We finish our series of interviews with the cast and crew of “Spa Night” with Angie Kim, who was also in 2015’s K-Town Cowboys. Angie shares her experiences of watching the film for the first time at Sundance as well as what drives her to pursue her acting career. Can you guess who her acting role model is?
Kawehi is best known for being a DIY singer-songwriter, beatboxer, and one-woman orchestra. First going viral with her cover of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel,” her YouTube channel of 9.6 million views showcases her vocal, instrumental, and looping abilities via covers of hit songs and original work. She is known for melting faces at shows all over the country, including Kollaboration SF 5 in 2014, for which she acted as a headline. She can recently be seen in the “Experience Amazing” commercial for Intel, where she’s briefly seen giving a modern take on Beethoven’s “5th Symphony.”
Within the last four years, she’s released EPs of her own music and on February 26, she dropped her seventh work, “Interaktiv.” In an interview via e-mail, Kawehi discusses the making of this new body of work and how over 900 people got involved in the creative process.
How would you describe your new EP “Interaktiv” (in terms of sound, style, subjects, tone, etc.)?
It’s a no genre EP – more like a conversation/discussion than commercialized singles. The song subjects were all decided as a collective – the 900+ people who made the project happen and myself.
Every EP you’ve created has always been under a specific theme. How did you come up with the theme for this one?
Themes! I know. We’ve done so many different themes – an all vocal EP, an EP made with toy instruments – I wanted to come back home with this one. I make it a point to do as much personal interacting with my fan base as possible, by answering as many e-mails/Facebook comments/wall posts/tweets as I can. I thought it’d be great to include them into the creative journey as well. You had your Kickstarter backers heavily involved with the creative process of “Interaktiv.” Why did you decide to do that?
Everything about doing EPs through crowd funding, if you think about it, is interactive. At least I think it should be. You have fans who believe in your craft so much, they’re willing to shell out their hard earned money to make your dream a reality. While I try to make my incentives as cool as possible, I think the bottom line is that people get involved in my projects because they believe in them. That’s a huge f**king thing. So Paul (my husband) and I thought – well, if the fans are making this project happen, shouldn’t they get a say in what I create? Shouldn’t they be involved in the process? That’s how “Interaktiv” came about. It’s incredibly important to me that I stay connected to my fans/supporters. I wouldn’t be here without them.
With such big input from your fan base and backers, did you have any difficulties at all over the course of creating the EP?
It was definitely more work. While I usually write based on my own personal thoughts/rages/happiness, it was different this way. It was a consensus. We didn’t always agree on everything. I had to stay incredibly organized – going through each backer’s responses and making a list and putting things to a vote – it was daunting at times. But I learned a lot about my fan base, about myself – and I felt incredibly connected to them as a human being. That feeling of knowing you’re not alone – it’s inspiring.
In what ways did this experience help you grow as an artist?
As a rule, I always look back at each project and think – did I grow from this? And the answer is always yes. That’s what I love about being a musician – there are always places to improve, things to learn. I never look back at these experiences and think, “Yup, nailed that one. Can’t get any better than me right now!” Feel free to kick me in the tooth if I ever do. The day I look back at a project and don’t feel that growth, I’ll know it’s time to throw in the towel. I hope that never happens.
This is your seventh original release within the last four years. What are your thoughts about your journey so far, and what do you predict will happen in the future?
The journey has been incredible. Yes, there were times when I wanted to punch myself in the face – but at the end of the day, I get to do what I love – I get to make music my way and keep a roof over our heads, and pizza and wine on the table. I’m living the dream, yo.
Kawehi is currently on tour for “Interaktiv.” Be sure to check out which city she’s headed to next, as well as ticket information.
The Green Room sets up shop in the Bay Area for a special acoustic set from musical duo Astraogik (lead singer Charito Soriano was a finalist from the first Kollaboration SF showcase). A self described Ambient Future Soul group, their sound combines influences from neo-soul, reggae, r&b, island, hip-hop, electronic, world & indie. For this set, they put down their tech for a stripped down sound that’s just as mesmerizing.
