All About Dad
Delightfully hilarious, yet mixed with great tenderness and humanism, All About Dad addresses the familiar theme of old world father vs. new world kids with deftness and originality.
Cinequest San Jose Film Festival
Audience Favorite Choice AwardBest Film
San Diego Asian Film Festival
WonGeorge C. Lin Emerging Filmmaker Award
VC FilmFest - Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival
WonSpecial Jury PrizeOutstanding First Feature - Narrative
This often intense family drama is at times also hilarious, touching, and heartbreaking...a fine portrait of a Vietnamese American family just trying to keep up with the times.
10 Questions for David Huynh, Lead Actor in the Family Comedy "All About Dad"
Interview by Lee Ann Kim
Tran has the directorial touch of a Wes Anderson with soul. Small, quirky details pop to the foreground... and the occasional burst of fantasy... these characters are not wacky or off-puttingly odd. They do some very funny things, and some strange things, but they are serious in intent. The way they act and speak feels authentic, and so do their problems...Tran did base the character of Ty Do (played with infectious energy by David Huynh) on himself.
Here is a film that explores the tense relationships between family members that naturally develop in authoritarian homes. It’s fun to watch familial relationships in media res. A system so intricate can seem irreparably broken when the siblings are already growing older; this film shows the flexibility of even the strictest of structures.
Best of 2009: Asian American Films
All About Dad shows that a simple, personal story told with emotional honesty can go a long way... navigated by Mark Tran's point of view (and David Huynh's charming performance as the bratty little brother and future filmmaker), All About Dad speaks to all youth who haven't quite figured out how to balance independence and parental approval.
--Ada Tseng, Brian Hu
San Diego Asian Film Festival 2009
Filmmaker Mark Tran was a 19-year-old San Jose State University student when he wrote the screenplay for his feature debut All About Dad (Audience Award winner, Cinequest FF), based on his experiences growing up in a large Vietnamese family in California. The main character Ty, is based loosely upon himself a biology major about to give up his studies to pursue filmmaking (a.k.a. the worst thing a Vietnamese father could ever hear from a son).
Newcomer Chi Pham steals the show as the patriarch of the Do family, the head figure who only sees hard work, Catholicism, higher education, and loyalty to family as the only means to achieve happiness and success in life. But Mr. Do discovers the inner passions and dreams of his four children, and his world seems to unravel. This often intense family drama is at times also hilarious, touching, and heartbreaking as Mr. Do comes to terms with disappointment, realizing he must learn to accept his children as they truly are or risk losing them.
Despite the familiar story of tradition versus modernity, the film never comes off as didactic or heavy-handed. Mr. Trans first feature is a fine portrait of a Vietnamese American family just trying to keep up with the times.
10th Annual San Diego Asian Film Festival
10 Questions for David Huynh, Lead Actor in the Family Comedy "All About Dad"
Interview by Lee Ann Kim
Lee Ann Kim: It's good to have you back at SDAFF after your standing-room only premiere of the "Baby" in 2007. Do you have fond memories of San Diego?
David Huynh: The experience was wonderful, and what stood out most was hanging with all the fans and festival goers after the screenings. Personally, I think San Diego has one of the best audiences for films. From my experience, they're very receptive and really know how find the best in the films they see. I'm really excited for the start of this year's festival!
LA: I don't think you could have played more opposite roles in "All About Dad" and "Baby". "Baby", being a shoot-em-up gangster film, and "All About Dad" being a family comedy with you as the biology student who wants to be a filmmaker. Talk about the different experiences between the two films.
DH: "Baby" had been the first major role that was given to me in a feature film. Making "Baby" was a one of kind experience, and nothing will ever compare to that. Working with veteran actors like Tzi Ma, Ron Yuan, Kenny Choi and Feodor Chin provided a great deal of professionalism and focus on the work for me, but what made filming so singular was that I really felt like they took me under their wings. I was scared walking into production, but I didn't want to show it. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do a good job, to impress them. I had a lot of pre conceived ideas of how the process was going to be like. I didn't want to make any mistakes. Then, on the first day of shooting a lot went bad and when I realized that I wasn't at fault for any of it, a certain amount of responsibility escaped from me. Making films is certainly not a one man show; it's the encompassment of multiple creative wits and responsibilities of everyone involved. I saw Juwan Chung just collected his shit and move on. So that's what I learned. Things will never go the way you plan, but just collect your self and move on. So, when we filmed "All About Dad", I felt I was ready to just have fun, and see what happens. And that's pretty much how it went. For me, "All About Dad" was about how well I could prepare for the role and be able to throw away everything I thought was right.
LA: What is it like watching yourself on the big screen, and what was your initial reaction to watching the film?
DH: Watching me on screen is akin to sitting in an empty waiting room. I find myself incredibly bored, however, tolerating enough to keep from squirming like a child in my seat. If I had a choice, I would rather not watch my self. The first time I saw "All About Dad" on the screen, I sat with a bottle of wine in by lap. By the end of the film, I had drunk just about the entire bottle, and I'd say I thought I had enjoyed the film. I laughed. Chi Pham (Dad) makes me laugh. He's such a peculiar person, almost like a Vietnamese Christopher Walken, not that I know Christopher Walken, but I imagine if Walken was a Vietnamese man, he'd be like Chi Pham. So there.
