Exclusive Interview: The cast of KTown Cowboys chat about the making of the film at SXSW

Hello Asia editor Johnny Au caught up with the cast of US/Korean coming-of-age flick KTown Cowboys at SXSW in Austin, Texas. KTwon Cowboys made its world premiere at SXSW and Johnny caught up with director Daniel Park as well as writer Danny Cho and cast members Shane Yoon, Peter Jae, Bobby Choy, Daniel Dae Kim and Sunn Wee.

First of all, guys, congratulations on KTOWN COWBOYS. Honestly I really enjoyed the film. I really loved the story. I loved this coming of age mixed with friendship, strong male bonding and obviously set in a Korean American background. I guess my first question, going back to all the history of KTOWN COWBOYS – originally it was a web-series! How did it all start?

Daniel Park: The history of KTOWN COWBOYS?

Yeah!

Danny Cho: Ahhh… Back in 1802… (laughs)!

Daniel Park: So basically, long story short, Danny (Cho) was in drag on some short film, and it was him in KTown playing a KTown girl. And we were watching him, and we were like, “You know what? Let’s make a longer thing about KTown, but not you in a dress!” We got all our friends together; we were very naïve about it but we just wanted to do it. So we went out there and made it. It had a lot of strong responses from people and we discussed if we should make a film about it. I think Shane first brought it up, because he was trying to worm his way into it or something (laughs)

Shane Yoon: Well, first of all, my character – the name’s different because I was the third choice to play this person, actually. So the first two, they couldn’t do it and they were like, “Alright! It’s Shane now!’

Danny Cho: At least we told you the truth!

Shane Yoon: Yeah, I appreciate it! That’s why I am here! (laughs)

Sunn Wee: Hang on! Who was the second choice?

Shane Yoon: Randell!

Sunn Wee: Oh that’s right! That’s right!

Shane Yoon: So, yeah… I was behind Randell.

Danny Cho: So… they were talking about maybe doing a second season. And you know, instead of a second web series, why don’t we make a feature film and try to get into Hollywood? I feel like that’s the only way you can make kind of an impact, doing something like this because there are platforms like film festivals that cater towards indie kind of things. It’s different for TV shows, it is hard to create a TV show unless like ABC is like, “Okay, we wanna pick up a TV show.”

Daniel Dae Kim: What about CBS? (laughs)

Bobby Choy: Also, what is appealing is the whole bridge factor going from a web series to film. That’s not a normal thing.

That’s a very big jump, isn’t it? Not just from a production value standpoint, from the holistic way of making a film.

Daniel Park: But I think that’s because a lot of people are scared to do that, you know? Like, when you make a web-series, it’s like “okay, let’s make another web series because that’s what we’re familiar with.” But, I think, we were just ballsy enough to take on something that will make an impact, and have a…splash. (laughs)

Shane Yoon: The Sequel! KTown Cowboys 2 – The Splash! (laughs)

Daniel Park: Yeah, I really pushed them. Like, “Let’s make a movie! Let’s make a movie!”

Danny Cho: I was like, “You’re crazy! Let’s not do it! I—I don’t want to write a movie! Are you crazy?” But…ahh…after enough drinking, “You’re right! We’ve gotta do this, man! You’re brilliant! You’re brilliant!”

Daniel Park: No! You’re brilliant!

Peter Jae: It’s almost like a lot of people were demanding the movie. ‘Cause everyone kept asking, “When’s season two coming out!” We’re like “We just did this for fun, man!”. Everyone, they were getting mad at us! Like, “Alright man! I will talk to the guys!” (laughs)

Were you surprised by the audience that you got?

Everyone – Yeah, definitely.

Do you know where it came from – all these fans?

I think all these people just started sharing the video. Like, umm…just non-Asian’s, and we were getting recognised.

Sunn Wee: There are a couple things. We did have the right time and the right place. Nobody was really quite doing that yet, so were the first ones, I think, to push out a web-series straight strictly for YouTube and treat it seriously with a little bit more scripting and production, that we were seeing these vlogs do. I think that was a good thing with the timing, but also I think it was just because it was so specifically authentic to a crowd. When that home crowd sees that its authentic, they love it. It’s just so much fun to see that, right? And then, even if you’re not from that crowd, when you see something that obviously authentic it draws you in – whether you know that world or not, when you see this other new world and this very authentic feeling, you feel like you can tell this is truthful. So I think that is what won people over.

I guess from experience from a lot of different YouTube artists I’ve spoken to, everyone talks about bein authentic. That’s how they draw their success. Congratulations on that, for being so authentic. Let’s touch on the drinking. Because, I guess for a majority of the film there’s a strong drinking culture and a bonding aspect. When I visited Korea last year, I got to experience that first hand. Do you guys ever talk about the culture of drinking that’s been built into the script?

Daniel Park: You know, Peter is a little bit of an outsider, so maybe he has a good perspective.

Peter Jae: Yeah, drinking in KTown blew me away. Because I’m from New York, I didn’t grow up with Korean culture. I didn’t know about the certain etiquette of things like age, where you have to serve and receive with two hands and then I think people put theirs hands on their chests, like they’re pledging allegiance to the soju. (laughs)
I was blown away by all of that. So, I was always asking questions. I kind of felt like the main character in the web-series, really. So, Koreans love soju, and hard liquor, just like everybody, and they play all sorts of games with the drinking. What’s the game we play? Is it Titanic? It’s just a fun way to get more drunk, and more of an excuse to get drunk, and we love to have women around.

