Sung Kang’s Lightsabers Are Cooler Than Yours
The Shaky Shivers director talks about how starring in Obi-Wan sparked a new passion.
Sung Kang is trying really hard to show me how cool his lightsaber collection is. The only problem is, it’s not really a collection. Instead, they’re three fanmade lightsabers tucked away in a little black case at the corner of his Zoom screen so innocuous I thought it was a misshapen guitar case at first.
But as soon as I mention his lightsaber collection, Kang’s face lights. Literally. The lightsabers, made by Star Wars fan and professional engineer Makoto Tsai, are high-quality items made of billet aluminum that can glow, spin, and make that iconic “vwoom” sound. But the sound doesn’t register so well through Kang’s tinny video screen, so he does his best to imitate the sound for me. “Can you hear it?” he asks, as he waves the lightsaber again. I sadly can’t, so Kang puts the lightsaber down to talk about Shaky Shivers, a riotous send-up of campy ‘80s horror films that’s also the actor’s directorial debut.
Best known for his role as the ultra-cool Han in the Fast and Furious franchise, Kang realizes that an ‘80s supernatural comedy is an odd choice for his first time behind the camera. But he says he immediately connected with writers Aaron Strongoni and Andrew McAllister’s vision for the movie.
“We're children of the ‘80s, and the films that we grew up on,” Kang tells Inverse. “Especially the horror films like American Werewolf in London, Nightmare on Elm Street, Gremlins, and Goonies. They relied on the artistry of practical effects.”
Like many children of the ‘80s, Kang naturally grew up on another iconic franchise: Star Wars. As an actor, he managed to land the enviable role of the villainous Fifth Brother in the Disney+ series Obi-Wan Kenobi, but as a child, he indulged in his fantasies for that galaxy far, far away as we all did: by dressing up as Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker and, uh, burning his Star Wars dolls.
“We're creating scenarios and we're like, ‘OK, the Dark Side is attacking,’ so we would get my my mother's Aqua Net hairspray and a lighter and start burning them,” Kang says. “I was doing special effects back then, burning people, burning action figures.”
Inverse talked to Sung Kang about how he went from burning Star Wars action figures to collecting lightsabers, what he stole from the set of Obi-Wan, and his most cherished (and possibly most illicit) early Star Wars memory.
Geeking Out is an Inverse series in which celebrities tell us about their nerdy and niche interests, hobbies, or collections.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
I hear you have a great lightsaber collection. Can you talk to me about that collection? How did that get started?
Well, it actually is very recent. I went to Taiwan to do a project and I did not know that there was such a fervor over the Star Wars franchise there. Every day there was a group of people in Star Wars cosplay waiting for me. Every day I was gifted with something from the Star Wars franchise. And one gentleman, Makoto [Tsai], has perfected making these lightsabers. He has workshops and he teaches people how to make these lightsabers.
He charges people with this workshop and donates the money to the local children's hospital. They all get together periodically, in cosplay, and they go out to cheer up these kids. Sometimes you think, Maybe the fanboys are a little hysterical at times, but for someone to take their love for Star Wars and pay it forward like that, what a beautiful human being.
Did you steal anything from the set of Obi-Wan? Everyone has those stories, don’t they?
I might get in a lot of trouble for this, but the series came out, and it's over and stuff... I stole this from set and very few people in the world have seen this.
So I played the Fifth Brother, and every day I was in makeup for the prosthetics for four hours. They had to make these molds for the prosthetics, and they do a body cast of you. They get your face and then they start slowly building the prosthetics around the mold. So I asked them on the last day, "What are you going to do with those?" And they're like, "Well, maybe one of them we put in storage, but then the rest of them we’ll throw away." And I was like, "OK." And then they turned their back, and I took one, and I just stuck it in my car and I drove off.
Oh my God, it's a mold of your face.
Yeah. So, this is my body. This is actually the top of my shoulders and head, but then this is actually the prosthetic that they would put on me every single day. So this took about four hours to put on my face every single day, and then they had to paint it all, put the eyebrows in, and put all the colors and stuff. So this was stolen from the set of Obi-Wan.
