Made in Chinatown
the first-ever Mafia-Kung Fu mashup where the comedy sensitively
handles, with more commentary than spoof, the timely Asian immigrant
experience, as well as racial stereotyping and labelling. With some of
the most recognizable actors known for portraying mafiosos (Tony Darrow,
Vincent Pastore, Tony Ray Rossi), a pair of Hong Kong cinema legends
(Lo Meng, Chiu Chi Ling), and the broad talents of Raymond J. Barry,
protagonist “Vinny” Chow (portrayed by Jay Kwon) embarks on a quest to
join the Italian Mob and become a Wiseguy. He finds himself unwittingly
caught up in two love stories – his Chinese culture and the Italian
culture he emulates based on The Godfather
and his fantasy [Italian] dream date and the perfect [Chinese] girl
next door. The fast-paced romp is written by martial arts hall of famer
and award-winning publisher Mark V. Wiley, is co-directed by Bobby
Samuels and Emmy Award® winner James Lew and features a treasure trove
of hidden references to everyone’s favorite kung-fu and mob movies,
twisted references to classic books, and other easter eggs to delight
cinephiles. Having won seven festival awards and terrific advance
reviews, Made in Chinatown
is set to release on cable, streaming and DVD on May 11, 2021.
How did you come up with the idea and how did you get it going? In
1999 I came up with the premise while visiting New York Chinatown. I
tried to enter a “private” Chinese kung-fu club and was told, “Chinese
only.” Disappointed, I walked across Canal St into Little Italy for
lunch and thought what would happen if a Chinese guy tried to join a
“private” Italian club. The story developed from there, scenes coming to
mind, until a story came into focus. I sent the script to several
“coverage” readers and incorporated their notes into the story, then
sent the script to every director and producer in “Hollywood” I could
think of. I knew they’d all love it and jump on board. Such naiveté.
What were some challenges that you have encountered?
For over a decade I couldn’t get anyone to read the script or
consider the project for production. Then I approached Shing Ka, a
veteran actor and student of a kung-fu master I am friends with. Shing
was working on another film that featured some actors I wanted for my
film and with his help I was able to get a few cast members in place.
With that I went out and raised the financing myself. Then the financing
fell through due to political issues between our country and the
country where the funding was coming from. But I had actors’ time
blocked and needed to refinance the film again. I did and we began
The burning question: how did you arrange the budget?
One night before Christmas in 2017 I was having tea with a Chinese
businessman. He asked me what I was working on and I shared the story.
It resonated with him, having immigrated to NY Chinatown as a boy he
understood the dilemma of the protagonist. He helped arrange the first
round of full funding with investors in China. When that fell through at
the 11th hour, I happened to reconnect with an old co-worker
who had seen news of the film on social media. He recalled reading the
first drafts in 1999-2001 and was excited for me. I told him how the
Chinese investor was excited and then how the funds fell away. He then
reached to his business contacts and pulled nine people together to
cover the production budget. I would then raise the rest of the budget
needed for post-production. Well, after committing to final funding and
even after being on set over a dozen times and meeting everyone, the
final investors never came through and we ran out of funds. This created
a huge problem for payroll, with SAG, and of course with some of the
cast and crew. But I never gave up, everyone was paid shortly
thereafter, but there was a long delay in post-production due to
funding. But here we are today, three years to the month of
pre-production, and the film is releasing!
What are the plans for distribution?
I am blessed that we signed a world rights distribution agreement
with Vision Films. They have 30 years’ experience as one of the leading
indie distributors in the US and Internationally. May 11, 2021 Made in Chinatown will become available on cable and streaming platforms and on DVD.
Care to share all the amazing accomplishments, awards and selections?
The biggest accomplishments for me, personally, were getting all
these amazing actors that I have admired for decades agree to be in the
film. People like Tony Darrow, Vincent Pastore, Raymond J. Barry, Lo
Meng and others. I would never have thought my little idea would blossom
into a potential cult hit because of the cast that came on and brought
their magic to the roles. And of course, getting the film into
production and finally out of post-production and picked up for
distribution are long fought accomplishments for me. For the cast and
crew, the accomplishments are the great work and the huge response from
fans and festivals, where the film has won seven awards, including an
Audience Choice Award, two Best Actor awards, Best Stunts, Best Action,
and others. The positive and generous advance reviews are rewarding,
Which film festivals do you suggest submitting to?
