In the ever-evolving landscape of cinema, some artists carve their own distinctive path, becoming icons in their own right. Weiyang Li, a Chinese filmmaker with roots in Jiangxi, has journeyed from being inspired by age-old myths to pushing the boundaries of storytelling in today’s digital age. From his initial tryst with the theatrical world to his exploration in the mobile gaming narrative, let’s delve into the cinematic tapestry of Weiyang Li.
The genesis of a filmmaking story
From Weiyang Li’s earliest recollections, the art of entertaining was embedded in his persona. As a young child, he was drawn to the antics of the Monkey King from the iconic Chinese myth, “Journey to the West,” and effortlessly captured the attention and laughter of those around him.
His college years were transformative, especially under the influence of Professor Liang Hong, the acclaimed author of “China in One Village.” Through her guidance, Weiyang discovered the profound humanitarian potential of journalism and documentary filmmaking.
Transition to directing and venturing abroad
During his time as the head of his college’s theater association, Weiyang transitioned from the spotlight of acting to the helm of directing. While the former offered a deep connection to individual characters, the latter presented the opportunity to orchestrate a tapestry of emotions and narratives. Immersing himself in the world of arts, Weiyang became intrigued by the dichotomy between the grandiosity of theater and the subtleties inherent in cinema. Inspired by performances like that of Tony Leung, who could convey profound emotions with a mere glance, Weiyang’s passion for filmmaking took a decisive turn.
Venturing abroad for his studies, Weiyang was exposed to a diverse array of filmmaking approaches. It was during this phase that his collaboration with Ryan Larkin on the short film “Insight” marked a significant shift in his understanding of the medium. Stepping into the shoes of an editor, Weiyang ventured into a fresh dimension of filmmaking. Through editing “Insight,” a visual spectacle laden with effects and action sequences, he developed a keen understanding of creating cinematic rhythm and supporting a director’s vision.
Continuous learning and growth in the editing room
In the world of filmmaking, the editing room can serve as both a classroom and a sanctuary. For Weiyang Li, the experience of editing the short film “Insight” proved to be transformative. As described by Weiyang, “Working on ‘Insight’ provided me with a perspective to view filmmaking through an editor’s eyes.” The fantasy-driven narrative of “Insight,” which digs into the life of a girl with the uncanny ability to see through lies, was rife with visual effects and action sequences. It offered Weiyang the unique challenge to stitch together a cinematic masterpiece, emphasizing the “craft and technique to create an engaging flow and rhythm.”
The realm of editing is not just about piecing together visuals and sounds; it’s about understanding the essence of storytelling from a new vantage point. Weiyang shares, “Being in the editor’s seat gave me a rare opportunity to observe how other filmmakers approached their craft as writers and directors.” Such immersive experiences naturally accelerated Weiyang’s personal and professional growth. It’s reminiscent of the journey that earlier artists, such as the legendary David Lean, undertook, starting in the editing room before transitioning to direction.
The festival triumph and personal undertones with “A Comedy Invisible Man”
“A Comedy Invisible Man” holds a special place in Weiyang Li’s heart. It was not only his inaugural short film venture in the US, but it also went into the poignant theme of a clown grappling with depression – an emotive reflection of the hidden agony that accompanies such a mental health struggle. Weiyang opened up about the deeply personal undertones of the film, revealing, “Far away from home and finding myself across the ocean for the first time brought a lot of adjustments and challenges upon me.” Keeping his internal battles concealed from his family, he yearned for understanding and empathy, feelings that he intricately wove into the narrative of his film.
The recognition “A Comedy Invisible Man” garnered from the 19th Dances with Film Festival served as both an accolade and a source of profound encouragement for Weiyang. The experience of having his film showcased at the esteemed TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood was not only a nod to his directorial and storytelling prowess but also an affirmation of his journey. “It stands as a great honor,” he confessed, deeply moved by the acknowledgment.
Yet, for Weiyang, this acknowledgment extended beyond personal validation. He shared his belief that “sharing personal stories is the best way to connect with others.” This selection, in many ways, reinforced his conviction in the power of storytelling, reminding him and others of the universal language of emotions that transcends borders and cultures, resonating with audiences globally.
Exploring diverse cinematic emotions
Weiyang Li’s rise in the cinematic world stands as a testament to the transformative power of storytelling. His unique approach and perspective touch not just upon the technicalities of film-making but dive deep into the intricacies of human emotions and connections.
Starting with his work on “XYXY,” Weiyang carved a niche for himself. “The narrative centers around embracing and accepting our true selves,” he says of the film that garnered significant accolades including the Flamingo Best Fiction Film Award. His interaction with a jury member at the Blackbird Film Fest, who felt deeply connected to the film, reaffirmed Weiyang’s belief in the power of movies to touch souls. “It’s this deep connection that keeps me going,” he mentions.
