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 Left to Right: Jun Hee Lee, David Tran, Julia
 Nickson, Kevin Kleinberg and Raymond Ma.

If you missed the theatrical showings of “Ethan Mao,” the latest feature written, directed and produced (with Stanley Yung) by Quentin Lee, you can  catch it on DVD starting September 20. “Ethan Mao” is a gay
 love story/psychodrama deftly created by Lee with humor and lots of suspense, not to mention a surprise ending. Lee’s earlier feature, “Shopping for Fangs,” is available on DVD as well.
 Here’s what film critic Kevin Thomas had to say about “Ethan Mao” in his review for the L.A. Times (8-12-05):

“Lee, in his second feature as a solo director, knows what he’s doing and where he’s going. His clear commitment gives “Ethan Mao” a strong resonance as it builds tension gradually but surely to an exceptionally strong payoff.”

“Julia Nickson sparks the entire film with her brittle, materialistic Sarah and manages to make the woman seem recognizably human – yet unyieldingly hateful and hypocritical to the core.”

“The entire cast is expected to express a wide, ever-shifting range of emotions and is, by and large, effective.”

Speaking of actress Julia Nickson, “Ethan Mao” is a must-see for her fans, who have been treated to “Sidekicks” on cable movie reruns lately, as well as the TV miniseries version of Jules Vernes’ “Around the World in 80 Days,” on Fox Movie Channel. In “80 Days,” Julia stars as the Indian Princess with Pierce Brosnan as Phileas Fogg. The dazzling miniseries is superior to both the movie by Mike Todd (a peculiar winner of the Best Picture Oscar, with Shirley MacLaine as the Indian Princess…) as well as the recent Jackie Chan version.

We caught up with Quentin and Julia when “Ethan Mao” was released, and just had to ask some questions…


JO: Quentin, was it easier getting ETHAN MAO financed with the success of SHOPPING FOR FANGS under your belt?

QL: It was a little easier, but not that much easier. John Pierson once told me that there were three scenarios after you open a film: 1) things get easier, 2) things get harder, or 3) things stay the same. I'd say that things got a little easier for me. "Ethan Mao" was entirely financed with private equity on a pretty low budget.

JO: Why are you distributing the picture yourself?

QL: I'm only distributing “Ethan Mao” theatrically myself. We already sold the video/TV rights to TLA Releasing. TLA wasn’t interested in the theatrical rights because they didn't feel it would be a huge box office draw, so we kept the theatrical rights and opened it in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles with minimal advertising and expectations. As a filmmaker, even though I don't make money on the theatrical, I believe it's important to play the major markets just to give the film and myself the profile. 

JO: What was your inspiration and motivation for writing “Ethan Mao”?  How personal is this story and/or the characters? 

QL: My little sister left home out of an argument with my dad and stepmom, and her experience had affected me quite a bit emotionally at one point. Then hearing about a lot of stories from my friends or friends of friends about being kicked out for being gay, I got inspired to create Ethan Mao's character. Then my imagination filled in the blank: What if this gay kid who got kicked out decides to get even with his family? Hence the breaking and entering idea and the hostage plot. 

JO: Was there any time during filming when you didn't think it would ever come together? 

QL: No. I was too responsible to my investor to ever imagine the possibility of having a production fall apart! 

JO: What was the most difficult scene to shoot? 

QL: The whole ending scene when Ethan gets a call from the police until Remigio leaves on his own. It was all meant to be one master scene...but it was really tough to do it that way so we ended up having to split the scene up and do some re-shoots.

JO: Do you have a favorite scene in the movie?

QL: My favorite scene is when Ethan has everyone tied up at the table. For me, it was extremely challenging to shoot, and it was both touching and perverse to me at the same time.

JO: What's your bottom line "message" in “Ethan Mao”?

QL: Be a rebel, kick ass and fall in love.

JO: What's your next movie project?

QL: "Campus Ghost Story," I hope. I've been working on it for over three years.

JO:  Are you interested in directing other movies besides the ones you write yourself?

QL: Sure! If I get a script that I love.

JO: What’s your take on the state of movies today?

QL: It's lucky to be a filmmaker in this era because with the current state of CGI, any imagined image is possible. I suppose the only limit is one's imagination.



JO:  How did you come by the role of the wicked stepmother?  

