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Producer Mickey Liu talks impactful Chinese film 'Tear of the Peony'

China’s Mickey Liu acknowledges all the challenges that come along with producing; the constant battle between time and money, being responsible to investors while protecting the director’s vision, answering questions you may not have answers to. In these situations, he knows he needs to be prepared. He has back-up plans, and back-up plans to the back-up plans. He stays calm, figures out any issues, and maximizes efficiency. With every new project this esteemed producer takes on, he knows it can be limitless, and that knowledge consistently leads his work to great recognition. He is consistently adapting and aiming to be the very best, no matter what he achieves.

“I don’t think there’s a one-style-fits-all way of producing. It usually has a lot to do with the director and the storytelling. If the director is very precise and wants to get things done in a certain way, I’ll establish that at the very beginning, so the cast and crew get it. However, if the director wants a naturalistic style, I’ll create a relaxing environment and make sure the director gets enough time to work with the actors. I’m willing to adapt my way of producing to achieve the best possible way to tell a story,” he said.

Throughout his career, Liu has become one of China’s most sought-after producers. His work on films such as Sail the Summer Wind, An Ill-Fitting Coat, and Marie exemplify what a versatile and talented producer Liu is. That being said, it was his time at the 2016 Telluride Film Festival that Liu considers the highlight of his career. At the festival, both his films Nocturne in Black and Tear of the Peony premiered, alongside films like Moonlight and La La Land. The programmer informed Liu that Tear of the Peony might just have been the first ever Chinese live action-short in the festival’s history, and from there it took off. He will never forget it.

Tear of the Peony tells a story of the forbidden love between two girls, Feather and Phoenix, in the Ming Dynasty of ancient China. They run away from home to live together in a secluded mountain. One day, Phoenix leaves without a proper explanation and Feather stays to wait for her as she promises to come back. Three years later, Feather finally hears about Phoenix when all the peonies bloom.

“I always consider filmmaking a privilege and filmmakers should use it right instead of abusing it. The story of the film is ultimately a love story, and it is equally beautiful like any other love stories. The story is important because it reminds people that tragedies like this fictional story set in in a feudal society are still happening nowadays. Telling this story is our way of starting more conversations about women’s rights and LGBTQ’s rights,” said Liu.

Liu wasn’t the only fan of the film. After it was an Official Selection at the Telluride Film Festival, it went on to be an Official Selection at 2017 Newfest, Asian Film Festival of Dallas, Bali International Film Festival, Tokyo Lift-Off Online Film Festival,China Canada International Film Festival,Out On Film of Atlanta, San Diego Asian Film Festival, Love Queer Cinema Week by French Cultural Center, Filmfest Homochrom, Tampa Bay International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, Outfest, and more. It won 1st Place at the Clojoy Film Festival and Best Cinematography at the Urban Action Showcase International Film Festival. It was also an Official Selection at the prestigious 2017 Cannes Film Festival – Short Film Corner. Such success could never have been possible without Liu.

“Mickey is incredibly creative, talented and dedicated. Working with Mickey is a joyful experience. We had such a friendly working relationship. It’s like working with your family member because he is caring, loving and responsible about every nut and bolt. Mickey really knows his craft. He has what it takes to be a good producer. He has the kind of producer mindset that allows him to spot the important joints while making movies and nothing compares to a reliable producer for a director,” said Yuxi Li, Director.

Li asked Liu to be a part of the film when she realized she needed help with publicity and graphic design skills, both of which Liu is known for. When Liu saw what she had already done on the film, he was blown away and instantly accepted the position. He then ensured the film was finished and delivered on schedule. He was in charge of all the press materials and writings and coordination during the film’s festival distribution. After the premiere at the prominent Telluride Film Festival, Liu targeted Asian and LGBTQ festivals. The film really got picked up after implementing that strategy and continues to screen at festivals to this day. His work significantly improved the film’s exposure, which led to the distribution offers they received.

A key element in the film was music. Liu put together part of the post-production fund from his resources and hired a music editor for the film’s sound mixing and design, which greatly improved the film’s final presentation. It was none other than Matt Rocker, the music editor of the Academy-Award winning The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. He also reached out to acclaimed Chinese Actress and Singer Shan Wen and convinced her to let them use her song in the film for free. The lyric of her song was part of the script, so it was essential that she give permission for them to use her song. After sending her a long message about the film and why they wanted her song, Liu heard back the next day granting them permission.

“I’m very happy to play this film around the world and introduce Chinese Kunqu opera to a global audience through it. It’s a traditional Chinese art form that needs to be preserved. As a filmmaker, I think it is a great opportunity to introduce Kunqu opera to more people through our film. I was very excited about it,” said Liu.

Liu was also happy with the presence of Chinese martial arts in Tear of the Peony. In one pivotal scene, there is a sword fight, which he says gave him goosebumps the first time he saw it. With such important nods to Chinese culture, Liu found it easy to inspire his artwork on the poster, postcard, and website designs in a very short time.

“I’ve learned so much about post-production working on this project. It was amazing to see how sound designs and coloring magically improved the quality and texture of the film. I also enjoyed attending film festivals. I got to meet so many talented filmmakers and talked to programmers and I really felt embraced by the film community. It was a wonderful feeling. And I enjoyed my first-time collaboration with the director. It was a very special film and I felt blessed and honor to be part of it,” Liu concluded.

1st photo: Mickey Liu, photo by Felecia Hunter

2nd photo: Mickey Liu and Yuxi Li at Newfest, taken by Shaun Peterson

3rd photo: Volunteer Photographer for NewFestTelluride photo is a personal photo from the director [front row from left to right: Screenwriter Muyao Luo, Director Yuxi Li; back row from left to right: Executive Producer Xin Wang, Festival Programmer and Academy-Award nominated Screenwriter Gregory Nava, Producer Mickey Liu]

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