Tag Archives: Chinese Filmmakers

Producer/Director Xueou Yu experiments with magical realism in award-winning film

Xueou Yu was just a teenager when her mother bought her a book titled Top 250 IMDb Ranking Films.  At the time, it seemed like a simple gift, but it quickly changed her life forever. She began watching some of the films in the book, and before she knew it, she had watched all 250. After immersing herself in the dynamic artform, Yu became in love with cinema. She could travel to far lands, go back in time, learn about different cultures, all while sitting on her couch.

Now, Yu is a celebrated film director and producer in China and abroad. She is known for her work on films like VincentKa Ka Ka Ka, and Donna, as well as commercials such as Sirui Pocket. She is known for her expertise in her craft, with over 60 thousand followers on social media, who look for her posts providing feedback on current movies and television shows.

“I think film is a tool to expand our lives. To me film can maximize our life experiences. I want to spend my life giving others this kind of experience,” said Yu.

One of Yu’s first tastes of international success came with her dynamic drama Asa Nisi Masa. At the time, she was very drawn to magical realism in film, the mix of surreal and reality greatly attracting her artistic mind. She wondered what she could create with this in mind, and began exploring ideas that would draw people in while also challenging them. That is when Asa Nisi Masa was born.

Asa Nisi Masa follows a man who has never believed in magic, when one day he walks into a bar and finds out the bartender has found his true love by the help of a genie. The genie lives in the men’s bathroom in the bar, and is there to grant wishes. Yu also wrote the script, on top of producing and directing the film. It is a simple and funny story, and she wanted to convey that one never knows what will happen, even if it is something you never thought possible.

When Yu first started working on the film, she had difficulties finding a cast and crew as many were unsure of what they deemed a “weird” story. However, Yu had an important outlook: when making films, if the crew doesn’t believe in what they are creating, they won’t create a work of art. Commitment, she finds, is one of the most important aspects of filmmaking, as it is such a collaborative effort. With that in mind, she worked tirelessly to find the right people who not only could execute her vision, but who believed in it as well, and her hard work paid off.

By Reina Du
Xueou Yu on the set of Asa Nisi Masa, photo by Reina Du

Asa Nisi Masa premiered at the 2017 Blow-Up International Arthouse Film Fest, where it was an Official Selection. From there, it saw great success, and went on to win awards at the International Independent Film Awards and the NYC Indie Film Awards 2017. Such success could never have happened without Yu, who was the driving force of the film.

“I created this project to experiment with the language of film. I think I successfully created a mysteriously odd world. I was able to spread many of my weird thoughts and I had a lot of freedom to really do what I wanted, because I was also producing it. Experimenting is always fun, and even though there are some technical aspects that some would question, I created exactly what I wanted, and it really resonated with audiences. It is a reminder for myself to never stop experimenting,” she said.

At the early stages of pre-production, the most pressing question was asked: how will they show a genie? Was it going to be animated, or an actor in costume? Yu decided on the latter. She thought that by making the genie seem like a regular person, it further portrayed the idea that although the idea was magical, it could happen in the real world, with genies walking among us. To blend the magical aspect, she had two characters sitting at the bar based on a painting by René Magritte, adding that artistic touch for viewers. She truly mixes the surreal and real together to create a unique feeling.

“They call it magic realism, but to me the realism part is always more important because that’s how we live in this world. In this film you still see the realism play a big part,” she said.

Needless to say, Yu is a determined and talented filmmaker. She is a leader and an artist, and knows how to captivate an audience through her work. Asa Nisi Masa is just one example of what she is capable of, and audiences around the world can continue to expect great things from this filmmaker.

She believes her passion is why she has seen the success that she has, and encourages all those looking to follow in her footsteps to truly be in love with filmmaking.

“Don’t go into filmmaking because you think it looks cool or can bring you fame and you make what would please a crowd. Do it because it is what is in your heart and find the subjects you really love and just keep going. Don’t pretend to be the person who you are not, and don’t be ashamed of what you can’t become. Focus more on doing the things that you really love. This is an art, it takes talent and a lot of commitment,” she advised. “If you have both those things, never give up.”

 

Photo by Daren You

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Producer Guoqing Fu brings China and America together with award-winning film ‘Underset’

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Guoqing Fu

Filmmaking allows China’s Guoqing Fu to explore the unknown psychological world and explore his endless creativity. He feels a thrill whenever he embarks on a new project, with the purpose of reflecting and exaggerating social phenomena, to arouse resonance in people’s hearts.

“As the eighth art form of humankind, film is the crystallization of the first seven art forms, which perfectly interprets the inner artistic passion of filmmakers. The artistic and creative pleasure that cannot be obtained in the real world can be infinitely expanded in the film world,” he said.

