Interview: Hollywood executive commits to create cross-cultural bridges with China

Source: Xinhua| 2019-04-21 04:55:09|Editor: ZX
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by Julia Pierrepont III

LOS ANGELES, April 19 (Xinhua) -- "Tell more Asian stories," Xian Li, China-born Hollywood studio executive at SK Global, the company behind the hit indie last year "Crazy Rich Asians," told Xinhua she is on a mission to building cross-cultural bridges.

Crazy Rich Asians, a 2018 American romantic comedy film, is based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Singaporean American novelist Kevin Kwan, directed by Chinese American filmmaker Jon M. Chu and praised in the United States since release for its all-Asian cast.

The film grossed over 238 million U.S. dollars worldwide, making it the highest-grossing romantic comedy in a decade and received numerous accolades.


"Hollywood tells mostly American stories or Sci-Fi stories about worlds far from reality. But in the real world, there are over 6 billion people with diverse, fascinating cultures and authentic stories we can discover and share - especially in Asia," Li told Xinhua in an exclusive interview Thursday, as she announced SKG's ambitious slate for 2019-2020.

In the interview with Xinhua, Li shared SKG's upcoming production lineup and her mandate to form a cultural bridge between the United States and China and find the compelling stories that resonate with both audiences.

SK Global is a joint venture by Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, known for their award-driven, high-quality dramas, and Ivanhoe Pictures, noted for their prescient foray into the local-language film markets. So, Li said it's no surprise that the company would like to lead the charge in the booming new market in English-language, Asian-themed movies.

"The synergized efforts of Ivanhoe and SKG will give us story-driven dramas with Chinese or Asian elements that are impactful around the world," Li asserted.

SKG is confident they have brought in the right executive they can trust to pull it off.

"Xian really understands what it'll take to create projects that speak to both markets," CEO John Penotti told Xinhua previously. "She's the right person for the job."

As one of the few China-born and raised executives in Hollywood, Li is one of those rare natural bridges between Chinese and American culture. SKG is banking on her diverse and international background to give her the edge she'll need to become a global hitmaker that can appeal to audiences on both sides of the Pacific.


"When I started working in Hollywood, no one cared about China. Nobody knew what to do with it," she explained.

"Then I experienced firsthand what happened when the China market took off. The Wall Street Journal, Hollywood Reporter and Variety all had China in their headlines. That's when being Chinese meant I could do a better job for the studios in an exciting new market I could help them understand."

Accustomed to planning three steps ahead, early on in her career, Li assessed the trends in the United States and China entertainment industries and gambled that someday her Chinese roots and U.S. training in Hollywood-style film and TV production, business development and private equity finance would be the perfect skill set to attain the kind of global-facing, content development position in the entertainment industry she was most interested in.

After graduating from Peking University, Li studied at the University of Southern California, then earned a coveted spot on Sony Pictures Entertainment's LA team, before moving on to Director of Development and Production across Asia (China, Japan, South Korea and beyond) for Twentieth Century Fox International.


At SKG, she's gearing up to make their next 4 projects homeruns. Though she acknowledges there will always be an arthouse market for cinephiles looking to see quality foreign language films like "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon," she's focused on the enormous potential of bigger, commercially-oriented, English language pictures that have both an Asian focus and global appeal.

"That means you have not only Asian's story, but more important, you must show Asian's view to the world," she pointed out. "Such as the Meg and Crazy Rich Asians."

First up is the true story of the dramatic flooded cave rescue of the stranded Thai students that riveted the world last fall.

"It's a truly exciting global story, but told with an Asian point of view using authentic characters and languages. We respect local perspectives, which is why we were able to beat out other competitors to secure the rights."

SKG's second project, "Billion Dollar Whale," another story snatched from the headlines around the globe, Li describes as a riveting story of greed, money, power and ambition run amok.

"Hollywood's star-studded, Wolf of Wall Street, in Asia." she said, "We optioned the manuscript. It's another incredible true story."

Their third film, "Baccarat Queen," another true story, is heist pic based in the nail-biting world of high stakes baccarat about the most successful female professional gambler in the world.

"The film will tell the true story of Kelly Sun, an ethnic Chinese woman who turns a painstakingly developed talent for baccarat and obsession for payback into one of the most ingenious legal gambling runs ever documented. Females, especially Asian females, are actively prejudiced against in the casino world, but Kelly used their own system against them to get her revenge."

And last but not least, their fourth film will be the much-anticipated sequel to "Crazy Rich Asians".

"CRA 2 will have more Chinese characters," Li revealed, "It's not scheduled to shoot until next year, because we want to bring the whole cast back and their success in CRA is keeping them flooded with offers."

"Though getting one of the coveted 34 quota spots for a China release was a great win for a Rom Com like CRA, next time we hope this more relevant story will appeal even more to Chinese audiences."

Li concluded by saying, "I want SKG to provide the infrastructure to bring great Asian stories and great Asian talent to the world." And with Li bringing her unique perspective and skills to the job, they're well on their way.