Joe Seo is having a great year. Besides making his feature film lead debut in Andrew Ahn’s Spa Night, he was also awarded the 2016 Sundance Special Jury Award for Best Breakthrough Performance! Minji Chang sits down with Joe for a Coffee Break to chat about the film and his Sundance experience.
The 34th annual CAAMFest (formerly the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival) was held in San Francisco and Oakland from March 10-20. Though attendees may have left with different impressions following the full program of screenings, panels, and events, I believe the common thread linking the attendees’ experiences was CAAMFest’s exploration of the power of legacy.
Tyrus kicked off the festival in a packed Castro Theater. The audience was visibly absorbed by the moving documentary about Tyrus Wong, a Chinese American artist who overcame numerous obstacles in pursuit of his passion. Despite circumstances that separated him from his mother at age 9 and the racism he endured as a Chinese American, Wong persevered for his art. Whether it be paintings for Hallmark cards, storyboarding for a feature film, or even building an elaborate kite to grace the sky, he applied his artistic vision relentlessly and it was only recently that he’s being celebrated for his lifetime of work.
The 105-year-old Wong, who was in attendance, received a standing ovation following the film’s conclusion. During the Q&A, an audience member shared that he inspired her to live to 105 – which was appropriately met with a round of applause – and that the younger generation should look to Wong for inspiration when pursuing passions in life, despite all odds.
Legacy-defining continued with a presentation made by Pixar animator/director Sanjay Patel and producer Nicole Grindle on the making of the Academy Award-nominated short film, “Sanjay’s Super Team.” Together in one of the smaller theaters of the Alamo Drafthouse, we watched the seven-minute storytelling feast for the eyes come alive with well-timed comedy and beautifully animated action sequences, accompanied by a thrilling Mychael Danna-composed score.
During the Q&A after the screening, Patel and Grindle explained how the film was developed, how the story changed overtime, and how different influences were incorporated into the animation’s appearance. John Lasseter, Pixar’s chief creative officer, had told Patel to “just tell your story,” and the story that came to him was about what it’s like to grow up as the child of Asian immigrants, a narrative that is rarely seen in mainstream media. Even Patel’s father was touched by the film, as shown in a video recorded during a private screening at Pixar. Moved by this, an audience member requested an encore and we wound up watching “Sanjay’s Super Team” a second time around.
Muslim Youth Voices, an organization dedicated to celebrating and telling stories from the Muslim community, hosted a screening of student productions made by Muslim kids from Philadelphia and Minneapolis. Under the guidance of filmmaker Musa Syeed, the young filmmakers dug into the depths of their developing creative sides and brought forth a wide array of short films. From mind control brownies controlling a high school girl, to a short documentary on a spoken word poet, these kids embraced their Muslim identities and were empowered to tell their own unique stories rather than resign to the negative stereotyping of mainstream media.
If I wasn’t convinced before of the theme of legacy at the festival, the screenings I saw on the last day at the New People Cinema certainly did the job. I saw two documentaries, a short and a feature, which were part of the Pacific Showcase from the Pacific Islanders in Communications. John Antonelli’s Roots of ‘Ulu talks about how the ‘ulu (breadfruit) is being revived as a significant food in the Hawaiian culture, while Matt Yamashita’s Sons of Halawa follows the last native Hawaiian of Halawa as he searches for a successor to carry on the teachings of his ancestors. Both were about upholding legacies in people’s consciousness to keep them from disappearing altogether, informed especially from a culture that has withstood colonialism in its past.
Finally, to round out the theme of legacy found in CAAMFest’s programming, I also saw the theme realized in the people who make the festival possible. As an intern for CAAM, I helped with checking in and out volunteers and got to witness everyone who generously gave their time to volunteer. As hard-working as the staff is, this festival wouldn’t succeed without the enthusiasm and desire from these members of the community, some of whom have volunteered for decades. While each volunteer is given a voucher ticket at the end of each shift, there were several who will let it be known that perks are not why they keep returning each year. Rather, it’s the love they have for the festival that drives them to get involved. The volunteers are ultimately extensions of the festival’s constantly growing legacy.
Whether found in a thought-provoking documentary or in the smiling face of a long-time volunteer, CAAMFest was all about solidifying legacies for the younger and future generations to look to for inspiration and drive.
