“Parachute Girls,” written by and starring Emily Chang, is featured on the X1 International destination this month. We had the pleasure of asking Emily what inspired her filmmaking journey and how her Asian-American heritage influences her work.
Tell us about your film featured on X1 this month.
Emily Chang: My film is called “Parachute Girls.” It centers around two estranged sisters (played by myself and Lynn Chen) who grew up as parachute kids—adolescents sent to live alone in the U.S. by their parents in Taiwan. Growing up, I had friends and cousins who were parachute kids, and they seemed to have the coolest lives—a world without adult supervision. Now I wonder, “What would I have done in their place? How did growing up without parents around affect their self-worth? How did their immigrant experience affect how they’d interact with (or reject) their new world?”
How did you get into filmmaking?
EC: I’m self-taught. I used to work at a start-up Asian-American TV network called ImaginAsian TV. Even though I was hired as a writer, I ended up hosting, producing, shooting, editing—basically it was a crash course in how to do everything yourself. My first film experiment was to make a short mockumentary based on my experience in the spoken word scene called “The Humberville Poetry Slam.” We begged/borrowed/stole, but it eventually screened at international festivals. Watching the audience laugh because of something I made was a light-bulb moment for me as a creative person.
What are some of your favorite films and/or filmmakers who have inspired you?
EC: My favorite films are ones that have stuck with me over a lifetime: “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” “Annie Hall,” “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” “Spirited Away,” “Waiting for Guffman,” “In the Mood for Love.” I think there’s a sense of humor, whimsicality and a streak of darkness to all of these.
Do you have a favorite Asian-American film?
EC: I loved the golden era of Asian-American films in the late 1990s, as they really influenced me as an artist and helped me realize our stories were worth telling on screen. I remember being like, “Whoa! Asians are in movies?” I really loved “Better Luck Tomorrow” and “The Motel” when they came out, as well as “Saving Face” and “Double Happiness.”
I will always, always have a soft spot for “The Joy Luck Club.” To this day, quoting about “best quality crab” with my friends never gets old.
How does your Asian heritage influence your work?
EC: Being Asian is an inherent part of me and my identity regardless of whether or not the story I’m telling has to do with my Asian heritage. I draw a lot from my own intersectional experiences as a woman of color in America. Also, since I’m an actor who is in a lot of my own stuff, my Asian heritage becomes a given in the work. It doesn’t necessarily consciously influence the story, but I think it’s going to be in there no matter what because it’s deep in my brain.
What is your outlook on the state of Asian-American cinema?
EC: It’s alive and healthy. I’m glad that there are so many films out there now that can explore beyond just Asian “identity issues” and expand what our stories can be about. We have sci-fi like “Advantageous,” indie rom-coms like “Surrogate Valentine” and stoner movies like “Harold & Kumar“—the wide variety of our stories is what makes up the true Asian-American experience.
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