A Corean American Rhodes Scholar rides the dusty indie trail in pursuit of backing for a western about a Chinese gunslinger and a Mexican señorita.

by H Y Nahm


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Rhodes to Rio Chino

Rhodes Scholarship confers on the recipient instant credibility as a grade-A homo sapien -- an intellectually potent, physically impressive, socially evolved specimen brimming with the potential to lead humanity to the next stage. Past recipients include Bill Clinton, Bill Bradley, Bill Fulbright and many other American leaders not named “Bill”. Greg Pak was one of 32 North Americans chosen in 1990 for the honor and the considerable economic benefits of a three-year full-ride at Oxford. Pak left for England aspiring to become a politician. He returned home burning with the fever of an indie filmmaker, one with something to say about how human beings should treat one another. Greg Pak

     Park had chosen just about the only non-criminal career in which a Rhodes scholarship doesn't amount to a hill of beans. Why? “I've never seen anyone change a person's beliefs through argument. But films can change the way people see the world. In a way filmmaking is politics by other means.”

     Now 35, Pak has made 14 films. His latest, meatiest work is Robot Stories, a collection of four short dramas set in a future when robots mingle with humans. Its cast includes, among others, Tamlyn Tomita, Sab Shimono, James Saito and Greg Pak himself. It treats the meaning of being human adroitly enough to have won 15 awards, including the prestigious 2002 Hamptons International Film Festival prize for best screenplay.
Greg Pak
Greg Pak confers with actor Eisa Davis on the "Clay" segment of Robot Stories.

     Pak's preferred method of social criticism is transposing the human condition onto an inverted social terrain, thereby showing the absurdity of commonplace assumptions. This technique is crystalized in his earlier Asian Pride Porn, a short satire about sexual stereotyping which elevates Pak's deft satiric touch by casting M Butterfly playwright and director David Henry Hwang as a macho porn director.

     At the moment Pak's pet project is every bit as eyebrow-raising -- a western featuring a Chinese gunslinger and his Mexican ladylove. Unlike the shorter works, Rio Chino isn't a social satire but “a straight-up western.” The screenplay won the Pipedream Screenwriting Award at the 2002 IFP Market and a 2003 Rockefeller Media Arts Fellowship. Pak and producer Karin Chien have yet to find financial backing. It isn't as though they are holding out for a major studio to ride to the rescue. Pak has resolved to make it with next to nothing, if necessary, and let the story's virtues carry the film.

     Greg Pak was born August 23, 1968 in a middle-class suburb of Dallas, Texas to a Corean American father and a caucasian mother. He was a Boy Scout and an honor student. He majored in political science at Yale, and was committed enough to political action to work as a volunteer for Ann Richards's 1990 gubernatorial campaign. Upon winning the Rhodes Scholarship, Pak left with the aim of studying modern history. At Oxford he fell in with a group of filmmakers and discovered that the medium allowed the fullest expression of his wideranging skills and interests.

     The film that put Pak on the map as a promising filmmaker was Fighting Grandpa, a documentary that examines the 70-year emotional journey of his Corean grandmother. It won awards and bestowed on Pak's work the credibility of a PBS broadcast in May 2001.

     Pak is more than a screenwriter and filmmaker. He's an enterprising guerilla fighting for the indie cause. He operates two intelligent, well-crafted websites. engage in a combination of tasteful self-promotion and a bit of unabashed commercialism. bestows on the independent filmmaking community the benefits of his considerable experience.

     Greg Pak discusses his career and ambitions with the open, optimistic energy of a man brimming with the conviction that his cause is best served by giving robust voice to his intentions. His tone suggests a passion for full-on social and cultural discourse, but he seems to have settled on the wisdom of restraining himself to addressing concrete realities. Like many independent filmmakers, Pak evidences the heart of a cowboy who has only lately come to terms with his ambivalence about packaging the open range of his conscience and creative impulses into commercially viable footage.


GS: Your Robot Stories won the 2002 Hamptons International Film Festival prize for Best Screenplay. What impact did that have on your life and career?
GP: The success of Robot Stories has had a huge impact on my career. The film has screened in dozens of festivals, scored great reviews, and won 14 awards so far. A concrete result has been that my agent has been able to get me more meetings and jobs -- and I'm now working for hire on a screenplay adaptation. And it's making a difference in our efforts to raise money for Rio Chino -- the fact that my producer and I worked together on a successful first feature gives us credibility as we try to convince folks to put up dollars for our second.

GS: How did David Henry Hwang come to star in your short satire Asian Pride Porn?
GP: I'd met him a few times and had him in mind when writing the short film -- I knew he had a great public persona and sense of humor and just might be willing to do it. I also had his fax number, which I'd gotten somehow...
     At any rate, I sent him a fax explaining the script and asking if he'd like to act in it; he asked to see the script and then called back to say he was in. And he did an incredible job.

GS: Explain the impetus behind that film?
GP: I've complained for years about the emasculation of the Asian male in American media, but got tired of hearing myself yap about it. Asian Pride Porn is a tongue-in-cheek way of ranting about the problem in a ridiculous way -- basically asking if our last resort is to make pornography to get mainstream audiences to see Asian American males on screen in sexually potent roles.

GS: What was the inspiration for Rio Chino?
GP: I grew up in Texas and always loved Westerns. And as a half-Asian kid, I was fascinated by stories of the Chinese in the Old West. From my first year in film school, it's been my dream to make a movie about a Chinese gunslinger in the Old West. PAGE 2

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“I've complained for years about the emasculation of the Asian male in American media, but got tired of hearing myself yap about it.”