For this installment of Filmmaker Spotlight, we’ll be featuring someone whose feature directorial debut made it to the pinnacle of Netflix’s Top 10 list upon its release earlier this year. We’re talking about Jude Weng’s Finding ‘Ohana, a family adventure comedy set in Hawaii that convinced one actor to come out of his 20-year retirement to be a part of the film.
Weng shared with IndieWire how she was overheard by Ke Huy Quan in an ice cream shop as she described to a friend how her first film was going to be reminiscent of The Goonies but set in Hawaii. “And from across the room, I hear a very familiar voice say, ‘Did somebody say Goonies?’” Quan had starred in the 80s film as Data but had since given up acting to be a stunt coordinator in Hong Kong. He came out of retirement to play the character of George Phan, a role written into Finding ‘Ohana especially for him.
Quan also appeared opposite Harrison Ford as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and there’s even an homage to one of their scenes together that can be found in Finding ‘Ohana. It’s a fitting reference in more ways than one since a film in the Indiana Jones series actually inspired Weng to become a director in the first place. The filmmaker described during an interview with Asian American Film how Raiders of the Lost Ark was the first American movie that she ever watched, detailing how she grew up working in her father’s diner and adhering to a strict schedule. Upon hearing all the buzz about the film, Weng decided to cut class to see it and ended up in the front row of the theater with the whole place to herself. “I remember when the ball chased Indie, I thought it was going to come out of the screen!” Weng recalled. “I jumped out of my chair and hid. That visceral feeling, I have been chasing it ever since.”
Finding ‘Ohana certainly comes with its own exciting moments of action, as well as some heartfelt moments that tie into the film’s theme of family. When we caught up with its casting director Leslie Woo earlier this month, she noted that the feeling of ‘ohana extended beyond the screen. “We ultimately came away with a beautiful ensemble cast, and Jude really made sure that there was and still is a real sense of family with it,” Leslie Woo noted during our interview.
As far as what’s next for the burgeoning film director, whose TV credits include titles like The Conners and Black-ish, Weng is slated to direct an upcoming action-comedy feature entitled Shelly for Amazon Studios. The film has A-listers Awkwafina and Karen Gillan attached, impressive casting for what will only be Weng’s sophomore feature endeavor. Time will tell if it receives such a popular response as her first film, but in the meantime, we think Weng has certainly earned this spotlight.