Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle turns 15 this year and is now the same age as its ideal viewer. (It premiered, perhaps to throw the squares off its dank scent, on 5/20.) For 4/20, the Seattle Asian American Film Festival (SAAFF) is screening the movie at Grand Illusion Cinema at 4:20pm. I talked with SAAFF public relations manager Annie Kuo, who estimates she’s seen the movie 15 times in those 15 years, about why the movie isn’t only a stoner classic (not to mention a career revival for Neil Patrick Harris), but an important moment in Asian American cinema.
How did this showing come about?
It originated from our wanting to celebrate this classic. It was one of the [first] films that featured mainstream Asian American protagonists and broke a bunch of stereotypes, and it was kind of a pioneering film for our communities. It’s coming up on the 15th anniversary so we definitely wanted to celebrate the milestone.
Last year—mostly around Crazy Rich Asians—there was a lot of talk about representation in cinema. But Harold and Kumar didn't seem to get mentioned a lot, which is interesting because it's the first Hollywood franchise with Asian American protagonists. Why is it an important touchstone?
We've got John Cho's character who is this finance guy trying to do the right thing, and he's trying to toe the line. And then you've got his rebellious sidekick—I guess they’re each other’s sidekicks—Kal Penn, this crazy, unapologetic stoner friend who’s rebelling against his parent’s wishes to be a doctor, but finds his way back to it. When I watched the movie for the first time and subsequent times, I thought, They represent the possibilities of us breaking character. And we knew that within our own friends and communities that there are folks like these two that don't conform to the stereotypes of the model minority myth. It also gave us permission to break those cultural stereotypes.
Here are these two guys who we can totally identify with because we can see ourselves in them. And yet they are going on this bender. And I just thought that was so cool. When I watched it with my brother and our friends, it was very liberating. It was one of those films that led the way in communicating that Asian Americans, we can be stoners, too. We can go out and party and have a good time, too. It also had an anti-racist message. They kind of come across that gang that's putting them down and the protagonists emerged triumphant at the end. And they win the girl too.
Anything you want to add?
I feel like the film is a great example of an earlier mainstream movie that centered on Asians, but it wasn't focused on them being Asians. I don't speak for everyone, but I felt like Crazy Rich Asians—a lot of the sell point was: We know that Asian Americans are going to embrace themselves on screen because this is a full Asian cast.
I think Harold and Kumar just unapologetically went out there. It didn't necessarily target Asian American audiences first. It was just this hilarious stoner journey about the love of White Castle burgers and these two very appealing human characters.
Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle
Apr 20, Grand Illusion Cinema, $10