Xiao Xue is a young Chinese woman who comes to Hawaii to live with her distant cousin Lin. Xiao Xue gets involved in an abusive relationship with Lin and becomes pregnant with his child, but can't find the courage to tell him for fear that he will abandon her. When Lin cheats his boss and is hunted down, he and Xiao Xue flee to a small island hideout off Oahu where Xiao Xue meets Leilani, a young, neglected local girl who reminds Xiao Xue of herself as a child. Through their interactions and as a result of Lin's increasingly abusive behavior, Xiao Xue finds the courage to extract herself from her abusive relationship in a most surprising way.
I shot this film in 2006 in the final month before moving from Hawaii to Beijing (in fact we wrapped the day before I left Hawaii!). I wrote the script for this story while grinding my way through a very laborious editing process for my thesis documentary film that I shot the year before in China, which is possibly the reason for the dark nature of the film. The message, however, is not such a dark one, but harks back to themes of several earlier films I shot in Hawaii. As an outsider in Hawaii myself, I’ve been compelled to tell stories involving people coming to Hawaii in search of paradise and a quick fix to their problems only to find the reality to be much harsher. And with my interest in Asia and Asian cinema, as well as my wealth of experience living abroad there, I decided to make the characters in all of these films Asian.
Despite the presence of drugs in this film, they have nothing to do with the theme or the main issue of the film. The story is about the protagonist Xiao Xue and her struggle to extract herself from an abusive relationship. This was hard to do with the short film format, but I did my best in the 25 minutes to show a clear progression and growth of the character, while trying to make it as interesting as possible. The drugs, the thug, and a number of other things that could be mistaken for important issues in the film were not in the initial story. The original idea was just to tell the story of a Chinese immigrant stuck in squalid conditions after coming to pursue the Great American/Hawaiian Dream, and I combined this with my desire to shoot a film out on Mokauea Island. The rest just evolved as I kept writing and rewriting.
The production of the film was extremely rushed, as we had do to the vast majority of the shooting over the course of three weekends out on Mokauea Island (just off of Sand Island in Oahu), where most of the story takes place. This is an extremely unusual location to shoot, as this tiny speck of an island, with its fascinating and controversial history, is home to only six families, all of Hawaiian descent. I don’t think anybody else has ever shot anything out there, and the only reason I was able to get access to the island is because I knew two of the families through volunteer beach cleanups that I did out there several times. One of the families was nice enough to let us shoot in their house, which became our main set. As unique and magical as this place was, however, it raised a number of logistical problems, as all equipment had to be hauled out by boat and the only source of electricity on the island was a big, noisy generator, which could be heard clearly throughout the house. So we opted to shoot without electricity, which meant no lighting. With the exception of the first few scenes shot on Oahu, everything was shot with available light.