In making Ethan Mao, I was given the fantastic opportunity to work with highly talented veteran actors like Julia Nickson and Raymond Ma, as well as exciting newcomers like Jun Hee Lee and Jerry Hernandez. In finalizing the cast, it was nothing short of a miracle that everyone in the film was my first choice and that they were incredibly attractive and ethnically diverse. Julia Nickson is half English and half Chinese, originally from Singapore. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Raymond Ma is Chinese American. Jun Hee Lee is Korean American. Jerry Hernandez is half Guatemalan American and half Filipino American. Kevin Kleinberg is half Filipino American and half German American. David Tran is Vietnamese American. Truly a multicultural cast.
Coming from an early background of experimental filmmaking where I often mixed film and video, I decided to shoot everything outside the house, such as Ethan’s life on the street, on DV with an immediate, frenetic and fragmented style to portray Ethan’s emotionally displaced subjectivity. Everything inside the house, which primarily tells Ethan’s past suburban life and the hold-up drama, was shot on 35MM with a lot of “master shots” and a touch of De Palma and Ozu to create a cinematic stage between Greek tragedy and modern psychological thriller.
Ethan Mao was everything that I wanted to do—a stylish thriller, an edgy teen drama, and an unapologetic romance. It’s De Palma; it’s Hitchcock; it’s Ozu; it’s Truffaut; it’s Wong Ka Wai; it’s Gus Van Sant. It’s a bastard of a film—a celebration of hybridization and bastardization, ironically not unlike myself who was born in Hong Kong (a post-colonial territory that I had known, since a little kid, would cease to exist by 1997). As an artist, I’ve been navigating between identities and boundaries—gay / Asian / Chinese / Hong Kong / Canadian / American. In some way, Ethan reflects my sadness, my longing, my hopes and nevertheless my quest for emotional, cultural, and artistic integrity.
The shooting schedule was tight—three six-day weeks. We shot two weeks on 35MM with a cumbersome Arri BL 4 inside the house and one week on 24P Mini-DV with the Panasonic DVX100 outside the house. And one more day of pick-up. All on an extremely limited budget.