For nearly a decade now, there've been three Lor brothers from North Carolina who’ve been at the heart of my music career. They’ve given me more than a record deal on their label, Evolution Records Entertainment. They’ve believed in me since day one, supported my decisions, provided guidance when needed, nurtured my artistic growth; and most unexpectedly, they’ve shown me the beauty of the Hmong North Carolina community.
I am truly blessed.
So when it was time to bring my songs to life, I knew exactly who I could go to. Today, I’m excited to share an inspiring interview with the Kong Lor, the individual behind the Hluav Taws and Ib Tiam music videos and one of the most talented individuals I know.
It’s also his birthday TODAY! Enjoy!
PAGNIA: Hello and HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Kong! It’s your BIG "3-0!"
KONG: Thank you!
PAGNIA: How are you doing and how do you feel?
KONG: Doing good! I feel young. I feel like I’m unstoppable.
PAGNIA: [laughs] Cool! That’s awesome. So most people know you as Kong from The Kong & Shu Project. But what they might not realize is how active and talented you are. You’re a music artist, a songwriter, a project coordinator, an event promoter, a community member, and a video creator. And I’m pretty sure I didn’t list everything here, but after receiving your graduate degree in graphic design in 2016, you’re now a full-time graphic designer as well. With all of these amazing talents, why video and film? What excites you about creating videos and films?
KONG: I believe it’s the fact that I get to tell stories. Whatever I do, I’ve always been a storyteller whether it’s promoting an event: trying to tell the story of why people should be there, you know, leading them up to the event. It’s telling a story. Making them believe that they should be there. Not only that, but storytelling through the arts whether if it’s through photography, graphic design, or video, I think that it’s important to preserve a part of time and really get my thoughts, to display my thoughts in a visual way. Like I have a lot of ideas, but you know, it’s always in my mind until I can actually turn it into life and also let other people see my vision and share my thoughts with the world.
PAGNIA: Yeah, that’s like the best part about being an artist, I think. ‘Cause I love seeing the creativity of an individual such as yourself. And then I love seeing just how your brain is working, because obviously what you’re sharing is how your mind has already envisioned it, which leads into another question for later. Actually, why don’t I just ask that question? So I remember telling you that there were shots from the Ib Tiam music video that moved me – meaning I wanted to stop and capture that moment, frame it, and then hang it up on my wall. What I’m trying to say is your shots were stunning. Do you have a favorite shot in this music video? How did you go about planning, creating, brainstorming, and bringing Ib Tiam to life?
KONG: I think that after the location scouting, right after that, I already knew what I was trying to go for as far as the look and feel. I did a little bit of planning here and there, but even with the short time there, I already knew what I needed to do in order to create those scenes, especially when it comes to lighting. I already know, going to it [the location], I already know where I need to shoot a particular scene in order to get that look and feel. So everything worked out. But as far as my favorite scene, I feel that the night scenes were really nice.
PAGNIA: Ahhh. Why?
KONG: I think although we didn’t have a lot of time and you know, we were kind of working against the clock, I think that’s something I like to do too – is work against the clock and try to get what I can in before the sun goes down or a particular time of the day.
PAGNIA: The challenges. You like the challenges.
KONG: So I like the challenges. I think it really pushes me to really think outside the box and you know, think quick, think on my feet. “Oh shoot! I gotta do this now, so I better capture it right now.”
PAGNIA: Yeah, kind of like, you know when – I didn’t even realize there was a light back out there [by the river] until it came on, right? And if we didn’t have that light, the night scenes wouldn’t have came out the way they came out.
KONG: Actually that light annoyed me.
PAGNIA: Oh! [laughs]
KONG: ‘Cause I was like, why does this light keep coming on? But I think that’s the beautiful part – just like what I said. It’s like whenever you’re put in a situation, you just got to make the best out of it. And when that light came on, I was annoyed and then when it came on a second time, I was like, “Oh shoot – we gotta use that light to light you up.”
PAGNIA: Yeah. All right, so you and I have worked together on my very first two original music videos, Hluav Taws and Ib Tiam. And you’ve also created other videos. What’s one of your favorite video projects and why?
KONG: I would say the interview with you - the interview video one.
PAGNIA: Oh, the Plhis Suab: The Story one.
KONG:I really enjoyed that one because it goes back to storytelling. I think it gave me a chance to really think about what you wanted and creating it my way of like how I envision it.
PAGNIA: How you could create something from someone else’s vision.
KONG: Yeah, kind of like that last scene in the video where you’re watching like the – your old video.
PAGNIA: Yeah, competitions.
KONG: Yeah, I think when you told me, I think that already popped up in my mind. What if we wrap it up where it comes back in a full circle? And it worked out.
