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Cambodian-American filmmaker wins festival award for short film

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Tony Suriano and Nicola Vann in Kevin’s film. Screenshot

Cambodian-American filmmaker wins festival award for short film

Refrigerate After Opening – a six-minute film directed and screen-written by a Cambodian-American filmmaker Kevin Ung – won the Audience Choice Award at the University of Southern California (USC), one of the top film schools in the world.

The short film is about a man who is experiencing difficulties and who finds the key to changing his life inside his refrigerator.

Refrigerate After Opening is a reaction to the stagnation that many people experience over the course of their lives, which filmmaker Kevin Ung has experienced himself and seen occur in the lives of many people he’s known.

“Many of us don’t have the luxury to leave our day-to-day. It’s a privilege to do so. But what if by some kind of magic, you are able to change this? What if you’re given the tools to change your life?” says Kevin.

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Kevin Ung, director/screenwriter. Supplied

The main character in the film, Rich, portrayed by actor Tony Suriano, is a 30-something year old that is given a second chance in life by a magical refrigerator he acquires.

The problem is that while the fridge gives him a compass, it doesn’t force him to actually act on anything.

“The refrigerator itself is magical and provides Rich with things that will help him change his life, but it is up to Rich to use them. The items that are given are not magical in-and-of themselves,” Kevin says.

The idea for the film came about in a screenwriting class at USC, where Kevin is completing his Master of Fine Arts in Film & Television Production.

Kevin tells The Post that “I wanted to tell a story that incorporated magical realism at its heart, but I also didn’t want to make something that was too fantastical.

“I wanted to make a story that we could all relate to and see within our own lives, which is why I use a mundane appliance as one of my main characters. It’s something we all have, and something we don’t really think about.”

Kevin was born in the US state of California but his mother was from Battambang province and his father was from Kampong Cham province. They immigrated to the US as refugees and settled in the city of San Francisco Bay Area.

As an undergraduate exchange student Kevin received a HK$40,000 (US$5,150) grant from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council to make a short film, Chubby Can Kill.

Following the success of the film, which led to its distribution in local and international markets, Kevin developed an interest in telling stories through advertising by combining his creativity with marketing to tell the stories of some of the largest brands in the world through commercials.

Kevin was one of two inaugural students selected for the 2020 Star Trek Command Training Programme – a Television Academy fellowship intended to give hands-on filmmaking experience to minorities.

Refrigerate After Opening screened at the 4th Annual USC Asian-Pacific Alumni Association Film Festival, which featured Jon Chu (director of Crazy Rich Asians) as a guest.

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Tony Suriano in Ung’s film. Screenshot

USC is the top film school in the world and the festival featured the best films from USC students and alumni about or created by Asians or Asian Americans.

The audience was able to select which film they liked the best out of the films screened and Refrigerate After Opening won, so it received the Audience Choice Award.

Kevin says Refrigerate After Opening is still touring through the film festival circuit including DisOrient Film Festival from March 19 to March 21, New Haven International Film Festival from May 12 to May 15 and the UK Asian Film Festival from May 26 to June 6 this year.

“There will be more festivals announced this year,” Kevin says.

Kevin says that he wanted to create a film that is enjoyable to watch yet deals with an issue many people eventually face.

“I also enjoyed experimenting with aspect ratio, and I think it’s one of the few films that have a continuously shifting aspect ratio, going from 1:1 – when Rich is trapped in his day-to-day life – to 2.39:1, when his life has turned for the better.”

Kevin has directed short films in the past, including Flee – where two sisters run for their lives with an infant in tow, based on true events – and Chubby Can Kill, a comedy about an overweight video store clerk bullied by local gangsters until he attempts to defeat them by emulating his favourite action movie heroes.

“I want to thank everyone who has watched my films and supported me over the years. As one of the few Cambodian-American filmmakers in Hollywood, I hope that I can make films that represent us and our stories.

“While the industry is changing and you are seeing more Asians in cinema, Cambodians are still often left out of the conversation, and are still relatively invisible on the world stage.

“I hope that one day, I and other Cambodian filmmakers will show the world that we have powerful stories that not only deserve to be told, but need to be told,” Kevin says.

Kevin – who has spent time working in Hong Kong – says that being a well-known filmmaker will provide an opportunity to enable others like him to achieve the same success.

“My dream would be to open a film school in Cambodia to help nurture the next generation of Cambodian filmmakers,” he says.

He is currently writing and trying to secure funding for an ambitious film that intertwines plots related to science and the Cambodian genocide.

“It is a film that is extremely close to my heart and is inspired by brave scientists, and what happened to the survivors of the genocide after the war,” he says.

Intending to make it a feature-length film, Kevin says funding will be the main barrier.

“The biggest challenge will be to raise funds for this film, since it will be at a larger scale than anything I’ve done before,” Kevin says.

For more details about Kevin Ung and his films, including Refrigerate After Opening, visit his website at https://www.kevinung.film/.

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