For part 2 of our Coffee Break with AJ Rafael, we chat with him about his favorite subject, Disney! AJ and Minji talk about their favorite Disney movies, AJ shows off his Disney themed body art, and shares his experiences auditioning for Disney productions.
AJ joins us for a Coffee Break so epic, it needed to be split in two parts. In this first segment, AJ talks about what he’s been up to since going on hiatus and his recent adventures in musical theater!
Director Andrew Ahn’s debut feature-length film, “Spa Night,” goes head first into exploring identity issues, family commitments and personal desires. The Koreatown-centered drama follows an immigrant family who, after being forced to shut down their restaurant, must find other ways of bringing in money.
“David, the son of the family, takes a job at a local Korean spa to help pay the bills, and when he’s at the spa, he discovers this world of underground gay hookups that scares and excites him,” Ahn explained in a phone interview.
This is his second project that has a focus on what it means to be a gay Korean American; his first one being his 2012 short film, “Dol.” Narratives about gay Asian Americans are rarely seen in mainstream media, and Ahn thinks it’s due to the limited number of Asian American filmmakers and hesitation to touch on the subject matter. That’s why he hopes that there can eventually be more filmmakers bold enough to tackle it.
“Homosexuality is a topic a lot of Asian American cultures, especially first and second generation[s], don’t want to deal with it. Whether if it’s because of religion or tradition, it’s hard to talk about,” he contemplated. “There’s a value to learning about people who might have a slightly different experience from you.”
Ahn originally conceived the idea for the film when a friend told him of a hot hookup he had one time at a Korean spa. His first impression of hearing about this experience: disgust.
“It sounded wrong to me because for so much of my life, Korean spas have been a cultural space,” he said. “It’s like a very Korean space. I went as a kid with my family, like with my dad, we would scrub ourselves and it was super tied into my sense of Korean-ness and then also family.”
At the same time, his friend’s story intrigued him. He found the idea of two identities – gay and Korean American – strongly co-existing in the same space fascinating enough for him to visualize it as a feature film almost immediately.
In the early stages of the film’s development, Ahn found support via the Sundance Screenwriting and Directing Labs he participated in. Looking back on the early enthusiasm for it, he believes that despite it being a unique story and in a setting that’s rarely ever seen on screen, there are universal themes that people can connect to; such as the powerful of family, a sense of responsibility to parents, and trying to live an authentic life.
Filming for “Spa Night” took 17 days, with a day and a half for pickup shoots. Ahn said the shoot went very smoothly, especially since he was surrounded by cast and crew members who both understood and cared deeply for the story. He also liked that the producers were able to help him keep on top of his game, especially when faced with emotionally-driven scenes that were inspired by moments from his life.
On the other hand, making the transition from making short films to making a feature-length film was a huge learning experience for him.
“With a short film, you can hold the entire story in your head and know exactly what happens before and after, really quickly and really confidently,” he explained. “With a feature, you’re doing scenes out of order, you have 100+ scenes in the film, and so what you end up having to do is really prepare. Like you really have to know when you get on set: What are the scenes that I am shooting? What are the scenes that come before and after this? What’s the state of the character emotionally?”
That along with pre-production, post-production, and launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the film was also exhausting work.
But on the evening of its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, all the blood, sweat, and tears wound up being completely worth it. It has drawn in a lot of praise and lead actor, Joe Seo, even won the U.S. Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance.
“I had so many people come up to me after the screening and told me how much they related to some aspect of the film, whether it was being Korean, or being gay, or being the son or daughter of immigrants,” he described. “It was really great for me to get that kind of response because it’s such a personal story in so many ways. I’m always afraid that people won’t be able to connect to it. But the experience was really wonderful, to be at Sundance and to screen in competition. It’s very validating that what we did has worth and that an organization like Sundance wants to give this film that kind of platform is amazing.”
“Spa Night” has since gained Strand Releasing as its North American distributor. There are plans for a theatrical distribution sometime this fall, but it’ll still be making its way around the film festival circuit before then. Upcoming details for “Spa Night” can be found on its official Facebook page.