(Editor's note: SDGLN is featuring Q&A interviews with leading filmmakers from around the world who are participating in FilmOut San Diego's 15th annual LGBT Film Festival, running May 29 to June 2 at the historic Birch North Park Theatre. Follow SDGLN for all the news about one of the top LGBT film festivals in the U.S.)
“White Frog” is one of those remarkable movies that connects intensely with audiences who have experienced “feeling different” or being an outcast or not fitting into the popular crowd.
The film will be screened on Sunday, June 2, during FilmOut San Diego’s 15th annual LGBT Film Festival at the historic Birch North Park Theatre.
The central character of “White Frog” is Nick (Booboo Stewart from “The Twilight Saga”), a shy, introverted freshman struggling to fit into a testosterone-driven teenage world that does not understand his Asperger’s syndrome. Nick idolizes his older brother Chaz (Harry Shum Jr. of “Glee” fame), a popular jock who dies in a terrible accident that shatters the lives of this well-to-do Asian-American family from Beverly Hills, Calif.
Nick’s family members have great difficulty handling their golden boy’s unexpected death and go into complete denial when they learn Chaz’s deep, dark secret about his sexuality and his love for Randy (Gregg Sulkin). And for Nick, his already lonely life is turned upside down and he has trouble coping with life without his only friend in the world, his brother. Randy takes pity and takes Nick under his wing.
Homophobia in the Asian-American community is one of the major themes, as written by Fabienne Wen and Ellie Wen. Director Quentin Lee deftly handles this difficult but inspiring screenplay. Randy speaks one of the key lines in the movie, telling Nick that his beloved brother spent “his whole life trying to keep up this lie that you were a perfect family.”
Director Quentin Lee talks with San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, sharing how his new movie “White Frog” makes him cry no matter how many times he has seen it and how he hopes audiences will also be deeply affected by the story.
SDGLN: “White Frog” caused me to bawl my eyes out by the ending. Is this a common reaction, or did this movie hit too close to home?
It’s weird because I directed the movie and I have seen it over and over again … and it still gets me every time I watch the end. For me it’s particularly moving to watch a young person of color who has been silent most of his life gain his own voice. It’s something that every minority or shy kid can identify with. Definitely close to home personally.
SDGLN: The film touches on homophobia within a well-to-do Asian-American family in Beverly Hills, and how the family tries to hide from the truth about one of their teenage sons. How common is this?
It’s the colonial lag theory, like how American English has preserved the old English subjunctive (the American subjunctive) that the English has done away with long ago. Some cultures are preserved more authentically and conservatively abroad because certain cultures have been cut off. Hence it’s not uncommon that some Asian-American families are even more conservative than families in Asia. One (Asian) programmer criticizes the film saying that Asian-American families don’t behave like that and they shouldn’t be that conservative. But let me tell you I’ve met Asian-American families even more conservative than that. Look at the amount of Asian-Americans in the Republican Party. It’s a cultural irony.
SDGLN: The story centers around Nick Young (played by Booboo Stewart), an introverted freshman with Asperger’s syndrome who idolizes his older, popular jock brother Chaz (Harry Shum Jr.). How did you settle on the casting of these two key roles?
We attached Harry at script stage and Booboo came onboard through auditions. When Booboo walked into the room, I knew instinctively that he was our Nick.
SDGLN: What is the genesis of this movie, and what is the buzz on the film festival circuit?
The writers Fabienne and Ellie Wen brought the project to me and asked me if I would be interested in directing it. I read the script and discovered a very personal story behind the script — a tribute to someone they were close to who passed away. That really inspired me. Ellie and Fabienne raised the financing and off we snowballed into production. All the festival screenings have been extremely enthusiastic and we knew there was an audience for the movie.
SDGLN: Where did you shoot the movie, and why did you choose this location?
We shot in LA area … all over LA County … and we were trying to simulate Beverly Hills. But the budget was pretty tight so we had to fight hard to get our locations. We stole a few shots in Beverly Hills. It’s really an homage to the LA landscape from Beverly Hills to downtown skid row.
SDGLN: What do you want audiences to remember about the film after they leave the theater?
I want them to be touched, and maybe open up more to people who are different.
SDGLN: Do you prefer the LGBT genre?
I wouldn’t necessarily say “White Frog” is an LGBT film as much as “Brokeback Mountain” is.
SDGLN: Has LGBT cinema grown up, is it “crossing over” to attract mainstream audiences, or do you sense it will remain a niche product?
Is “Brokeback Mountain” or “Boys Don’t Cry” a niche product? Neither is a major studio release but both have crossed over.
SDGLN: What’s next for you?
I have a teen dramedy, a modern homage to “The Breakfast Club,” called “Full Ride” that I’ve been developing with a writer that I hope to get off the ground. And I also plan to make “Rigor Mortis,” a serial killer thriller with a zombie twist set in New Orleans based on a script I’ve been writing.
SDGLN: Single or taken?
The truth is I don’t know. Let’s say “in development.”
SDGLN: What is something your fans don’t know about you?
That I can believe I actually have fans!
SDGLN: Will you be coming to the FilmOut San Diego LGBT Film Festival?
Sure, if you give me free hotel, three stars and above =)
SDGLN: If you were granted three wishes, what would you do with them?
Direct a movie now. Direct another movie right after. Direct another movie right after.
SHOWING ON SUNDAY, JUNE 2
Time: 4:30 pm
Sponsored by SDGLN and SDPIX
Co-presented by SDAFF and Ivan Solis
“White Frog” (2012), directed by Quentin Lee, 93 minutes, U.S.
After the death of his popular brother Chaz (Harry Shum Jr.), Nick (Booboo Stewart), who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, struggles to carry on. However Chaz’s best friend Randy, (Gregg Sulkin), takes Nick under his wing. As Chaz’s family discovers their deceased son’s secret life, they are forced to reconcile with the boy they thought they knew with the man he really was. Starring Booboo Stewart (“The Twilight Saga”), Joan Chen (“Twin Peaks”), BD Wong (“Law & Order: Special Victims Uni”t), Harry Shum Jr. (“Glee”), Gregg Sulkin (“Wizards of Waverly Place” and “Melissa & Joey”), Kelly Hu (“X2”and “ The Vampire Diaries”) and Tyler Posey (“Teen Wolf”).
Festival tickets are now on sale at the FilmOut San Diego website HERE.
Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at [email protected], @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.