The big ones are great if you can get into them, like AFM, Toronto,
Tribeca, etc. But for smaller indie films, like mine, we went to where
the fans were: Newark International Film Festival (which invited us for a
panel discussion and to ne the closing film), Philadelphia Independent
Film Festival (we shot most of the film in Philly), Freedom Festival
International (we have a broad international cast of Italians, Chinese,
Black, Caucasian), and others.
I was dumbfounded when we weren’t accepted at the Philadelphia Asian
American Film Festival, since the film was shot in Philadelphia
Chinatown, features so many known Asian actors from American film and
television, in addition to two legends of Hong Kong cinema. But there
you have it: even if you do your best, you have no control over how your
work is received. Regardless, with small budgets it’s best to enter
festivals that represent your film’s values and are in locations where
your potential fans are for best impact.
Why did you choose to film in PA and what do you love the most about working in Pennsylvania?
I live in suburban Philadelphia and love the city and wanted to film
here. Even though the story is set in Manhattan’s facing neighborhoods
of Chinatown and Little Italy, we could shoot 20 of 22 days in Philly,
and one day in Collingswood, NJ. We only did two days of exteriors in
NY, and most people can’t tell the difference. Philly is great for
exterior and interior locations and is much less expensive than shooting
in NY. Also, the shop owners are so gracious and accommodating of our
needs and with their space.
What are some of your favorite shooting locations in Pennsylvania?
We shot in Chinatown, Head House Square, Old City, on Front Street in
South Philly, at the Italian Market, and in Port Richmond. I also think
Rittenhouse Square and Valley Green along the Wissahickon are terrific
places to shoot. As are small towns like Chestnut Hill, Narberth,
Doylestown, Peddler’s Village and New Hope.
How did you get started in the film industry?
I have been in publishing since 1990 and through working with a
magazine in Los Angeles, I began making inroads into the film industry.
In the mid-nineties I was invited onto television and movie sets and was
asked to write a dozen or more spec scripts for both. After ten years
of working, networking, pitching, and writing on spec for fairly large
groups, I realized on day that nothing had come to fruition. I was
spinning wheels while making a living as an editor and publisher. So I
stopped that hamster wheel to nowhere, and kept writing and rewriting Made in Chinatown
until it was the best I could make it and until I was able to bring it
to the right people. Well, the Urban Action Showcase on Times Square was
that place, and there I met so many great people, including its creator
Demetrius Angelo and our co-director and local Philadelphian, Bobby
Samuels. I produced several of Bobby’s film shorts that won many awards,
and from there we created our production team for Made in Chinatown,
bringing in talent from Philly, New York and Los Angeles (where our
co-director and action coordinator, James Lew, resides.). James was one
of my heroes coming up, from his first film Big Trouble in Little China though his Emmy award for “Marvel’s Luke Cage,” and we became friends in the 90s.
What do you love the most about your job?
Being a writer who also knows how to produce is an amazing
experience. All you need is to make your first project, be it a short or
feature or tv pilot. If you are good to people and genuine, the
industry can open for you, as it has for me. I developed several very
close relationships with some of the actors and producers on my films. I
would never have thought I’d be calling and having them over or getting
together with them on a regular basis. Getting to know the real people
behind their acting personas and being able to collaborate on story
ideas and new projects is a blessing. The creative part is what I enjoy
What was your most memorable, most awkward, or funniest on set story while shooting this film?
First was getting a call from an unknown number in NY. I answered and
the voice said, “Mark, the script is funny. The Chinese kid tries to
get made!” I said, who is this? The voice said, “It’s me, Vinny, Big
Pussy from Sopranos. I’m, doing your movie.” Another amazing moment was
after most of the key roles were cast, and we did a local casting in
Philly, Tony Darrow walks in and sits on the sofa. After each audition,
I’d look back at him and he’d shake or nod his head. One of my heroes
growing up was Lo Meng, a legend in Hong Kong cinema. As a teen I’d
watch his kung-fu movies on Saturday afternoon with the bad dubbing and
emulate his cool moves and my dream was to meet him one day. Well, we
connected with him though our production team and he agreed to play
“Hung Phat.” His first American film, and because I wrote the role of
the Chinatown Triad boss with a crazy laugh, I wasn’t sure if he’d do
it. But he asked me to read his lines in English and do the laugh, too,
and send him the audio file. He practiced his lines while filming Ip Man 4.
When we met at the airport, and we got in my car, he said with a
straight face, “Mark, I have been practicing the laugh.” He then did six
variations of the crazy laugh and asked which one I preferred. I was
stunned, humbled, beside myself with joy and amazement!
