The 19th Annual Oxford Film Festival has begun! Locals and movie buffs alike can sit in the theater to enjoy independent films dealing with stories and tales created by filmmakers of all ages and walks of life.
A movie, Deal with dad, explores the story of Margaret Chang (Cloak and Dagger and Destroy‘s Ally Maki) who reluctantly returns to her hometown with her unfortunate brothers, Roy (Fairfax(Peter S. Kim) and Larry (The edge of seventeenby Hayden Szeto), to cope with their father’s sudden depression (Dr Ken and Calm your enthusiasmis Dana Lee).
The thing is, everyone hates him and he’s actually more depressed than mentally healthy.
deal with dad is due to play at the Oxford Film Festival on Friday, March 25 at 6:30 p.m. at the Malco: Steven & Gay Case Auditorium. To see the trailer or buy tickets, visit the Oxford Film Festival times guide here.
Maya Martin of the Oxford Eagle had the chance to speak with deal with daddirector Tom Huang on his inspiration for deal with daddepression and the relationship between children and their parents.
MM: Hello, Mr. Huang. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me! I really appreciate that.
MM: I read the synopsis and watched the trailer, but could you tell me how the movie has come to?
E: As an independent filmmaker, I find – for me anyway – that the strongest stories come from a personal space. Something that means something to you or something that you have experienced. My own father went through depression when I was in college and it took me and my family a while to figure out what was going on and how to deal with it, especially in Asian communities -American. [where] depression isn’t even really considered a disease. It’s sort of considered a mood that you leave.
So initially a lot of my family resisted any thoughts of, “Oh, he needs treatment,” or something like that, and I—having dealt with clinical depression before—didn’t know what to think. The whole experience was so weird and difficult and, at times, comical that eight years later, when he finally got better, I felt I needed to write a story about it. I wanted other people to be aware of the kinds of issues that arise when your family members are going through depression.
MM: Margaret, Roy, and Larry don’t have the best relationship with their father, but they find him more sympathetic that way. Was that an original twist you had on the story?
E: I had a complicated relationship with my parents who similarly supported me a lot financially because they are hard workers, immigrants and they were able to go up as engineers in America. But at the same time they were so driven to achieve this “American dream” I think therefore our relationship was affected because of their hard work and how hard they pushed us to try to work hard and succeed financially.
It was interesting because I found out that my dad, who was usually stern and a strict person who was always trying to tell you what to do, when he got depressed I noticed he started doing things like talking to me about his life and that strict veneer he put on himself when he was passed out when he was depressed. It actually strengthened our relationship a bit because I got to see him in a different way and learned things about him that I wouldn’t have learned if he wasn’t depressed. When we were able to progress it, I saw it in a different light.
So when I saw that in my real life, I took the same twist and put it in the movie, but that dad in that movie is more of a dumb version than my dad. I think if he was depressed like my dad was, he would temporarily change who he was. Children see this and it makes it a dilemma for them, especially for the younger ones. [Larry] who still lives with her parents. He actually finds it much easier to get along and be home when his father is depressed.
MM: You mentioned that your parents are hard workers and strive to be the best in a country that sometimes doesn’t always accept people who aren’t considered “American.” This translates to wanting their kids to be the best, which I’m sure a lot of Asian American or immigrant kids can relate to and relate to.
E: Not even immigrants. I think anyone who feels left out of the ‘American Dream’, who has to work really hard to overcome those things or has parents who work really hard to overcome those things to achieve those dreams understands what it’s like to have a parent who obviously cares for you, but the way they show their love and translate their love isn’t always what it is on TV or what you know about other people’s families. It’s a generational conflict.
MM: What comes with a lot of people growing up is that they realize that their parents aren’t always correct or that they aren’t the most perfect beings. It’s an emotional journey when you realize that it’s people like us, with experiences and thoughts that have shaped their lives and lifted us up.
E: And actually, when I first wrote the script, the main character [Margaret] was a man like me and as I wrote I realized that it would be ten times more interesting if the main role was female. In Asian American families and in many other cultures, men are placed on this pedestal and everyone wants a son. Having a daughter leading an immigrant family that celebrates men complicates the story and makes it much more interesting to me. I’m really glad I did this.