Throughout his career, Fu has shown why he is an in-demand producer in his home country and abroad. This is exemplified with his films Gum Gum, La Pieta, and Over, to name a few. He has a sincere desire to educate and entertain the masses through his work, with no plans on slowing down.

“My goal is to better disseminate Chinese and American culture, making more collaborative projects and bringing more culture and art into the film world,” said Fu. “I feel that the film and television cooperation between China and the United States has great potential. I am willing to be a pioneer and keep working hard.”

The producer became one step closer to that goal with his film Underset. Taking place in the Republic Era of China, after the main character, Qianyue Zhang, was married, he went to his hometown to find his friend, Mingtang Wang, but he accidentally finds a dead body in his hotel room. The police take the owner of the hotel, his wife, and all the hotel customers into custody. Qianyue’s wife and her father arrive to learn about the incident, but it is all too much for him to accept, eventually leading to his death.

Premiering last June in Beijing, Underset was a great success in both China and America. Not only was it an Official Selection at many prestigious festivals around the world, it took home several awards. These include Best Feature Film and the Diamond Award at the Hollywood Film Competition, Best Feature Film at the Hollywood Film Competition, Best Original Music and Best Production at Macau International Movie Festival, Best Feature Film and the Platinum Award at the NYC Indie Film Awards, and Best Feature Film at The European Independent Film Awards.

“I am very honored as one of the most vital members of the team. It’s my first time being a producer on a truly Chinese feature film. When I heard about the awards from my friends and crew members, I was excited,” he said.

Fu was a co-producer on Underset, taking on key responsibilities like script selection, hiring team members and setting up the team. He coordinated every single department, solved any and all problems on set, ensuring everything went smoothly without any delays. He always did what needed to be done to stay on top of things, making a strong team and a great film.

Most important for Fu, Underset is a Chinese domestic film. The production environment is very different from the United States, but this producer is determined to be a bridge between Chinese and American film cooperation, a large and challenging task he is more than willing to take on.

“It was hard, but I think it was worth it. It was my first time managing a whole production in China. In the beginning, I needed to care about all the parts, because it makes me learn more about the Chinese film industry. It has some advantages, but it also has disadvantages. I love those experiences, some of them are challenging, but challenges make me stronger and a pro for next time,” he said.

Keep an eye out for Fu’s future works.

Sound Mixer SiYao Jiang terrifies audiences with ‘Slicker’

As a sound mixer, SiYao Jiang spends his day on film sets and television productions, always experiencing something new. He comes to work each day prepared to not only excel technically, but creatively as well. He knows the importance of sound when watching your favorite movie, being able to take audiences to a different place and time through what they hear.

“I am not that kind of person who can sit in an office all day, I need to move around, and production sound mixer is the perfect job for me where I do audio and recording in different locations every time. Secondly, I get to meet different people during different sets,” said Jiang.

Jiang has spent his career impressing worldwide audiences with his talent. He has worked on national commercials with leading brands, like the Japanese air conditioning company Daikin, and on award-winning film productions, such as Apple, as well as Bag of Worms and Starf*cker. He is incredibly versatile, knowing just how to bring on the laughs or terrify audiences, just as he did in the horror Slicker.

Slicker is a suspenseful horror film about Eddie, a cocky businessman who is lost in the middle of nowhere with an empty tank of gas, and no idea what direction to take next. He finds himself seeking help from a pair of locals who are hiding a deep disdain for outsiders, and a dark secret. The help he finds is not what it seems to be, leaving Eddie fearing for his life. He is faced with a decision, and his choice leads to grave consequences.

It was the first horror Jiang mixed, so it was an interesting experience for the sound editor. He found the story fun, but also slightly disturbing, and he wanted to help scare the audience. He also found that the film was more than just a scare tactic, as it teaches something at the very end.

Slicker has gone on to see tremendous success at many film festivals around the world. It even went on to win several awards, including second place at the International Horror Hotel, and was selected into the End of Days Festival this past summer.

“I feel great that Slicker did so well. After all the challenges that the sound team faced and working so hard to overcome them, it is great that other people recognized our efforts,” said Jiang.

The setting for this film was in a forest, and Jiang found shooting in such an environment challenging but fun in terms of sound. The environment was pretty difficult, with lots of people being bitten by fire-ants, including him, and the weather was very humid, so it really restricted the range of the wireless. The first day of shooting, the system wouldn’t turn on and the mic wasn’t functioning as it was getting wet. Luckily, he had a backup and it was smooth sailing from there. He made sure to come prepared with alternative options every day afterwards.

“I like challenges, and this project is really challenging. Lots of wide shots, limited space, and super humid environment which makes the sound team very difficult to work with. Luckily the production gives us enough time to sort the problem out,” he said.

