This month, Cinema Asian America on Xfinity On Demand presents the much-anticipated new film from Los Angeles filmmaker Quentin Lee (“The People I’ve Slept With”, “Shopping for Fangs”), “White Frog” starring the “Twilight” series’ Booboo Stewart and “Glee” star Harry Shum Jr, “Frog” made its world premiere at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF), and after a successful festival run, is now in national release.
In a picturesque and unassuming suburb, high-school freshman Nick (Stewart) is trying to find his place in life. From an outsider’s view, he has the perfect family, with a loving, stay-at-home mother (Joan Chen), successful father (BD Wong), and an athletic, charming older brother (Shum Jr). Inside the home, however, things are different: Nick, living with Asperger’s syndrome, is often neglected and misunderstood by his family. When tragedy suddenly strikes, Nick is forced out of his comfort zone, and into finding the strength he needs to survive.
Akin to films such as “Ordinary People” and “Stand By Me,” “White Frog” remixes the coming-of-age formula and the melodrama genre with its complex, bold Asian American characters and themes, with an adult script that exposes the pervasive issues that plague our communities. At times heart wrenching and emotional, the film still finds time for moments of welcome humor to leaven the mood, while a stellar soundtrack adds to the work’s lush spell.
An all-star production both in front of and behind the camera (including David Henry Hwang as executive producer), “White Frog” and its inspirational story were brought to life by a mother-and-daughter screenwriting duo, Fabienne and Ellie Wen. Director Quentin Lee confirms his standing as one of American cinema’s master storytellers, focusing on the key messages of the film: the universal power of family and friendship, and the importance of loving everyone for whom they are. To circle back to the question that started it all, “Who is the White Frog?” Well, there is only one way to find out…
Lee sat down to answer a few questions about his most recent film:
This is a film which has been in the making for several years – is there a guiding impulse, idea or question which inspired it? Can you elaborate on the “white frog” that the film is named for?
QL: The writers/producers Ellie and Fabienne Wen came to me with the script that almost perfectly suited my sensibility. It came to me as “White Frog” and we fought to keep the title even though our international distributor has recommended changing it. For me I was sold into the enigmatic and surrealistic quality of the title and you almost have to watch the movie to find out why it is titled “White Frog.” A good movie should be mysteriously magical, just like “White Frog.”
“White Frog” is a collaboration with the mother-daughter writing team, Ellie Wen and Fabienne Wen, who wrote the screenplay for the film. Can you talk about how you met them, how you adapted their concept into your directorial vision?
QL: I was on Facebook one night and a filmmaker colleague messaged me and asked if I would be interested in a directing assignment. He hooked me up with Ellie and Fabienne who pretty much gave me free reign in making the movie. I’m grateful for their trust. For me, it was important to make the movie from Nick, the protagonist’s point-of-view.
Nick is very much like my youngest sister who has Aspergers and who struggles to understand my lifestyle. I was simply trying to see life from my youngest sister’s point-of-view with a little bit of imagination.
Over the course of your career, you’ve been interested in genre films – or perhaps more accurately, experimenting with genre films – as we’ve seen in your sex-comedy “The People I’ve Slept With” and in your were-wolf/mystery/coming-of-age film “Shopping For Fangs.” What drew you to the teen/family drama (which you also explored in 2004’s “Ethan Mao”) and what does genre offer to you creatively?
QL: I’ve also always loved movies from the perspective of a child like “Fanny and Alexander” and “My Life As a Dog.” I saw White Frog as my opportunity to make a film like that.
You’ve assembled an incredible cast for “White Frog”, including veteran actors like Joan Chen, Amy Hill and BD Wong, and exciting newcomers like Booboo Stewart and Harry Shum Jr. What are you hoping to say through your casting choices?
QL: I must say that everyone was my choice except one. But it all worked out at the end.
This is a big year for you – along with the release of “White Frog,” you’ve produced a new film “Chink”, directed by Stanley Yung and starring Jason Tobin (“Better Luck Tomorrow”) and Eugenia Yuan (“Charlotte Sometimes”). How can audiences see this film, and what else is on the horizon for you?
QL: I’ve also produced “Big Gay Love” which will be in the festival circuit with “Chink” this year. I’m hoping to make “Rigor Mortis” and get my Chinese project “Don’t Forget to Love” set up this year. Crossing my fingers!