MM: The character of Ally Maki [Margaret]is she the eldest child?
E: She is not! That’s the other thing I wanted to change a bit. She is actually the middle child. In Asian immigrant cultures, the oldest man is always the person who is supposed to be in charge and take care of everything. In any family, the eldest is usually the most responsible as they are above the siblings all the time, but in this case the eldest, Roy played by Peter Kim, he cannot be the eldest and he cannot assume his responsibilities. He’s passive-aggressive, his life is falling apart, and he’s going through a divorce. So in this particular family, the middle girl is the one who takes on the older role but doesn’t get recognition because she’s a woman and the middle child.
MM: Is it a bit like women taking back power? The mother takes over the household now that her husband is not in the best state of mind. The women run the whole machine, while the men take care of their own problems.
E: In fact the mom Sophie (General Hospital‘s Page Leong) is quite a strong personality, just like my mother, but because both mother and father have very strong personalities, it creates conflict all the time. So not having that second strong personality helps loosen everything up. It’s very subtle [in the film] but it is clear that these parents lead their own separate lives even though they live in the same house. This happens often, I think, with couples as they get older.
MM: As for the cast, the only cast member I really know is Ally Maki. I looked at Freeform Cloak and Daggeron which I loved it. How did you manage to involve Ms. Maki in the project?
E: With Ally, I actually watched this show called Destroy on TBS she performed. She played a very different character than Cloak and dagger. [Wrecked] was more like the character in the movie where she is very funny and very sharp and I thought she was really perfect for this role. We approached his rep and said, “Hey, take a look at this script.” In Cloak and Dagger, she played a simple and dramatic role, but most of what she is known for is her comedy and she didn’t get a chance to show her range. So we approached her managers and gave her the script and for Ally it was her first time in a movie.
They sent it to her and it turned out that she liked the script and could relate. Turns out his family is a little crazy too, and so we immediately hit it off, had a Zoom meeting, and shared all of our crazy family stories. I think it was the perfect mix between she was available at the time and it was the kind of storyline she was looking to do. You may have noticed that she does a lot of roles in college or high school and she thought, “I’m ready to play an adult.” I don’t want to be on any show or movie where there are lockers involved. It was really perfect timing and I was grateful that she liked the script.
MM: Are there any other actors or characters you would like to highlight? All are essential, but is there one that stands out for you?
E: One of them is obviously the one who plays the father, Dana Lee. He starred in a TV show, Dr Ken, and he’s a longtime veteran actor. I needed him to play this depressed dad and as well and from the start he was up to it. We shot all the “depressed” scenes first so he could really dress up, not shave, and look like someone who’s been sitting in bed all day and not caring. of themselves. Once we got a few scenes of him being “good”, he was able to shave, clean up, and become this character that is such an integral part of Margaret’s life. That was the key to the film and he was up to the task.
I was so lucky. All the cast are working actors and have acted in movies and shows themselves and love the script so much or knew someone who was willing to be a part of this little indie production. I was grateful for that.
Hayden Szeto who plays younger brother Larry starred in The edge of seventeen with Hailee Steinfield and got really acclaimed for it and he does a lot of guest roles on TV. Peter Kim who plays Roy is actually a stand-up comedian and was recently in the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal which is a huge festival. People in supporting roles like Margaret’s husband Jeff is played by Echo Kellum starred in Arrow and NBC Great crew and Karan Soni who plays Margaret’s old high school friend who comes to diagnose the father. He played in dead Pool and the tv show miracle workers as a star.
So we have all these really amazing and talented people that I’m so grateful for agreeing to be on this little movie and making this movie what it is. So I’m really excited for everyone to see their performance.
MM: Is there anything else you would like to tell me and the readers about deal with dad?
E: Even though it stars an Asian-American family, it has universal themes that anyone with a mildly dysfunctional family or who isn’t the perfect family can relate to. I really wanted to make an entertaining film that would hopefully inspire people to watch and discuss their own relationships. I also want him to start a discussion about depression. I hope making a movie about depression is enough for someone to say I can actually do something about it or say I should know more about it. This is the essential that I hope to achieve.