‘Dealing With Dad’ deals with mental health in a difficult way

By Andrew Hamlin

Chinese-American writer/director Tom Huang comes to his latest film ‘Dealing With Dad’ with solid skills and an impressive history under his belt. But this project required him to go where he hadn’t gone before: his own family’s history and struggles.

While I was in film school, my dad got fired from his old job at General Electric, unbeknownst to me,” recalls Huang, who brings “Dealing With Dad” to Tacoma and Seattle in time for the Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month.

“When I came home for break, I saw him leaving every morning as if he were going to work, but later I heard that he was pretending.

“The next time I came home, I found my normally very active father in the dark in his living room, watching TV during the day. I asked my mother what was wrong with him, and she said, “Oh, he’s just a little sad, he’ll be fine.” To which I said, “Mom, he’s watching ‘The View,’ I don’t think he’s doing well.”

This caused an eight-year period of trying to pull his father out of depression.

“It took a long time, partly because I didn’t understand the disease at first, and once I had an idea, it took even longer to convince his friends and family that this was more than just temporary, that it was a disease. that needed to be treated.

“It was hard enough to get my parents to the hospital when they broke their leg or something, but for something like this it was almost impossible. Once people could see this for the disease it was, it became easier to find the support my father needed.”

Huang grew up in Fremont, a suburb of San Francisco, and he is old enough to remember Fremont as predominantly white, before the Silicon Valley boom brought a significant Asian population.

“I remember coming home from college and suddenly finding myself in a whole new world of hundreds of Chinese restaurants and seeing my younger cousins ​​growing up and feeling quite comfortable with their race. My high school was so full of academically minded Asian Americans that they couldn’t field a football team for a year.”

He loved watching Godzilla movies on TV and playing “Star Wars” with friends.

“I was going to play Chewbacca because apparently there were no Asians in the Star Wars universe at that time.”

But ethnic distinction has left its mark.

“Growing up speaking Chinese had a major influence, which made me feel insecure. Furthermore, my parents were successful immigrants, both alpha dogs, and they constantly berated me and each other, which made me want to separate myself even further from the things they were associated with.

He changed several things between his family’s own story and the film script, but kept the essence of family interactions and strength of character.

“The Mother is very much based on my mother and the actress, Page Leong, actually wears a lot of my mother’s clothes! Sometimes Page would grab my mother so tight that the hairs on the back of my neck would stand up and I’d think, ‘Woah, that’s too close for me.’

In addition to Leong, cast members include Ally Maki as the daughter, Hayden Szeto as the younger brother, and Peter Kim as the older brother.

One of the important roles was the father, and at the top of my list was Dana Lee, a veteran actor who has been in so many things over the years. He had a natural gruffness, which was exactly what I was looking for, and I discovered he also spoke Mandarin.

“He’s a professional actor who got into the character, but also really understood the depression aspect, because he has friends who have been depressed, and knew what I needed to portray that.”

When asked about future projects, Huang mentioned a few scripts awaiting funding: including “a gangster film set in Taiwan and a film noir set in the Japanese Manzanar incarceration camp during World War II.

“I’m also finishing a script that I’ll probably film next, a sequel to one of my successful previous films, ‘Find Me.’ The (new) film is about a trio of inner-city kids in Oakland, California, who decide to spend their last spring break together exploring national parks in the West.

“Dealing With Dad” plays at Tacoma’s Grand Cinema on May 24 and at Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum on May 24, with writer/director Tom Huang in attendance at both.

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