Leading Man

By Jake Miller ’91 / January / February 2003
June 22nd, 2007

Q&A: Scheduled for a February release, Justin Lin’s low-budget movie, Better Luck Tomorrow, took last year’s Sundance Film Festival by storm. In it, Roger Fan ’94 stars as Daric, a high school valedictorian who leads a street gang of overachieving young Asian Americans on a downward spiral of sex, drugs, and violence.

BAM What was it like working on this film?
Roger Fan It was completely unglamorous. The audition was at Justin Lin’s alma mater, UCLA. Justin wanted to make the film that he wanted to make, and he wanted to stay true to the characters in his script. He was offered a significant amount of money to cast the film with specific stars, but that went against his vision.

BAM Did they want to do it with white kids? Or Asian actors that people had heard of?
RF They wanted to do the film with anything but Asians, because if you did it Latino or African American or Caucasian, there are bankable stars.

BAM There was some controversy at Sundance—objections to the film’s portrayal of Asian Americans.
RF You know, there’s so little Asian-American cinema that when something is made, I think the Asian-American community wants it to say everything about them. It’s natural. But Justin’s job wasn’t to represent the ideology of the community; it was to make the best film possible.

BAM Which is?
RF I think the most important thing is to show the characters as human beings. As an Asian-American actor, I find it really nice to be able to play a role that’s three-dimensional and flawed, because that’s the underpinning of what it is to be human.

BAM What made you want to be an actor?
RF Ever since I was a kid I’ve had this overactive imagination. For three days when I was a little kid, I seriously, seriously became a bounty hunter. I lived in my parents’ backyard, hid behind the walls and the trees. Then, later in life, I realized that I didn’t see a lot of people like myself in the media. When I grew up, my biggest role models on TV were Tom Hanks and Don Johnson.

BAM That’s weird.
RF Yeah, I know. Bosom Buddies and Miami Vice. But what I was watching on TV was fundamentally different from what I saw in the mirror. I’m not thumping any big political thing—I’m not an Asian-American Black Panther—but I always felt like there was a complete lack of identification for a kid like me. When I was in junior high I went to visit my grandparents in Taiwan, and I went to see this Chinese movie—a John Woo film with a young Chow Yun Fat, called A Better Tomorrow—and I started to cry. It was the first time in my life that I saw someone on-screen I could visually identify with who had heroic qualities.

BAM I gather that a short documentary you coproduced was a big hit at Sundance.
RF The Quest for Length? The log line is: “The comical yet factual quest of one man to increase the size of his penis.”

BAM Was it based on your own, personal, you know …. Has this been an issue for you in the past?
RF You know what, I think it’s been an issue for every man in the world. It all started for me a long time ago, when I was backpacking through Pompeii in Italy. I saw this ancient medicine shop, and they had a picture of this giant scale. On one of the baskets there was, like, fifty bars of gold, and the other had a guy’s penis just lying there. And the penis was much heavier than the bars of gold.

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Related Issue
January / February 2003