'They Live in the Grey' Directors, Brothers Burlee and Abel Vang, Share Their Favorite Films
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Burlee and Abel Vang, the oldest children of Hmong political refugees from Laos, were born and raised in Fresno, California. In 2011, the brothers won the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Nicholl Fellowships in screenwriting for their war drama screenplay, The Tiger’s Child. In 2016, they wrote and directed the thriller Bedeviled

Their latest horror film, They Live in the Grey, will be available to stream on Shudder on Feb. 17. 

"We went into this story wanting to explore the grieving process as intimately as we could to examine that fragile walk we take between life and death when we lose a loved one," the Vang brothers explain to A.frame. 

"Claire Yang, the central character of our film They Live in the Grey, is inspired by our mother whom we witnessed quietly fall apart through years of grieving the death of our brother Tom. Michelle Krusiec, who plays Claire, actually wore some of our mother’s clothing," the Vang brothers share. "She brought such an amazing commitment and empathy to the role."

"Overall, this film has been a cathartic process for our entire family, with every member contributing in some kind of way to the production," they explain. 

"We’re also very proud and excited to tell an Asian American horror story. It’s just something you do not see at all. Most horror films with Asian leads are foreign films coming out of South Korea, Japan, or Thailand. And then, they usually get the remake treatment with Caucasian actors by the time they’re introduced to America," the Vang brothers continue. "They Live in the Grey is also that rare Asian American film that does not explore anything culturally Asian. Our hope is to inspire other filmmakers to allow actors of Asian descent to take on lead roles in stories that have nothing to do with Asian culture and ethnicity."

Burlee and Abel Vang share their favorite films with A.frame and explain what makes the films so special to them. 

The Thing

Directed by John Carpenter

I remember discovering The Thing as a teen and being blown away by the tension and mystery that John Carpenter was able to create with a handful of characters isolated in bad weather. Beyond the film's amazing practical effects, what makes me return to this horror gem is how Carpenter made each character distinct and memorable with just a few brushstrokes in order to produce such fine-tuned friction and strain within the team. It's the perfect horror film, easily Carpenter's best – and I enjoy it every year with my wife and kids.

Burlee Vang

The Passion of Joan of Arc

Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer

I saw The Passion of Joan of Arc when I was a film student and instantly fell in love with the movie. Easily one of the best films from the silent era. Even though the story is told primarily through harrowing close-ups, you never feel the need to step back and breathe. Having made a few indie, shoe-string budget films, I know how time-consuming and costly it is to just track, dolly or push-in the camera. I honestly don’t know how they were able to execute the camerawork with such perfection. I mean, they made this movie in 1928!

– Abel Vang

Once Upon a Time in the West
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Directed by Sergio Leone

My father and I share a love of Italian Westerns. He saw his first Italian Western in a refugee camp, and introduced me to the genre when these films aired on public television. The one I go to every year is Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West, which I actually introduced to my father. The film has had a lasting impression on me with its ability to marry score to scenery and character.

Burlee Vang


Directed by Akira Kurosawa 

Rashomon is a film that darkly portrays the fallen nature of man and his inability to reach “truth.” This film has had a profound philosophical and even theological impact on me as a filmmaker who is driven to tell stories that reveal some kind of truth about the human condition. As a storyteller, I’m always trying to stay ahead of my audience. For me, Rashomon is the epitome of misdirection.

– Abel Vang

In The Mood for Love

Directed by Wong Kar Wai

I jumped into Wong Kar Wai's work much later than I should have. When I did, I was instantly mesmerized by his use of time in In the Mood for Love. The bold editing choices and lack of conventional transitions between scenes really made me think about how time can exist on the screen, how malleable it is in storytelling. In that film, you move from one moment to the next in clunky, almost accidental, fashion. It feels risky as hell. But what Wong achieves with this is the effect of a dream. Time can stall, leap, compress itself – and you just go with it. This is a film I find myself thinking about quite often, even if I'm not watching it. Maybe one day I'll work up the courage as a director to take such artistic risks.

Burlee Vang

The Silence of the Lambs

Directed by Jonathan Demme

What makes The Silence of the Lambs such a memorable film for me is the scene where Agent Starling meets Hannibal Lecter for the first time. It’s designed so beautifully – the progression of shot sizes between each character as they contest for power over the other, the change in the eyelines, and of course the stellar dialogue – it’s a scene that I go back to study over and over again. Why? Because with any given film, at one point, you will probably have to shoot a scene that involves two people talking. And there’s only so many ways you can shoot such a scene.

– Abel Vang

Raise the Red Lantern
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Directed by Zhang Yimou

My wife introduced me to Raise the Red Lantern while we were still dating in college. It pivoted me into the world of foreign films and made me an avid follower of both Zhang Yimou and Gong Li. So much of this little film has taught me about the subtleties of performance and storytelling in the space of an extremely confined world. One thing I've learned from this masterpiece is how subtext is better translated to an audience when the emotional core of a scene is implied rather than openly expressed.

Burlee Vang

Schindler’s List
Schindler's List

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Hands down, one of the best pieces of cinema ever created. Masterful and heartbreaking. Schindler’s List was the movie that compelled me to co-write the Academy’s Nicholl-winning screenplay The Tiger’s Child with my brother.

– Abel Vang


Directed by Masaki Kobayashi

As an avid fan of Asian cinema, Kwaidan is a film I find myself drawing inspiration from when working in the horror space. It is such a beautiful and haunting anthology. It manages to do so much with the play of light, color, sound – and silence. Silence can be a dreadful and poetic thing. This film taught me how to appreciate and use silence as a cinematic device, especially when creating tension between two forces, which is too often expressed through noise.

Burlee Vang

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
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Directed by Ang Lee

I remember deciding to watch Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in the theaters instead of studying for a final exam in college. I ended up bombing my test, flunking the class, and forced to repeat the course the following semester – but it was well worth it! This film is by far my favorite martial arts film even though it is so much more than that. The choreographed sequences feel like elegant dances. When I think of crafting an action sequence, I’m often reminded to approach it as a dance – thanks to this film.

– Abel Vang

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