Filmmaker Spotlight: Milton Liu

November’s featured films on the X1 International destination include “I Hate Big Phony,” written, directed and produced by Milton Liu, and included in the Philadelphia Asian-American Film Festival collection. We got the chance to speak with Liu about the inspiration behind this documentary and his journey as an Asian-American filmmaker.

Image Credit: Milton Liu

Tell us about your film featured on X1 this month.

Milton Liu: “I Hate Big Phony is a documentary on Korean-American singer/songwriter Bobby Choy, who goes by the stage moniker of Big Phony. His music has been classified as soulful and sullen, with something deeper lurking beneath. What’s with the paper bag over his head? Why does he sometimes play with one of the biggest Korean punk bands? How did he have a leading role in a feature film? We follow his journey to SXSW, Los Angeles and his new hometown of Seoul, South Korea, in search of who Big Phony really is.

How did you get into filmmaking?

ML: I was a pretty obnoxious kid, trying to get out of anything that I was instructed to do. For Spanish class, we were told to make a video solely in Spanish. I cut together a spoof trailer of “Faces of Death” and just had a voice-over of Muerte over and over. I got a B, which I thought was great for doing something that I loved. Eventually, I went into finance, but started to produce my friends’ short films, which led us to start a film production company in NYC. After that, I started to write screenplays and moved to L.A. to be a Disney Feature writing fellow.

What are some films and/or filmmakers who have inspired you?

ML: Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I always had a soft spot for John Hughes. And there’s always these movies that I would have to watch if I’m flipping the channel: “Shawshank Redemption,” “Braveheart,” “Big Trouble in Little China“—even though I own the Blu-Rays. For sheer heartbreak, I’m a fan of “Dancer in the Dark” and Wong Kar-wai. Oh, and horror—”I Saw the Devil” by Kim Jee-Woon is phenomenal.

Image Credit: Milton Liu

Do you have a favorite Asian-American film?

ML: This is probably on a lot of people’s lists, but “Joy Luck Club” was the first movie I watched with my mom that we both enjoyed (she took me to see “The Omen” and “The Exorcist” as a child). She’d always use the line, “You think so easy. One day quit, next day play.” When I heard that, that’s when I knew I effed up. Justin Chon’s “Gook” is pretty amazing.

How does your Asian heritage influence your work?

ML: Growing up in Kansas and Illinois, there weren’t a lot of people around me, neither in film nor TV, who looked like me. It wasn’t until we started our production company with all people of color that I understood why our stories needed to be told and heard. I’m consciously making an effort to ensure that Asian Pacific Americans are in front of as well as behind the camera in all my projects. Why shouldn’t it be?

What is your outlook on the state of Asian-American cinema?

ML: It’s getting there, but like most things—not soon enough. I’m constantly amazed that to this day we still have to use hashtags like #whitewashing and #OscarsSoWhite. However, my belief is that we need to continue to support all filmmakers of color to break down the walls. It makes me proud to see remarkable and impressive films such as the aforementioned “Gook,” “Everything Before Us” by Wong Fu Productions, and “Children of Invention” by Tze Chun. “Better Luck Tomorrow” was a watershed moment for Asian Pacific American cinema, but it was also made 15 years ago. Keep supporting, keep creating, keep resisting.

Image Credit: Milton Liu


Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Milton Liu! Watch “I Hate Big Phony” in the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival collection on your X1 International destination or with XFINITY Stream this November.

For more Filmmaker Spotlights or Asian-American news and entertainment visit XFINITY Asia.