Film Fan Dojo: What was your initial inspiration for The Paper Tigers?
Tran Quoc Bao: I started making films at an early age, it was passion and a hobby then. As I started working in film I was disillusioned with the “industry” for all the standard reasons. So I started thinking on that feeling of being once so passionate about something and whether it has any meaning for you anymore. I thought on my other youth passion which was martial arts so it seemed like a good idea to explore these old farts trying to live up to their young ideals.
Film Fan Dojo: The buzz for The Paper Tigers has been very strong (100% on Rotten Tomatoes). What do attribute this to?
Tran Quoc Bao: The audience response is amazing and overwhelming, it’s really out of our hands at this point. It seems to be that we’ve had such a tough year in the world that we are looking for some reason to smile. If our film can give just a little bit of that, I’d say that’s a big accomplishment!
Film Fan Dojo: You were mentored by the great director and action director Corey Yuen. What are some of the things you learned from him?
Tran Quoc Bao: He really challenged me and set me on a path to hone my craft and focus on storytelling. Action films are a visual form and you have to have a good story to keep the audience engaged.
Film Fan Dojo: With the trend for a number of years being (IMO) an over-emphasis on wire work, what factors led to the decision to have more grounded (no wires) fighting that actually looks like kung fu?
Tran Quoc Bao: Well one reason is we had no budget! It worked out that way that the decision was made for us in that sense. But it was a world where we wanted our characters to definitely feel the gravity and weight of their movements. My action director Ken Quitugua and I talked about what we wanted to do and we came up with the idea that it would be Shaw Brothers in a street fight. It’d have the shapes and flavors of Kung Fu, but it’s sloppy, out of step, and our heroes get tired!
Film Fan Dojo: You have an impressive cast: Ron Yuan, the very entertaining Mykel Shannon Jenkins, Alain Uy, Matt Page (the famed Master Ken), as well as The Le Brothers (Brian and Andy) of Martial Club. What were the strengths of having this cast?
Tran Quoc Bao: I think the strength is that we are all hungry. We want to do great work and we push each other and ourselves to do our best. I feel I can speak for everyone in that we all have something to prove. Being a film made by primarily POC cast and crew, we know the feeling of being overlooked and snoozed on. But with indie film the creative control is in our hands and finally we have a chance to show the world what we can do.
Film Fan Dojo: As an Asian filmmaker in Hollywood, can explain the importance of representation and telling stories from an authentic Asian point of view?
Tran Quoc Bao: I think people use representation as a box to check off. But the audience can sniff out anything that’s false, so if we’re in the business of story telling we better be on our game. That means telling stories from our truth and perspective and being accountable to our characters. It also means that we hire diverse voices behind the camera because they create the world that our characters live in.
Film Fan Dojo: Can you give us a glimpse into your future projects?
Tran Quoc Bao: Well with an indie film I’ve been full bore in spreading the word about the film, so that’s been taking up most of my days! We don’t have a big studio marketing budget, so we have to do all we can to meet our audience at theater screenings and do Q&As with anyone who’s willing to listen to us. Beyond that, I’m working on a few other projects and fun stories that I want to tell, hopefully in due time!
Film fan Dojo wishes to thank Tran Quoc Bao for taking the time to grant us this interview!
The Paper Tigers is available now on Digital/VOD from Well Go USA and will be out on DVD/Blu Ray June 22, 2021.