Even though you started collecting lightsabers after you starred in a Star Wars show, would you consider expanding with more lightsabers? Is there a place that you would go to look for lightsabers, or is this just the collection, as it is?
I want to continue the collection. I've become good friends with Makoto in Taiwan, and he makes everything from Star Wars. So I think next time I go to Taiwan, I'll go take his workshop and learn how to make them myself. I think that'd be fun.
These are just three that you have right now, correct?
You said this is something you can't use on set, but how would you compare it to the weapons that you were using in Obi-Wan?
I think these are better. The ones we were using were many times made out of rubber because they'd be lights and stuff. And my character didn't have real big action sequences, so it's just a piece of rubber clipped on my back. It didn't light up, it didn't do anything, didn't spin or anything like that. It was made out of a rubber mold but it didn't actually do anything. It didn't perform like the other ones.
So you could say, now that you've started this lightsaber collection, it's kind of fulfilling the dreams that you didn't get to actually live out on-set in Obi-Wan because you weren't really given any action scenes?
I know, unfortunately. I kept asking. I kept asking for them. Sometimes I have my wife hold the other one ... and I go, "Let's pretend."
Are these always kind of in their case and ready to be taken out, or do you have a display for them?
I don't have a display yet, because I actually just got these from Taiwan. I just came back a couple of weeks ago. One of the fans made this carrying case. It's pretty cool. Eventually, I'll have a cabinet and a little stand so people can look at them and touch them and stuff, and they'll always be charged.
What would you say was your earliest cherished Star Wars memory as a kid?
I used to go to Toys“R”Us and find as many Star Wars action figures as possible. When I was a kid, I actually got in big trouble because I snuck a couple of them out of the store, and we got caught. Me and my friend got busted. It was the first and last time I ever shoplifted. I couldn't afford whatever they cost, but I desperately wanted Darth Vader, I desperately wanted Luke Skywalker, and I don't think they had security cameras at that time. We would go to Toys“R”Us every single day and just touch the action figures, and finally, I was like, "Let's just stick them in our pocket." We got caught in a big way. The police came, they took us to our house, and my parents went ballistic on me.
So I don't know if it's my most cherished, but it's the most traumatic Star Wars memory. As a kid, I wanted those Star Wars action figures in my life so bad because that was the thing back then. Everybody had the Millennium Falcon models and stuff, and if the families had money, they just had the whole collection of every character. And I had Princess Leia, which was the cheapest action figure at the time. Nobody wanted Princess Leia at the time. And what's funny is that eventually, when I did have a significant collection, I ended up burning them all anyway, because I was bored one day and I got my sister's—
You burned them?!
Yeah, because we're creating scenarios and we're like, "OK, the Dark Side is attacking," and there's an explosion, so we would get my mother's Aqua Net hairspray and a lighter and start burning them and then I would get my sister's Barbies and put them in and start burning their hairs. And at the end, you just have a bunch of melted plastic, but it was fun in the moment. I think that's how you start weaning out of the action figure time, but I wish I had them today because these were probably Series One versions of the action figures. I was doing special effects back then, burning people, burning action figures.
Thankfully, it didn't lead to a life of crime. Instead, it led to a life of movies.
Yeah, instead I stole stereos and stuff onscreen.
Well, thanks so much for chatting with me and showing me your lightsaber collection. I hope that it'll expand from here on and you'll have more than just the three. It'll go to 15 or 20 maybe.
It will. Watch. Next time talk to me, I'll have a whole wall full of lightsabers.
SAG-AFTRA has approved an interim agreement for Shaky Shivers since the film is being released by Cineverse, an independent, non-AMPTP-affiliated distributor. Under the terms, members “may work on these productions without being in violation of the strike order,” per the guild. The entire team of Shaky Shivers expresses their gratitude to SAG-AFTRA for allowing the cast to promote Shaky Shivers during this challenging time for the industry.