China’s Chunyu Bao was greatly influenced in his early years by his father. At the end of every day, he was asked to state what he did, recounting the events of his day to his dad. At first, as many things one is asked by their parents, it seemed like a chore, but as each day passed, he began to enjoy telling his stories. This sparked something inside him, and as he grew, he began writing them down, altering them to become fictitious and entertaining. He was a natural storyteller, and when he was a teenager and became fascinated by Jackie Chan and Jet Li movies, he began to explore his passion for storytelling and his interest in filmmaking.
Now, Bao is an internationally sought-after director, entertaining the masses with his work. His careful execution of each and every shot in his films displays his knack for telling a good story, which is evident with his work on productions such as Onlookers, Something From Nothing, Fish Out of Water, and more. He is often inspired by his Chinese roots, wanting to influence his country’s film industry and introduce more variety.
“During my childhood, the entertainment materials that were available to me were very limited. I decided my best option was to one day shoot my own movies because there were not enough for me to watch,” he said.
One of Bao’s greatest passions in life is hip-hop, and he often finds a way to fuse that with his work, showcasing stories of the underground music world that are compelling and often untold. He was often exposed to such stories when working with the YouTube channel ZHONGTV, the first platform to bring Chinese Hip-Hop to the world. Every rapper featured on the channel is from China, who send their videos to ZHONGTV for promotion.
When with ZHONGTV, Bao found the inspiration for his most recent documentary, 1.5 Generation. The film showcases the life of Yang Xiaochuan, a Chinese immigrant and restaurant owner growing up in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in San Francisco, who uses his freestyle rapping skills to escape potentially limiting circumstances and become a global star.
“When I first met Yang, I was shocked by his freestyle skill. This guy can freestyle rap in three languages as long as you want. He told me that he’s going to attend the show The Rap of China. I believe that he’s going to be a star. I knew his story would make a great documentary because audiences would root for him,” said Bao.
1.5 Generation follows Yang for a year of his life leading up to the show and during its run in June of 2018. Bao not only directed the documentary, but also did most of the camera work, and therefore spent a lot of time with the film’s star, shooting footage in his restaurant as he prepared plates and busted rhymes. Bao saw Yang’s potential and encouraged him to explore his talent more. Bao delicately tells his story, allowing audiences to become attached to Yang first as a person, and second as a musician.
“1.5 Generation is totally different from any hip-hop documentary I’ve ever seen. It shows how a Chinese rapper use the genre’s inspirational and uplifting side to help him become a better man. Unlike most hip-hop documentaries, the film does not contain any violence, guns or sexual moments. Audiences can see rap at its finest and witness a story about how a Chinese kid uses music to transform his life,” said Bao.
The film was released online towards the end of last year and quickly went viral in China, amassing tens of thousands of views right away. On top of this, it saw great success at many international film festivals, including the Global Film Festival Awards, Best Shorts Competition, Hollywood Forever Film Festival, Olympus Film Festival Los Angeles, and the Australian Inspirational Film Festival, where it just became a semi-finalist. The accolades, however, are secondary to Bao.
“This project was mostly just me holding a camera and trying to capture Yang’s life as genuinely as possible. This time in Yang’s life will be recorded in my camera forever. This is something that I can remember for the rest of my life. That is the greatest award of all,” said Bao.
When Bao first met Yang, he was a restaurant owner with a hobby. Now, he has hundreds of thousands of fans around the world and is living his dream of being a rapper. Of course, he also still owns his restaurant, which is more popular than ever.