The only certainty in life is death. What actually happens when you reach that inevitable end has long been the subject of philosophical debate and in Death & Ramen, filmmaker Tiger Ji takes us on the poignant final journey of a ramen chef who finds himself at the crossroads of life and death. His genre-blending buddy comedy features an awkward grim reaper, played by Matt Jones whose routine job is disturbed by a puking Bobby Lee whose only desire before facing the afterlife is a steaming hot bowl of Kimchi Ramen. Tiger’s short takes us on this contemplative, hilarious journey with tact, nuance and a deep consideration of life and what may lay beyond it. It’s not easy to create a film that opens with a suicide attempt that makes you laugh and hanker for ramen in equal measure, but Tiger has done exactly that and Death & Ramen manages to celebrate life from this final vantage point with sincere heartfelt comedy, revitalising the familiar trope of an appointment with Death with aplomb. Making its online premiere today following a celebrated festival run, we invited Ji to join us for a chat where he dives into working with Bobby Lee to subvert expectations around Asian actors and their representation on screen, learning to focus on the joy and spontaneity of filmmaking from Ruben Ostlund and why he wouldn’t dream of making a film without first meticulously storyboarding.

What inspired this unconventional comedic look at death?

I decided to make this film after my grandpa passed away. His insistence on never taking life seriously allowed me to embrace mortality. Levity and joy became my way to transfigure grief. On the flip side of nihilism was a bowl of kimchi ramen: as tough as it gets, all your pain can become eased in this single bowl, distilled into something warm and gorgeous.

How did the script develop from your place of grief into this beautiful existential piece celebrating the sheer joy of a bowl of ramen?

The idea first came to me when I was 16, during a really tough Christmas in a treatment center after a suicide attempt. It’s a vivid memory: my mom showed up with a bowl of ramen as my Christmas gift. We sat there, in that hospital room, eating and crying together. That night, something shifted in me. I started to see that life wasn’t just about despair; it had moments of love and connection, like that one with my mom. Those challenges we face, they’re part of a bigger picture, and they can be overcome. As I grew older, I held onto that memory. I then wrote the short film as a kind of message to my 16-year-old self. I wanted to transform this memory into a tender, yet stark comedy about giving death a hug, and learning about life through a bowl of kimchi ramen.

Can you tell us about your use of storyboards to plan the film’s visuals and how that led into the production?

My childhood dream was to be a manga artist. This deeply influences my approach to filmmaking. I’m always sketching and doodling, which feeds into how I storyboard my films. For me, storyboarding isn’t just a preliminary step; it’s as important as rehearsal. Taking it a step further, I create detailed animatics complete with a full score and voice acting. Precision and preparedness were really important to me as a young director working with the iconic Bobby Lee and wonderful Matt Jones. Their involvement in our short film was a great honor, and I knew I had to be meticulous. Bong Joon Ho said, “Whenever I go to a set without storyboards, I feel like I’m standing in the middle of Grand Central Terminal wearing only my underwear.” I feel the same.

For me, storyboarding isn’t just a preliminary step; it’s as important as rehearsal.

Where do your comedic influences come from and how do you blend them into the overall tragedy at the heart of Death & Ramen?

Finding the right mix of comedy and drama in my writing was a delicate task. My goal was to treat the protagonist’s struggles with the gravity they deserved, yet still weave humor into the narrative. It’s like ‘putting a whoopee cushion on an electric chair’. My influences came from an eclectic mix of films. I delved into movies like Oldboy, Tampopo, and The Seventh Seal, not your typical sources for comedy, but they’re filled with unexpected moments of humor amidst their serious themes. Similarly, for the buddy comedy element, I drew inspiration from films like In Bruges and the works of Monty Python. Their style of comedy isn’t just about laughs; it’s intelligent and often interwoven with darker, more serious undercurrents.

Death & Ramen is embodied by Bobby Lee and his captivating performance. What does it mean to you to tell this Asian-centric story with such a trailblazing Asian actor?

Getting Bobby Lee to star in my short film was a dream come true. As a young filmmaker, I looked up to his incredible presence on MADtv. I knew he had the range to explore more dramatic roles, with the possibility of making you laugh and cry in the same scene. When I wrote the script for Death & Ramen I just knew Bobby was the only actor who could play the lead role. I was 21 years old, and I had no connection with him but I was annoying and stubborn: from incessant emails to his agents, hand-written letters, and Instagram DMs, I did it all. For months it felt hopeless, but one day I received a mysterious phone call from California, and Bobby had called me and agreed to do it. I wanted to show Bobby Lee as a dramatic actor and I’m honored he believed in me to direct him.

We often see films centered on Asian culture and history, but I wanted to go beyond that, to show Asians in unexpected, even bizarre roles.

Representation is important to me, but so is subverting expectations about Asian actors. That’s why working with Bobby Lee was so crucial. He’s not your typical Asian American performer; he brings something completely different to the table. We often see films centered on Asian culture and history, but I wanted to go beyond that, to show Asians in unexpected, even bizarre roles. Bobby embodies this perfectly. He’s loud, depressed, and vulnerable. Bobby’s role in the film isn’t just about an Asian-centric narrative; by casting him, we’re not just avoiding stereotypes, we’re trying to blow it out of the water.