Watch Slicker and prepare yourself to be terrified.

Producer and Director Ace Yue tells heartwarming LGBTQ love story with new film

As a filmmaker, Ace Yue takes an idea and brings it to life. Originally from Shenyang, a north east city of China, Yue has always had a passion for the art form and has dedicated her life to bringing captivating stories to the big and small screen. As a producer, she finds just the script and team to make a vision a reality, and as a director, she follows her instincts and provides a sound voice of leadership for her entire team.

“I like to give every character in my stories an entire life, no matter how old they are. I am building up an entire world for my cast, allowing them to feel the character, making friends with them, then, becoming them. I want the audience to be taken away by the story, creating a cathartic experience for every viewer,” said Yue.

This in-demand producer and director made headlines last year with her award-winning film Gum Gum, which she wrote based off her own life experiences, but Yue is no stranger to success. She also has highlights on her resume such as By Way of Guitar, La Pieta, K.a.i., and many more.

“I think this is a job that requires a sense of responsibility. It’s fun and full of creativity. In fact, creativity and on-the-spot ability are my most important skills of being a producer and director, because we can never predict what will happen on the set. So, having a very high ability to adapt is key,” said Yue.

Recently, Yue has seen great success with one of her newest films, the drama Hank. The film tells the story of Hank and his husband Tommy who are struggling to save their 15-year marriage and entertain the idea of an open relationship. While this might be working well for Tommy, Hank struggles to cope with the change as well as the challenges of being old.

Telling an LGBTQ story was important for Yue, who immediately said yes to the film after reading the script. She has worked on many genres and is incredibly versatile, but this was her first time telling a story about this community. She feels film can provide a voice for underrepresented groups and educate viewers on key issues, and taking such a heartfelt look into the loving marriage of two homosexual men touches on all the reasons she wanted to become a filmmaker to begin with.

“Learning to understand who we are, and respect everyone as they are, is of the utmost importance. It is the greatest aspect of this film. In real life, most people like to look at things with a preconceived perspective. In other words, people just want to see what they want to see. Rarely will we analyze and understand the problem from the perspective of others, and then everyone will have such a state of mind that they are freaks and not understood by others, and then generate inferiority and escape from life. What this film tells is that no matter how others treat themselves, they must first face themselves honestly, don’t treat themselves as aliens, bravely accept themselves, pursue what they want, each of us is equal. The gender orientation, the preference of the things themselves can be different. Don’t worry about the eyes of others. It’s right to be happy for being myself,” she said.

Hank premiered at the Burbank International Film Festival and was an Official Selection at the Hollywood International Film Festival. It was an Honorable Mention at the Los Angeles Music Awards 2019 and has a lot more expected for the year. This month, Yue and Hongyu Li, the director of Hank, are heading to HRIFF 2019, the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival Red Carpet Press Event on February 15th.It is also an Official Selection for the world-renowned Cannes Film Festival later this year.

“The success is sensational. We use our profession to tell meaningful stories in a visual way, working hard on every detail. Being recognized by audiences around the world is also a way to make us more motivated and more determined to go do what we want to do, to tell the story, to shoot the film,” she said.

As the co-producer on the film, Yue made sure that any unexpected situation that arose on set was instantly taken care of. She helped the director create a good working environment, allowing everyone to focus solely on creating a work of art.

Yue knew the importance of the film they were creating, making it her sole focus and drive every day she was on set. The feeling was infectious, with the entire cast and crew feeling the same.

“I have a lot of LGBTQ friends. We are just like them, everyone is human, there is no difference. What I want to say is that they are not special groups. The discrimination of many people is that their own starting point is wrong. True love does not mean that men and women together breed the next generation, but a soul meets another soul that can truly understand each other,” she concluded.

China’s Zanda Tang talks love of animation and the importance of research

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Zanda Tang

Hailing from Dalian, a coastal city in Northern China, Zanda Tang has made quite a name for himself both in his home country and around the world. With a unique style, he has become a leading Animation Concept Artist. He adopts a variety of painting techniques, always adapting to what each new project requires to best tell the story. He is constantly learning, staying up-to-date with the latest styles of painting, allowing him to jump out of his comfort zone and bring innovative ideas to whatever film he takes on.

“Animation is the least restrictive tool for spreading your ideas. It can be more exaggerated and imaginative than a movie. Compared with the words in books, it can more accurately convey your design and details. Now more and more movies use animation to help with shooting, which makes me more confident in this industry,” he said.

Tang has worked on a number of award-winning films alongside decorated colleagues. His film Lion Dance took home nine awards and was an Official Selection at over 30 international film festivals. He saw similar success with Diors Samurai and Baby and Granny, captivating audiences around the world. No matter the project, Tang makes sure to extensively research all aspects of the story, leaving no detail left behind.

