Koyanagi's "Hundred Percent": Breaking Through Coast to Coast
by Amanda N. Nanawa
Are Asian American films finally breaking through? Writer/Director Eric
Koyanagi believes so. He returned to the AAIFF with his feature debut
"Hundred Percent" where its well-attended New York Premiere was a
testament to the state of Asian American films. "The energy was much
higher Saturday night and we were running on time," recalls Koyanagi who
spoke to indieWIRE on the phone from his California home last week. "It
was great to screen in Manhattan...It felt good."
Having screened at the LAIFF this past April, the film opened for the
AAIFF in Los Angeles for its May jaunt at the DGA Theater. Since its
screening and Q & A at the two major cities, Koyanagi was intrigued by
the reactions from the East and West Coast audiences. He explains, "It
wasn't a conscious thing for me, but I guess the film had this like West
Coast flavor to it and I wondered when people started to see it in NY,
they kinda brought that up. I didn't think it was like such an L.A.
movie but I guess it was. No one really came to me in L.A. and said
'Hey! You made a really kinda West Coast flavored movie.'" In New York,
Koyanagi continues, "They have a different kind of perspective. It's
nice that they saw that about the movie because it's supposed to be kind
of localized Asia America in Venice kind of fantasy land."
With a cast which consists of Tamlyn Tomita ("The Joy Luck Club"),
Garrett Wang ("Star Trek: Voyager"), and Dustin Nguyen ("21 Jump
Street"), the dichotomy of being an Asian American in the '90's is taken
for a spin. The three main characters, Isaac (Nguyen), Slim (Darion
Basco), and Troy (Wang) explore the concepts of love, enlightenment, and
self esteem amidst the backdrop of sunny Venice Beach, CA. Isaac
encounters a beautiful and beguiling woman (played by Tomita) who has a
passion for Bruce Lee's authentic nunchakus which she claims came from
his last film "Enter The Dragon."
Slim sets off on a Rastafarian journey where life revolves around Bob
Marley and a gangster's car, which he loses the next day. Slim's
character is a melding of two cultures, where the film captures the true
essence of youth in this decade and doesn't apologize for parodying pop
Troy is an actor who is struggling to break free from Oriental
typecasting. His agent (played by Dennis Lipscomb of "Union City") gives
him a chance for a lead role in a major production. After auditioning
and convincing himself that he's on the road to breaking down
stereotypes, he finds a way to destroy his relationship with his
girlfriend (played by Lindsay Price of the "Toys 'R Us" commercial
At the start of the film, a comic homage is paid to Asian Americans in
science fiction; an inside joke which viewers quickly locked onto. But
behind the joke sits a strong realization about minority representation
in Hollywood. "I think there are great strides being made," says
Koyanagi, "but at the same time, who's calling the shots, who's
portraying these roles, and just how responsible and how positive."
At the Q & A in New York, a bleary-eyed and drawn out Koyanagi warned
the audience that the film was not a total representation of Asian
Americans. "Yeah. There was that one guy who was saying that he didn't
see himself in there. Any time a film comes out on a specific community,
I think people hold it to higher...they kinda assume that the filmmaker
should have these responsibilities that speaks for everybody. One, that
wasn't my goal and two, I didn't set out to make a film that was going to
speak for the entire community. That would have been impossible."
Koyanagi continued, "For anyone who kind of tries to undertake and do that
for any kind of community, has to be really pretentious --
megalomaniac. But, that wasn't my goal at all. It was more of just to
kind of present a really exaggerated Shangri-La. But within that
Shangri-La, they bring up issues that are not just Asian American, but
also issues with dignity and self-respect -- a quiet masculinity."
Another viewer asked how he was able to get such a well known cast. The
filmmaker revealed that he and Wang have been friends for a long time,
collaborating on his MFA thesis film "Angry Cafe," even before Wang
became the smitten Ensign Kim of "Star Trek: Voyager."
"I've watched him on it...I find it a little unbearable," smirks
Koyanagi. "But, I made about three [short] films with Garrett before
he got onto 'Star Trek: Voyager.' I had him in mind when I was writing
the role. He was on his way up but he wasn't quite the personality that
he is now." As for Tamlyn Tomita and Dustin Nguyen, they were mutual
friends of the Producers Jusak Yang Bernhard and Paul G. Bens, Jr. of I
Can Make It Myself Productions; while their Casting Director Patricia
Noland provided more fuel to the film's star power.
Despite the fact that film festivals seem to be a safe haven for Asian
American cinema, there are more Asian filmmakers who are getting the
attention and grassroots response they deserve. "I think our time has
come," says Koyanagi. "I think our time was probably a few years ago so
I think we need to grab hold of the reins."
["Hundred Percent" will participate in the Vancouver Asian Festival
where it's slated to open the fest. It currently does not have domestic