Michael Kang's latest film Knots, written by Kimberly-Rose Wolter, is a romantic comedy revolving around three Hapa half-sisters -- Lily, Twinny, and Hoku (played by Wolter, Mia Riverton, and Janel Parrish respectively) -- who are all born to the same mother (Illeana Douglas). After rejecting a marriage proposal in California, Lily returns home to Hawaii, only to be completely immersed in their family business: wedding planning. An old flame Kai (Sung Kang) is also back in the picture, with some secrets up his sleeve, and Kai and Lily's easy chemistry creates one of those love triangle-squares that aren't so easily resolved.
A Q&A with Kimberly-Rose Wolter about Knots below:
Interview with Kimberly-Rose Wolter
Interviewed by Ada Tseng
Camera by Brian Lam
Video edit by Claudia Xie
Asia Pacific Arts: What inspired the story of Knots?
Kimberly-Rose Wolter: I was finishing my first feature [Tre], and I really wanted to write something that was going to be shot in Hawaii, because I'm from there, and I really missed home. I wanted to write something that was about people in Hawaii and give a family in Hawaii a voice. That's where the impetus was.
Also, I was raised with a lot of strong women, so I thought it'd be great if we could get a cast of women together. We could have a whole bunch of Hapa girls, we could be half-sisters, and that'd be fun.
APA: A lot of humor comes from these women bickering with each other. I don't want to say they're crazy, but one's pregnant and hormonal, the young one is very excitable, and you play the "bad" one -- but really, she often seems like the most laid back one with a good head on her shoulders.
KRW: Women are really dynamic, and even though you can be sisters, you can be very different. Everybody draws from something different as far as what makes them tick and what sets them off. A lot of the comedy comes from them getting set off by each other; they each have different buttons to push.
There's not a lot of female writers in Hollywood, and I think females are a lot more dynamic in life than they are on film, so I really wanted to tap into all of the different facets, all of the different faces that women wear in one single sitting. You can be at dinner and see any human going through a myriad of emotions. So I wanted to explore that: how that motivates people and how that can make people butt heads. You said hormonal, but sometimes it's just how we react to things. Our reactions to things vary so much -- especially when you have somebody who's high-strung and very energetic, and then you have someone who's more dry, like Lily, almost removed. But her removal is more like a band-aid, or a quick fix, and that's why she doesn't seem as invested as the other ones.
Women are fascinating! Sorry guys. I mean, guys can be fascinating too, but women are really fascinating, and when you start to really allow them to be who they really want to be, on film, you can have a lot of comedy. And you can have a lot of drama too.
APA: The film begins with Lily being proposed to -- and subsequently throwing up on her boyfriend. She hates the idea of marriage. Were there any types of conversations you wanted to start about the institution of marriage?
KRW: The world has changed so much, even from the time that I was in college. So many things have evolved. The way we communicate with each other has evolved with technology and iPhones. The way that we drive has changed with hybrids. Evolution takes place everywhere. Yet, in all the years we've had this institution of marriage, there hasn't been a lot that's changed -- to the point that we still have this tradition that a father gives the daughter away. We're not giving away a goat or a cow, when we give her away, but it's still something that's very traditional. This thing [marriage] that takes up so much of our lives hasn't evolved to catch up with who we are today. And that's one of the conversations that I hope people start.
Also, that love is beyond marriage and weddings. I have a lot of friends who have gotten married, and weddings are extremely stressful. They're usually really stressful for the bride more than anything else, and even though the purpose of the wedding is to express your love for somebody, you lose all of that, because it ends up being a show. Not in a bad way, but you want to make sure your guests are taken care of, that your parents are happy, and this puts a lot of burden on the bride. And all of a sudden, the point of the wedding, which is love, is the furthest thing from your mind, because you just want your husband to behave so we can get everything done so people can eat and all of the food still warm -- you know what I mean? So I wanted to get back to what the point of that ceremony is.
APA: Why did you cast Sung Kang as your love interest?
KRW: Sung's awesome. He's super hunky. But there's a vibe to somebody that lives in Hawaii, and he has that. He has this great thing about him: you know how you can have water that's very still, but if you go underwater, there's a huge current that can drag you out? I think that's the perfect way to describe Sung. He seems very still, but there's so much going on under that [surface]. That's an amazing quality for an actor.
APA: There's a video in your film, a short commercial on TV with a love doctor.
KRW: Brother Larry?
APA: Yea! What's the story behind that? Is he real?
KRW: No. [laughs] We had local filmmaker Gerard Elmore go out and shot that "commercial" with Brother Larry [played by Roy Tijoe, one of the producers of Knots]. He's totally a made-up character. I just thought it'd be fun to have them out there as the Love Dr. Phil of Hawaii. [laughs]
It's so important to me that in the film, you get little tastes of all the different things that Hawaii means to different people. [For example,] we have another really great actor, Tony, who's a taxi driver, and he's speaking this really different type of pidgin than Brother Larry is. Hawaii isn't one thing to all people, so it was important to put little bits here or there to emphasize that we're complex.
APA: You also have karaoke in the film. Is that a big thing in Hawaii?
KRW: It's huge in Hawaii. And that place we filmed at, Crazy Karaoke -- I wrote that place into the script, because that's the place I go with my family, and we ended up shooting at that place. [laughs] I was so stoked!
APA: You are both a writer and an actor. Did one come first?
KRW: I went to school for acting, so acting came first. But I'm impatient, and I really wanted roles that I could wrap my brain around. I wanted to explore things, and I wasn't quite happy with what I was getting. Also, being Hapa, when I first came out here, there wasn't many Hapa people in general, especially not in TV and film. So instead of waiting -- because I can't change; I am who I am -- I thought, I'm just going to start writing, and that's going to enable me to do things that I want. And I just haven't stopped. I really like writing.
I look at every project that I'm doing, not as a destination but as a path in my journey. For me as a filmmaker, Tre opened up a lot of opportunities. It was my first big door that I went through. And then Knots was the next. And [her next film] Candy With the Old Folks will be after that.
When you make a film, it takes a lot of work and sweat and passion, but it's important to know that it's not a destination. You can't think: once this film is made, I'm going to be famous, all of these things are going to happen, and it's going to start raining gold. Because that's not what it's about -- at least for me. It's a more extended path, and I want to be able to tell the stories that I want to tell. These are my first three, and they're hopefully allowing me to continue onto the next road in my journey.
Knots will be playing at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival on Sunday, May 13.
For more information, go to the film's official website or Facebook page.