PAGNIA: Yeah, I still love watching that even though we created it, it’s always so refreshing to go back and look at your previous work. ‘Cause A) you get to see how far you’ve come and B) wow - how your mind created it into life. I think that’s just incredible. So you know there has been an overwhelmingly positive response from fans all over the internet after the Ib Tiam music video was released. Now as the director, the cinematographer, why do you think that is?
KONG: I think because the video was so abstract. It gave everyone the opportunity to step into your shoes and see it from that perspective. I think going to this, I didn’t envision anything typical as in two lovers, you know, the guy lets the girl go and she thinks about it. I think what I wanted to do here was to challenge myself to use one character, which is you, and just let your emotions loose. And let it go all over the music video. And I think the challenge was to capture that. You know, just one person in a 3-4 minute music video and for the music video to still be interesting. Rather than like your typical storyline, because I think anybody can do that. But like, when you just have one character like that and you’re able to express your emotions, it’s kind of like yus saib tsis dhuav. It’s kind of like you want to watch it over and over again. There’s so much emotions where you become that person in the video. You know, you’re sitting at that couch, you’re sitting outside, you’re walking outside around the house. And at the end of the video, I wanted the audience to feel that “that was me” in that environment. And to feel like a sign of relief at the end, like the day’s over and I’ve gotten through it.
PAGNIA: Yeah. [sighs] I like how you just said that, because even I felt relief, just thinking about that scene in this moment, about how lub hnub poob lawm, tsaus ntuj lawm. It’s the end, you know. It’s relief. That’s a really powerful statement there. It’s interesting that you mentioned how you feel about just the challenge working with one character to tell the story. As you know, there were a few fans wondering why another character was not added to show more of the back story. Would you be able to add on? What’s your response to that?
KONG: It leaves everything open-ended, so it gets the audience, the viewers to also use their imagination. To really think about, “Oh shoot! What did happen?” You know, I saw a lot of people raise that question, but the good thing is that it allows those people to imagine, and it gives them a chance to imagine that the person in the video is their life. And then they start to use their own experiences. I think that’s the power of using one character and making the best out of it, because you know, you’re challenged to create a music video that actually makes sense and shows a lot of emotions. For those individuals who’s asking why there’s not a secondary character to tell the back story, it’s because their imagination is the second character.
PAGNIA: Ahhhh. Beautiful.
KONG: I think to make them wonder, I think that’s when you know, it’s a good music video. Because like you know, people are thinking about it. People are thinking about why isn’t the second character there. Because I don’t think that, like, watching the video and people are asking, “I wanted to see a guy break her heart.” It really doesn’t mean that it’s a guy that broke her heart. It could be that she lost someone, right? So I think that to let the audience run wild with their imagination, I think that’s the best gift, as a storyteller, that I can give to people.
PAGNIA: Right. You give power to the viewer too at the same time. You allow them to be an active part of the creative process. That’s really what it is. That’s so cool.
KONG: Yes. Yes.
PAGNIA: Okay, so what do you hope people take away from your film/video work? Anything you have and/or will put out?
KONG: I want to say to think outside the box. Do something that is not familiar. Do something that can push the boundaries. Something to challenge the norms. And I think most importantly, something to make people feel comfortable.
PAGNIA: Yeah, that’s true.
KONG: Not in a bad way, but in a way where people will go, “Damn, I don’t think no one would do that.” I think that whenever you can do that, be the first to do it, whether it’s lighting, whether it’s storylines, or your characters, I think that it can go on to inspire other filmmakers to do the same too.
PAGNIA: Mmhmm. That’s powerful. So, for anyone, young and old, who’s interested in filmmaking, what would you say to them?
KONG: I would say that it does not matter what equipment or what you can afford to use to shoot a video. I think we all have access to it, our phones and stuff now. And as long as you’re willing to tell a story and as long as you’re willing to take action to turn it into real life, I think it all comes down to how you can tell the story. It goes back to it doesn’t matter what equipment you have. There’s no excuse not to do something just because of what you have. So don’t let finances be an issue.
PAGNIA: Cool! So in this new year, what are you planning? What are you hoping to create whether it’s film-related or not?
KONG: This year I would like to focus more on music, creating new music for sure. Not only but a few documentary projects that I want to pursue. Also, the possibility of going back to school.
PAGNIA: Sweet! Wow – BIG projects. Cool! So if people want to reach you, connect with you, where’s the best place to do that?
KONG: They can connect with me on Facebook.
PAGNIA: Okay, Kong Lor on Facebook. Great! Thank you for your time and more importantly, for inspiring the next generation of artists. I can’t wait to see and hear what you create in this new year!
KONG: Thank you. Ua tsaug.
YOUR TURN! Did something Kong said in this special interview resonate with you? As always, I love hearing from you. Leave a comment below!
Until next time...