The film’s sound design is equally impressive – you have loud and imposing dramatic punches of music mingled with evocative sounds of food cooking and of course the euphoric track in the final scene. Can you tell us about constructing that soundscape?

That goes back to the conversation about precision. By creating an animated storyboard, I knew where all the sounds were going to be ahead of time. The score also played a big part of it. My composer and I took the theme song of Barry Lyndon and subverted it, turning it into something more modern, it’s rare that we see a kind of ‘theme song’ in a short film and I thought that’d be cool.

Ruben constantly reminded us about the value of joy and spontaneity in our work and that bit of advice has really reshaped how I approach filmmaking now.

You spent time studying with Ruben Ostlund, how has that experience informed your approach to filmmaking?

Last summer, I got the chance to be under Ruben’s wing in Bologna, Italy, at a Cinema Ritrovato workshop. He actually supervised me while I was shooting a scene, and it was a huge learning curve. Ruben’s all about precision in filmmaking – he really pushes for focus and clarity, especially when the pressure’s on. His techniques, especially in rehearsal and improvisation, really opened my eyes to different aspects of filmmaking. But the biggest takeaway? It’s the importance of keeping things light and playful. Ruben constantly reminded us about the value of joy and spontaneity in our work and that bit of advice has really reshaped how I approach filmmaking now. It’s about balancing seriousness with a bit of fun. He has a way of empowering young filmmakers like myself. It’s great.

What did you shoot on and how did you approach the look of the film to support the balance of drama and comedy, especially given that it was five nights of shoots in Little Tokyo, LA?

We shot on the Alexa Mini. I wanted to avoid the somber and noirish look we typically get in ‘death dramas’. Instead, the visuals reflect a vibrant celebration of life. So, the approach became simple: interiors were warm oranges, and exteriors were cold vibrant blues. And yes, we shot over five nights in Little Tokyo. We had over eight location changes, as I wanted to capture the feeling of a feverish, quirky journey that the unlikely duo embarks on. Setups were quite complex, especially with the bridge scene.

I want to talk about the final dance scene, there is so much packed into this and it felt perfect to me. Tell us about the planning and filming of that.

I was inspired to do a joyful dance sequence that subverted the ending to The Seventh Seal which presented this foreboding, terrifying, and sublime dance of death. In contrast, I wanted my dance of death to be free, liberated, and ecstatic. As far as filming it, we were on that rooftop for like 30 minutes because the sunrise only lasted that long. We turned the camera on, I put on LCD Soundsystem (at Bobby’s request), and they started dancing. As for shooting the ‘afterlife dance party’, we were pretty much cramped in a tiny hot room for three hours. That was a lot of fun, working with the extras. If you look closely, you can see me making an appearance in the crowd.

I wanted my dance of death to be free, liberated, and ecstatic.

Can you also tell us about your experience participating in Jim Cummings short to feature lab? How has that fed into the making of the feature version of Death & Ramen?

Thinking back on my time at Jim Cumming’s lab, it was quite an experience, for sure. We hung out in Malibu for a few days last year, chatting about making the jump from short films to features. Meeting all sorts of filmmakers there was really cool and eye-opening. But the biggest thing I picked up? It’s that there’s no one right way to do things in filmmaking. This was a pretty important moment – understanding that it’s okay to find and follow your own path, even if it’s different from how others do it. It’s been a big part of figuring out how I want to tackle my own feature film.

And finally, I have to ask, do you have any tried and tested ramen recipe tips?

I call this the Ocean’s Harmony – I simplified it so you could make the whole thing in under an hour and with a pack of ramen you buy from the store.


  • 1 pack of instant ramen noodles
  • For the Shoyu Tare (soy sauce-based seasoning)
    • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
    • 2 tablespoons mirin
    • 1 tablespoon sugar
    • 1 clove of garlic, minced (garlic is life)
    • ½ inch piece of ginger, grated (for that zing)
    • Your favorite fish stock (I swear by Aneto 100% Natural Fish Broth – thank you, Amazon!)
    • A handful of fresh basil leaves (the fresher, the better)
    • A lime or two (for that tangy kick)
    • Anchovies (canned or fresh, whatever floats your boat)


  1. Get That Fish Stock Going: First things first, let’s get that fish stock bubbling. Pour your favorite fish stock into a pot and crank up the heat. Let it do its thing and simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour. This isn’t just any broth; it’s the heart of the dish!
  2. Noodle Time: While the stock is working its magic, cook your ramen noodles. Boil them for 4-5 minutes – you want them al dente, not mushy. Once they’re just right, strain them. Set them aside and give them a little pep talk about the amazing broth they’re about to meet.
  3. Shoyu Tare Magic: Now, let’s whip up some shoyu tare. Grab your soy sauce, mirin, sugar, garlic, and ginger. Mix these buddies in a saucepan and let them mingle on low heat for 5 minutes. This concoction is the secret handshake of your dish.
  4. Bring It All Together: Time to unite the shoyu tare seasoning sauce with your patiently simmered fish stock. Just eyeball it – trust your instincts! This is where the magic happens.
  5. Assemble Your Masterpiece: Grab a bowl and lovingly place your noodles in. Then, cascade that beautiful broth-tare mixture over them. Top it off with basil leaves, a squeeze of lime, and a crown of anchovies. Turn the ordinary extraordinary.

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