HomeBad Ass AsiansTen-Minute Talk: James Wan and Aquaman

Ten-Minute Talk: James Wan and Aquaman

James Wan
James Wan on set of Aquaman. Photo by Jasin Boland and DC Comics

By Jana Monji, AsAmNews Contributor

James Wan’s Aquaman breaks some new ground and might cause a mental breakdown for Americans with certain winter holiday traditions. Speaking over the phone with AsAmNews, Wan talked about creatures–endearing and frightening and about the joys of a deep dive into DC Comics.

Growing up, the 41-year-old Wan didn’t get into comics until “the period when the great writers and artists from the two big houses, joined Image Comics.” Formed in 1992, the comic book and graphic novel publisher was founded by a collective of best-selling artists. Wan was reading Spawn (Todd McFarlane’s series about a resurrected U.S. Marine who becomes a shape-shifting demonic anti-hero) and Youngblood (a Rob Liefeld series about a U.S.-government super team).

That might seem a thousand leagues away from Aquaman. Elsewhere Wan did give a “hypothetical fantasy answer” that suggested Batman might be a better match for the man behind The Conjuring and  Saw because couldn’t we all imagine a Batman horror movie? That would be the Dark Knight getting real dark.  You always have to find a different angle with Batman, but not so with Aquaman.

Wan dove into the DC Comics archives–“70 years of source material–and also immersed himself in documentaries about the underwater world like the BBC’s Blue Planet” for Aquaman. Wan and his visual supervisor and visual effects team were “constantly picking up clips and still photography and using them as references” in order to understand “what something would look like” such as how a dolphin swims underwater.

James Wan
(L-r) Amber Heard, director James Wan, Jason Momoa and Willem Dafoe. Photo by Jasin Boland & DC Comics

Wan found the underwater world created through CGI in Aquaman very “freeing” and “liberating,” but it also meant that the shots were very complex, and, for the actors, that meant many hours in uncomfortable rigs to simulate swimming and floating underwater.  Sometimes, that suffering might have been for nothing. Wan noted that there was one small origins story about the young Aquaman learning to swim underwater that was cut from the final film, but he hopes that will show up on the special features for the DVD/Bluray.

While Wan claims that his love of horror movies didn’t influence any of his choices in Aquaman because he related that “every movie that I made, I learned something” and “storytelling is storytelling,” there are a few moments where you’ll feel real horror in a different kind of trench war than what happened during World War I. Imagine swarming schools of the fiercer cousins of the creature from the Black Lagoon. Yet in the same movie, but a different sequence, Wan pulled out a cameo of Aquaman’s Silver Age companion, Topo, an octopus because Wan found Topo to be “an endearing, beloved character.”

What you probably didn’t imagine, but Wan did, was that “the most powerful creature on earth” would be “female and be British as well.” She also had to be a Dame and Julie Andrews was “one of those who made it to the top of my list.” Those who associated the lilting British tones of Andrews with a failed nun fleeing the Nazis (or a no-nonsense magical nanny on Cherry Tree Lane) might have their holiday Sound of Music (and Mary Poppins) memories warped. I thought it was genius, despite and even because of my love for both musical movies.

While Aquaman was a movie that gave Wan “much bigger toys to play with” and “much more resources” than his previous films, having been born in a country like Malaysia that consists of a peninsula and islands, and having been raised on the island continent of Australia, Wan was raised to be environmentally conscious. In Australia, Wan noted, children are taught to “take care of the land” and not to litter because trash “will find its way into the ocean.” Having an environmental message in Aquaman was important to Wan. “As surface dwellers, humans, we all collectively known how badly we’ve polluted the oceans over the decades.”

James Wan
(L-r) Director James Wan and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. Photo by 
Jasin Boland &  DC Comics

That global concern of pollution serves as a catalyst for the action and doesn’t bog down the flow of the action but provides a logical reason why Aquaman should take the throne of Atlantis.

Aquaman opens December 21 and stars Hawaii-born Jason Momoa with New Zealander Temuera Morrison  (Once Were Warriors) playing Aquaman’s human father, Thomas Curry.

AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart. We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. Check out our Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff or submitting a story.


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