Acclaimed actor Randall Park (Fresh Off the Boat, Always Be My Maybe, Ant-Man and the Wasp, WandaVision, Aquaman, Blockbuster) makes his directorial debut with Shortcomings, a film based on a graphic novel of the same name by cartoonist Adrian Tomine. Dorkaholics had the honor and privilege of speaking with Randall Park, covering topics such as his hopes for what Shortcomings will be remembered for as a film, his experience reading the graphic novel when it was first released, as well as his experience directing the film. We even had a chance to ask him about his favorite superhero growing up.
See Shortcomings out in theaters August 4, 2023.
Neil Bui: So, my first question is, what was it about the Shortcomings graphic novel that made it so ideal for film adaptation?
Randall Park: When I first read it, when it came out in 2007, I felt all the feelings. I thought it was hilarious. I thought it was touching, heartbreaking. It pissed me off. It made me happy. It made me feel all the things and I rarely came across work that did that for me. It also made me feel very seen like it felt very much like a reflection of my life at the time and the life of my friends at the time. I just had such a strong reaction to it that stayed with me. It’s basically stayed with me throughout all these years and when the opportunity came to direct, it just felt like, ‘yes, absolutely, I gotta do it.’
Neil Bui: I like what you’re saying about visibility and feeling seen. If films like Crazy Rich Asians were about aspirational representation and Mortal Kombat and Snake Eyes were more like this reclaiming the martial arts genre with Asian leads, then what themes or milestones would you like to see Shortcomings be remembered for?
Randall Park: I would just say I would love for it to be in a tradition of real people stories in real places, just everyday people. The epic stories that exist within the mundane.
Neil Bui: I like that. For me, I think 2023 is going to be this year of I guess the more grounded Asian American experience like with BEEF and now Shortcomings.
Randall Park: You know, along with BEEF, it’s like you have these characters that are very complex and flawed, which I think is a great thing for us to examine.
Neil Bui: Agreed. Now, when audiences hear that there’s a graphic novel adaptation, they naturally think superheroes, capes, superpowers. What was the experience like for you directing a graphic novel adaptation, and what’s something that you learned in the experience that you would advise future directors of comic adaptations?
Randall Park: Shortcomings is based on the graphic novel by Adrian Tomine, who also wrote the script, the screenplay, and he is someone who was involved in the production. It certainly helped to be able to talk to him about things and make sure that he felt good about what was happening, and it was really important for me because I’m such a big Adrian Tomine fan, to make sure that he felt ownership to the movie and felt connected to the movie and felt like he could always contribute in the collaborative process of filmmaking. I would say that whenever possible, to have access to the creator of the original work. I think that’s always helpful.
Neil Bui: I just read the Shortcomings graphic novel this morning just because I was able to get it on the Libby App, I noticed looking back and said to myself, “wow, you guys put a lot of effort into modernizing the story.” We see the movie at the beginning is a very familiar take, the use of social media instead of just an art gallery. What input did you have in the collaborative experience to modernize it or or highlight certain themes or aspects of the original graphic novel?
Randall Park: That was a big part of the process for us. Two years before we actually went into production, Adrian and I were developing the script. He was writing it, but we were checking in. Similarly, finding ways to modernize, finding ways to flesh out the characters, make it a movie of which we just would have a lot of conversations and and a lot of going through notes from other producers. And just making sure that we had something that was true to the graphic novel, but it could also stand apart and alone from the graphic novel, I mean that was important for us. We didn’t want a movie that would just be appreciated if you read the graphic novel. For us, it was really important that this standalone as a movie.
Neil Bui: I’m curious about your experience because you had read the graphic novel when it first came out. For me, I watched the film and then read the graphic novel. What was a core part of the Shortcomings graphic novel that you knew like this is that moment that we need to put in the film, that will hit the audience the way you felt reading?
Randall Park: Right now it’s like my head is so wrapped up in the film version that a part of me, like a part of my thoughts of the story, bleeds into what was in the graphic novel. So it’s kind of hard for me to delineate some things, but I will say one of the most thrilling shoot days was the fight between Ben and Miko in the apartment, in Leon’s apartment and I’m trying to remember how that plays out in the graphic novel, but to me, that was always a key scene in the movie and and in the graphic novel. It’s where our Ben kind of gets stripped of everything and so there was a lot of anticipation leading up to that shoot day, and definitely we wanted to get that right. And thankfully, the actors were just so, so on it. I barely had to direct them that day. They were just so locked in and it’s one of my favorite scenes.
Neil Bui: I agree. Just feeling the emotions that Justin (H. Min) must have felt playing his character, Ben, is just like, “wow!” Like, he’s really being shown his flaws or shortcomings in that moment. And a fun Dorkaholics question I like to end interviews with is: who is your favorite hero or main character/protagonist growing up?
Randall Park: Oh my God. That’s a great question. Are you talking about in terms of TV, film, or are you talking about in terms of graphic novels, comic books? What are you talking about?
Neil Bui: Whatever suited your fancy as a young Randall Park, who was a dork.
Randall Park: OK, who is a dork? I would say the character that I was most obsessed with as a kid was Wolverine. I was a big X-Men fan. I had the comic books. I collected them all. I had the limited series Wolverine comic books, the one with the cover where it’s just his face and the claws and he’s going like this. That was a big part of my childhood and I just thought there was nobody cooler than Wolverine.
Neil Bui: I mean, you are in the MCU, so maybe we should start manifesting for you to meet him or launch the new Asian-American Wolverine.
Randall Park: That would be pretty cool.
Neil Bui: Thank you so much for your time, Randall. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you. I can’t wait to share Shortcomings with the rest of the world.
Randall Park: Ohh, I appreciate it, Neil. Thanks so much, man. Good talking to you.
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