However, it wasn’t just personal projects that caught his attention. Collaborations also played a crucial role in his journey. Working with Ryan Larkin on “Stuck,” Weiyang navigated cultural nuances and external labels, which initially presented as challenges. But as he says, “Extensive conversations with Ryan helped unearth the universal threads of confronting others’ judgments and yearning for freedom.” This meticulous approach was well-received, with “Stuck” making its way to Amazon Prime Video and winning competitions.
“Last Stop: Paradise” in the thriller series “Till Death Do Us Part” was another milestone. The story required a delicate balance between portraying superficial happiness and concealed traumas. Weiyang’s editing prowess came to the forefront, creating a gripping duality between the seen and the hidden. His collaboration with Kuan-Fu “FT” Lin, with whom he had previously worked on “Frenchies,” played a pivotal role in this achievement. “Our mutual understanding of filmmaking made the process smooth,” Weiyang reflects.
The journey didn’t stop there. A collaboration with Cairo Smith for “Screwdriver” presented a fresh challenge. This psychological maze of a movie required a different approach. As Weiyang mentions, “I viewed the film as a three-person tango. The balance of power among characters kept shifting, making it a captivating narrative experience.” His interactions with Cairo on character motivations provided depth to his editing, ensuring the narrative was rich in emotional layers.
For those awaiting more of Weiyang’s magic touch, the wait is almost over. “Screwdriver” is set to stream on Amazon Prime Video, distributed by Buffalo 8, come November 10, 2023.
Weiyang Li’s journey exemplifies that in filmmaking, often, the magic lies in the details. Through his work, he continues to unveil the layers of human emotion, making a mark in the cinematic world.
Debut feature, “Away”
In 2017, after the successful completion of his graduate school thesis film “XYXY,” Weiyang Li found himself at a crossroads, contemplating the trajectory for his first feature film. Such milestones are pivotal for filmmakers, often setting the tone for the rest of their careers. “I asked myself what the most essential theme I should explore would be,” Weiyang recounts, and soon a profound realization dawned upon him: the palpable loneliness and craving for connections pervasive among his generation, a direct offshoot of China’s one-child policy.
Drawing inspiration from this personal reflection, Weiyang conceptualized “Away,” a poignant exploration of the bond between two contrasting boys, emblematic of the generational struggles induced by the policy. He describes, “One boy, a single child, is ensnared within the hustle of urban life while the other, a hidden second child, is stashed away in the remote countryside to protect his parents from potential reprisal.” Their serendipitous meeting in the wilderness poses a life-altering decision: to escape their individual confinements together or to return to the familiarity of their families. Weiyang cites Charlie Chaplin’s “City Light” as the cornerstone for “Away,” emphasizing, “Despite life’s adversities, the tenacity of human connection and warmth endures. It’s a testament that such warmth, even in the harshest of realities, is worth fighting for.”
Reflecting upon the lasting reverberations of the one-child policy, now a relic of the past, Weiyang’s approach to “Away” diverges from conventional narratives that dwell in bitterness. “While the one-child policy is now history in China, its impact lingers even today,” he observes. Yet, rather than channeling animosity or pointing fingers, Weiyang has chosen a more poignant path, remarking, “I chose to focus on my personal experiences and the daily life during that period, offering an honest and emotionally charged documentation of that epoch in history.” In doing so, “Away” serves not just as a film but as an evocative chronicle of an entire generation’s struggles and dreams.
Expanding horizons: From film to mobile gaming
In 2022, Weiyang Li stepped beyond the realm of post-production and editing to explore an innovative path – writing and directing for Melt Pictures. Traditionally known for his work on award-winning short films and features, Li took this opportunity to stretch his wings into the vibrant field of mobile gaming.
“Becoming a film editor was initially a step toward my aspiration of writing and directing my own projects,” Li reflects. “In 2022, Ivy Yang, the producer at Melt Pictures, presented me with an opportunity to write, direct and edit a web series for the mobile game ‘Knives Out.’ The decision to make the transition was not easy, but it marked the beginning of a thrilling new chapter in my career.”
Melt Pictures’ creative freedom allowed Li to go into diverse genres within the episodic series, exploring sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, horror, comedy, and even stop motion animation. Over the course of a year, Li skillfully crafted about 150 minutes of narrative content, broadening his expertise and understanding across these various genres.
He continued, “In 2023, they entrusted me with writing, directing and editing commercials for ‘Dead by Daylight Mobile’ and ‘Aviagames.’ Whether it was the team bonds in ‘Knives Out,’ the conjuring fear and survival in ‘Dead by Daylight Mobile,’ or the hope for a better life in ‘Aviagames,’ in the end it’s all about understanding and forging connections among people.”
Displaying a deep comprehension of connecting with a brand’s audience, Li weaved compelling stories that resonated with the core values of the gaming brands and their followers. This newfound role invigorated Li’s vision not only as a film editor but also as a storyteller. By relishing in the roles of writer and director, Li developed fresh insights into the editing process, a greater ability to assist writers and directors in realizing their visions, and, more significantly, an enhanced readiness for his debut feature film project.
Laila Azzahra is a professional writer and blogger that loves to write about technology, business, entertainment, science, and health.