“For example, if I were to design a kettle in an animation project, I would put in the work required to make it more than just a simple kettle. First of all, I would collect a lot of information about the kettle based on the story background and character information of the project. I would collect information from various fields, such as screenshots of illustrations on the ancient painting network, pictures of movies, pictures of goods online and even descriptions in books. When you have a lot of information elements, then the really interesting part starts. You can put all these different elements together and eventually you can design multiple designs based on the identity of the owner of the kettle and the environment. Each object becomes its own character, and that’s when the creativity of animation really shines,” he said.

This determination and talent is exemplified time and time again throughout Tang’s career. Last year, he had great success with many projects in China, from promotional campaigns to informational material. Early in 2018, he began working on Completion of the Compilation of the Chinese Dictionary for Baidu, the popular Chinese search engine. Tang’s work was similar to the Google Doodle, and was seen by millions.

The dictionary was compiled by more than 300 experts and scholars from Sichuan and Hubei provinces on March 9, 1968. The list includes about 56,000 words. It is the largest Chinese dictionary in the world with the largest collection of Chinese words and the most complete definitions. It is a large-scale Chinese special reference book for the purpose of explaining the shape, sound and meaning of Chinese characters. Tang took on the role of characters, props and environment designer. With the compilation of more and more materials, it gradually formed a huge Chinese dictionary, and the dictionary closed after it formed. Bai and Baidu were finally written in the data card.

In the Spring of 2018, Tang also had the honor of working with the China Academy of Space Technology on a 2D animation project. The video created shows the ancient beacon fire that was used to transmit information, and then the wild goose satellite appeared to complete the transformation of modern social satellite information transmission. This is followed by a demonstration of the practical application of the constellation of subsequent satellites in human society. Hundreds of them circle the earth and connect with each other, all of them reflecting the theme of “satellite application, light up life!”

Tang took on the visual design of the video. He used the planar design, because the proportion of the chopping screen is special. In order to make better use of the advantage of the ultra-wide screen, he used large scenes in the design to better show the world, the ocean and the universe.

Undoubtedly, Tang has had a formidable career in animation, and has no plans on slowing down. It was not always an easy road to get to where he is now, with times of self-doubt and the struggle to create. He is so glad he persisted and never gave up, and he encourages all those looking to follow in his footsteps to do the same.

“Having personality and style is a good skill. In this industry, having good painting skills and understanding more diverse painting styles is a foundation. Don’t be afraid to learn other people’s styles and don’t linger in your own safe zone. Challenge yourself so that you can bring yourself more surprises,” he advised.

Yun Huang talks editing powerful new film ‘Stardust’

Editing is about emotion, and Yun Huang knows this well. In order to be successful in her field, she knows that understanding every detail in a script is a necessity. She does not simply put footage together, she tells a story, and she has to know the best way to captivate an audience.

“Being an editor provides me with a chance to tell the story to the audience in my way. I can alter a script if necessary and trust my emotional instincts. I connect with people. This job provides me with a great sense of accomplishment,” she said.

No matter what project she takes on, Huang is sure to keep the story at the forefront of her mind while editing. This is evident in all she does, from the powerful commercial “Choice” encouraging girls to follow their hearts, to the informative and telling docuseries Unveil China Outside China, educating its viewers all over the world on the country’s social and political happenings.

The challenge of any new project is that I have to figure out how I can attract the audience best; for example, how to make an audience laugh at the point that we set up. I always go to the cinema or some film festivals to watch with audiences to see their reactions based on the editing. I should know their thoughts and therefore know how to make my work resonate with the audience,” said Huang.

Huang’s most recent film exemplified just how she connects with viewers. Stardust tells the story ofa male Chinese agent who, loyal to the country, finds out that his most trusted partner, a female Chinese agent, betrays their country. However, as the story progresses, he begins to question his beliefs and the truth.

“I like the story. I’m touched by the soldier’s loyalty to the country and their missions. I believe that showing this kind of emotion is what film is all about,” said Huang.

After premiering earlier this year, Stardust has gone on to several prestigious international film festivals. It was an Official Selection at both the Austin Spotlight Film Festival and Direct Monthly Online Film Festival, an Award Winner at Accolade Global Film Competition, and the winner of Best Action Short Film at Five Continents International Film Festival. With all this, Huang herself was awarded Best Editing at Festigious International Film Festival.

“I was so excited that it got so many awards, and I got an editing award. It just goes to show that hard work and determination will pay off,” she said.