JN: We had an interesting audition process, going in as an ensemble, a family. We were asked to improv a couple of scenes, and there we were, five actors working together and giving each other moments to take "center stage." It was the first time I had auditioned with more than just one actor, before being cast in a film, and I was so impressed with the level of commitment and involvement, along with the timing and knowledge of where each character needed to venture in order to make the scene a journey. It was quite special. One really could see the scattered pieces of the puzzle come together to complete a picture.

JO: What interested you most about the role?

JN: I love to play someone who is a legend in her own mind. Quentin wrote a character who refuses to change. She cannot see beyond her own carefully applied mask. She's quite colorful, though, and therein lies the fun!

JO: Why do you think Sarah married Abraham (played by Raymond Ma) in the first place? Just for the money for her and her son? Does she really love Abraham and her stepsons?

JN: Sarah is not really capable of love. She needs the security Abraham provides, but is trapped in a passionless relationship. I can't give you a happy ending with Sarah. Some people cannot be healed, or helped. They cannot see beyond their own individual needs and they will not sublimate to anyone or anything. We all have someone like this in our lives. The trick is to find the empathy and the justification for this kind of character. The actor has to ask what are the conditions that gave rise to this kind of "evil". Usually, actors have an arsenal of weapons in this area to pull from.

JO:  What was the most difficult thing about the role of Sarah for you?

JN: Well, nobody really seems to want Sarah. It is the first character I've played in which all the men in my life keep pushing me away. That can be very painful.

JO: How was it to work with Quentin?

JN: "Q" is an absolute delight. He was always good natured and dealt with adversity as part of the progress. I would just look at the gleam in his eyes and get excited about doing something adventurous. His sense of play really comes across and I think he is quite unique, with much depth to his soul.

JO: Any on-the-set anecdotes to share?

JN: The thing about actors is that when we're not working, we like to sleep. One of the rooms in the house was designated as the wardrobe/make up room and it had a king sized bed in it. At any one time, three or four of us would be crashed on the bed, sleeping when we weren’t needed. Sometimes I think the film was one big slumber party!

I absolutely adored all my sons. We went through a phase where we would all go dancing at gay bars, and I loved being part of this young, smart, fun group. Hmm, I think with the film out now, it's time to put the dancing shoes back on. See you at the Rave.

JO: I heard a couple of people saying (after the movie) how important a film it is. Any thoughts on that?

JN: I think Ethan Mao gives a voice to those who are not heard by the mainstream, and yet they are a vital part of our society. We need, as a community, to constantly embrace that which we are wary or afraid of, and allow boundaries to be dropped. Acceptance is a huge way of helping others see their role in society so that they can find their own contribution towards making the world a safer, saner place. It is love, surely, which enables us to overcome all obstacles.


If you haven’t seen “Ethan Mao” yet, the following questions and answers discuss the film’s ending.

Question to Julia: There's a look you give your son before you walk out of the house to go to the bank. It was a shattering moment for me. Really! What was that look all about? Did you improvise it or was it a direction from Q? It helped me sympathize with Sarah for the first time, even though I hated the bitch thoroughly! For me, that look revealed a certain desperation and unraveling for Sarah, who already knew what she was going to do when she walked out of the door to go to the bank. What a ruthless, self-centered broad! You were great, Julia!

Julia: The look I give my son, Josh, before I leave, was a re-shoot, as the director and producer felt it was a much needed moment in that scene. Sarah needed to rescue her son from Ethan's growing influence, or the devastation of her life would be final. Without that final threat from Ethan, Sarah would have simply given him the necklace. Ironically, Sarah's actions, in my opinion, lead to positive results, but this was not her intention.

Question to both Julia and Quentin: What do you think happens at the end of the movie when Ethan and his boyfriend Remegio arm themselves and go out the door like Butch & Sundance?

Julia: I think Abraham (the father) does not press charges, but the whole process of getting the law involved changes the path that Ethan and Remegio are on. I think they start going to Abraham’s church ( the night time service) and are even able to forgive Sarah, as she is the catalyst for their change. Abraham helps the boys open a video store. Sarah starts working in the restaurant, and finds she really enjoys having a new domain to rule over. Abraham has problems keeping the restaurant staffed.

Quentin: Originally they were supposed to be shot, but I changed the ending and made it ambiguous because a friend said that their dying would invalidate everything they had gone through. Also, the dreamlike quality of the film also makes the ending more ambiguous.

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