Much like acting and directing, sound elements can either make or break a film. In fact, sound comprises the vast majority of any cinematic experience. For this reason, sound designers like Chen Xu understand that when they go to work, the fate of a film falls into their hands. They become instrumental to the production of a film and have the rare ability to tap into an audience’s subconscious. In order to effectively tell a story through the art of film, sound must be arranged carefully and considerately in order to optimize a viewer’s experience. Without a skilled sound mixer and sound designer, films and television shows will not necessarily see the success they’re destined to receive. Fortunately for Xu, being equipped with an unprecedented ability to amplify any storyline via exemplary sound design is one of his greatest assets.
Throughout his career in sound mixing and sound design, Xu has had the pleasure of enhancing scripts for a number of award winning films such has The Shaft and The Wasted Times. He often receives substantial praise for his exceptional ability to tap into a director’s intended emotions and bring them to life before his audiences in an unpredictable yet satisfying way. If not for Xu, it is unlikely that these films would earn such a high volume of awards and recognition; however, he is simply humbled by the knowledge that his hard work and creative ethic have not gone unnoticed. From the outside looking in, it is easy to see why Xu’s sound style is so highly acclaimed. He sees sound design in an entirely different light than his counterparts and is often sought out for his signature sound style.
“Although I design my sounds carefully, I make a great effort to do so in such a way that won’t be noticeable by the audience. I want the audience to have the most “real” viewing experience possible through the stories and characters before them. You could almost equate it to an effortless-chic fashion style. This style can be best exemplified by my work for the 2016 Chinese film The Summer is Gone, a 1990s-set drama about a boy's last summer vacation before entering junior high. To create a realistic sense of that period, I watched a lot of documentaries about the 1980’s, looking for sound elements that the film could use, and mixed sound elements in order to create a similar atmosphere as those depicted in the documentaries. Due to this unique approach, I received a nomination for the Best Sound Effects Award at the 53rd Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival. It was definitely one of the highlights of my career,” beamed Xu.
Another highlight of Xu’s career came in 2016 when Sony Pictures and China Film Group set out to create a Chinese remake of the hit 1997 film, My Best Friend’s Wedding. As a result of Sony Pictures collaborating with China Film Group, a number of countries and cultures came together to make the film a success. For instance, the film was shot in Beijing, London, and Milan, with a Spanish cinematography department, a British lighting and costume department, Chinese producers and production designers, and more. Given the chaotic nature of working with such a diverse group of individuals, Xu was asked to take sole charge of the production’s sound mixing. Due to the fact that My Best Friend’s Wedding is a romantic comedy, it features a substantial amount of dialogue, and therefore, Xu was tasked with ensuring that the actor’s voices could be heard clearly and concisely in busy, loud locations such as London and Milan. Fortunately, his vast amount of experience in location sound recording allowed him to capture the necessary dialogue with precision.
“In China, we often want to record as much location sound as possible and avoid ADR in post-production wherever possible. To get the best location sound, the problems that need to be solved and the difficulties faced in the process of location sound recording are relatively more demanding,” told Xu.
Making matters more complex, communication barriers between the film’s crew members and main actors arose as a result of speaking different languages; however, Xu managed to liaise with his counterparts effectively in order to avoid disrupting the filming process and led his team members seamlessly. For Xu, the opportunity to work in a team comprised of artists from all over the world was a dream come true. He considers himself fortunate to have been able to learn from each country’s varying styles and techniques. In addition to working with individuals from each culture, Xu also experienced filming in multiple locations around London, Milan and Beijing.
It goes without saying that Xu quickly became invaluable to the film’s success. It went on to win awards such as Best New Director, Best Actress, as well as Best Supporting Actress at the Macau International Movie Festival and earned over $6 million in mainland China alone. When the film debuted in America, Xu went to the theatre to watch and although most audience members did not understand the dialogue, he was happy to see them smiling happily at the plot. For Xu, seeing audience members enjoying his work is a firm reminder that there is nothing in this world he would rather be doing.