‘Shopping for Fangs:’ A Conversation With Quentin Lee

John Cho stars in Quentin Lee's "Shopping for Fangs." (Margin Films)

This month Cinema Asian America offers the long-unavailable, pioneering first feature film co-directed by Lee and Justin Lin (“Fast and Furious,” “Better Luck Tomorrow“), “Shopping For Fangs”. Originally released in 1997, the genre-bending “Fangs” has become a cult hit, ushered in a new generation of independent Asian American filmmaking and launched the career of John Cho (“Harold and Kumar,” “Star Trek“). A low-budget excursion into the underworlds of Southern California, “Fangs” follows the interlocking lives of several young Asian Americans discovering their “dark sides”; an unhappy housewife, a blonde-wig/dark-glasses wearing lesbian, a bodybuilder business man and another fellow who might just be a werewolf…”Shopping For Fangs” is available this month for free on Cinema Asian American on XFINITY ON DEMAND, courtesy of the Center for Asian American Media.

Shopping For Fangs made a big impact when it came out in 1997, and its status as a trailblazing film has continued to grow over time. When you and Justin sat down to make the film almost fifteen years ago, where you intending to change the game and discourse around Asian American film?

QL: It’s hard to quantify cultural impact, but certainly years after, scholars and critics are still talking about “Shopping for Fangs:. Justin and I set off to make something different that would shake up the genre of Asian American films from “Joy Luck Club” and ching-chong Asian Americana. We didn’t know much then and really wanted to make our first feature. We were rebelling with a cause.

Since collaborating, you and Justin have taken quite different paths; while he has moved toward making big budget commercial films, you've quite deliberately focused on smaller films that tell Asian American and LGBT stories. In many ways your films have become talent incubators and discovery vehicles. Why has it been important to you to maintain this focus and approach?

QL: It’s not like I’ve been deliberately trying to make small indie films. I certainly won’t turn down any major directing gigs. But when no major offers came along, I just kept making the movies I wanted to make with the budget that I could get. And yes, I’ve worked with many young actors who later did well for themselves or are on the rise like John Cho, Reggie Lee, Lynn Chen, Randall Park, Chris Zylka, Booboo Stewart, Tyler Posey, Gregg Sulkin and Harry Shum Jr.

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In looking back at “Shopping For Fangs”, are there ideas, themes and aesthetic directions you were exploring then, that you continue to today?

QL: “Shopping for Fangs” is about finding connections, which is a theme that threads through all my movies. I think it will be a theme that I’ll be working on for the rest of my life through different stories, characters and genres.

You are a very consistent filmmaker and have been able to produce and direct a feature film almost every two years since making "Shopping For Fangs". This is exceptional for any filmmaker, whether they are working in commercial or independent realms. How have you maintained this level of production?

QL: Funny I don’t feel I’m prolific enough. I just love making movies and through my movies I get to engage in various discourses that I’m passionate about. The true test of a filmmaker is when you have nothing but yourself and a camera can you still make a movie? I made “0506HK” that way, an experimental documentary. I just love making films.

There are some exciting, upcoming projects coming from you; what can we look forward to?

QL: I just produced a feature called “Chink”, a thriller about the first Asian American serial killer in the making with Jason Tobin (“Better Luck Tomorrow”), Eugenia Yuan (“Charlotte Sometimes”) and Tzi Ma (“Rush Hour”). It was directed by Stanley Yung, my longtime collaborator and written by Koji Steven Sakai who wrote “The People I’ve Slept With”. I’ve developed this project from a seedling of an idea and I’m very attached to it. And it will be game changer for sure… trust me! I’m also going to work on a smart horror flick hopefully with my awesome cast from (my previous film) “White Frog” that I love dearly.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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