actually not the smart one out of the group. So it’s funny.
Do we celebrate I am not smart in the movie? Here is the thing, Asian Americans often complain about being model minority. What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with being great at school and being smart and intelligent? But no, it’s definitely what this movie is. I am definitely not the smartest cookie, and I love to party. I don’t think there is any stereotype in the movie.
Jon asked me after the first rehearsal if there was anything that didn’t fit right with me. I grew up in a city where it was predominantly Jewish until I went to junior high, so I went through that transition of only being with Caucasian people. There was a huge migration of Asian people in Irvine in the early 90s. I was in junior high when that happened, and speaking from both perspective, I don’t think there is any stereotyping from the white perspective.
Since the movie is about the 21st birthday, how did you celebrate your own 21st birthday?
I was actually studying abroad in South Korea. We had some drinks and got out and got wasted. My friends popped me up against the pharmacy door. I woke up in the morning and it was raining. My shirt started off white and ended up black. I woke up and walked straight home.
What was it like studying in South Korea during that time?
It was great. I had a good time. It was crazy though, I was in South Korea when 9/11 happened, so it was really interesting to see the sentiment for the U.S. while I was in Korea. I was pretty shocked to find out what the native Korean people thought about Americans. But I had an amazing time, and it was a great experience for me to travel outside of California.
What is your favorite scene in the movie?
I would say my favorite scene to shoot was at the gorge. We shot during a music festival called Identity. We busted out there and we took three and four hour. They just let us party and film this, so it was a really awesome time.
As an Asian American actor, what is your experience with stereotypes in your career?
I don’t really run into that problem. If I don’t like a part, I just don’t take it. I think if you focus on the stereotypical aspect of it, and you are in trouble, because you are focusing on the wrong thing. For me, if it’s a stereotype, I try to find a way to humanize the character, if there is one way. For me, to take a role and do a good job with it and make it an actual human is better than shittier actors taking the part and just playing stereotype and reinforcing it.
If we are going to complain out stereotypes, we should encourage the Asian community to create more producers and writers that have a voice and opinion. You ask these questions to an actor, but hey, listen, we don’t write these materials, we are just performers. We are public servants and what we do is a service of a grand scheme, like a small moving part of a big machine. Of course I do experience stereotypes, but every single race, even Caucasian people have their own problem trying to work in the industry. I think focusing on that is sort of detrimental.
Was there anything surprised you at the Oscars?
Yeah, Ang Lee won the best director. Hollywood comes a long way. I think that’s amazing. Life of Pi is an amazing movie. I am really proud that he won. We come a long way, and I think focusing on stereotypes is not a good thing.
What is your next move?
I already directed a movie over the summer with my friend Kevin Wu. He has a Youtube channel called KevJumba. We team up with a local production company. We are doing the post-production work. I think we are going to release it in July or so.