‘Gremlins: Secret of the Mogwai’ showrunner Tze Chun: ‘Why can’t we be weird?’

‘Gremlins: Secret of the Mogwai’ showrunner Tze Chun: ‘Why can’t we be weird?’
via Jessica Haye, Clark Hsiao
Daniel Anderson
June 6, 2023
Writer and producer Tze Chun is no stranger to well-received, large-scale projects.
Chun’s debut feature film, “Children of Invention,” premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and garnered over a dozen awards at subsequent festivals. He has since directed and written the 2013 thriller “Cold Comes the Night” featuring Bryan Cranston and Alice Eve, penned multiple episodes for ABC‘s “Once Upon a Time” and Fox‘s “Gotham,” and wrote one of the episodes of the Apple TV+ anthology series “Little America.”
Chun’s latest project, the animated series “Gremlins: Secret of the Mogwai,” marks his first venture into animation, where he takes on the roles of showrunner, writer and executive producer, presenting a new and groundbreaking chapter in his career.
“On the first page of the script, I had written a note that said, ‘Unless otherwise noted, all characters are Chinese,’ and it was something that I never thought I would ever be able to write in a studio script,” Chun tells NextShark.
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via Max
Greenlit in 2019 for a 10-episode first season on Max, the show serves as a prequel to the iconic 1984 movie “Gremlins” and its sequel “Gremlins 2: The New Batch,” transporting viewers to the streets of 1920s Shanghai. It unveils the origin story of enigmatic shopkeeper Sam Wing and shows how he crossed paths with the mischievous Mogwai known as Gizmo.
“I came in with a take on it, which was I wanted to do it as a big, fun, action-adventure akin to the Amblin movies I grew up watching like ‘Goonies’ and ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,'” Chun shares.
The project provided Chun with an opportunity to combine aspects of those classic ’80s movies with his own heritage, drawing from the stories passed down by his parents and his exposure to dubbed VHS tapes of Hong Kong TV shows. 
Additionally, Chun sought inspiration from Chinese legends.
“I had wanted to bring in Chinese creatures, spirits and monsters from Chinese mythology,” he explains. “These were scary things that I felt actually mixed really well with the Gremlins mythology. Gremlins have their rules, they’re scary, but they’re also really funny. A lot of the creatures and spirits within Chinese mythology embody similar characteristics.”
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via Max
“They have things that make them tick,” he adds. “Things that are rules, ways that they can be defeated. It really is exposing audiences to a completely new creature that they may not be as familiar with from Western media. It was really there that we built out the story and wanted to make sure that it felt big and epic and worthy of being a predecessor to the original ‘Gremlins’ movies.”
The animated series received early support from original “Gremlins” director Joe Dante and executive producer Steven Spielberg.
Contributing to its epicness is a dream cast that includes James Hong, BD Wong, Ming-Na Wen, Sandra Oh, George Takei, Bowen Yang, Randall Park, Eric Bauza and Izaac Wang.
“I’ve never had this experience before where, in the writers’ room, you always talk about your dream casting for these roles. BD Wong, Ming-Na Wen, and James Hong. We just approached them, and we ended up getting our first choice across the board,” recalls Chun. “I think it speaks to how united we are in our desire for Asian representation, even in voice acting.”
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via Max
Another challenge in the writers’ room was finding the right tone for the show, aiming to engage young and uninitiated viewers while also appeasing fans of the original “Gremlins” franchise, many of whom are now in their 40s and 50s.
“For many, ‘Gremlins’ was the movie that traumatized them as kids,” Chun says. “It’s funny because it’s about this furry creature, but once you start watching it, it’s really scary and horrifying. The blending of tones is what makes ‘Gremlins’ so unique. That’s something we knew we wanted to bring to this TV series.”
“We felt truly supported by Spielberg, Joe Dante and the studio network to push the scares as scary as we wanted them to be,” he adds. “Knowing that you can always dial back a scare with a laugh, and vice versa, if something’s really funny, you can always include a little jump scare or something like that. We hope to honor the original tone of the ‘Gremlins’ movie while also bringing it to a different medium and a completely different backdrop.”
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via Max
By setting the story in 1920s China, incorporating mythical elements and featuring an Asian American-led cast, “Gremlins: Secret of the Mogwai” exemplifies how Asian culture can seamlessly become part of the fabric of an American classic.
“That is definitely something I’ve discussed with my Asian American writer and director friends. There was a time when an Asian American story, especially an Asian American immigrant story, was always perceived as a single entity,” reflects Chun.
“More recently, we’ve discussed Asian American stories, POC stories 2.0. Why can’t we be weird? Why can’t we have incredibly flawed characters? Why can’t we be every character in a Gremlins prequel series? It’s an exciting time,” he adds.
Chun also recognizes the growing influx of AAPI talent delivering fresh and unseen storylines.
“As more and more AAPI stories break through into the mainstream, it dismantles the perception that we’re a monolith,” he says. “Every immigrant or Asian American story isn’t the same. We’re witnessing a real expansion in terms of genre, tone and the diversity of stories we’re able to tell.”
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he adds. “As a TV showrunner, I receive numerous scripts from young writers. As I read through the scripts by young Asian American writers, I’m struck by the diversity of storytelling within the Asian American experience, even scripts that don’t revolve around being Asian American because we should have that freedom too. I know there are many fascinating Asian American creators on the rise. We’re merely witnessing the beginnings.”
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via Max
“Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai” has released four episodes to date, with new episodes premiering on Max every Thursday.
The show currently has a 100% critics score and a 93% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and has already been renewed for a second season.

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