I have spent my whole film career on the topic of East, West and the gap between.
My entire creative portfolio is based on the irrepressible desire to connect such gap.
My works are positioned to appeal to Western audience and also capitalise on the
huge potential of Chinese audiences wanting to see their country and culture on screen but NOT as a token Oriental, but as part of a wider and connected cinema-going community.
The right story
China has evolved over 5,000 years of complex history and has been subject to a diverse range of profound social and cultural influences. The fact is, China has become wealthier faster than any large country in history. For a diverse and vast nation of 1.3 billion people, there are stories to be told through this economic transformation.
China’s economy has thrived by being closely connected to the rest of the world. This connection is a rich source of stories and characters.
Today, Chinese people want the world to know them for their present, not their past. The core is that the Asian audience wants to feel respected and understood through contemporary stories and characters. What this means is that film products must connect with the Asian audience in a meaningful way.
The holy grail is to find the right story that works both inside China and outside it.
The stories must have intrinsic cultural and commercial value to the Chinese market so filmmakers can’t just attempt to impose their creative vision onto the Chinese market. To capture the market, the content must have universal appeal and find ideas that are truly global.
Few films, in particular, Chinese speaking, have been able to successfully combine cross-cultural elements and achieve financial success.
The Wedding Banquet is the best example and a significant benchmark of how a high-quality drama hit home and achieved phenomenal commercial success.
Directed by Taiwanese Director Ang Lee, the 1993 film tells the story of a gay Taiwanese immigrant man who marries a mainland Chinese woman to placate his parents and get her a green card. His plan backfires when his parents arrive in the United States to plan his wedding banquet, and he has to hide the truth of his partner.
The crucial factor to the film’s success is the portrayal of “a set of characters who do not conform to the stereotypical portrayals an American audience would expect.”
Different cultures react to the film differently. For the broad Western audience, it is a love story that gets complicated through the clash between cultures that expose truths and untruths in stereotypes, sexuality, and tradition.
For the Asian audience (in particular Chinese audience), the film struck a core. The sharply observed drama is a story about how a son rebels against his own father, his Confucian family. Deep down, it is about reconciliation between father and son, something deeply profound that all Chinese can relate.
The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 66th Academy Awards and also nominated for Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It won the Golden Space Needle of the Seattle International Film Festival and the Golden Bear at the 43rd Berlin International Film Festival.
Wedding Banquet was produced at US$1 million budget, and the worldwide gross was US$23.6 million. The film was also the most financially profitable movie of 1993 when considered concerning ratios of return, while overall top grosser Jurassic Park only earned a ratio of 13.8 (US$914 million earnings on a US$60 million budget).
As a filmmaker and a storyteller, I have unshakable confidence in the commercial potential of movie products that have high cross-cultural appeal and in other words, bridging the gap between East and West.