A couple of months after my wife and I got married, a cousin from Korea was sent to live with us. He spoke very little English and us being newlyweds in our 20s didn't know how to take care of ourselves, much less a teenager. We took him to try dim sum for the first time, helped him with his homework, and when we ran out of ideas of what to do I took him to watch Batman.
He said he liked my fried rice but he kind of hated Toronto, but coming from Seoul, who could blame him? Between his bemused perspective of Canada and our own fumbled attempts at taking care of him were parts of the Asian Canadian experience -- both from that of a newcomer and from the perspective of a Canadian born Asian. I realized that despite how connected we are with family in Asia now, we're still curiosities to each other.
This is the basis of my feature film Stand Up Man, a feature film comedy about Moses Kim, a wannabe stand up comedian who is forced to take over his family's restaurant and take care of his K-pop loving cousin from Korea. It's about the times your dreams run up against your realities.
Trying to navigate and balance the needs/demands of family with personal ambitions and dreams is something that I see a lot of people struggling to deal with. In the film, Moses deals with it by wanting to recapture his "glory days" as a carefree twenty-something wannabe comic before he had a wife, kid, cousin, and his parents' business to take care of.
For Moses, his family is his support but also an obstacle to his personal ambitions. Exploring that tension was a place where the comedy of life emerges to tell this story. The film also has elements of stand up comedy, parenthood, music, dance, and food. Ultimately, life is what inspired this story; our lives are usually pretty messy and muddled up as we somehow try to navigate our way through it, trying to live with intent but always pivoting.
This film is also unique in that it's one of a few feature films that takes place in Windsor Ontario. Unfortunately, it's a much-maligned place in the popular imagination. Sitting directly across the border from Detroit, Windsor's claim to fame(s) might be being dubbed "earth's rectum" by Stephen Colbert, or possibly being the mythical "South Detroit" referenced in the Journey song "Don't Stop Believin'" (there is no South Detroit). Windsor is a border town and industrial city dealing with the fallout of manufacturing in North America.
It's also where our producer Tony Lau grew up when he came from Hong Kong as a kid. Early in the process of writing the script Tony proposed we set the film in Windsor and took me around for a drive showing me the city and telling stories of his youth, some of which ended up being incorporated into the script. We decided this was a great place to stage this dislocation of our lead characters and to see how they both react to their new environment. The way they adapt to this place is much different than it would be in a big city like Toronto.
Asian Canadian feature films are pretty rare. We were so fortunate to receive initial funding from Telefilm Canada but finding resources and talent for the production is challenging. Casting is always difficult because the pool of actors is small relative to other communities. Furthermore, casting Korean Canadian talent for this film was really important for us, not only in reference to mainstream casting practice but also to find people who could really engage with the material and incorporate their own experiences AND be good actors too! We were so lucky to have an entire lead cast of talented Korean Canadian actors Daniel Jun, Daniel Lee, and Rosalina Lee as well as supporting roles by Won Jae Lee and Misook Hong (and even a cameo by my daughter Yuna).
We hope this film will help fill that gap of Korean Canadian stories. And we hope this film can make it to audiences in 2017. Stand Up Man is currently in post-production and raising finishing funds. If you'd like to learn more about the film or contribute to its fundraising efforts, visit Facebook or Indiegogo
Aram Collier is an Asian American/Canadian filmmaker born and raised in San Francisco and now based in Toronto. His short films 'The Others' and 'Suite Suite Chinatown' have been played in festivals internationally and his doc 'Who I Became' was broadcast nationally on PBS. He has worked as an editor and producer with Spencer Nakasako at VYDC in San Francisco, and as a programmer for the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival. Earlier this year he shot his first feature film 'Stand Up Man,' which was partially funded by Telefilm Canada's microbudget feature program. You can find Aram on Twitter @aramcollier.