Justin Chon is an actor, writer, director and producer, who finds all these expressions of creativity equally fulfilling, and this year offers audiences more than one cinematic project to enjoy.
Chon, who acted in the films Twilight, Revenge of the Green Dragons, Seoul Searching and High Resolution, plus the ABC crime drama Deception and Rakuten Viki’s Dramaworld, has won praise for his role in Wayne Wang’s eloquent 2020 film Coming Home Again.
Coming Home Again is based on a Chang-rae Lee story about a son who returns home to care for his dying mother. Chon was drawn to the film for a few reasons, primarily the chance to work with Wang, who directed Joy Luck Club, Maid In Manhattan and Anywhere But Here.
“I received a call from Wayne Wang, who I’m a huge admirer of, and when he asked me if I’d like to do a movie with him, I jumped at the opportunity,” said Chon. “I’m also a huge fan of the author Chang-Rae Lee and thought his short stories were really beautiful. I had filmed a movie called Ms. Purple right before this shot, that dealt with a similar theme about the loss of a parent and I thought it was a really interesting exercise to work with a veteran director and see his approach to the same topic.”
“I told Wayne that I had filmed something similar and asked if it bothered him and he said, absolutely not, so it seemed like an interesting artistic endeavor.”
In Coming Home Again, Chon’s character, Chang-rae, prepares kalbi, a traditional Korean dish his mother served on holidays. It’s an homage to all she has done for him, but also a recognition of his feelings for her. Realizing the emotions implicit in the brief story presented a challenge.
“There is so much subtextual emotion just even in the short story that I didn’t necessarily make it more emotional,” said Chon. “I think Wayne and I just built out more of the character’s inner life to make it feel organic in the way it was presented. I just hoped for the character to be fully realized in the quiet moments.”
Chon portrays Chang-rae in a mostly quietly resigned way, providing a contrast for those moments when he seems to want to explode with rage and despair. In one scene, when the family is eating dinner and his mother physically cannot swallow the food he so carefully prepared for her, he throws himself on her, almost as if he wants to be reabsorbed by her. The gesture is shocking for how raw and yet relatable it is. Chon describes the artistic collaboration with Wang as very fulfilling, as the director allowed him to go with his own instincts and was open to most ideas.
“Some of my ideas were absolutely stupid,” said Chon. “But that particular moment was not planned and was spontaneously acted. The most entertaining scene to film was when I confront my dad when he’s talking to his mistress while he’s smoking a cigar. But emotionally, I loved the dinner scene.”
While promoting Coming Home Again, Chon is awaiting the release of a film he wrote and directed, Blue Bayou, which stars Chon, Alicia Vikander, Linh Dan Pham and Emory Cohen. Blue Bayou tells the story of Antonio, a Korean adoptee raised in the US, who unexpectedly faces deportation.
“My feature film, that I acted in alongside Alicia Vikander, is being distributed by Focus Features and will be out in theaters June 25th,” said Chon. “I’m very much looking forward to sharing that film with the world.”
Chon is also currently directing Pachinko, the Apple TV eight-episode TV serialization of Min Jin Lee’s award-winning novel, about generations of Koreans living in Japan. The adaptation will star Korean actor Lee Min-ho.
“I feel very honored to have the opportunity in the visual imagining of this story,” said Chon. “Min Jin Lee’s novel was incredibly moving and I hope that I can capture the beauty of these generations of women’s stories.”
Chon previously directed Gook, set during the 1992 LA riots. The film won awards at at the Sundance Film Festival, Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and the Seattle International Film Festival.
Rather than pull him in different directions, his many talents seem to complement each other.
“They seamlessly blend together as part of my pursuit of expression,” said Chon. “I just feel the need to create, whether it’s through the script, or directing scene work, or creating a character. All aspects are incredibly fulfilling.”
Chon jokes that he became an actor because he did not want to get a “real job,” which is funny when you consider how hard he has worked in the past two years.
“But truthfully, it’s been such a fun journey being able to make-believe for a living. The most rewarding thing I’d say is the aspect of collaborating with other artists.”
This story was originally published on forbes.com.