I first became aware of this film when it played at the Hearts and Minds Film Festival in Dover back in April 2010. Where at once I thought this short film would only be known by people who attended this festival, it wasn't until July that I saw the same film playing on cable television. The film was actually available via Cinemax on Demand. Ochiai told me that HBO bought his film after it screened at the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival.
Ken Ochiai, 26, got his bachelor's degree at USC where he directed more than 20 short films. He continued his work at the American Film Institute Conservatory where he got his master's degree. Despite having a Japanese heritage, Ochiai said he tried to avoid Asian material, but when he read Hawaii-writer Cara Fasone's script Lucky Lotus, he felt he had to direct it.
Lucky Lotus is the story of a Vietnamese immigrant named Cong who owns the titular location. The Lucky Lotus is a hostess bar in Los Angeles where men come specifically for the company of beautiful young women. Cong has a daughter named Lien who has been raised in the bar and who now works there herself. Cong hopes to turn ownership and control of the bar to Lien, but when Cong overhears Lien telling a friend that she doesn't want that, Cong gets upset.
Ochiai says the relationship between mother and daughter, as indeed parent and child, is exaggerated but is typical of many Asian households. He says a lot of mothers, be they Asian or not, wouldn't push their daughters to work at a bar. However, the idea of adults encouraging their offspring to follow in their footsteps or pursue particular careers is common.
In the film, Lien says she wants to leave L.A. and move to New York. She says she doesn't want to take over her mom's bar, but she never says what she wants to do instead. Ochiai says that that in itself is a stronger statement, both as one from a daughter to a mother and as a testament to a lot of people Lien's age who don't know what they want to do, but know clearly what they want not to do.
Ochiai hired a casting director because he says it's difficult to find good Vietnamese actresses. In the film, Cong goes to a nail salon where she chats with some friends. Ochiai not only had trouble finding women to fill those friend roles but with also finding the location. It was hard in that Ochiai had to convince the owners to shut the place down for shooting, but Ochiai told me that in order to finalize the location he had to subject himself to an actual manicure and various Asian women flirting or trying to play cupid with their own daughters and him.
Ochiai started directing movies when he was 12. He saw Jurassic Park when he was 8 and decided he wanted to do that. He wanted to make movies. So, he stayed home and watched films. He was impressed with big action flicks like the ones by Steven Spielberg, but, since studying at college, Ochiai has been drawn more toward family dramas and stories that explore human bonds.
Even though Ochiai said this was one of the hardest films he's ever made, it's what he wants to do. Ochiai says he spent five years convincing his father to leave Japan and become a filmmaker. This film is part of his AFI thesis project. It touches on aspects of Asian culture, which are familiar and personal to him, as well as spotlighting this hostess bar idea, which is a derivative of the geisha culture.
Four Stars out of Five Not Rated but Recommended for Mature Audiences Running Time: 16 mins.