Danny Cho: I don’t think they’d say that’s a Korean thing. I think that’s a guy thing!

Daniel Park: Yeah, you know what though, also in Korea I like to joke that we are like a nation of functional alcoholics. But honestly though, it goes deeper than that. I mean, Korea is a nation that has a lot of blues. Historically, it has been surrounded by powerhouses, and it’s always been picked on. So, I think there is some of that kinda comes from it, so traditionally there is so much culture that comes behind drinking actually. There are all these rules, with like what Peter was saying about older people, younger people, in-laws, your boss, like how do you handle that? There’s like an art to it really. It’s like a cultural thing.

Peter Jae: Drinking when you don’t wanna drink, ‘cause you have to drink.

Daniel Dae Kim: We could go on like this for a long time. It’s definitely embedded into Korean culture, and like me growing up it wasn’t for my family because my parents are one of those random small per cent of Koreans who are very straight edged, they don’t do any drinking or anything like that. But, just being around older friends and stuff, you kinda pick up on it. We wanted to show that.

Bobby Choy: I’ve lived in Korea now for the past four years, so I noticed that there are even more rules that I had even imagined. Like, KTown rules, they stem from Korean rules but they don’t practice every rule there is. In Korea, like you have to clean the soju glass for your elder in a certain situation Like you have to clean it dry, stuff like that…and I still don’t know why you have to do that. We don’t do that in KTown.

Bobby, you never clean it for me?

Bobby Choy: I will though! (laughs) We’ll do that next time.

Daniel Park: Korea’s always been a very Confucian society. It’s always been defined by relationships to one another. I mean, you don’t generally call people by their names unless they are your closest friends. Everyone else you call by their relationship to you. And so that’s all permeated into the drinking culture as well. What’s fascinating is that even though the majority of the people in KTown Cowboys don’t live in Korea, they’ve carried those customs over and people like Pedro have learnt them in America. It’s a very distinct flavour of America that I think is, going back to your previous question, is a really great window into a pocket of culture that most of America doesn’t know, and now with the emergence of K-Pop and an interest in Korean food, I think it’s really right for a movie like this to come out.

That’s actually what I was going to touch on next. I guess with the Hallyu wave over, I guess, the last five or more years, do you think a film like KTown Cowboys could’ve actually been made if it wasn’t for this really strong interest in Korean culture?

Danny Cho: I think, given us, we would’ve made it anyway. I think that’s what we’re about. Yeah, we’ve got help from a lot of people and the community really helped us, but I think we’re the type of people that, if you lock the door we’re going to kick it open. That’s the only way we can do it, right?

Daniel Park: But ten years ago, you didn’t even have the technology to do it yourselves. So it couldn’t have been done ten years ago. Even if the drinking culture was the same, I’m older than these guys, but all the stuff that they were doing in the web-series I was doing when I was their age. So, it’s always been that way, but it’s the converges in technology, interest in Korean culture, and these guys with the initiative to do it.

How long did it take for the script to take shape before the actual movie?

Sunn Wee: Four years!

Danny Cho: Sorry, guys! I write slow, but I think that’s because there was many re-writes in the story, there were many, many re-writes.

Bobby Choy: There’s five different versions.

Danny Cho: Yeah, and it’s not rewrites as in like, “I’m going to just change a few words.” More like, “Let’s start from page one.”

Shane Yoon: It was originally a horror film.

Danny Cho: Yeah (laughs)

Shae Yoon: KTown cowboys was obviously meant to be a slasher film.

Daniel Dae Kim: Yeah, a slasher film with soju.

Danny Cho: Yeah, there was a band heist; there were all kinds of ideas.

So that’s the Tarantino-esque Cowboys?

Danny Cho – Hmmmhm. Ah, but you know, eventually we settled on a story line that feels more normal and more comfortable to us. That’s how we really are, so that took a while. I told these guys I had a full head of hair before I started writing.

Peter Jae: We saw it week-by-week, slowly falling.

Now you’re Charlie Brown

(laughs)

Peter Jae: Ahhhh! (laughs) You got it! You got it!

Danny Cho: He did watch the film!

Alright, I’ve been told last question to wrap-up. I guess I’ll go around the table and ask what does KTown Cowboys mean to you?

Danny Cho: KTown Cowboys is where we don’t abide by the rules, you know? And I think, just in general, a lot of people think we’re crazy. My parents, still, hate what I do for a living. So, I think, in that sense, we are doing our own things and thankfully it’s a bunch of Cowboys. It’s a story about friends and that’s universal. Everybody has friends, and if not then you should learn how to get friends. But that’s what it is really, right. It’s a story about friends, and getting together, and dealing with life.

Shane Yoon: What does it mean to us? Ahh… it was an excuse to take off time from work!

Bobby Choy: This thing is like five, six years old. It’s like a five-year-old kid. You love it, but it like, drives you crazy.

Peter Jae: KTown Cowboys for me is like a dream come true. Honestly, being able to do something that you love doing with friends you genuinely care about and really believe in, I’m really excited for what’s going to happen. I’m excited just to support everyone and work together, moving forward.

Well, guys, I’m really excited to see how this toddler becomes an adolescent and onwards. Hopefully there’s a KTown Cowboys 2, soon? Hopefully?

Danny Cho: Splash! (laughs)

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KTown Cowboys premiered at SXSW in Austin, Texas last month.

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