'Snakehead': Filmmaker Finally Takes on His Passion Project

Guest Post by Evan Jackson Leong

Hello Asian America! I'm finally here. Where is here? Well, its Day 1 of the Snakehead movie website and Day 3285 since the inception of ​this idea. I'm finally realizing the dream of a film project that I've carried in my Asian American conscience for over nine years!

When I started this project, I was young, single, and a hungry struggling artist living in LA. I also had corn rows.

Now, I'm "mature," married, and STILL a struggling artist, yet hungrier than I've ever been.​ And now I live in New York and have a mohawk.

While I was pretty unknown to the world back then (not that I'm known now) I had a few films under my belt but I was all over the place. Snakehead was a daily thought, but there was just never enough drive and momentum to see it through. In hindsight I probably didn't know how or what I wanted to say.

To get one step closer to Snakehead, I moved my whole life to New York City where I figured the environment would cater to my creativity. Then something called Linsanity happened... which not only changed Jeremy's life, but also mine.

I know, you probably want to know more about Jeremy Lin, but that is a story for another post. Today I want to talk to you about Snakehead, a feature film about a Chinese woman's rise in the international underworld of human smuggling set in New York Chinatown.

Inspired by true events, the anti-hero Sister Tse becomes one of the most sought after snakeheads in FBI history. We follow her from the moment she lands in American waters to her reign in the Chinatown underworld. She must use all of her intuition, intelligence and abilities to survive. Ultimately, this a story about a bad ass woman immigrant who finds her calling as an international human smuggler.

We will explore the perspectives of law enforcement, immigrants, and the underworld. I want to humanize the immigrant experience and share a perspective that hasn't been told before. In my research, the perspective of the law enforcement has its own unique story as well. Stylistically, I want to create world where there are rich, robust, immigrant characters that are not only three-dimensional but also universal in their pursuit of the American dream.

Why? As a sixth generation Chinese American, I'm far removed from a first generational perspective but I do realize that I wouldn't be here if it weren't for my ancestors.

If you really think about the chance an immigrant takes for the opportunity to change your status, it's really quite astounding. With the internet, we can see and learn about almost any place in the world. Thirty, fifty, a hundred years ago, the only way you'd know about another land is by word of mouth. The decision to leave the motherland for an unknown distant land is a perfect contradiction of ignorance and bravery.

But if you had Sister Tse as your guide, you could probably trust the experience and knowledge that she had accumulated. On one hand, Sister Tse sees herself as a provider of opportunity by providing safe passage. On the other hand, she is doing something highly illegal and dangerous -- another perfect contradiction.

I've had a number of setbacks through the years that have decided the fate of this movie -- mainly money. It's hard to fundraise for any film, but especially an Asian American one. And while there have been some positive wins for us in media, we still face the same struggles that Better Luck Tomorrow did thirteen years ago! We can dwell and complain about this unfair landscape, but change only occurs when WE do it. We need to tell our own stories and we need to tell them well.

I'm finally in the driver's seat for Snakehead and I don't need a ton of money to start. I'll run, walk, or ride a bike to get to the finish line. I'm doing this with no budget and getting back to the roots of filmmaking.

So if I don't need money, why a Kickstarter campaign? Well, money always helps and there are hard costs that are near impossible to avoid. More importantly, I want to build a community around this project. Every dollar counts and every fan counts. I want to find a community before the film is made, while the film is made, and when the film is in theaters. I'm already overwhelmed by the support of my community but I want to get more support. Money can buy you things but a community can take you anywhere.

As I have evolved as an artist, so has the story of Snakehead. This is a project that is the culmination of everything I've worked for, stand for, and live by. I hope you can feel the passion and excitement I have for this project. This a special moment in my life and I hope to share this experience to whoever wants to watch!

Evan Jackson Leong is a 6th generation Chinese American director and documentary filmmaker and is the founder of Arowana Films. Evan is known for his documentary Linsanity about Jeremy Lin, which made its world premiere at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. He also directed the documentary 1040: Christianity in the New Asia (2010), and the documentary short BLT Genesis (2002), which tracks the behind-the-scenes making of and trajectory of Justin Lin's film, Better Luck Tomorrow. He is currently in production on his first feature narrative Snakehead.

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