Filmmaker Quentin Lee is not afraid to take chances. In fact, this sense of daring separates him from many creative artists, both within the Hollywood sphere and the indie orbit. His films are rich with maturity and honesty, and the intelligence which permeates his work is refreshing in a medium which often seems mired in mediocre repetition.
Lee first came to notice in the 1998 feature “Shopping for Fangs,” which used an Asian-American cast to loop a series of stories which mixed surreal comedy (including a character who convinces himself that he’s a werewolf) with shattering drama (the emotionally isolated wife of a wealthy businessman finds her world crumbling). The movie was noteworthy since it was not a typical (or perhaps stereotypical) examination of Asian-American life. But beyond the non-traditional casting was a vibrant sense of style coupled with a remarkable substance.
Lee followed up with “Drift,” a 2001 feature that skirted the sharp angles of a gay love triangle. Unlike many contemporary gay-themed films, “Drift” was a sensitive and adult examination conflicting personalities trying (and sometimes failing) to deal with difficult romantic circumstances. At a time when too much gay-themed cinema felt tacky and immature, “Drift” was the proverbial breath of fresh air.
Lee’s latest film, Ethan Mao, follows the story of a gay Asian-American teenager who is forced from his family when his family discovers his sexual orientation. The youth returns to the family home when he believes everyone is away for the Thanksgiving holiday, but the family’s unexpected early return triggers a violent confrontation. As with his earlier films, Lee deftly disrupts the pre-conceived notions of Asian-American and gay-themed cinema with a bold approach to the subject and a refusal to fall back on comfortable stereotypes.
In addition to his filmmaking, Lee ran Margin Films during the late 1990s as a boutique distribution company specializing in edgy, Asian-related cinema. He released “Shopping for Fangs” through Margin and also picked up the acclaimed Singaporean drama “Bugis Street” for its American run.
Film Threat caught up with Lee at his Los Angeles office to discuss his distinctive approach to filmmaking.
Get the interview in part two of QUENTIN LEE: THE LIBERATION OF “ETHAN MAO”>>>