Asian A.V. Club Chats with The Brothers Sun Director Kevin Tancharoen

Kevin Tancharoen has followed a unique creative path, dancing with the likes of Britney Spears before moving into directing TV and film. Now he’s reconnecting with his roots

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12:00 AM HKT, Fri March 29, 2024 4 mins read

Not a lot of people can claim the unconventional path to becoming a director that Kevin Tancharoen followed. At a young age, the Thai-American found himself as a backup dancer and eventual choreographer for some of the biggest pop stars of the early 2000s, like Britney Spears and NSYNC. However, his artistic aspirations didn’t stop there. Driven by a passion for storytelling and a frustration with the limited opportunities available to him, he took a bold step: creating the movies he wanted to see himself.

Tancharoen’s proactive nature and versatility in handling diverse genres have made him a sought-after director for over a decade. Yet working on the series Thai Cave Rescue and The Brothers Sun brought an unexpected shift for the confident director. These projects sparked a spiritual and emotional transformation, that will likely influence his future work in the years to come. We got to talk to Tancharoen recently about his fascinating career.

Asian A.V. Club: I gotta ask, I read somewhere that your initial interest in working in Hollywood was through creature designs and monsters. It’s fascinating because when you watch a movie at a young age, you don’t really think about the artisans behind the scenes.

Kevin Tancharoen: I think it really comes down to three specific movies in my childhood that I was really obsessed with, the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and Child’s Play. Basically, I was a pop culture nerd growing up. And I remember seeing the ‘making of’ specials on the VHS tapes of Ninja Turtles and Terminator 2. They showed the animatronics and the rubber suits and just the whole process. And I was like, ‘Oh my God, that seems like so much fun.’

Asian A.V. Club: While you were studying this kind of craft, you also excelled in the world of dancing. As a young person in that industry, what did you observe or learn being a dancer back then?

Kevin Tancharoen: It was one of those things where I actually just did it as a hobby. I was a huge martial arts fan, but also a huge dance fan, because I grew up watching a lot of fun music videos. I stumbled into it, to be honest. I didn’t set out to be a professional dancer or choreographer, but it was something that when the opportunity came, I really just fully embraced it, and went for it.

And I was young. I went on the road for the first time when I was 15. So in many ways, I have kind of a similar story like that movie Almost Famous, where I was the youngest person on the road. I didn’t go out to clubs, I was very close to my family, I still had like a quote unquote, ‘normal life’ at home. I wasn’t all about the business. So I was going between both worlds, which I think is what kept me sane. But I learned how to deal with people, being something of a wallflower and just kind of being an observer. And I grew up with hearing loss, so I wear hearing aids. And a lot of my observations were just kind of being quiet and watching and trying to figure out what’s happening. If I couldn’t understand the words, it made me probably in tune with facial nuances and body language. And I think in turn that just all ended up benefiting my directing career later.

I ended up taking over and directed the Britney tour when I was 19. And I was like, ‘Oh my God. I don’t know if I can do this anymore.’ [laughs] I don’t think I was made for the music business; you know what I mean? Like, it’s a very specific energy. And as much as fun as it was, in my young adult life, I wanted to get back to my first love, which was film and TV, specifically genre.

The Brothers Sun

The Brothers Sun. Image courtesy Netflix.

Asian A.V. Club: Hollywood tends to pigeonhole talent, so when you wanted to transition from music productions to narrative film, was there a bit of pushback?

Kevin Tancharoen: Yeah, I understood that my first way in was always going to be something with dance and music involved. I was like, I know how Hollywood is, they tend to categorize you as best they can. So I knew my first anything was going to be that. And then I did [Fame] when I was 24 and it was a hell of an experience.

So after that, in order to prevent me from only doing dance movies, I picked up my camera and my own money and went ahead and shot Mortal Kombat: Rebirth on my own. I knew that no one ever is going to let this dance and song guy do his first love, which was nerdy comic book genre stuff. So I was like, I’ll just have to do it. And I gotta say, because of that, it’s the reason why I’m talking to you today. I wouldn’t have been able to do Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or The Flash or The Book of Boba Fett or The Brothers Sun. It really all stemmed from that decision. Sometimes, actually, most of the time, you have to take a bet on yourself. Because, literally no one is going to do it.

Asian A.V. Club: How did working on the series Thai Cave Rescue and The Brothers Sun affect you?

Kevin Tancharoen: On Thai Cave Rescue, not only was everyone on set Asian, but Thai. I had this weird, I can only say, spiritual experience that washed over me. Like I felt a community without having to say anything, and I never felt this before.

I’m born and raised in Los Angeles. So in many ways, I’m very Westernized and I never got to experience much of my heritage. When I was younger, maybe just being a kid, I rejected it. I was also on the road and became a cultural chameleon, feeling like my culture wasn’t really being represented in a cool way. But as I got older, I was like, why did I do that?

So when I came back to LA and did [The Brothers Sun] on my home turf, it was another elevated experience to see that represented here. I’m working with hundreds of people who look like me and it was something I had never, ever experienced before. It felt like I was with a bunch of family members making a show about our traumas and our inspiration and having a lot of fun doing it.

Thai Cave Rescue.

Thai Cave Rescue. Image courtesy Netflix.

To read the whole interview with director Kevin Tancharoen, click over to Asian A.V. Club where Kevin gets personal about the impact of his last few projects and if he still busts a dance move in public. Not only that, but we have loads more chats with wonderful creatives working behind the scenes of film and television!

Banner image via Asian A.V. Club.

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