LA: Your father in "All About Dad" is such a strict Catholic! And your relationship with your onscreen siblings is hilarious. Does the film remotely reflect your own family experience?
DH: No. Yes.... Uh, not really. Like Ty, the character I play, I also am the youngest of four, so growing up I got away with a lot of shit that my older siblings had to struggle a little bit with. And I also studied film at University in Canada where I'm from. And my best friend growing up was also a tall handsome white guy who also was in love with my big sister... I think he still is, actually. The similarities end there.
LA: Mark Tran, the director, is quite the prodigy, having written the screen play I think before he was 20. Hey, you may actually be older than him! What was it like working with such a young director?
DH: Excruciating. It's difficult to take some one seriously who is two years your junior and receive direction without wanting to scream out "respect your elder, Boy!". Mark Tran gives his actors no respect. A tyrant on the set, not to mention pretentious. He would always wear this brown gabardine suit. Never take it off. BUT, having some one like Mark direct you from a script he wrote couldn't be more fun. He knows films and knows how to tell a story and really his age has nothing to do with making a good movie. It didn't impress me or deter me away from the project. But, I'll say this, as an actor I trust him and he really knows how to get under his actors' skin. That's a good thing. And a compliment. Probably the only one I'll ever give him.... He makes me so jealous...
LA: Any funny behind-the -scenes stories to share?
DH: I got a few, but mostly just 'you've had to been there' kind of stuff. Tell you what, if you find me, buy me a drink and then I might be able to tell a story or two.
LA: How do you prepare for your roles? Do you consider yourself a method actor?
DH: Well, I do have a method, it's just not The Method. Music I find is very helpful and important for the roles I take on. There's a unique individuality that comes from the choice of music people listen to. I like a lot of preparation. The more time I have, the better it is for me. In most circumstances, I actually enjoy the rehearsal and preparation process so much more than the performance itself. I think I would be totally satisfied to research and prepare a role for a year or however long it would take to discover a character and never to actually have to perform it.
LA: What do you do when you're not acting?
DH: Read. I read a lot, take photos and make really, really bad electronic rock music that no one will ever hear. Unless you're my neighbor and I sincerely apologize to for the noise pollution.
LA: What's one thing about yourself people would be surprised about?
DH: I really don't know... how much do people actually know about me? I can cook up a really, really tasty smoked salmon. Surprised?
LA: What are you working on next?
DH: I'm preparing for a feature film shooting in November, in San Diego! It's a very San Diego specific story by a local San Diego filmmaker. Needless to say, I hope the film will screen at SDAFF in the near future!
--Lee Ann Kim
SOMETIMES, a filmmaker can be too right for his own good. When Mark Tran wrote the screenplay for All About Dad as a 19-year-old San Jose State University student, he drew on his experiences growing up in a large Vietnamese family in California. The central plot point was that the main characterloosely based on himselfwants to give up his boring biology classes and make movies, but his father comes from a generation unwilling to see filmmaking as anything but a frivolous distraction.
Tran didn't know back then that he would actually get to make his movie. But with the help of a SJSU professor who loved the script, he was able to get use of some equipment and enough financing to start planning a shoot. When he did, he quickly discovered that he had been all too correct: because Vietnamese immigrants of that generation really do consider film an unthinkable profession, Tran couldn't find anyone to play the father character.
"In that older generation, no one pursues acting, because it's all about survival," says Tran.
After four fruitless months of searching, he and his collaborators put up fliers around the South Bay advertising for the part and promising "no experience necessary."
"We were saying to ourselves, 'This is so stupid; we're not going to find anybody,'" recalls Tran. "But we thought we had to be able to say we tried everything. And the only person who replied was perfect for the role."
That was Chi Pham, who brings a quiet storm to the character of Dad. As the title character who drives the action in this Viet-American family comedy, Dad requires a performance that is not entirely sympathetic, but not unsympathetic, either. Pham plays the proud patriarch who requires that everything be all about Dad, without losing sight of the fact that for Dad, everything is about the well-being of his family. It is a remarkable performance, especially for a nonprofessional, first-time actor.
Tran is now 24, and after completing All About Dad last year, he finally got to see how a mass audience would respond to his film when it was selected for Cinequest this year. The response was overwhelming, and Tran was amazed to see all the screenings sell out.
"When I came to the theater, there was this huge long line," he says. "I was really surprised. And really nervous."
He needn't have been, as the premiere received a standing ovation, and All About Dad won the Audience Award for Best Feature. The film is now returning to San Jose, with a weeklong run, April 1723, at Camera 3, which could be expanded if it's successful.
What the audience is connecting to is obvious: while the film's focus on a Catholic Vietnamese family provides an interesting and unusual focal point for the film's themes, at least for mainstream American audiences (for instance, an engaged couple must keep secret the fact that one of them is a Buddhist), the truth is that in the end they are quite universal. Overbearing dads? Underappreciated moms? Sibling rivalries? These are Vietnamese variations on a series of themes, and they are likely to hit home no matter what culture one grew up in.
