This post is part of a series behind the making of The Paper Tigers film, produced by Al’n Duong. Check out Part One here.
After several years of not being heard, Kickstarter ripped open the doors in getting our message out to the world — the Paper Tigers movie needed to be made. We aimed to add more substance to the kung fu genre the way Shaun of the Dead did for zombie movies.
Let’s be clear: $124,000 was not even close to enough to make a kung fu feature film. We ended up spending the next several months raising the rest of the funds needed for production.
We weren’t just looking for money — we needed partners and advocates. For every person who said, “I don’t get it,” we found two investors who exclaimed, “I love it!”
My production team consists of a group of friends I have worked with for the past decade. Michael Velasquez, our Los Angeles-based producer, is a dear friend with a talent for analyzing processes and figuring out how things work to a stubborn degree. Producer Daniel Gildark is a local Seattle director who lends his feature film experience.
Our last producer is none other than the great Yuji Okumoto, a veteran Asian American actor best known for his role as Chozen in Karate Kid Part II (1985).
With decades of experience as an actor in Hollywood, Yuji is our guide in a sometimes confusing film industry. He has seen it all as an actor who worked during the post-Bruce Lee era, the emergence of Joy Luck Club (1993), and now the new wave of POC filmmakers rising in Hollywood.
At the center of our production is the heart and soul of the Paper Tigers, writer and director Bao Tran. If you know Bao, you know he has a big personality. He can be the epicenter of all the laughter, but he tends to loathe touting his accomplishments …
That’s why he’s got me. Hold my beer:
Tran is an accomplished filmmaker. His strength is his persistence of vision. His award-winning short film, Bookie (2008), is a brilliant piece of action and soul. I have to point out that the lighting is Oscar-level amazing. I was the grip.
Tran was also mentored by famous Hong Kong action director Corey Yuen, who made countless Jet Li movies and is also kung fu brothers with Jackie Chan.
Tran spent time in Vietnam as an editor, slapping together Vietnam’s biggest action blockbuster film at the time, Bui Doi Cho Lon (2013) or Chinatown, only to be banned by the communist government’s censorship board. He would later find redemption in editing Vietnam’s official 88th Academy Award submission for best foreign film, Jackpot (2015).
Our team committed to having weekly conference calls for six years not knowing when we’d actually make our movie, but our faith in Bao was the driving force that got us to dial in every night.
How do you cast for a script that you’ve stared at for six years?
We fought hard to maintain our POC leading cast, literally walking away from $4 million, but in the back of my head, I feared we wouldn’t be able to find the right actors to fill these monumental roles.
We sent out a casting call that brought in hundreds of online submissions and combed through every audition to find our trio.
The mission was to find the middle-aged versions of our teenage characters, played by Yoshi Sudarso, Peter Sudarso, and Gui DaSilva Greene. If you check out their Instagram pages, you’ll find three good-looking young men. Shredded. Now add 30 years to those bodies, and you get our present-day protagonists.
There were only two months left until production began. As our luck would strike again, the film gods brought us a dynamic trio: Alain Uy (The Morning Show, Marvel’s Helstrom) as “Danny” the deadbeat dad; Ron Yuan (Netflix’s Marco Polo, Disney’s live-action Mulan) playing “Hing” the insurance scammer; and Mykel Shannon Jenkins (Undisputed 3: Redemption) as “Jim” the estranged MMA coach.
Together, the Three Tigers must put aside old grudges to avenge their kung fu master’s death … but first they have to call in sick at their 9-to-5s.
To round out our cast, we were able to bring on actress Jae Suh Park (Netflix’s Friends From College) playing Danny’s ex-wife “Karen” and comedic actor Matt Page (Master Ken from Enter the Dojo, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot) playing “Carter,” the childhood rival to the Three Tigers. The supporting cast also includes Raymond Ma (Always Be My Maybe) as “Sifu Wong” and Joziah Lagonoy as Danny’s son “Ed.”
Amping up the kung fu action, we recruited the famed Martial Club brothers Andy Le (Wu-Tang: an American Saga, Luc Van Tien: Tuyet Dinh Kung Fu) and Brian Le (Into the Badlands, Wu-Tang: an American Saga) as well as wushu master Phillip Dang from 102 Productions.
Our actors were all signed up and ready to go, but would they all get along?
Or would the production go down like the Titanic hitting an iceberg of Hollywood egos?
This post is part of a series about the making of The Paper Tigers movie. Check out Part Three here.
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