Two filmmakers who had a profound impact on American filmmaking when I had been in high school in the early to mid-nineties were Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino. Smith had built upon the groundwork laid out by films like Slacker. His breakthrough film Clerks focused on two main characters who spend a single day working at a convenience store, video rental, and comment about popular culture. This was not a plot driven film by any stretch. Tarantino’s second film, as a director, Pulp Fiction, also invoked pop culture tropes, among other things, but also captured attention with its non-linear storytelling. Both would have a profound impact on me as a burgeoning filmmaker and theater major. My senior year, I was able to create some independent studies, in which I ended up getting nine credits for writing, directing, and designing the set for a one act play entitled “Show Me Your Tong Po.” The title of the play originated from a film script I had been writing at the time about two high school friends; one of whom falls in love with his next door neighbor, an older woman. During a conversation, the lead character, the one pining for his neighbor, says to his friend “Haven’t you ever had any aspirations in life other than wanted to make a kickboxing porno called ‘Show Me Your Tong Po?’” To which the friend replies “No.” Tong Po had also been the name of the villain in the film Kickboxer with Jean-Claude Van Damme; another important influence for me.
Before that, I had attempted to write a one-act drama influenced by the play The Maids, by Jean Genet; about two maids who act out fantasies about murdering their employer. Needless to say, as a 21 year old, with little to no life experience, I ended up choosing to go the sophomoric route and write a play about two friends who attempt to kidnap a retired adult film star to get him to act in their movie. Show Me Your Tong Po is told in a nonlinear fashion. Some of the scenes include a character saying he wants two .45s instead of a shotgun because it looks cooler, another character later deciding to enter the adult film profession with the stage name “Peter North,” and kung-fu inspired swordfight set to the strains of “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses.
Over time, I’ve realized comedy is something people can write at any age. A sense of humor and timing are usually inherent and can be developed. However, being able to write drama that doesn’t sound melodramatic comes from experience. Would you want to watch the equivalent of Long Day’s Journey into Night as penned by a seventeen year old? Obviously, there are exceptions to this theory.
Show Me Your Tong Po ran for a few nights at the university’s blackbox theater. At the end of the year, I recieved a writing award from the school. I had assumed it would be the start of a career as a playwright or filmmaker. It was not. However, it did provide the subject matter for the first short story I would ever publish, The Leprechaun Violence Conjecture. The autobiographical (but fictional – the protagonist is named Bob) story examined a Faustian-like spectrum of what it would take to compromise your ideals. Would you sell out to have the chance to write the fifth Leprechaun film? The following is an excerpt from the story published in Bartleby Snopes.
“At the same time, he’s still mostly jaded, and at dinner, while talking with friends, he openly laments the fact that if he’d been offered the chance to write Leprechaun 5 he would seriously consider it. A small part of him still holds out hope he’ll make it as a writer. He doesn’t mention this to the group at the table. Instead, he pushes a half eaten dumpling around on his plate wondering if it’s a metaphor for something else. After dinner’s over, and the check comes, Bob’s friends pay with platinum business credit cards. He leaves three wadded up ten dollar bills.”
Thinking about it now, for accuracy’s sake, I should have written two wadded up ten dollar bills.