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Smashing Asian Stereotypes, Warren Lam is Proud of The Film He Can’t Show His Mom
- Monday, Jun. 17, 2019
Like Ali Wong, Awkwafina and others, Lam tells truths about Asian tropes
To move beyond stereotypes, one must appreciate the realities within them. It also helps to have a sense of humor. With his new short, F the Plus: Stories of Failed Asian Excellence, writer/filmmaker Warren Lam executes a tricky move: taking on Asian stereotypes, while making the story universally relatable - and funny. He also taps into a zeitgeist echoed by some of today’s rising Asian-American stars, including Awkwafina and Ali Wong. F the Plus is currently screening as part of The Amazon All Voices Film Festival, and it is poised to stir things up with its subject matter - excellence at oral sex.
“The inspiration was to explore the insane pressure of Asians having to excel at everything,” Lam explained. “If you get an A, why didn’t you get an A+? To bring attention to this, I chose the most absurd thing at which to fail - oral sex. To be honest, all ethnicities can do better at this!”
F the Plus: Stories of Failed Asian Excellence is the story of Ernie Yee, who embodies Asian excellence: he maintains a 4.7 GPA, plays piano and violin. But when he dates Cindy, who is “untraditional,” Ernie realizes he’s seriously underachieving in his ability to orally satisfy a woman. To remedy this, he must find a guide, his “Mr. Miyagi.” Sound advice, it turns out, comes from the unlikeliest of places. To reveal more would diminish the joy of experiencing this dark comedic satire, which pokes fun at the “model minority.”
“I’ve always been a disrupter,” confessed Lam, “even in my advertising days,” which, in Lam’s case, included stints at agencies like Leo Burnett, where he worked as a copywriter on big-ticket accounts like Reebok, Phillip Morris, and General Motors. As a writer/editor, he racked up credits on reality shows such as the Emmy-winning Deadliest Catch, before producing numerous original digital and branded projects. “Culturally, as immigrants. we’re raised to not stand out, we’re taught not to make noise, to blend in,” said Lam.
When HBO announced its 3rd Annual Asian Visionary Contest, Lam saw an opportunity to put his voice out there. “Most films in the Asian genre are family-focused,” he said. Lam wanted to address other contemporary issues through satire, to show that being perfect or bringing shame is not a healthy mental outlook. “It was taking a bold direction, but the HBO title did say ‘Visionary,’” he mused. He and his team made the short with high production value on a small budget and submitted F the Plus just under the wire (a quick 6 weeks from script to locked picture). It didn’t get in; the winning short was about an older couple addressing issues of spousal abuse, and two other shorts, father-daughter and mother-daughter relationships were the finalists. “No disrespect to those films, or HBO,” Lam said. “Even in other Asian film festivals, films and shorts were expected stories of the Asian experience. We chose to make content that appeals and is relevant to a younger, millennial and Generation Z audience. Participating in Amazon’s All Voices Film Festival is just the beginning.”
Upon seeing the short, video editor Todd Lane (America’s Top Model), who is mixed African-American/Japanese, said of Lam, “Warren could be the Asian Spike Lee. Filmmakers who break new ground will eventually be rewarded.” Eventually may come sooner rather than later, given the popularity of Always be My Maybe, a film co-written by Wong and Randall Park and a huge hit for Netflix. As documented in InStyle, numerous myths are laid to rest in the film, among them the ideas that Asian men aren’t sexy, that Asian women are submissive, and that Asian parents are one-dimensional. Added Sean C. Ching (Shadow of the Monarch, Conscience) who plays Ernie, “As an actor, I was told that I don’t look like a football player, even though I played QB in high school, or that I don’t look like a doctor, even though my dad was a doctor. There are many layers to our culture, and it’s all worthy of exploration. I’m Hawaiian Chinese. I’m not a mainlander. Times have changed. Standing out and having something to say is the place to be.” In another article, Awkwafina describes her journey from a self-conscious, risk-averse girl named Nora to the bold, break the norm, “My Vag” rapper-actress that opened doors to opportunities on Ocean’s Eight and Crazy Rich Asians.
