‘Shortcomings’ Director Randall Park Did Not Anticipate This Being His First Feature

‘Shortcomings’ Director Randall Park Did Not Anticipate This Being His First Feature

Randall Park has been many things: versatile sitcom star, writer of a hit movie, Marvel utility player and the guy who spoofed Kim Jong Un in that thing that almost broke Hollywood. With Shortcomings, however, he may take his biggest stride towards reaching his full potential by adding feature director to his long resume.

It’s easy to assume that Park’s foray might be based on a script of his own, but the film borrows its name, narrative and screenwriter from the cult comic by Adrian Tomine. Like the graphic novel, the comedy follows Ben (Justin H. Min) — a young man experiencing a kind of protracted failure to launch while the women in his life (Sherry Cola and Ally Maki) actively make choices that guide them closer to fulfillment. After a promising launch at Sundance earlier in 2024, it’s currently enjoying a limited release via Sony Pictures Classics. Park recently spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about what led him to the comic, prioritizing relatability over likability in his central character and why he’s not feeling terribly optimistic about Hollywood’s strike timetable.

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So, this is a pretty wild time to be promoting a movie, huh?

For every possible reason. The actors can’t promote, (screenwriter) Adrian Tomine can only do so much and, of course, Barbenheimer is this historic thing — but, gosh, I’ve been pretty zen about it all. I’m just genuinely just happy that the movie is finally out and that people have a chance to see it. I’m really glad that we’re at this point.

As a writer, one might assume your first feature might have been one you wrote yourself. Why did you end up doing this instead?

You’re absolutely right. The thought in my head was always that my first feature, whatever it was, would be something that I wrote. But when directing Shortcomings became a possibility, it was kind of automatic. I had to throw my hat in the ring. The graphic novel was something that resonated with me so much when I first read it back when it came out in 2007. The story kind of always stuck with me, and I wondered why nothing was being done with the work — particularly post-Crazy Rich Asians. Once more stories from Asian American perspectives started being told, I thought this is the time for someone to do something with Shortcomings.

You were obviously already starring on Fresh Off the Boat at the time, but did the incoming calls or offers change for you after Crazy Rich Asians hit?

Yeah. It definitely opened up the amount of projects about Asian Americans — but the main change was seeing more projects created by Asian Americans. And this movie counts as one of them. We’re seeing a lot more stories that are linked to identity and culture, but I think that’s in part because these stories are the stories we want to tell. But there’s also stories that are a bit less culturally specific, more reflective of something personal. I think Everything Everywhere All at Once leans a little towards that. Same with Shortcomings, for sure.

What are your offers like for acting work these days? Do they differ from the kinds of projects you pursue behind the camera?

The acting work kind of runs the gamut. I wouldn’t say it has shifted much in terms of the kinds of roles or the kinds of projects. I see a little bit of everything. But I would say writing and producing and directing, to a degree, definitely, the projects tend to veer more towards an Asian American perspective. That’s partially by choice. Me and my two partners started a production company a few years back, and a lot of our projects are generated through that company. The company is called Imminent Collision, and we’re focused on telling stories from an API perspective. So a lot of those opportunities and those projects are almost exclusively stories about Asian Americans.

A still from Shortcomings by Randall Park

Justin H. Min and Sherry Cola in Randall Park’s Shortcomings

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Did you notice a shift in the way you were seen coming out of Always Be My Maybe? It felt like that movie had a real moment, and you co-wrote it in addition to starring in it.

I’ve definitely had more lead opportunities come to me since that. And our production company formed in the wake of Always Be My Maybe. It just made sense, coming out of that, to create more projects.

I believe you’re friends with Nahnatchka Khan, who directed that movie and created Fresh Off the Boat. Did you turn to her for advice in directing your first feature?

She was a definitely great help. I love Nahnatchka Khan so much, and she’s just such a source of knowledge and encouragement. I wouldn’t be here without her, that’s for damn sure. But I also got advice from a bunch of other folks — filmmakers known and lesser known, if known at all. I spoke to anyone who’s ever directed anything. (Laughs.) Because I didn’t go to film school, I didn’t have that training. All I had was a kind of career experience: being on sets, working with directors, having directed a few TV shows and some shorts and web stuff. So, I talked to a lot of directors, including Nahnatchka, Nick Stoller and Josh Greenbaum.

