The 36-year-old filmmaker and artist made a reputation for himself directing music movies for the likes of FKA Twigs, Perfume Genius and Björk, utilizing puppetry and digital results to construct alternate universes. Whether making these high-profile movies or his personal unbiased brief films, Huang’s trademark has at all times been technical wizardry. “I get excited when I see something and I can’t see the seams,” he stated over a video name from his residence in Los Angeles.
Now Huang is coming into new territory — and with new priorities. His newest venture, a feature-length coming-of-age fantasy film referred to as “Tiger Girl,” has a narrative that pulls simply as a lot weight because the visuals.
Huang on set filming the proof-of-concept trailer for his upcoming movie “Tiger Girl.” Credit: Courtesy Matea Friend
“I do feel like there’s often a weird division,” stated Huang. “There are those (filmmakers) who are really great at writing spoken words — acting, story, performance. There’s a sphere of craft there. But then there’s also a sphere of people who really get off on just visuals and design. I’ve noticed that there’s this bridge between the two that’s very difficult to cross.”
“Tiger Girl” is extra private than a lot of Huang’s earlier work, drawing inspiration from his personal Chinese American household. It follows a teenage lady who’s — like Huang’s mom — rising up in Nineteen Sixties LA whereas struggling to reconcile her personal id with household expectations. Then she finds a tiger residing of their attic.
While the “Tiger Girl” script remains to be in late improvement, Huang launched a pastel-hued brief movie, “Lily Chan and The Doom Girls” final 12 months, that hints on the film’s eventual look and really feel. It contains a shy protagonist who whiles away a day with a gaggle of dangerous ladies sporting cat-eye eyeliner and teased hair. They chug beers in a parking zone and run round an empty swimming pool, bathed in milky California gentle. The truth that every one the ladies are Asian American makes this teenage dream really feel quietly subversive; mainstream narratives about ’60s youth tradition have lengthy excluded youngsters who seem like them.
Although Huang had been fascinated by “Tiger Girl” for a decade, he stated Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration in 2017 drove him to lastly pursue the venture.
“I just felt, at that political moment, like, ‘Why am I making work for this privileged, small audience?'” he stated. “I was doing this kind of digital art exhibition (at the time), and I still value that work. But I felt like, if this work doesn’t make people laugh or cry, and it’s so expensive to make, then why am I making it?”
By that time, Huang had made numerous music movies and shorts — all visually dazzling, however with much less emphasis on dialogue and story. He began to assume that storytelling might assist him to attach with viewers on a deeper stage. Maybe, as a substitute of constructing imaginary worlds, he might use his personal as a place to begin.
Magic ‘accepted as truth’
Huang first found the fantasy style in elementary faculty. Growing up in a suburb of LA, he fell in love with Jim Henson films like “Labyrinth” and “The Dark Crystal,” changing into obsessive about the artwork of puppetry. He longed to form the froth, minimize the patterns and work the armatures.
Later, he began working with digital animation instruments, which he describes as being “a little bit more efficient.” Still, he has by no means deserted hands-on craft. Even with digital help, puppets and sensible results kind the core of his aesthetic.
More just lately, Huang has discovered inspiration in artists like Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose work he stated, incorporates components that “speak truth to a spiritual realism or dream logic.” This method stands in stark distinction to what Huang sees as Western narratives’ obsession with guidelines, even in sci-fi and fantasy. Huang is hungry for tales that are not so “rationally tidy.”
“I even think the word ‘supernatural’ kind of kills the magic,” he stated. “I like when magic is just accepted as fact.”
Telling private tales has at all times felt extra fraught for Huang than fantasy. He identifies as queer and grew up in an intensely Christian family the place the church had instilled an intensely “prudish” perspective towards intercourse. While he is now not Christian, the filmmaker stated faith has had a long-lasting affect — pushing him to ask huge questions on morality, sacrifice and existence: “It continues to be a huge reason why I am interested in finding alternative languages for speaking about personal, spiritual, emotional and sexual experiences.”
Two years in the past, on-line video platform Nowness requested Huang to contribute to a sequence of films about intercourse. Specifically, he was requested to make work about queer Asian sexuality. He balked at first.
“I was terrified of the idea of making a work that was so vulnerable,” he stated. “And for a moment, I was like, ‘Why am I burdened with the task of tokenizing, and having to make a piece about me and my intersection?’ But then another part of me was like, ‘Well, you haven’t done it yet.'”
Still from “Kiss of the Rabbit God,” a brief movie written and directed by Huang for Nowness. Starring Teddy Lee (left) and Jeff Chen (proper). Credit: Courtesy Andrew Thomas Huang
In selecting the setting, Huang drew on his personal life for the primary time. He searched throughout LA for a restaurant that may seem like the one his Toisanese grandparents had as soon as owned in Gardena, California, that his mom had helped run when Huang was rising up.
The movie flips between scenes of hectic restaurant work — the warmth and exhaustion of taking orders and clearing tables — and hushed after-hours encounters between the protagonist and the Rabbit God. Huang takes what might need been a extra typical story of immigrant hustle and dissolves it into a pool of erotic self-discovery.
The pandemic has forged uncertainty over Huang’s plans. After taking a household journey to China in 2019, Huang felt nearer to his roots than ever, and he had been hoping to return. He had workshopped the “Tiger Girl” script on the Sundance Screenwriters and Directors Lab, and was discovering momentum and group with “a wave of … my diasporic friends making really exciting work.”
And then Covid-19 hit. For now, he is fine-tuning the “Tiger Girl” script with a view to beginning the casting course of. But the pressured pause in manufacturing has additionally supplied Huang with time to think about what he hopes to perform with the film.
“Tiger Girl” might be, in some methods, a basic American story a couple of second-generation child making an attempt to navigate the pressures of fogeys and society. But Huang desires to evade cliche by avoiding a dreary, realist aesthetic, and as a substitute use his signature mixed-media to depict characters’ interior worlds.
Still from “Lily Chan & The Doom Girls.” Credit: Courtesy Andrew Thomas Huang
“I just don’t see why these things are mutually exclusive — why someone’s inner life can’t be expressed with the same flair, effects and visuals as a big Hollywood movie,” Huang stated.
“I think, so much of the time, this arsenal of Hollywood production is used for very external stories of good versus evil. I’m more interested in finding a symbolic language to talk about this stuff.”
Top picture caption: Still from “Lily Chan & The Doom Girls” that includes Linda Ngo (left) and Hojo Shin (proper).