Color grading and editorial finishing for A Father’s Son, director Patrick Chen’s short film about the murder of a teenage boy in Manhattan’s Chinatown, was completed at Nice Shoes in preparation for its world premiere at the 17th Annual Disorient Asian American Film Festival in Oregon. Colorist Phil Choe worked with Chen, cinematographer Jason Chew and editor Xiaoya (Patricia) Ma in polishing the look of the film.
A Father’s Son is based on Henry Chang’s popular series of crime novels about Jack Yu, a veteran New York detective assigned to the dangerous homicide beat in 1990s Chinatown. The film features the gritty atmosphere, taut dialogue and suspenseful action typical of a hard-boiled detective tale, but the story goes deeper, exploring the societal forces that fueled the gang violence at the time.
“We wanted to focus on the community aspect, how immigrant kids got involved in these horrific crimes,” says Chen. “The film also dives into Jack’s personal story. He is on a mission to discover his inner self and come to terms with his relationship with his dying father.”
Visually, the film draws inspiration from Hong Kong filmmakers of the 1990s, including Andrew Lau and Johnnie To. Chen explains that those films were immensely popular among Asian/American teenagers of the era, like those featured in the story. “I wanted to build nostalgia for that time into this film,” he says.
Cinematographer Jason Chew shot the film with an Alexa Mini camera and used vintage Cooke S4 lenses to recreate the cinematic realism associated with the kung fu genre. That look was further refined during post-production grading sessions with Choe at Nice Shoes. “Phil was very patient and engaged,” recalls Chew. “He took time to dissect reference photos we provided and used color tones and lighting cues from them to nail the vibe.”
“I had seen some of those films as a kid,” Choe adds. “The imagery was a bit washed out and had a desaturated, VHS quality. We started with that at the onset of color development and refined the look through several iterations, sharpening shadows and adding color separation until we arrived at something unique.”
Choe developed a secondary look for flashback scenes in which Jack Yu recalls conversations with his father. “We switched some of the colors out, muting the greens and yellows, to give it an eerie, cool look,” he recalls. “It was a process of exploration that got us to the precise effect Patrick wanted.”
Editor Patricia Ma says the subtle change in color works well. “It indicates the shift in time and space without seeming abrupt or gimmicky,” she says. “Having that happen in the color allowed me to focus on editing and dig deeper into the emotions of the story.”
Chen observes that the finished film is meant to challenge perceptions of Chinese Americans and how they are typically portrayed on screen, while treating audiences to a dark, heart-pounding crime story. “It was a privilege to write and direct this project for Henry Change and bring detective Jack Yu to the screen for the first time,” he says. “This project drew a lot of support and passion from members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Community, including Jason Chew, Patricia Ma and Phil Choe because they believe in Asian American stories.”