Tran has the directorial touch of a Wes Anderson with soul. Small, quirky details pop to the foreground and can take on an unexpected significance at any time: a tilting tree here, a bizarre action figure there and the occasional burst of fantasy. But there's a refreshing lack of tweethese characters are not wacky or off-puttingly odd. They do some very funny things, and some strange things, but they are serious in intent. The way they act and speak feels authentic, and so do their problems.
That is at least partially because Tran drew on the real communication problems he remembers from growing up. Both English and Vietnamese were spoken at home, but he spoke very little Vietnamese, and his parents weren't comfortable speaking English.
"I can say anything I want in English, but they can't understand," he says. "They can say anything they want in Vietnamese and I won't understand. We kind of talked like third-graders in our vocabulary."
The film is bilingual as well, although Tran was advised against subtitles at one point. "One of my producers said he hates films with subtitles, and that I should reconsider. But it didn't seem right," he says.
For Tran and his cast and crew, most decisions like that had to made on instinct. He shot for 25 days in 2007, a first-time director working with an inexperienced crew and mostly nonprofessional actors. The performances he was able to draw from the cast are extraordinary, all things consideredthere isn't a weak link or a false note in the whole film. He admits it wasn't always easy.
"Everyone was pretty much green, and so we were discovering everything on our own," he says.
The Real Dad
Tran did base the character of Ty Do (played with infectious energy by David Huynh) on himself. He really was terrified to tell his family that he was planning to abandon his plans for a career in the parentally approved line of pharmacy to pursue filmmaking. But the biggest irony is that his own dad had a totally different perspective on his film career.
"My dad was actually very, very supportive," he says with a laugh.
Still, he was nervous for his father to see the film, afraid he might not understand that the character is just that: a fictionalized character based loosely on him. But again, Dad surprised him.
"I was very afraid my father would dislike it, but he loved it," says Tran. "He knows it's not completely him. He sees it as a generational thing. He's seen it twice, and he's going to see it again. He's very proud. And he wants all of his friends to see it."
The rest of his family is behind the film, as well. And they don't have any reason to worry about Tran's careerhis work on All About Dad has earned him a job directing a Vietnamese gangster drama in Los Angeles with a sizable budget.
But perhaps all along they saw the same passion in him that his character Ty has when he gets his first real camera in the film. "That's the feeling I get when I working on films," he says. "I'm so excited, my blood is boiling."
Ty wants to be a filmmaker; Xuan wants to be a musician; Linh wants to marry a Catholic; and Dinh has a white girlfriend. What these brothers and sisters have in common is the disapproval of their authoritarian, Vietnamese father. In such a strict home, the members of the family have learned to live in secret, afraid to disclose anything about their true hopes and dreams to their patriarch. Eventually, however, it’s all got to come out, and everyone walks on eggshells, hoping the finale won’t be disastrous.
“All About Dad” starts with a very appealing set up. Here is a film that explores the tense relationships between family members that naturally develop in authoritarian homes. Other than a cranky, but loveable, neighbor, the film stays relatively contained until about halfway through. At this point, Ty’s friend interrupts the flow of the narrative, taking us outside of the family drama. Why should we care about this kid? We barely know his name, and we’re supposed to give a shit that he’s quitting his job to join the Navy? Likewise, the cranky neighbor character starts getting a lot more screen time as he describes his absentee relationship with his daughter. It seems as though the film uses these outside figures to drive home the themes and morals of a film that would have been just fine without such obvious symbolism. Unnecessary, and a little bit of a film-school mistake. Dad is rough, but at least he supports you so you don’t have to go in the Navy, and at least he was there for you growing up. Director Mark Tran should have trusted his family of characters enough to discover these meanings on their own. The result could have been a tight, concise, and interesting film.
As it stands, “All About Dad” is still very enjoyable. It’s fun to watch familial relationships in media res. A system so intricate can seem irreparably broken when the siblings are already growing older; this film shows the flexibility of even the strictest of structures.
Asia Pacific Arts
Best of 2009: Asian American Films
Made by a young San Jose State University student, All About Dad shows that a simple, personal story told with emotional honesty can go a long way. An overbearing Asian American father who doesn't approve of non-traditional careers or non-Catholic boyfriends, the young adult children who pursue those non-traditional careers and non-Catholic boyfriends, and the loving mother who gets stuck in between: it's not that we haven't seen these conflicts before, but navigated by Mark Tran's point of view (and David Huynh's charming performance as the bratty little brother and future filmmaker), All About Dad speaks to all youth who haven't quite figured out how to balance independence and parental approval. Chi Pham is particularly effective as the unsmiling father who is having trouble with the idea of losing control of his family. All About Dad took home the Best First Feature award at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, and it won the coveted audience award in Tran's hometown festival, Cinequest San Jose Film Festival as well as the Inaugural George C. Lin Emerging Filmmaker Award at the San Diego Asian Film Festival.