Interview with Hongyu Liu (Director of Hank)

Hi Hongyu, thanks for agreeing to this interview. I’d like to begin by asking why you think open relationships have become more widespread over the last few years?

Thank YOU for taking your time to watch Hank.

Thanks to the internet, “Open Relationships” has now becomes a popular topic and the term is being used more now than ever.  Couples chose to keep silence about open relationships and don’t want to talk about it. However, since our lifestyle has totally changed, we have more access when it comes to finding out and knowing more about people. Open relationships challenge our traditional marriage commitment.  

How would you describe the plot of Hank?

After reluctantly agreeing to an open relationship, a middle-aged gay man called Hank starts a wild journey with a mysterious young man only to find he’s put himself in danger. Narrowly escaping with just his life, and forced to walk home alone and naked in the middle of the night, Hank realizes the compromise he made to save his marriage has gone too far.

 Where did the idea for the film come from?

At the age of 22, I moved to Los Angeles from China to study film. Because I came out when I was just 18 in a country not as open to gay culture, I immediately appreciated the diversity of this city. As an average looking guy who can barely lift a sandbag, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I didn’t fit in with the stereotypical gay men of WeHo. I don’t jog shirtless; I don’t talk about diet plans, juice cleanses and three-week transformations. And I don’t look like every other hot guy on Instagram.

 While we ask people to accept the LGBTQ community, the LGBTQ communities often only seem to accept the young, the beautiful, and the perfect. Recently it seems open marriage has become another standard to measure up against. The question being, “Do you belong to this “progressive” community or not?”

 I began to wonder if the question of opening up the relationship was a dilemma for couples who have been together for many years. So I started to research the lives of older gay men, thinking “How do they struggle with stereotypes? And what do older gay couples, who no longer fit these stereotypes do when their long term relationships hit hard times? Hank explores the challenges older gay men face and the often heartbreaking choices they make to keep their marriages alive.

 What was the casting process for the film like?

I hired two amazing casting directors: Meg Morman and Sunday Boling. We had a meeting to discuss the characters and the story. Sunday told me that, she watched my former short film Waiting For Frank and she loved that idea a lot. Even this is a low budget short project, they are interested in working together so we signed agreements and they sent me an amazing character breakdown. They held auditions for me and then I attended 3 callbacks. I still remember once, Sunday gave reads for an actor. That was the scene that Hank speaks out for himself. She cried. Meg and Sunday are really good casting directors who care about storytelling. They took this project as their own baby. 

What do you hope audiences will take away from this film?

I hope the audience can have a strong connection with Hank’s experience.  I hope the audience feels encouraged to stand up for themselves and feel empowered to say no to something they feel isn’t right or no to something they don’t want.

 What has the reception to the film been like?

I just came back from the biggest short film festival, Palm Springs International Short Film Festival. The audience loved Hank. It received more than 15 film festivals, including, some biggest LGBTQ+ film festivals in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Kansas City. A few days ago I just received the acceptance letter from Burbank International Film Festival. It’s really beyond my expectation.

How does this film compare to other films you’ve worked on?

I did a lot of short film projects. I tried to find connections with each project. They are mostly heavy dramas discussing social issues we are facing: Alzheimer’s, aging, school bullies, self-acceptance. But this is the first LGBT script I wrote, directed and co-produced. I was afraid but excited. Because of my Chinese background, LGBT is still a sensitive topic. However, I was excited that finally, I can tell a story for my own community. I always assume that Hank is a gift for normal gay guys who are struggling with meeting other people’s tastes.

What future projects have you got planned?

I just wrote a new coming-of-age story for Disney+ program. It’s about an Asian boy suffers from school bullies, and one day he discovers a secret being in his father’s basement lab. The idea comes from my childhood experience that I was bullied every day in middle school. The tone of this script is a little bit Sci-Fi, very sweet and encouraging. This script is perfect for a pilot for a web-series.

Also, I’m writing a story about three outsiders living in Los Angeles in 48 hours, also based on my own life experience. Trust me, you don’t want to know how many horrible but hilarious experiences I had since I moved to L.A.

With thanks to Hongyu. 

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