I recently spoke with Adele Lim about Joy Ride, which shares some castmembers — Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu, Ronny Chieng — with Shortcomings, and Hollywood’s tendency to keep diving into the same casting pool. Did you feel pressure to cast recognizable talent in Shortcomings.

Going into the movie, I knew Sherry. I’m good friends with Sherry and Ally. I did not know Justin very well. There’s always pressure, whether it be from a studio or financiers, to try to get the most “bankable” names as possible. I think that’s part of the reason why you see the same actors over and over again in a lot of these projects. It’s reflective of what the industry has been doing for a long time. It’s just that within the Asian American acting community, the pool is much smaller. For me, for this one, I was intent on trying to find the best actors for the roles and digging as deep as possible to find the person best for the role. Particularly for (Min’s character) Ben. He’s such a complicated character that could potentially turn off the audience right away, so it was important that we found someone who could play this character and have the audience understand this character — if not even relate to him in some ways. We did an exhaustive search for who would play Ben.

“Likability” is a vague and annoying term, but was it still something you considered in walking the line with Justin’s character? Millennial male ennui can be relatable, but it can also be a real turnoff.

There were a lot of conversations about that. For me, I didn’t want to add scenes or aspects of the character that would make him more likable or palatable for an audience. I identified with the character. There was a time in my life when I was much like him. So, I felt like what was most important was to dig into the relatability of this character. I wanted to feel the vulnerability behind all of his harsh opinions and angry tirades. I wanted the audience to sense that this came from a vulnerable place, a place of real sadness and failure. He’s dealing with a lot of failure. As long as the audience can sense that this comes from a human place, then maybe we’ll up the percentage of people that can enjoy this character. You’re always running the risk of people being turned off, no matter what. Because people bring their own perspective, their own history, into the viewing experience. I expected some people to not be able to sit with this character.

Always Be My Maybe

Randall Park and Ali Wong in Always Be My Maybe (2019)

Courtesy of Netflix

You’re such an L.A. guy, but both this and Always Be My Maybe take place in the Bay Area. What’s going on?

I don’t know! I think it’s just fate, I guess. I was thinking about that the other day. When my dad first immigrated to America, he went to San Francisco and spent a lot of time there. When Tony Bennett just passed away, it was huge in our house. “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” is my dad’s favorite song. And growing up, I always felt this connection to the Bay Area that runs pretty deep, even though I’ve never lived there.

What do you think the other side of the strike looks like for you?

I think I’m going to start acting again. There was a show I was on that got shut down before the actors joined the strike. So, that’ll probably pick up again. I’m going to figure out my next feature to direct. And outside of that, I’m just going to keep developing projects with the company. When that will happen… I don’t know. If that’ll happen, I’m not entirely sure. Amongst my actor friends and writer friends, none of us know when this is going to end. We have no idea and no sense of any imminent resolution. It feels very far away right now.

Since the strike began, we’ve heard stars of long-running shows revealing comically low residuals. Fresh Off the Boat ran for six seasons. Do you feel like you were adequately compensated for that work?

I do. But this was network television, so it’s a little different. I don’t know all the issues deeply, but I know that streaming is a huge problem when it comes to residuals. But my own experience on Fresh Off the Boat felt different from a lot of what we’re dealing with today. Also, we’d do 20-episode seasons — not 8 or 10. Streaming is a different world.

Safe to assume a very different situation with Blockbuster on Netflix?

Very different. (Laughs.) It’s almost the polar opposite.

Before I let you go, do you have any wild stories from your time working as a museum security guard?

It was at the Hammer Museum, and it might’ve been the most excruciatingly boring job I’ve ever had. We just would stand there, literally, and essentially ask parents to not let their kids touch the paintings. That was it. And the museum wasn’t packed most of the time. I had a little notepad tucked into my blazer. Jotting down ideas for projects, sketches, plays and stuff, that kind of kept me going.

So, I assume you’re very respectful when you bring your own child to a museum now.

Very much so. And very empathetic for the security guards who are just kind of standing there, staring into the middle distance.

Interview edited for length and clarity.