Saturday was like an alternative homecoming for Victoria Park. The Class of 2010 School of Communication grad returned to campus and joined Wong Fu Productions for the Chinese Students Associate and Asian Pacific American Coalition's spring speaker event, a screening and panel discussion of their upcoming feature film Everything Before Us.
Co-writer and co-director Philip Wang described the film as full of "Wong Fu-ness."
"It's about relationships. There are some laughs," Wang said. "And there's a twist."
In this case, the twist comes in the form of a sci-fi-esque stipulation: A governmental entity called the Department of Emotional Integrity – DEI for short – holds people accountable for their relationship health through a metric called the EI score. Just as credit scores reflect financial responsibility, EI scores go up or down depending on the individual's behavior in the love department. Register your relationship for more than 12 months, and your score will rise. Cheat, fake a relationship or terminate it within 12 months, and your score plummets, along with job or loan prospects. Navigating this brave new world are two couples: Haley (Park) and Seth (Brandon Soo Hoo), college freshmen juggling first love and a long-distance relationship, and Sara (Brittany Ishibashi) and Ben (Aaron Yoo), exes who meet again to sort through paperwork at the DEI.
Since 2003, Wong Fu has explored love in its many forms and gained almost 2.5 million YouTube subscribers. Asian American identity is another of the group's oft-explored themes. Known for its diverse casting, Wong Fu strives to increase Asian American representation in mainstream media by crafting stories, not stereotypes.
"We weren't trying to make a point about how specifically Asians live," said co-writer and co-director Wesley Chan. "You get your heart broken. You move on. These things are universal."
Park also spoke of the racial typecasting prevalent in Hollywood.
"The girl who plays my [character's] best friend, I always get auditions for that role or for something that's Asian-specific," she said.
Before the screening, Park sat down with North by Northwestern to discuss how her career aspirations and racial identity have evolved since moving from Evanston to Los Angeles.
North by Northwestern: You graduated from Northwestern in 2010. How does it feel to be back?
Victoria Park: So surreal. It’s crazy. I haven’t been back since then, and there are all these new buildings now, all these memories flooding back.
NBN: You majored in RTVF and psychology here. Were you involved in student film?
VP: Yeah, I actually didn’t study theater when I was here. I wasn’t planning on acting. I thought I was going to do cinematography, and so I was on set every weekend as a student, all the Studio 22 things. I moved out to do production, and a friend of mine moved out, too. She was like, “Hey, do you want to come to acting class with me?” I ended up really loving it.
VP: Actually, they happened through a connection I met at Northwestern. A friend of mine, we all went to Spring Break out at his place senior year in LA, and he grew up with someone called Sam Bay who was their intern. We just all met during Spring Break, and when I moved out here, Sam heard I was acting. I met them that first year in LA, so I’ve known them for about four years. It’s been a really long time.
NBN: Everything Before Us is Wong Fu's first feature. How did the casting process for this film work?
VP: I had actually donated to the Wong Fu Indiegogo campaign and everything, and after the Indiegogo ended, they started doing casting.
Because it was a bigger scale, feature film, they went by the book. They had castings, and it was a month-long audition process. I was privileged to read the script beforehand, just because I’ve worked with them and I’m friends with them, and I was begging them to let me audition. In the callback, there were four girls and two guys, and we were doing chemistry reads with each other. Brandon [Soo Hoo], the kid who plays my boyfriend Seth, he and I got along really well, and we ended up both getting the parts.
NBN: This year has been one of dialogue and change in Asian American visibility. On campus, it’s the 20th anniversary of the protests and hunger strike that led to the establishment of the Asian American Studies Program, and on ABC, there’s Fresh Off the Boat, which stars Everything Before Us actor Randall Park. How has working with Wong Fu impacted your view of Asian American visibility in media?
VP: It’s actually interesting because before I worked with Wong Fu, I was here [in Evanston]. I kind of had a weird identity struggle when I first moved to LA. I didn’t really ever identify as Asian American. Working with Wong Fu has led me to explore that side of myself more, noticing how there isn’t a lot of representation and how Wong Fu has been doing great things to help with that. They’ve worked with, like, every single big Asian-American star. They always say that their story isn’t every Asian American story. It’s just one story. I love that they’re making it happen for us. They’re making it normal to see us on screen.
NBN: What do you think the future holds for Asian American narratives in media?
VP: I would love for it to just be normal, you know? I would love to have [films where] some of the characters can be Asian American without it being their defining characteristic. I mean, I identify as Asian American, but I’m not shoving it in everyone’s face. It’s not the first thing I say when I come into the room. I would love for it to not even be an issue, like, “We hired her because she’s the best actress, not anything about race.”
I think Fresh Off the Boat is great, but I would love to see an Asian American family where it’s not just about being Asian. I definitely think we’re making strides.
NBN: And what about you? What’s next for you?
VP: I’m working on Jilted. We’re shooting in July. Something that I’m also passionate about is the representation of women in the media. It’s a female-directed indie with four female leads. We’re pitching it as Bridesmaids meets Little Miss Sunshine.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Everything Before Us will be released worldwide on June 3 via Vimeo on Demand.