Where does inspiration come from? For many art forms, it is a simultaneous introspection and outward exploration. Filmmaking is no exception in this. The influence of foreign filmmakers and ideas on the US film industry are highly evident. Simply put, more ingredients allows for more variety. Chinese director “Danny” Ye Kuang has been integrating ideas from his homeland and bordering film industries with those of American cinema, in particular contemporary cinema, to achieve creative new approaches and experiences in his work. Among these, “Locked” and “Favour” stand out as shining examples of mixing established US film ideas with those of Asia, filtered through the vision of this exciting director. While foreign films (or those from foreign filmmakers) used to be confined to film aficionados, a quick glimpse at your Netflix or On Demand options will verify that the US is quite open to the work of professionals like Kuang. The numerous awards which his films have received from the US critics and film community have vetted him as a director making an impact on what many of us are watching today.
“Locked” was selected by 70th Festival DE CANNES Short Film Corner and won awards from the 50th Annual Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival, Honolulu Film Awards, among others. The film considers what happens when a malevolent event forces people towards two extreme directions, despondent or hopeful. In the story, Mile’s beloved fiancée Serena has died of a disease one month before their wedding. Miles suffers in deep sorrow and is unable to accept the reality that the love of his life is gone forever. His unbearable pain and the memory of Serena creates the illusion of a zombified fiancée. Miles hides her in their home regardless of the great danger and even tries to cure her. Eventually his consciousness turns him into Chris. The people around him know everything about Miles and try to protect him by killing the zombified Serena, yet they are stopped by Miles every time. Miles finally wakes up from this “dream” which he has created for himself and witnesses the destruction as he is dying.”
While the plot itself does not indicate the style of any region, the way in which it is delivered most certainly does. Danny admits that he wanted to present the film in what he calls an “Asian Cinema” style. He explains, “The Asian movies of China, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, and Taiwan have their own distinctive features and types of stories. I personally prefer contemporary Korean and Japanese movies as well as the Chinese films of the 70s and 90s because their expression of human nature is very representative. Many of the films of this era were drawn from the characteristics of ancient Chinese calligraphy and painting. The picture is smooth and neat, and the color is soft and unified. I think it's the most glorious time for Chinese movies. Most of the Korean films are realistic themes. They are very profound in the performance of human nature and the dramatic conflict is very strong. These films pay more attention to the strong contrast of light and shade. The angle selection is close to the height perspective of most people, which naturally gives viewers a sense of being in the scene. Japanese movies have a pressing and delicate feeling. Based on the characteristics of Japanese concentration and preciseness, their movies are very beautiful. Their color matching and the proportion of the content of the picture are perfect. Most Japanese movies have a slower pace and a strong sense of oppression which naturally controls the audience's emotions and gives them time to think and understand roles. The formation of the unique style of Asian films is based on these characteristics of the oriental culture and the aesthetic concept inherited by various Asian countries, and these characteristics were what I have reflected in my films.”
Though the style in which he tells his stories through film is indicative of the part of the world from which this director comes, many of the practical techniques Kuang employs are more universal. He considers himself a “hands on” director who appreciates running multiple rehearsals with his actors to ascertain how they view their character and actions in the story. During rehearsals for “Locked” he often found himself discussing ideas with the actors and even taking the place of an actor to “see” their perspective on set. Empathy is a two-way street on set with Ye Kuang. His almost exclusive use of Dolly shots for “Locked” also helped connect the DP with the actors’ emotions, and thereby the viewer.
In the film “Favour” Danny pushed the stylized approach of his films even further by presenting a story with almost no dialogue. In an attempt to force both himself and the actors in the film to create more emotion by prohibiting spoken parts, Kuang focused on body language and camera angles. Instructing the actors to be very loose with their performances, Danny chose to use handheld cameras to follow the emotion of the actions as it occurred. “Favour” depicts two men who are fleeing in the mountains while bombs explode around them. The circumstances are unclear and this disorientation transfers well to the audience when viewing the film. “Favour” was included in festivals throughout the world from LA to Miami to Barcelona; the desperation and fear of the characters in the film is globally understood. Actor Diego Medellin appears in the film as one of the two main characters. As with many of the talented professionals he works with, Danny professes that there is an international community whose members all strive for the same goal…to create great films. Commenting on the standard that Hollywood itself has set, Kuang declares, “Not all people who have proven themselves elsewhere are able to succeed after coming to the United States. The United States is a country with many cultures and beliefs and this is why the US has created a rich and colorful cultural environment. As the most direct way to export culture and ideas, film will blossom in the mature environment of a production system such as Hollywood. People can find any kind of movie in Hollywood, including the stories of any country or nation. At the same time, the audiences’ taste and demands may be more critical because of the various choices. All cultures evolve from a stage of display to competition and comparison, and the final refinement of the true human art of non-boundary race. In the future, the films we all watch will represent ideas and perspective from all over the world.”