Brian Tee is an American actor of Japanese and Korean descent who is best known for his role as the Drift King in Fast and the Furious, Tokyo Drift. Since then he has been in a variety of roles in film and television.
One of his most recent roles is playing the lead character, Jason, in the Korean/American film Wedding Palace, co-starring Kang Hye Jung. He is also cast in the TV series Mortal Kombat: Legacy Season 2, and he played the antagonist Noburo Mori in the Hollywood blockbuster The Wolverine, starring Hugh Jackman.
You have a fun role as Jason in Wedding Palace. I’m sure a lot of people can relate to the meddling relatives he has.
Brian: That’s kind of what we were shooting for. We tried to make a comedy that’s universal with laughter and transcends culture. If we succeeded, we’ve done our jobs.
Were your parents helicopter parents like Jason’s?
Brian: I’ve had friends with that dynamic of having the overbearing parents telling them they need to get married and even having arranged marriages. Fortunately, I grew up with a very liberal mom. She was a broadcaster and so she let me do my own thing. But I could relate to the cast of characters and the zaniness having grown up in Koreatown (in Los Angeles) with my friends.
How did this project come to you? Is comedy something you’ve always wanted to do?
Brian: Yeah. Comedy is probably closer to my personality than other roles I’ve played. Christine (Yoo, the director) sent me the script in late 2007. It was one of those scripts where you laugh out loud. It’s rare for a script to make me literally laugh out loud but it did. That was the launching pad where I knew I wanted to do it, and even produce it. It was a long journey, but it was one I wanted to take because no one’s really seen me as a character like this. I feel much more like a character actor where I can go from brute/heavy to comedy, and hopefully fans will appreciate it as well.
You sing and play electric guitar in this. Can you actually sing and play?
Brian: (He laughs.) I was working on the TV series Crash in Albuquerque (N.M.) and— nothing against Albuquerque, but there’s not much to do — so on my days off I took guitar lessons, knowing there was a scene in Wedding Palace, where I would have to play guitar. I wouldn’t consider myself a professional, by any means, but if you told me which chords to strum, I could do it. Hopefully, that played well in the scene. It was one of my favorite sequences, actually.
What was it like working with Korean actress Kang Hye-jung?
Brian: It was a lot of fun. She’s a lively spirit and a giving actress. English not being her first language, she was in it to win it. She worked really hard, and it comes across on screen.
You guys had to use some trick photography to capture the comedy of surprise, right?
Brian: The trick shots we just had fun with. I think we pulled it off. She was a gem to work with and I’d love to work with her again someday.
Jason finds out something he didn’t know about his dream girl once she arrives in America. What was your criterion for a girlfriend or mate?
Brian: No matter what physicality my wife would have had, love is love and I would still be in love with her and would still want to marry her no matter what. Jason has that same feeling, but he just has to get through that initial shock to find out.
Congratulations on your wedding. You and Mirelly are both are actors, so did you have a chance to go on a honeymoon?
Brian: We both have been busy working. Even in the next couple of weeks, I’m flying out for work and next month, she’s flying out for work. It’s a busy time for us. It’s great to be busy. We’re itching for that moment in time where we can sit back and relax and enjoy what we set off to do and enjoy the rest of our lives and celebrate that moment. Hopefully, we’ll be able to find gaps in our work that will allow us to do that.
There are some specific Korean-American traditions depicted in Wedding Palace, particularly the ceremony where the year-old boy chooses his career path by selecting one of several objects set before him. Did you go through that ceremony when you were a child?
Brian: Absolutely. That’s a Korean touchstone. It’s interesting that we’re talking today, which is Korean Thanksgiving. My mom’s side of the family got together and we had lunch. Tradition is huge in the culture and very important to the family and myself. Those gems you see visually in the movie and the elaborate wedding that they pull off are typical. When we were actually shooting the wedding scenes, we weren’t trying to be farcical about it. That is how they go. Some are even more elaborate. It was one of those crazy adventures of a Korean movie that shows the cultural side that not a lot of Westerners and other cultures are familiar with. We wanted to show what traditions Koreans have and what Korean-Americans share.
Do you plan to do more martial arts movies? You didn’t die in Wolverine, so is it possible you could be back?
Brian: I don’t consider myself a martial artist. I consider myself an actor first. I don’t do my own stunts. I regard myself as a lover, not a fighter. I work from the inside out. I feel the physicality is all a part of it. That said, I am a physical guy. I grew up playing sports: football, basketball, you name it. I like the physicality of things and I put a lot of work into the physicality of certain characters, especially with the career path that I’ve taken: a lot of action movies, and a lot of roles that ask for physicality. So with my martial arts background, it’s really more self-defense—very small, very get out of the way, let’s end the fight as quick as possible, whereas in film fighting, it’s completely different. It’s broad strokes. It’s playing for the camera. The beauty of martial arts is the elegance and grace of it all. In movies, I’m more of a bull charging somebody (on camera). What’s interesting, the martial arts that I’m asked to do on certain action films that I’m cast in I literally have to transform my martial arts style and even my physicality. That excites me.
What can you tell me about your role in Mortal Kombat: Legacy?
Brian: Liu Kang is somewhat of the face of it. There are a lot of big shoes to fill as far as the physicality and martial arts and me not being that expert as a martial artist, there was a lot of work involved. So I do enjoy martial arts and action movies, and when the role comes across, I will work as hard as I can and do everything I can. But at the end of the day, I’m going to let the stunt guys do what they do best and let myself do the acting, which is what I do best and create whatever we can, action-wise, to make it as memorable and impactful as possible.
You were D.K. (a.k.a. the Drift King) in Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Are you going to be in Fast 7?
Brian: Right now, the answer is no. Would I want to be? Absolutely. If I could reprise that role, it would be great. He’s one of my favorite roles and to be a part of that franchise is a blessing. Hopefully, [Fast 7 director] James Wan will have room for me. There are a lot of actors coming on board and I’d love to be one of them, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Wedding Palace is released and distributed by Captive Cinema. It will be shown nationwide starting March 12, 2014.
Brian Tee talks about Korean-American traditions depicted in his movie Wedding Palace
by posted on March 10, 2014