Do you have any upcoming Pennsylvania-based projects?
I am in the pre-production stage of shooting a TV pilot here, and we
have been looking to potentially shoot a teen camp movie in the Poconos.
The problem is the lack of tax credits available for small budget
projects. I was shattered and in trouble financially when we were all
but guaranteed our credits on “Chinatown,” and they never came through. I
fought hard for them for two years with the support and help of Dave
Bowers (Film Incentives Group), Sharon Pinkenson (Greater Philadelphia
Film Office), and State Representative Maria Donatucci. No luck. Maria
then asked me to come testify about it before a panel, along with other
PA filmmakers Night Shyamalan and Nancy Glass. We all did our best and
made terrific arguments for the need for these Tax Incentives in PA.
PAFIA has been working hard on
increasing the film tax credit in Pennsylvania and bringing more film
work to our local crew and talent, but we must all unite to really make a
difference. What can you tell our elected officials about the
importance of PA film industry and the difference it has made in your
PAFIA is doing a terrific job bringing awareness to this issue to the
leaders of the state. The more projects that come into the state, the
more locals are hired as cast and crew, and catering, and the more hotel
rooms are filled, and parking spaces rented, and local shops
frequented. These films can become iconic representations of the State,
or its cities, and are a terrific way to promote tourism and the birth
of a booming business. Let’s keep fighting!
What is your advice for the aspiring actors and filmmakers? Some steps to take? Some mistakes to avoid?
Work hard at your craft and take all the classes you can to improve
it. With online courses and master classes from the experts, there is no
shortage of training out there. Don’t listen to naysayers or ask
opinions of people who don’t believe in your dream. If you are an actor,
go to the local principal and background casting offices and let them
know who you are and what your capabilities are; get into their
databases. Do as many auditions as you can and take whatever first job
comes (if it is not objectionable) to get a foot in the door. Once you
do one project, you can network on set and expand your circle and get
leads for other projects. Be sure to also help those that help you. It
you want to write or produce or learn to direct, also take courses,
network online and find an opportunity to get hired on a set. You can
get in as a grip or driver and start connecting and networking your way
to other roles and create side conversations with the director or
producers during breaks. There is always a way. Sometimes, like for me,
it took two decades for something to finally happen. But all the sudden
my career pivoted, and I now have over a dozen projects on slate with a
big production company in LA, several with my own company, and two
international co-productions. There is always a way if you have stamina,
persistence and show gratitude toward others.
Be sure to always avoid situations that cause you anxiety or where
you see red flags. Don’t ignore your gut or put yourself in compromising
positions for a role or the “chance” of working on a film. And never
sell yourself short. You are valuable and so are your talents, and when
the right people see them, something will happen.
What are some of the most valuable lessons that you have learned about this industry and wish you knew earlier?
I have read over a dozen books on writing screenplays and bios of
actors and directors. I thought the negative things they mentioned were
“one offs”, even though many said the same things: too many people lie,
mislead, take advantage, make promises they know they can’t keep. This
is all true, and I wish I had not been so afraid to replace those
principals who I knew were not a right fit for a project, and instead
ignored the issue. You need the best people around you, not just friends
or associates you happen to know and who say, “trust me.” Always find
the best casting director, best production team, best director and
director of photography you can. If it is a comedy, hire a comedy
director. If an action project, hire a good director and support them
with a skilled DP who has shot action in the past. Don’t rely on friends
for the essential post-production efforts but hire a professional
company even if it means doing a little at a time. All of these are
important lessons that cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars and
years of wasted time.
What is your biggest aspiration in this industry?
My only aspiration is to keep creating the best projects I can, and
either producing them myself or partnering with a company that may have
more resources than I, but also sees the same vision (or an improved
one) for the project. Most of all I want to keep growing and developing
as a filmmaker and creating relationships with those I work with.
Sharing in creativity with others makes life amazing.
What would be the best way for our local PA cast and crew to submit to your upcoming projects?
As we have casting and crew calls, we will post them on the local
boards. We like to use Heery Loftus Casting for our local background
casting, and Caroline Sinclair Casting for principal. People can follow
Tambuli Media (.com) and our Facebook page, which promotes our
publishing and film work. And people can reach me thought FB Messenger
or at TambuliMedia@gmail.com.
And don’t forget, Made in Chinatown will be available to
stream on May 11. We have a Facebook and Instagram with updates and
clips and fun stuff… and the website is www.MadeInChinatownMovie.com