Horror films are rarely heartwarming experiences, but while Quentin Lee’s new short On Halloween fully intends to scare the wits out of its audience, the motivation behind the project is rather touching. Lee wants to give his 2-month-old son Casper his first screen credit by casting him in a short horror film and elaborates on the reason for this at the project’s Kickstarter page:
I’m a single, gay, Chinese American dad starting a lifelong journey as a parent. I would like to share my life with my son in an open, fun and productive way. That’s why I want to involve him in my own filmmaking career from day one.
Since making his debut with Flow (1996), Lee has established himself as a fiercely distinctive voice on the Asian-American scene with a run of spiky comedies and confrontational dramas that candidly tackle issues of ethnicity and identity. His credits include Shopping for Fangs (1997, co-directed with Justin Lin), Drift (2000), Ethan Mao (2004), The People I’ve Slept With (2009) and White Frog (2012). More recently, Lee has taken an excursion into horror with The Unbidden (2016), which is notable for being the first all-Asian American feature in the genre. This sinister tale of four women (Michelle Krusiec, Julia Nickson, Tamlyn Tomita, and Amy Hill) confronted by a mysterious young man who knows a dark secret from their past is currently playing on the festival circuit and will be released later this year.
Sticking with the horror genre, Lee is now funding On Halloween through Kickstarter. Taking its cue from Fred Walton’s classic psychological horror When a Stranger Calls (1979) and updating the premise to incorporate modern technology, On Halloween will focus on a babysitter (Hong Kong star Candy Cheung) who has a very scary night with Casper making his screen debut as the child under her supervision.
Aside from being a way for Lee to bond with his young son, On Halloween is also part of the concentrated effort being made by the Asian-American filmmaking community to promote diversity and push for equal opportunities in casting. Following the trailblazing lead of Wayne Wang, directors such as Lee, Lin, Michael Kang, Jennifer Phang, Patrick Wang and Alice Wu have created multi-faceted roles for Asian-American actors that frequently counter ethnic stereotypes, but significant parts in Hollywood movies have proved elusive for these talented performers. The popularity of Eddie Huang’s television comedy series Fresh off the Boat and the presence of Sung Kang in the Fast and Furious ensemble or John Cho in the rebooted Star Trek franchise are encouraging signs of a long overdue cultural shift, but there is no doubt that Asian-American actors are still being woefully underutilized in mainstream fare. As Lee explains,
In this era of #oscarssowhite, #hollywoodwhitewashing and how Hollywood has been discriminating against Asian-American actors, On Halloween is an effort to diversify the horror genre with an Asian-American female protagonist, a Chicano lead and an Asian-American child actor-to-be. The typical cast of a horror film is dominated by Caucasian Hollywood actors. As a filmmaker who loves horror, I particularly want to prove that I can create compelling and original horror with a diverse cast.
A range of rewards are available to those who make a pledge towards On Halloween, ranging from a fan digital package of the film, to tickets for its Los Angeles premiere, to an executive producer credit. Lee is aiming to have the film completed in time for Halloween and plans to release it for free through Youtube.