Huang was both the video editor and colorist of this short film, and it was her first time working on a film in the action genre. Initially, she was unsure if she wanted to work on the project, normally leaning towards relevant dramas and documentaries. Before deciding to take part in the film, she talked with the director, Shihang Qu, several times. He told her that he really loved Wing Chun and other kinds of Kung Fu since he was a child, and he always dreamed of directing an action film. She was moved by his efforts, so she decided to take on the project and help the director achieve his dream.

“Shihang is very nice, and he listened to me and considered my suggestions. He accepted all my recommended changes. I really like being respected,” said Huang.

It took over six months to generate a final cut of Stardust. With every day they were shooting, Huang would then look at the footage. This is not a common process, and normally the editor receives all the footage at once in post-production. However, by adopting this style, Huang not only got a better understanding of the story, but also an idea of what the director envisioned. This also allowed her to make suggestions that were instantly implemented. For example, there is a shot of the main character in a scene when they were fighting with bad guys. The director had initially planned for it to be put in the middle of the film as it showed in the script, but Huang thought it would be better if it was moved forward in the story, as the opening scene. It instantly captivated audiences and allowed for the story to be told as a memory, slowing the pace of the beginning and speeding up at the end.

In the end, Huang changed the structure of the story which made the short film more attractive and meaningful. Her instincts as both an editor and storyteller are always fruitful, and she will no doubt continue to have an impressive career. Keep an eye out for her future work.

Living her dream, Sherry Du is both producer and explorer

As a producer, Xiangrong (Sherry) Du considers herself almost an explorer; she searches for a script and voyages deep into the story; she locates the heart and soul and finds exactly the right way to portray it. That is why she loves what she does, and that is just what makes her so extraordinary at it.

“Producers take words on a page and make it real on a screen. It’s really cool to me,” said Du.

Throughout her career, Du has used her sought-after talents to create captivating stories. Her films such as AugustFront Door,and Eyes on You have been great successes at various film festivals, taking home awards and impressing audiences. Her work on the commercial for KYJ sausage went viral, amassing millions of views after just a short time online.

With such success, it may seem hard to identify one outstanding project that stands out in her mind, but when asked about the highlight of her career, Du knows that without a doubt it has been working on the film Autumn Ghost.

Autumn Ghost is about a banker, Shawn, who can see ghosts like his mother Maggie. Because of his mother’s medical expenses, Shawn uses his bank clients’ money to buy stock. He loses a big amount of money and can’t put it back. Knox is a ghost who was killed by Shawn’s boss, Raven. He notices that Shawn can see ghosts and wants to ask Shawn for help. However, Knox makes a deal with Shawn: Knox helps Shawn get money, whereas Shawn helps Knox get revenge on Raven.

“As I studied the horror genre, I realized that the most terrifying thing is not simply dying, but being a ghost stuck in the veil of humanity. Ghosts cannot do anything, like they are lost in another world,” said Du.

Du actually came up with the idea for the story after watching horror films in her teens. She decided to research the genre and create a feature film. Once hiring a co-writer, they finished the script of a man who can see a ghost that helps him solve his future problems. Du had always liked stories about gods and spirits and found that the supernatural element of the script added a uniqueness to it.

After completing the screenplay, Du decided to shoot a trailer. The first step was finding a team who was passionate about her story, which Du found in Director Jing Ning and Cinematographer Will Job. The next step was finding a location. They needed an entire office that would be big enough for a film crew. Du managed to entice a company by suggesting that with production design, their office would be spruced up and modernized.

When shooting the trailer, Du felt something truly special. It was her first time ever writing a script, and she was amazed to see the character’s in her brain become real people when portrayed by the actors. When the visual effects were added, it brought everything together. She truly felt like her story was coming alive.

The idea of shooting a trailer first is to gain investors for the film, something Du is responsible for as the producer. The trailer itself has been making its way to several film festivals, impressing audiences and critics. It was an Official Selection at the CARE Awards Around International Film Awards in Berlin, Orlando Film Festival 2017 and the Creation International Film Festival 2018 Winter. It won Best Trailer at 15 Minutes of Fame Film Festival 2017 and Glendale International Film Festival 2017 and Best Horror/Thriller/Sci-fi Short at the London Independent Film Awards. Most recently it took home the Diamond Award for Trailer at EIFA Winners Spring 2018. Needless to say, such a response gained much recognition for the film, and Du is very excited to begin production.

“Even though it’s hard to produce a feature film from scratch, trust me, it’s worth it. I want to thank my director, my team and my actors. I can’t wait to get the film started,” she said.

Be sure to keep an eye out for Autumn Ghost.

