If you were ever into lovably nerdy things in, like, 2014, perhaps you’ve heard of Yulin Kuang. At least, I hope so, given the fact that she makes the most delightful projects. To date, Kuang’s most popular works have mainly been fandom-adjacent. For instance, she crafted the Harry Potter-inspired wizard rock love story I Ship It, as well as a searingly funny modern take on Edgar Allen Poe in A Tell Tale Vlog.
But the news of Kuang’s latest and biggest project yet ought to finally get her the recognition she deserves. According to Deadline, she has been hired by New Line to write one of their new comedies, Jade Palace.
The film will track a young, established Asian-American woman who gives up her career in the name of family. Despite avoiding her past for years, our protagonist finds herself returning home to New Jersey to help her father manage the Chinese restaurant that’s been in their family for generations.
At first blush, Jade Palace could potentially be a lovely addition to Asian-Americana onscreen, which has been experiencing a wonderful resurgence in the last year or so. Notably, though, the film’s potential success does call for a particularly deft approach in order for it to feel its freshest.
After all, what do films such as Columbus, Crazy Rich Asians, Searching, and The Farewell all have in common? Regardless of whether these narratives are rooted in personal history or aim to tell a broader story, they are strengthened by the visionary work of their ambitious filmmakers.
Kogonada’s sublime debut film operates with simultaneous visual bombast and restraint, telling a powerful tale of intimacy and connectivity. Lulu Wang does wonders with her sophomore feature, as The Farewell is a profound yet uproarious portrait of loss and tradition. And while Crazy Rich Asians and Searching appeal to more mainstream palates, their artistry can be painstaking.
In comparison, I believe that Kuang has a vibrant signature style that’s poised to make Jade Palace unique in its own way. Writing, directing, and producing memorable online content for years has solidified Kuang’s place as a filmmaker of charming and quirky sensibilities, very often with an especially appealing feminist bent, too.
Personally, I was introduced to Kuang’s work through her 2014 short film, I Ship It. It remains the most popular video on her YouTube channel, YulinIsWorking, and for good reason. The short is a fusion of vlogging and more straightforward (if also cheeky) filmmaking styles and packs a distinct punch.
There’s a definite Wes Andersonian flavor to the way Kuang’s characters interact with I Ship It‘s gorgeously vivid set pieces, no matter how contained they are. The employ of dramatic beats and mildly over-the-top line delivery also brings the craft of Edgar Wright to mind.
That said, the best part about I Ship It is that, beyond operating as cinematographic homages, there’s a sense of ingenuity in the film. The perfect casting of Mary Kate Wiles and Sean Persaud ensures pitch-perfect chemistry. Meanwhile, the film is cleverly scripted and edited that each laugh-out-loud moment rings true. It’s unsurprising that I Ship It eventually made it to The CW Seed as a web series.
Kuang’s addictively charismatic filmmaking formula is carried over to Shipwrecked Comedy, a YouTube channel that she co-founded with Sean and Sinead Persaud specializing in literary and historical comedies. First, Kuang co-wrote and directed A Tell Tale Vlog. The series follows Romantic-era author Poe as he records a writing vlog. At the same time, his latest “house guest,” a ghost named Lenore, haunts his study. Strange for sure, but also undoubtedly ridiculously funny.
Kuang’s next Shipwrecked venture is considerably more modern but remains focused on comically fraught interpersonal relationships. Kissing in the Rain centers on two actors who find themselves, as the title suggests, in many rainy intimate situations onscreen. But once the cameras stop rolling, their disdain for one another becomes apparent. Or so they think.
These Shipwrecked series are admittedly simple. The short runtime of individual episodes may indicate a perceived lack of depth in each story. However, A Tell Tale Vlog and Kissing in the Rain are actually really effective pieces of storytelling. Whether they’re trying to elicit laughter or warm our hearts, they are focused, satisfying, and emotionally-driven series with endless replayability.
Moreover, Kuang’s writing and directing extend beyond pop culture-laced projects. One of her earliest films, the award-winning The Perils of Growing Up Flat-Chested, is an adorable but importantly honest look at (self-)love and body confidence as a whole.
Once again, carefully curated stylistic decisions filter throughout the production. Nevertheless, the presumably predictable narrative of the short unfolds in a sobering way; one that’s way more sincere than badly cheesy. And of course, having a young Asian-American at the center of it all makes you realize how much we need more coming-of-age stories just like this one…
…Or maybe something that’s more stylized still; along the lines of Irene Lee, Girl Detective. Led by an extremely cute protagonist, this story tackles childhood imagination with equal parts whimsy and emotional resonance. Complete with a soothingly poetic narration by Sean Persaud (once again), there’s something very special about watching a little Asian-American girl live out her dreams, no matter what form they take.
Frankly, this is but a tiny sampling of Kuang’s talents. They are exhilarating indications of the sheer potential that Jade Palace has. In courting such a genuine filmmaker, New Line has made the right choice. And while we wait for the film to drop, I encourage you, dear reader, to seek out more of Kuang’s nuanced work on her YouTube channel. She’ll just keep blowing you away.