Deptford Cinema has a reputation for delving into the nostalgia jar and pulling out old gems to delight their audiences with, writes Holly O’Mahony…
Who remembers the Harold & Kumar series? You know, the stoner comedy movies from the noughties that followed the wide-eyed adventures and mishaps of stoners Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn). The films were, in some ways, ahead of their time – the first Hollywood trilogy to star two Asian-American leads – yet so beautifully of their era, too, in style, humour and references.
On November 22, Deptford Cinema is screening Harold & Kumar Get the Munchies, the first in the series that sees the two heroes set out on an elusive hunt for cheeseburgers. A surprise hit on its release in 2004, the film’s ‘one-wild-and-crazy-night model’ inspired two sequels – Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008) and A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas (2011) – which are also getting the cinema treatment in Deptford over the coming weeks.
The Greenwich Weekender speaks to Sunil Chauhan, programmer of the cinema’s Harold & Kumar series, to find out how the films have aged and why they still appeal to audiences today.
Holly O’Mahony: Firstly, how did the decision to screen the Harold & Kumar series this season come about?
Sunil Chauhan: I’ve always been a fan of the Harold & Kumar films, but they aren’t talked about very often. When it comes to older films, they aren’t really seen as part of the cult or comedy classics canon – even though they have a lot of fans – so you don’t see them often in cinemas. I wanted to remedy this. With John Cho [who plays Harold] generating a lot of buzz recently because of his leading roles in Columbus (2017) and Searching (2018), it felt like the right time to remind people of his former work. That said, I’m sure for some people – and possibly not to John Cho’s liking – he will always be remembered for playing Harold.
HOM: How would you describe the Harold & Kumar series to audience members who haven’t seen the films before?
SC: At the risk of sounding like a list of website tags, I’d say they’re hilarious, touching, good-natured, silly, ridiculous, mischievous and provocative. What’s more, in some ways, they’re still a novelty – being Hollywood films, specifically stoner-buddy-comedies, starring two young Asian Americans.
HOM: Harold & Kumar Get the Munchies came out 14 years ago. How do you think it’s aged?
SC: All three Harold & Kumar films as a whole are very high up there in the pantheon of great stoner films. A great stoner comedy allows you to experience being stoned vicariously and this film, plus the two that follow it, achieve this. Although marijuana is obviously the thread that ties the three films together, and sets off the adventures the protagonists go on, they are as much about friendship.
HOM: Who do you expect to come to the screenings: an older, nostalgic audience or young film buffs who might not have seen the films before?
SC: The screenings will probably be nostalgic for those who remember the films from the first time round, but they’re still relevant today; many of the things Harold and Kumar do, and are faced with in the film, are still things that many young people like them experience – and will probably want to experience. Stoner comedies don’t tend to have great critical standing, yet they always come back in some form or another, attracting new, younger audiences when they do.
HOM: The screenings are part of BFI’s nationwide Comedy Genius project. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
SC: Comedy Genius is a project the BFI are doing which gets cinemas around the country to show comedies. The organisation probably thought the country needed something to laugh about in the present moment, so put some money behind it. So in a way, it’s for the good of the nation. You could say it’s a ‘cinematic wellbeing project’.
HOM: Any final words for people thinking about coming along to one of the Harold & Kumar screenings?
SC: Harold & Kumar Get the Munchies is a great introduction to the two main characters. While it’s a lot of fun on it’s own, to get the most out of the films, you really have to see all three in the series. Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (which you could say is The Empire Strikes Back of the Harold & Kumar films) manages to be politically relevant without ever forgetting that it’s meant to be a comedy first and foremost. The last in the series, A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas sees the heroes all grown up, and is a great festive alternative to watching, say, It’s A Wonderful Life again. My hope is that Harold & Kumar will one day get a reboot. I want to see them in middle age.
Harold & Kumar Get the Munchies is on at Deptford Cinema, 39 Deptford Broadway, London SE8 4PQ. November 22 at 7pm, with Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay following on November 28, and A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas showing on December 6.
Admission: £6/£4.50 concessions.