Experience Chen Xu’s 5-channel surround sound method in hit Chinese film ‘The Wasted Times’

When Chen Xu thinks back to his childhood, he fondly recalls the way in which his admiration for sound shaped his youth and ultimately, his career in sound mixing and sound design. For the highly sought-after sound designer, it is difficult to recall a time where sound design wasn’t his main passion. At the age of 17, Xu watched Forrest Gump and notes the experience as being the first time he ever truly fell in love with a film. It inspired him to focus on a career in sound design and gave him the confidence boost he needed to take the film industry by storm. The now 36-year old, award-winning creative is just as enthused about his art form today as he was back then. His life is enriched by the opportunity to do what he loves day in and day out and he has no desire to stop any time soon.

A typical day as a sound mixer and sound designer requires the skill and expertise to be able to record sound and mix it creatively. Although this may sound relatively straightforward, it is no small feat to achieve on a daily basis. For instance, when Xu works on set, he is required to carefully position microphones in such a way that will capture sound as clearly and concisely as possible. In addition, he must learn a film’s storyline inside and out in order to thoroughly understand the types of sounds that will complement the characters’ conquests. In addition, during the post-production process, Xu must awaken his creative tendencies and use them to apply sounds in the most unique, yet appropriate manner possible. Where Xu truly shines, however, is when he is tasked with location sound mixing for a film’s script. Knowing how to effectively capture sound in a complex location is what Xu does best. He is a master of extracting compelling sounds from a loud, busy location and ensuring that there is nothing compromising the sound in order to enhance an audience’s viewing pleasure.

“When I’m sound mixing, my work is more focused on creativity. I need to design some unique sound effects according to the images and the storyline before me. Then, I need to edit and record some foley and sound effects before I can arrange each sound element to fit perfectly into each moment within the film. All of these steps allow me to help develop and compliment the storyline” noted Xu.

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In 2015, Xu was given a script for a film titled The Wasted Times, by well-known Chinese director, Er Cheng, who was confident that Xu possessed the skills necessary to take his script to the next level. Having already secured a $23.6 million budget and two of Asia’s most accomplished and award-winning stars, Ge You and Zhang Ziyi, Cheng was determined to make this film his most successful yet. In addition, he was intent on making the sound design in The Wasted Times unlike anything his audiences had ever heard before. With that, beyond dialogue alone, he wanted to use as many location sounds as possible and to make best use of live recorded sound effects and foley. Given the film’s budget, cast, and unique content, he needed someone with both the experience and creative edge required to rise to the challenge. Fortunately for Cheng, Xu was compelled by the script and eager to take part.

The Wasted Times depicts the life of a legendary mafia boss in modern Chinese history. Through the use of a biographical narrative, the film follows a violent and betrayal-ridden deal between the Japanese army and criminals in Shanghai. For Xu, working on The Wasted Time presented a number of challenges he hadn’t previously encountered in his career. For instance, due to the fact that several of the film’s scenes were shot inside state- and city-level protected historic buildings, he had to master the ability to capture vocal exchanges in historical settings, as opposed to the more modern buildings he was used to working in. In order to do so, Xu led his team in adopting a pioneering approach whereby he recorded a 5-channel surround sound effect during production sound mixing. In addition, he made use of two additional stereo microphones in order to account for any and all reverberation, echoes, and delay of sounds in real time. This led to Xu having recorded and mixed approximately 80% of the film’s final dialogues and about 50 per cent of the sound effects using his location sound. It therefore goes without saying that Xu proved himself to be instrumental throughout the entire process, being able to provide carefully thought-out solutions to each potential problem the crew encountered. He is undoubtedly a strong contributor to The Wasted Times’widespread success and feels honored knowing that the film went on to receive four award wins and ten nominations from some of the industry’s most acclaimed organizations and festivals, including the Asian Film Awards, China Film Director’s Guild Awards, and the prestigious Macau International Movie Festival.

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For Xu, however, the true highlight of working on The Wasted Times was embedded within the reality that for him, this film was far more than just a sound production process. Being able to film at authentic locations such as the residence of Pu Yi, China’s last empire, as well as in a 1920s car loaned from an antique car museum helped Xu acquaint himself with the type of lifestyle of the individuals depicted in the film. He credits the experience of working on this film as helping build his understanding of people’s lives in that era and helping make it feel familiar to him. It was both a cultural and career-building opportunity and Xu couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome.

Go behind-the-scenes of ‘Pumpkin and Fried Noodle’ with Editor Meibei Liu

From the time Meibei Liu was a child, growing up in Shanghai, China, she loved watching movies. They would make her laugh, they would make her cry, and spending two hours enjoying a film became her favorite pastime. But being so young she would only take in the entire production, not appreciating the many roles scrolling past in the credits that it took to achieve the movie that just entertained her. However, this all changed when she was a teenager and decided to try making a movie of her own for fun. Despite enjoying films all her life, she knew nothing when it came to actually making one. It was a much harder process than she could have ever imagined, but she found herself constantly playing, pausing, rewinding, and cutting down parts of the film that she had made. She was a natural editor, and it was then when she fell in love with the art of editing. Now, years later, she has never looked back.

