‘A-Town Boyz’ producer explores Asian American masculinity through gang life

June 1, 2015
Producer Grace Jung of "A-Town Boyz"

Producer Grace Jung of “A-Town Boyz”

By Brian Han

Producer Grace Jung and director Eunice Lau had a specific end goal in mind for their latest project, a film titled “A-Town Boyz.”

The feature length documentary touches upon a social issue that is rarely addressed — Asian American masculinity — and does so through the stories of Asian American gang members in Atlanta.

Target audiences are already reacting favorably prior to the estimated 2016 release in a way the filmmakers had hoped.

“Young Asian American men from all over the U.S. are reaching out to us saying you’re making a movie that really tells my story and that’s amazing to me,” Jung said. “So many people are feeling comforted, understood and heard. They don’t feel invisible. They don’t feel suffocated and frustrated. That is the only goal we had with this documentary.”

After Lau received a fellowship grant for the idea from filmmaker Spike Lee back in 2012, she started looking to put a team together.

Jung was asked to take on the role of producer. She had already produced a handful of narrative shorts and had a deep appreciation for documentaries.

It all seemed to line up, but she turned it down.

“Producing a movie is so hard,” she said. “With documentaries there’s no end in sight. You as a filmmaker can’t dictate when the movie ends and the story has to figure itself out.”

So Lau began traveling to Atlanta to start shooting and came back with something to show.

“She came back with about two minutes of footage and I couldn’t help but be impressed,” Jung recalled. “It was simple. Just footage of Atlanta’s cityscape. It was a talking and driving scene. One of the subjects Eugene, the head boss, the gang crew leader, was just talking and he had such charisma. He was talking about building an empire. It was just badass and I was amazed. I told her I’d be the producer immediately.”

Her involvement included helping with additional grants, providing input for storytelling, structure and narrative among other responsibilities.

It also meant going to Atlanta, observing the environment and meeting the film’s subjects.

She had never really been exposed to Asian American gangs before that point so the change in scenery was sometimes startling.

“One of the most memorable moments was when [Eugene] told other members to show Eunice ‘the toys’ and they took out their guns and started waving them around,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘Oh my god, please put them away.’”

Despite her understandable feelings of intimidation, she found him to have a gentle personality.

“These guys had huge wells of vulnerability,” she said. “As much as they put up this front to be tough and intimidating, behind all that is so much hurt and pain. These guys didn’t have a very solid foundation to develop a well-nourished identity because their parents weren’t home, they didn’t have friends at school and were bullied all the time. They got a lot of their information from TV and movies and realized how emasculating images are of Asian males and they take it in.”

In that specific narrative though is a story line that’s universal. One about trying to fit in and how people react when they are put in that type of situation.

Jung is no different in that respect.

She was born in Busan, South Korea and moved to Brooklyn with her family at a young age.

They eventually ended up in Rockland County, New York, which turned out to be an abrupt change for Jung as she entered her middle and high school years.

“It’s so suburban and very, very white,” she said. “It made me so aware of my own race. Before that we lived in Palisades Park for a few years, which is like a Korean hub. I know my parents were trying to look out for me, but moving me to an all-white school shocked the bejesus out of me.”

She managed to find a way to get through school and then college without “unraveling” as she put it.

Jung felt the pressure to choose a practical career, but after finding that the only class she could stay awake in was English, her path to success became a little hazy.

During that time she developed a love for movies along the way.

“What started as an escape, a hobby, turned into something more,” she said. ”When I was an undergrad, I told myself that no matter what I’d work in the film industry,” she said. “I made a promise to myself to not let my fears get in the way of doing what I wanted to do.”

She’s kept that promise and “A-Town Boyz” is her latest evidence of that.

One Comment

  1. suffocation

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