COURTESY CHERYL MONK|
Cheryl Monk, who uses the name Cheryl Ling on film, plays Windy Yee in "Rice Girl," which she also produced.
Going against the grain
Producer Cheryl Monk hopes her zany
"Rice Girl" finds a bigger audience
Rice Girl" is a movie in search of an audience. Any audience.
Thursday, April 8, 2003
>> Cheryl Monk's Web site for her "Rice Girl" movie is myricegirl.com. A story on Page D1 Tuesday listed an incorrect Web site. Also, her husband, Gregg, is a stand-in for actor Miguel Ferrer of NBC's "Crossing Jordan." He was misidentified as a technician working on that show.
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The over-the-top slapstick (and rather slapdash) independent comedy has been screened at a couple of small U.S. indie festivals and the Cannes Film Festival in exhibition, but producer-actor Cheryl Monk is looking for wider distribution, including the Pacific Rim markets of Asia.
In the meantime, the sometime Hawaii resident is making a home-video version of her movie as a "sneak-preview release" available on her Web site myricegirl.com. Sales were initially spurred by fans of Dean Haglund, known as one of the three Lone Gunmen from "The X-Files." Haglund has a small role near the end of "Rice Girl" as a maniacal film director, and rabid "X-Files" fans, being the completists they are, must have anything graced by one of their fave actors.
"I admit that I get impatient at times, waiting for the best distribution deal," said Monk on a recent Oahu visit. "I don't want that from stopping people from seeing the movie, and I hope the 'X-Files' fans will help stir up interest."
Originally from Taiwan, Monk spent some years here in Hawaii, from 1985 to 1997, adapting to the local lifestyle while studying drama and broadcasting at the University of Hawaii-Manoa and Kapiolani Community College. In between that and surfing, she did improv comedy club gigs, as well as a wacky cable access show called "Mixing Up."
One of her characters, Windy Yee, served as an inspiration for "Rice Girl." (In fact, Monk inserts a goofy sketch she did with some guy she identifies as "Maui Saito" that originally aired on the show into the movie.)
Monk's character broadly plays to stereotype -- in a movie filled with the same. Windy is the typical aspiring actress in Hollywood who, on the advice of a suspicious Russian method acting coach, is advised to enter the world of the streetwalker in order to better prepare for auditioning for a lead role in a new movie called "Hooker X."
Windy gets the support of her roommate, Darla, a devout Christian who, through the power of prayer, transforms Windy's constant companion, Eddie the goldfish, into a wisecracking human.
During her "research," an undercover cop posing as The World's Worst Pimp, played by Ian Lithgow (son of actor John), of course falls for in love with her. Along the way, Windy also deals with a dangerous transient who turns up to be an ex-TV producer (insert inside joke here), a Middle Eastern hotel owner who gets his cut on the action Windy and her black hooker pal try to generate, a fussy Mandarin-speaking restaurant hostess and a donut shop owner played by, of all people, Pat Morita, in a bit role.
Oh, and there's also a wrestling match with a 300-pound guy named Meathead.
THE MOVIE is just as manic as Monk's own life. From the age of 4 and through her early teen years, she was bounced back and forth between her separated father and mother in Taiwan and California, respectively. Even though she experienced more than her fair share of emotional instability, there was always play time to make things right, if only briefly.
COURTESY CHERYL MONK|
"I admit that I get impatient at times, waiting for the best distribution deal. I don't want that from stopping people from seeing the movie, and I hope the 'X-Files' fans will help stir up interest ... ---Cheryl Monk, Director
"I'd make up my own stories -- crazy, zany ones," she said. "As a kid in Taiwan, I liked watching 'The Three Stooges' and 'Leave It to Beaver.' It was great to see a functional family, compared to mine!
"But I admit I was in a dream world -- I'd play with the neighbor kids, and we'd dress up -- I remember having them tow me around on a banana-tree leaf."
Ginling Fu (Monk's given Chinese name) was eventually sent to boarding school, making her feel angry and rebellious. Luckily, all that untapped creative energy would have an outlet when, as Monk was entering her teens, she moved to L.A. to live with her real mother, now remarried.
"I remember being on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Stars, and being in awe and starstruck by it all." Taking advantage of her new living situation, she quit school at 15 in hopes of breaking into the business.
"I'm the product of a dysfunctional family," Monk says. "I mean, look around L.A. and see all the actors, writers, directors and producers -- nobody comes from a normal life either! Back then, after leaving my mom and stepdad's house, I stayed with friends, bouncing from one place to another.
"I was networking as part of the Hollywood party scene, and once producers saw my exotic looks, all they wanted me to play were either a hooker or the mamasan.
"But there's that rebellious side of me that wanted no part of that. Instead, I wanted to make fun of those roles. And I wanted to do something with a positive message, so that was my intentions in making something like 'Rice Girl.' "
COURTESY CHERYL MONK|
Cheryl Monk's "Rice Girl," also starring Pat Morita, above, was screened in exhibition at the Cannes Film Festival.
MONK MOVED to Hawaii and started developing a script. With the renewed vigor from the change of environment and becoming a born-again Christian, the first draft of "Rice Girl" materialized around 2001.
But making her dream movie meant traveling to and from her apartment/office in Waikiki and L.A. With the help of her husband Gregg (a technician on NBC's "Crossing Jordan"), the couple had to "beg, borrow and steal" the money to finance the movie.
The creative process involved working with a ragtag tech crew and adopting guerilla filmmaking tactics in and around L.A. when they didn't have the money for security or permits. It took an exhausting, slam-bam three-week schedule to complete the movie, with crews and actors working on 18-hour shoots six days a week.
Now Monk and her husband have a movie in hand that they continue to shop around. "The movie's gotten pretty good feedback -- and thanks to 'The X-Files' Internet chat rooms, at least fans of Dean Haglund know about 'Rice Girl,' " Monk says.
She hopes that, one day, she'll be able to produce and shoot a movie of hers here, although she adds that "it's still very expensive to do it here. Making an indie film is almost impossible, in my point of view."
But Hawaii's been good to Monk. She got her U.S. citizenship here, and met her husband while night scuba diving, getting hitched in a ceremony at the falls at Haiku Garden in Kaneohe. "I just love the lifestyle here," she said.
And although she's happy with "Rice Girl," she wishes it could've been even broader comically. "I like stupid, and it wasn't stupid enough. There should've been more slapstick, more zany!"
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