courtesy of Hyun Lee

'asian girls' is the mesmerising horror film taking on cultural fetishisation

And messing with Pornhub searches in the process. Watch it here.

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21 March 2019, 4:55am

courtesy of Hyun Lee

Hyun Lee began making films three short years ago but has already, very convincingly, revealed her talent for the craft. Hyun’s first short Asian Girls has just been released online following a run of film festival premieres last year. She also has a second short called French Girls in the works as well as a feature-length, which we’re not allowed to know anything more about at this early stage. Essentially, it would seem that Hyun has found her calling.

Starring multi-talented musician and artist Rainbow Chan alongside the ethereal artist Stellar Leuna — and incidentally her identical twin sister — Asian Girls is a visceral journey that will make your hair stand up on end. Addressing stereotypes of Asian women, the film is beautiful, sexy, haunting and absolutely petrifying in equal measure. We spoke to Hyun to get her thoughts on the film and understand a bit more about her journey in the industry.

It’s great that a wider audience can finally see Asian Girls online. Where did you show it earlier and how was the response?
Asian Girls played at a few festivals last year in Australia, America and the UK. We premiered at SXSW which was incredible. It wasn’t picked up in Asia though, there aren’t too many festivals there and the few there didn't program it.

Why do you think that is, culturally speaking?
Maybe it's because film institutions in Asia value their place in the international community so look for things that are more anglo-centric in content? I'm not sure but it’s a shame. But that’s why I’m excited you can watch it on the internet now. I’m keen for an Asian audience to see it, I’ll post it on Asian meme pages on Facebook if that’s what it takes.

What led you to make this film?
It’s kind of a joke, and kind of not, but I always say I wanted to make a film called Asian Girls so when guys Googled those words to find porn, they might come across my weird horror film instead. I actually made a Pornhub account the other day to post the trailer and maybe one day I'll release the whole film on there too. The fetishisation of Asian women is something that’s interesting to me.

How is this explored in the film?
One of the main characters is very Euro-centric; she’s into luxury brands and fetishises Western things. Then with the other character, I looked at how Asian people are fetishised by those outside of Asia, whether it be in a sexual way, or just how they're misunderstood to an extent. For me, these characters represent two stereotypes of Asian women. Basically there's the factory worker, who we know about because they've manufactured almost everything we own. And then on the other side there’s the ultra-fetishised hot Asian, who’s, in turn, fetishising Western culture.

The film is really quite scary and haunting. The soundtrack really heightens this too, you’ve done it so well. Why do you think horror is so popular at the moment?
I think people need horror as a form of entertainment in the same way people need comedy. In cavemen times we were exposed to daily horrors, it’s probably in our genetics. I was discussing this with a fellow filmmaker recently and we realised that the horror-filmmaking community tends to be really wholesome and well adjusted. There’s something in that, in the same way that comedians are always depressed.

It’s like a way of exorcising a part of you. You’re relatively new to filmmaking. What led you to it?
I always wanted to make films but I had this idea that it was such a boys club that I didn’t bother. In terms of diversity, I really do want to talk about this, without it defining me and my work. Thankfully I think that there’s been a huge shift in the last few years, making it much more accessible and open. When we were applying for funding, there were extra points given for diversity. So that’s kind of another joke about why it’s called Asian Girls. I really wanted to tick those diversity boxes. Unapologetically so.

I mean these are all small steps in the right direction I guess.
Australia is so lucky to have government funding for films. Even in the US, you still have to rely on, like, a rich duchesses or whatever. Diversity boxes suck, but I can’t complain.

Can you give us your explanation of Asian Girls.
I think people are confused by the film or think that they need to watch it a few more times to get it but that’s not what I intended. The experience of watching it and thinking ‘what the fuck?’ is kind of all part of it. It doesn’t reduce the experience itself. I like the idea that people might watch it and feel freaked out or grossed out though. Making it, I was thinking a lot about racism and cultural wars. You know in primary school, when there's the ethnic kid who gets bullied because they bring what’re considered weird lunches to school? On a basic, primal level, we can all be grossed out by the food of another culture. We can all feel racist feelings but it’s really a matter of whether you act on those impulses.

Food is such a visceral feature of the film.
Yes. Actually, it was only after I finished the film that I discovered there’s a whole sub-genre of ASMR that’s Asian food focussed. It’ll be these pretty young women with perfect fingernails and red lipstick eating this luscious food. The camera tends to cut off half their face so you can just see their mouth and I realised that the shots were so similar to those in my film. I was like, “oh my god, my film is basically like a big ASMR video”. The crossover is uncanny. It’s so interesting as a form of new, organic filmmaking happening on YouTube. I didn't mean to reference it, but it just happened!