I spoke with Han Chiang on how his daily “performance” as the outspoken owner of eight Han Dynasty locations has helped him slide seamlessly into the role of a mob boss for a second time. After starring in the full-length, “Sinner City” (2016), he has a key role in another local production, the comedic crime short, “The Condo”—directed by Temple alum David Zhou—playing the role of Chao.
From the IMDB page for the “The Condo”:
“Steven and Rahul are two best friends in college who turned their living room into a casino in order to pay off their gambling debt to Chao, a China Town King Pin.
Having worked for Han as a waiter, I knew why Han looks the part in the recently released trailer for “The Condo”. Many a restaurant owner can undoubtedly relate to much of what we discussed. [UDPATE: A free screening of “The Condo” is happening 8pm, April 4th at The Trocadero].
Brion Shreffler: This isn’t your first acting gig, right?
Han Chiang: No. I shot something for a friend of mine called “Sinner City”.
You played a mob boss in that too.
I’m being typecast.
Tell me more about your role.
I play a mob boss named Chao and the movie is about two college students. One of them owes me five grand from gambling in my underground casino. The only way they figure to pay me back is to run their own underground casino out of their condo. I get in trouble with the police, so the only way I can get out of it is to rat somebody out so I rat them out to the police.
When did the film finish shooting?
January. We had a wrap party here. It took about two weeks to shoot.
What was the budget?
Close to ninety grand. The director put out his own budget.
The production on this one looks a lot better.
The camera itself cost like eighty grand. The other one, the camera was like three hundred bucks. The budget is night and day. The first one was a full-length. This is a short film—just thirty minutes. We’re trying to get people to fund us to make a full-length.
When will it be released? What’s the scope of it?
I think in a month or two they’re gonna rent out a small theater and show it there.
Are the people behind it going to try to get it into film festivals?
Yeah. We got accepted to the Cannes Fest. I’m going to France in May.
Yup. [Pint glasses clink]
You come across very naturally in the trailer. I’m watching it and I’m like, he’s a fucking mob boss. Having worked with you and given how well-known you are as a personality, I came away thinking that living performance 24/7 helped you so much.
Yeah, I’m acting every single day. When I’m talking to customers, when I’m talking to my staff, I have to play my role. You have to approach everybody differently. I do have a script in my head but then again I like to study a person and then I just give them what they want to hear. There’s a famous Chinese saying: when you talk to a human, you speak human; when you talk to a ghost, you speak ghost. You profile the person you’re talking to and basically give them what they want to hear.
I remember Mark Allen [Han Dynasty GM and longtime employee] telling me that you’re being another person when serving, that you’re selling yourself. Talk about how the personality you project has evolved as you went from being a front of house staff member to being an owner.
I guess it has to come from way before when I was a fucking nobody. Always in trouble. When I first came to the states, I didn’t speak English and I’m trying super hard to fit in. I was thirteen and l lived in Lancaster County. If you couldn’t fit in, then why the fuck would you come to a foreign place like this?! It’s like you’re in high school, you don’t want to get bullied—if you fit in, you can better secure your job. Then, being the black sheep in the family, no one gave me respect. My first restaurant experience was working as a busboy at a Chinese restaurant in Paoli. Now, even though I have a business, I’m always trying to fit it, I’m trying to be liked. To me, it’s the most important thing about making a business. A lot of restaurant owners, I think they focus on the wrong things because some are only focused on the food, some people are focused more on the service. Everybody focuses on different things. A lot of people got it all wrong because this is a customer service industry. Making customers happy needs to be your priority.