LAAPFF Interview: Director Bishrel Mashbat and Actor Iveel Mashbat on ‘In the Land of Lost Angels’
With time running out and desperate for cash, two Mongolian immigrants turn to crime as their only solution.
Could you tell me a little bit about your film In the Land of Lost Angels, in your own words?
Bishrel: So, In the Land of Lost Angels basically to me started with the character. For a while, the outlaw types, the guys who were not very really clean–I wanted to write about guys like that. And personally I just know a lot them around me that I’d just have such a plethora to draw from. That combined with the fact that you don’t get to see a lot of crime dramas coming out of the Asian American community [inspired the making of this film]. And that was like a fuel, and it just went from there.
Iveel: Yeah, I mean same thing! For me, one of things that I loved about the film, that resonated with me, were the characters. Those two guys–they are a very specific type of Mongolian men–the K-town Mongolian gang type. I like this unstereotypical story about these guys who don’t seem to be the stereotypical Asian men. [But] playing the character was challenging because I’m not that type of guy. I’m a nice dude, so it’s a little different. That was a very important part of it–just showing that and the struggles of these Mongolian American men in the United States.
I think one of the things that especially stands out about the film is the fact that it is about Mongolian Americans, a community that hasn’t really been represented in film. In the Land of Lost Angels is still one of the first Mongolian American films! Growing up, have you been inspired by any other Mongolian American artists or filmmakers–if there are any?
Iveel: Yeah, our parents are filmmakers! Growing up, my mom was an actress, and our dad was a director. Definitely watching their films and watching the old school Mongolian films was a thing. And then Mongolia went through this whole thing where the Soviet Union collapsed. The film industry collapsed and came back up, so watching those films definitely gave a certain type of background for us. We also watched American films. So it’s like an amalgamation of all of these different cultures and different types of film-making. One is old school Soviet, the other one is sort of like American Hollywood and that background. For me at least, that created this sort of in between hybrid type of style. I think the film itself is about people who are stuck in between cultures as well, so it’s a big hot pot of all sorts of stuff.
Bishrel: What he said, I agree! I second that.
What was the journey like getting this film made–especially since it’s kind of a pioneer in its own right?
Bishrel: I mean, before this film I was in “development hell,” where you have a project and you’re forever trying to get something made and then you come close but it falls apart and this and that. But for this project I kept the scope much more intimate. Before I started taping, the first meeting was just like, “Alright guys, no matter what, I’m making it.” And then, “I would rather make it with you than without you!”
So when you have that attitude, it’s like this is going to happen. More people would be like “Oh okay, I see you’re really going to do it then, so let’s do it!” More and more people just jumped aboard, and just championed the project. It was, I have to say, pretty stress-free in a way. We weren’t very busy, too.
Iveel: For me it was! I jumped in halfway through, and we had most of the stuff done, and we were getting ready to shoot. But my journey was very intimate in a sense, because I know people like [the characters] personally in my life. Definitely the characters were more aggressive than who I am, so it was a sort of 180 for me. I had to rediscover sort of this a bit of abrasiveness from a side of myself, and that rediscovery was interesting because a month prior to shooting I started building up the character and learned all these behavioral things and that was a great journey. After the film was done, everybody said, “Yo, you’re being way too aggressive, chill!” It took a couple weeks to just calm down, and that was interesting.
Ultimately, what would you like your viewers to take away from the film and do you have any advice for any struggling Mongolian Americans who want to be part of the film world?
Bishrel: I’ll answer the second part first… it’s just, you probably hear this a lot, but I guess because it’s true. Just do it, you know? When you first as an artist come to LA, there’s this period where you feel like you need validation, you need to get a job and you’re going do that, but everybody I feel has to go through that journey to come back and be like, “Yo, I have to do my own thing.” So whatever it is, big or small, just keep doing it with whatever resources you have–that’s it. Takeaways, I don’t know… I look at my film much like a dialogue so people might take different takeaways. But I don’t really have a message per se–this is out of my hands now, so it’s for the world to judge.
Iveel: The interpretation is up to the viewer. We present something, and then the different interpretation is this sort of result that we want to see. Everybody has different experiences, different backgrounds, and people see things with different lenses. But definitely presenting what we see is a goal in itself and then seeing all the different reactions.
Bishrel: Well, to add to that real quickly–with this project, one thing I really wanted was to show people what Mongolians look like. Their talk, their walk, and their attitudes.
This brief interview was conducted by Li-Wei Chu during Press Day at the 2019 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
Special thanks to Jonathan Liu for transcribing this interview, and to Derrek Chow for providing the featured image.