One unexpected afternoon during my film school daze in my sunbathed Koreatown apartment, I received a call from the festival director of the Vancouver International Film Festival on my cordless phone.
“Is it going to be a world premiere?” asked Po Chu.
“Yeah…” I stammered. I guessed I had never shown my “first feature” Flow, a compilation of my student short films made at UCLA anywhere yet. I put “first feature” in quotes because I later decided that it was more of a feature compilation of my works as a graduate film student at UCLA rather than a real feature film.
I came to Los Angeles after taking a year off being a theory head in the East Coast and started film school. At UCLA, I started making my first “real” films on 16mm. By the end of my second year at film school, I had already made four shorts with my last being a 30-min. film. My film school buddy Justin Lin photographed that short for me. We even drove up to San Francisco that year to screen our shorts together at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival.
Somewhere after I finished my last short “Fall 1990,” I realized that I could put all my shorts together to make a feature as each of the four shorts I had made featured a gay Asian protagonist. And so I started shooting additional footage about a fictional gay Asian filmmaker making short films as the operatic narrative glue between the short stories.
The result was Flow, an almost entirely handmade film on 16mm where I produced, wrote, directed, shot, edited and even did the sound design myself on Protools. I even acted in it!
At the explosion of multiculturalism at Berkeley, I started making films because I wanted to tell stories about the experience of a gay Asian male in North America. In 1992, after graduating from Cal and being rejected by UCLA film school, I made my first short on Hi-8 video “To Ride a Cow” that awarded me the reputation of being an enfant terrible of gay cinema because it got banned by Federal Express en route to the Tokyo Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. I had no idea what that meant… but that sounded fun and fine when I was a kid.
In 1998, I even theatrically released Flow myself in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Frontiers called Flow “evokes the spirit of New Queer Cinema” and L.A. Weekly praised, “His way with symbolism… is sure-handed, recalling at its best classic surrealist movies and their perfectly impenetrable truths. And so, these shorts feel emphatically cohesive and immediate.” Los Angeles Times also said, “[Flow] reveals a vibrant cinematic imagination!”
This year, I’ve decided to share Flow on Youtube in 8 parts every Friday starting today. While I’m sure Flow is going to put me and many people involved in shame, I also believe there is something poignant and powerful about sharing the first things you made as an artist. James Joyce did exactly that in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. And so here I am sharing the first episode of Flow with you!