Fed up with faking Chinese accents in stereotypical bit movie parts, Darryl Fong decided to confront the stereotypes head on by making a movie filled to the brim with them.
He wrote "Kung Phooey," a fortune cookie morsel of a movie stuffed with every bad Chinese joke.
"Where's the representation for Asian Americans?" said Fong, who started shooting in Oakland's Chinatown on Thursday. "Where are our heroes in film? So, the idea for the film was born out of my frustration, but I did not want it to be a soapbox, but a comedy, a parody that would push the stereotypes to the limit."
Growing up in Sacramento in a predominantly white community, Fong, now 41, did not discover who he was as an Asian American until he left for New York after college, and got away from the family pressures of becoming a doctor or a lawyer.
He described his journey to his roots as a circle. Fong said the first step to being comfortable with your race is being able to laugh at yourself.
"This film is great for Asian Americans, because we need to learn to laugh at ourselves," said Michael Chow, known in Hong Kong as Chow Man King [actually Chow Man-Kin]. Chow is making his American breakthrough with "Kung Phooey."
Wearing a tattered hat and suede jacket as the main character, Chow plays a fresh immigrant, an orphan trained by the Shur-Li Temple in such arts as snatching pebbles and memorizing fortune cookie inserts. His character, Art Chew, is on the road to becoming a priest by bearing ancient "happy face" scars on his forearms.
"Nothing in this film on the surface is as it appears to be, just like how stereotypes are," said Fong.
In the spoof, Chew comes to America in search of the magical Ancient Peach. There he runs into Uncle Wong, who sports a Chinese accent like Yan Can Cook, just to attract white customers. He also encounters: Waymon, an Chinese guy who wants to be American; Wick [actually Roy Lee], an African American who believes he is the reincarnated Bruce Lee; the evil Helen Hu with her three henchmen One Ton, Lo Fat and Non Fat; and the delicious Sue Shee.
"I was not afraid to push the stereotypes to the limit, so it can't be taken seriously," said Fong. "It would not be (politically correct) if a white person made the film, but as an Asian American this is what I perceive as true. It's a way at poking fun at our culture, a reference point."
Katho Baer, the art director, echoed Fong, in saying that there is a big difference when producing a film on stereotypes if written by the stereotyped race versus the stereotyping race. She explained that like a rape which is only helped by talking about it, stereotypes have to handled the same way.
"It's a very fine line between making fun and perpetuating stereotypes," said Colman Domingo who doesn't want people to mistake him as Whitney Houston when he dons his Bruce Lee wig. "I do think we stay on the right side of the line though."
In early production, Fong ran into problems trying to sell a movie about Asians to a wide audience. Fran Kuzui, the director of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", who originally wanted to direct "Kung Phooey,"said she couldn't sell the movie without more white people in it.
But Fong wanted "Kung Phooey" to be kept as an Asian spoof for all audiences, so he decided to take the project on alone to keep its integrity intact. For the past decade, he's been digging into his own and relatives' pockets for money. Fong is not even sure if there is enough to finish production, but is hurrying filming these next couple of months to beat three more kung fu comedies coming out of Los Angeles.
Fong is filming 75 percent of "Kung Phooey" in Oakland. It is one of 113 projects filmed in Oakland last year; 28 projects have been filmed in Oakland so far this year.
"I have a really good feeling about this one," said Ami Zins, Oakland film commissioner.
Fong said he hopes "Kung Phooey" will hit theaters and art shows by the end of the year.
©2001 Oakland Tribune