“Although the story was as naïve as it could be, the fun of making and editing the film just aroused my huge interest in filmmaking and also changed my life,” she said.

This past year, Liu has seen a lot of success worldwide. Her work on The Ballerina, The Shoemaker, and His Apprentice,Headshot, Dear Mamá, and Faith Need Not Change Her Gown have been celebrated at many international film festivals. Her first taste of such success, however, came back in 2013 when she worked on the documentary Pumpkin and Fried Noodle.

Pumpkin and Fried Noodleis a short documentary shot in Taiwan. It tells the stories of how two different families make their living as an outsider in a small village. Though tough, they still find their ways for inner peace and happiness. The film was selected for the Golden Sugarcane Film Festival, Taiwan’s first film festival where the filmmakers have to shoot and edit on site.

“I really liked that the documentary showed the culture of the village, and documented that beautiful, peaceful and friendly place, which was very different to the culture I was in growing up. It tells stories of outsiders in the villages and shows how they fight to live a better life and struggle to be part of the society over there. It’s also a story about women empowerment, telling how they managed to support the whole family without any help. Making a documentary about them was important because their way of living life and being in a difficult situation needed to be seen by others,” said Liu.

Because of the circumstances of the Golden Sugarcane Film Festival, only a pitch was submitted in hopes of qualifying as one of the ten slots. Once Liu and the rest of her team were selected, they were invited to Taiwan to make the film. During the week, Liu was with other filmmakers finding the subject to shoot and finding structure and stories. This allowed for faster editing, as she was able to spot what would work while filming. Then she finished each day with the editing. On top of this, she conducted interviews each day.

“Going there to make the documentary without knowing whether it will work or not; finding the story during shooting was like an adventure that needed a great sense of filmmaking, which I liked and wanted to be part of,” Liu recalled.

The film exemplifies how important editing is. Liu and the other nine filmmakers on the crew conducted several interviews with over ten different people, but in the editing room, Liu cut that down drastically, only showing two of the subjects that were interviewed. The film focused on their lives in detail, showing their philosophy of living rather than small aspects of many lives. Liu also made the decision of blending the two stories rather than showing one after the other, which helped lead to the warm and touching climax at the end.

“Meibei is very hard working. She edited our entire film within three days. She was very easy to work with, always there in the pre-production, making sure everything was right and very insightful about the story and production. In the post-production, she sacrificed her own personal time, which made the impossible schedule work in the end. Meibei is an editor who is very insightful and creative about creating story structure. She is amazing in terms of editing skills and at the same time, also very sensitive of capturing emotions of characters,” said Song Huang, Director.

Because of the competition, time was limited when making Pumpkin and Fried Noodle, requiring a fast, hardworking and passionate editor like Liu. On top of this, she was able to connect with the two women’s stories in a way that audiences can instantly see when watching the film, making it a true masterpiece.

 

China’s Xingpei Shen creates animation masterpiece with ‘Lotus Lantern’

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Xingpei Shen, photo by Rob Chron

Despite loving drawing since he was a child, it took Xingpei Shen much longer to discover he was meant to be in animation. He loved art, but in his late teenage years, he did not know how to turn that passion into a career. However, after attending a presentation from Chinese animator Lei Lei (Ray), he started to become intrigued by the idea of a career in animation. One of Lei Lei’s films, This Is Love, stuck with Shen. It was a candy-colored graphic animation paired with a silly yet sweet poem. It made everyone laugh and reminded him why he wanted to be an artist in the first place. Now, years later, he is an in-demand animator impressing worldwide audiences with his work.

Shen has had an expansive career as an animator, working on solo projects and group endeavors. His first independent film, Good Game, Bad Time, and Killer Sportsmanship, went on to international acclaim at several film festivals. This pattern continued with his work on the Huffington Post project What It Means to be Muslim in America, where Shen was one of only nine animators who were invited to make a short animation based on an audio anecdote provided on the topics of Muslim experience in America. He was also one of seven video artists featured in the traveling show Internet Yami-Ichi on December 9th, 2017at the renowned Tate Museum, where he has two animation pieces in the show.

“As a queer Chinese artist, I find my work often looks at overlooked boundaries of existences, the places of in-between, and the sweet vulnerabilities of outsiders,” said Shen.