Outside the mainstream, outlets for new voices and new forms of Asian-themed content are emerging. Lam is part of the growing subculture within the Asian Culture. Subtle Asian Traits, for example, is a MEME-based Facebook Group with 1.5 millions followers, providing a platform for a young audience to express their views. Asian Creative Network is another Facebook group, whose Ariana Grande parody 7 Meats has garnered more than 250K views. “The very existence of this group demonstrates how Asians need a support system just to be in a creative field, where perfection or success is subjective,” Lam noted. “I mean, F the Plus is a short that I can’t even share with my own mother or my conservative sisters.” In fact, Lam’s most audacious decision as a storyteller involves Ernie’s mother, played by Crystal Lee (Kingdom, Mr. Purple) in a trope-bending turn.
While the pressure in the film is placed squarely on the shoulders (or jaw) of Ernie, actress Jessica Yang (Joseon’s Bride), who plays Cindy, expressed joy at the notion that her character’s desires are portrayed frankly and with a wink. “You know we have our own fantasies too,” she pointed out, “like Ali Wong was so happy to kiss Daniel Dae Kim (as she does in the aforementioned Always be My Maybe), I like that my character also had fantasies about him. We’re not all giggly girls who like Hello Kitty.”
To keep this potent conversation going, Lam has launched an F the Plus Podcast; he and his team have been asked to expand the project into an anthology series, covering other areas of “failed Asian excellence.”
About Warren Lam
Warren Lam is a content creator/filmmaker. His career experience includes time spent as a copywriter for agencies such as Leo Burnett in Chicago and Euro RCSG in New York. Accounts included Reebok, General Motors, Philip Morris, Pepsi Regional. and AT&T. He earned editorial credits on unscripted reality shows such as the Emmy-winning Deadliest Catch and Emmy-nominated The Curse of Oak Island. Lam founded Creative Fugitives as a think tank/content factory, where he has written, directed, produced and launched multiple original web series, branded content, documentaries and transmedia properties.
Lam is about to complete post production on an ambitious binge-worthy 5-episode sci-fi series, “Moto Nostra,” with production integration with Ccilu Footwear, and is hoping his mom never sees this article.
Written, Produced, Directed and Edited by Warren Lam
Cast: Ernie Yee: Sean Ching, Cindy Kim: Jessica Yang, Si-fu: Michael Sorensen, Brian Yee: Victor S. Chi, Cameron Yee: John Wusah, Norman Yamaski: Ian Alvarez, Mute Assistant: Sean Humphries, Voice Of Ddk: Sean Ching, Bff: Chris Yeijin, Mother: Crystal Lee
Producer/Sound Operator: Michael Sorensen
Music: Extreme Music
Original Music: “Blurred Fantasy”
Li Yiu, Composer
Assistant To The Producer: Julia Kostenevich
Sound/Audio Mixer: Eric Hemion
Props: Sean Humphries
Herbs Consultant: Ashika Gogna
Special Thanks: Tori Mcpetrie, Michelle Cho, Grace Cho, Alicia Cho, Ben Bulato, Chris Buchanan, Michelle Marta, Munir Haddad, Deborah Dewitt, Jenee Arthur, Esther Won, Norman Lau, Leslee Scallon, Patricia Compton, Adam Sidman, Melissa Fitzgerald, Karla Nunfio
Most Excellent Thanks: The Park’s Finest Bbq, Filipino Town, La; Boba Guys, Culver City, La; Road To Seoul, K-town, La;
Most Excellent Inspiration: Ah- Ma & Ah -ba, Wong Kar Wai, Ang Lee, Jon M. Chu, Michelle Yeoh, John Woo, Chan Woo Park, Jeniffer Kim, Quentin Tarantino, Emelia Clarke, Haruna Uriu, Stephanie Mccarles, Alan Yang, David Chang, David Cho, Tracy Wong, Andrew Chau & Ddk