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‘Fast X’ Star Sung Kang Says Directorial Debut ‘Shaky Shivers’ Is A Tribute To Practical Horror – Interview

*This interview was published during the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. At GoC, we fully support the creatives who are part of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Shaky Shivers states that it is in good standing with requirements set forth by SAG-AFTRA and the WGA, and that Cineverse is an independent, non-AMPTP affiliated distributor.

Zombies and witches and ice cream, oh my! Trading in high-octane action for campy horror comedy, Fast and Furious franchise star Sung Kang has taken the wheel and the director’s chair in his debut film Shaky Shivers. 

Shaky Shivers follows Lucy (Brooke Markham) who hides out in an abandoned summer camp with her best friend Karen (Vyvy Nguyen) to search for a cure after she is cursed to be a werewolf for insulting a local witch. 

Though Kang had searched for years to find a project he wanted to direct, he never found a script that truly resonated with him. That changed when he read the script for Shaky Shivers, which was co-written by his friend Aaron Strongoni. The film was shot during the height of the pandemic, which exacerbated Kang’s apprehensions about directing.

Check out the full interview with Sung Kang below:

“I didn’t feel like I had the tools in the chest to make that personal coming of age story, or that Sundance Film Festival type of movie, and also, I did not want to make a film that just made me sad,” he said. “We were all going through a tough time during the pandemic, and I just wanted a laugh. [Strongoni] created this wonderful, thematic movie about friendship and two women being okay, and being comfortable in their skin and not having to be the most popular person in town. As long as you have a partner in crime, you’re good, right? 

“That was like my North Star of why I felt like, ‘Oh, I can wake up and tell this story,’” the director continued. “The monsters and all the stuff, it’s fun and you need that in the film. But you still have to have this soul and you have to have this message. And I felt like that message was very clear to me when I read the script.”

Shaky Shivers not only presented Kang with a way to advance his own career, but to create opportunities for other Asian-American actors. Coming up in the industry, Kang was upset by the lack of opportunities for Asian actors and felt a responsibility to change that. Casting the lead role of Karen as an Asian American was very intentional, but it was a challenge to find the right actress for the job. 

“Because I’m Asian American and I understand the obstacles and the obstacles and limited opportunities for someone that looks like us, I wanted to give everybody a fair shot, but it was very challenging,” Kang said. “We had actresses that came in and they were fantastic, fantastic actors, however something just didn’t work. Even though they’re great performers, that doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily right for the role. A role is like a tailored suit. If you just buy a suit off the rack, it’s going to be ill fitted. When you tailor a suit it’s made for you, and certain roles are made for certain actors and actresses.”

Casting came “down to the wire” according to Kang, and he almost gave up on finding an Asian American actor for Karen until he was introduced to Nguyen by a friend who had recently worked with her on a short film. 

Sung Kang directs - Shaky Shivers
(Courtesy of Cineverse)

“I called her in and we did a chemistry read with her and Brooke, and it just worked. She didn’t even have to act and she didn’t even have to try, it was like that tailored suit,” he said. “I understand the challenges of being Asian American, but then also you have to step back and follow certain principles and filmmaking. You don’t cast people just because of some overall social agenda, it has to serve the movie. It was stressful, because of course I want to support that because I face those challenges every day. But then it did teach me a lesson as the directors and it put into perspective why I don’t get 99.9% of [roles]. Because I’m not right for it.”

According to Kang, Strongoni and co-writer Andrew McAllister wrote Shaky Shivers after they directed a documentary about special effects artist Gabriel Baralos and wanted a way to share the magic of practical horror effects with their children without being too scary. (Bartalos went on to serve as the special effects supervisor for Shaky Shivers.) Kang believes that it is this fascination and dedication to practical special effects over computer generated effects that makes the 80s such an iconic era for horror. 

“Most of the people involved [in Shaky Shivers] had the same ethos of celebrating our love affair with the 70s and 80s and early 90s practical effects. It was something that we really fought hard to keep,” Kang said. “Even the layman can recognize when something is computer generated, and that is false or fake. That is not real. With practical effects, you can touch it, you can put it in your hand.

“Knowing this is a dying art form gave us an underlying purpose to celebrate people like [Bartalos], because it’s slowly going to go away,” he added. “It’s not in demand anymore in our industry. So it was a great opportunity to take what created our filmography in our youth, and then to be able to celebrate it and make my directorial debut.”

Shaky Shivers releases in theaters for one night only on September 21. 

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