This is exemplified by Shen’s latest film, Lotus Lantern. Lotus Lantern is a tribute to late Chinese singer Zhou Xuan, a missing link between filmmaker’s queer identity and Chinese heritage. Shen wrote, directed and animated the film entirely on his own. He had a vision in the very beginning that he wanted to make a lush and dreamy film that talks about his queerness and Chinese heritage, and he worked intensely hard to realize the goal.

“I think Lotus Lantern is important, because for one, it is a personal story about both queer experience and Chinese heritage. In the media nowadays, there is a tendency to homogenize queerness and overlook the intersectionality of different facets of identities. I believe Lotus Lantern is a genuine and vulnerable film that resists that tendency,” said Shen.

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Still from Lotus Lantern

After months of work, Lotus Lantern premiered on July 30th, 2017 at BAMcinématek in Brooklyn for the 14th Animation Block Party. It then made its way to dozens more festivals and is still continuing its run with three upcoming festivals in the next few months. It was featured as Vimeo Staff Pick and Shen was also invited to talk about his process on Animation World Network.

“It feels surreal how far Lotus Lantern has gotten after I finished the film not long ago. I am still currently processing and trying not to go over my head with all the good news. I am very proud and happy, because this film is incredibly personal and vulnerable. It gives me a lot of encouragement to carry out future projects,” he said.

Shen had three main inspirations when creating the concept for his film. The first was to create a tribute for Zhou Xuan, whose music was a large part of Shen’s childhood. Growing up queer in China, Shen did not have many icons in the media that he could look up to or relate with, but he was always fascinated by the singer and related her to a goddess. When he looked back on these pivotal years, he realized his sentiments towards Zhou Xuan all tied into his understanding of his own queerness, ultimately shaping his life. He wanted to reflect that through his art.

Second, he took the visual style from his grandmother’s praying shrine. His grandmother has a shrine that she prays to daily. When Shen was a child, he was always fascinated by the strange aesthetic of all the artifacts where a gorgeous antique brass double ear incense bowl paired with a cheap oversized disposable lighter she bought at a drug store and crackling chants pour out from a lotus-shaped electronic Buddhist mantra box. The sensibility extruded from his grandmother’s shrine table inspired the campy aesthetic of this film.

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Still from Lotus Lantern

“Wow, I am mightily impressed by Xingpei’s work on Lotus Lantern. It’s a steadily emerging style of film that I’m seeing more and more of and this one goes close to top of the class in that style. One of its strengths really struck me as being the very restrained and almost understated way he managed its pacing even as it poured in more and more and more visual elements – in lesser hands the temptation to wind up the tempo would have been succumbed to,” said Malcolm Turner, Animator and Director of the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Shen’s last source of inspiration for his film was his friend and former employer Suzan Pitt, an animator who created the 1979 short film Asparagus. A few years ago, Shen emailed the filmmaker and told her what an inspiration she had been to him. She responded and invited Shen for coffee at her home and a screening of Asparagus, where they had a long conversation about the art of animation. Throughout his entire time making Lotus Lantern, Shen kept the idea and style of Asparagus in his mind. He was haunted by the intricate psychedelic interior space of sexuality and desire in the film. He wanted to create something that was as complex and captivating.

“I really enjoyed Xingpei’s film Lotus Lantern. It seemed to be a deliberate homage to Suzan Pitt’s Asparagus, and it was really great to see an animation refer to another (great) animator’s work in a thoughtful and considerate way rather than just ripping off their style or film for effect. The deep underlying reference to Asparagus opens up ideas about identity, beauty and self, the state of reverie, but Xingpei takes them into new and compelling territory. We are made to think about the common ground of each film and the differences too. It was beautifully made and very thought provoking,” said Artist and Animator, Edwin Rostron.

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Still from Lotus Lantern

One of the more outstanding aspects of Lotus Lantern is that Shen made the film with a combination of digital tools (3D software like Maya, and 2D software like Photoshop and AfterEffects) and traditional animation techniques (hand-drawn and rotoscope). It balances two different methods creatively to achieve a lush painterly quality, which is very unique in current animation. The use of these methods exemplifies why Shen is such a formidable animator.

Despite all the critical acclaim and recognition Lotus Lantern has received, the greatest accolade came at the 41st Ottawa International Animation Festival last year. On the last day of the festival, Shen was sitting alone after his film’s second and final screening. A woman from South Africa approached him and told him that Lotus Lantern truly struck her, especially when Shen talked about the influences of women in his family to him as a queer artist. She put her hand on his chest and told him she was touched before tearing up. The women then left in a hurry before Shen could get her name or her story. He calls the experience the highlight of his career.

“It was an incredibly sweet moment. I have never gotten such a genuine and strong response for my work. It reminded me of the reason why I wanted to make films and tell stories in the first place,” he concluded.

Watch Shen’s moving work on Lotus Lantern here.