This photo taken by a mobile phone provided by Chen Yucong shows Chen (2nd L) and her cast members pose for a photo with Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney John McKinney in Los Angeles, the United States, Feb. 7, 2020. (Xinhua)
by Julia Pierrepont III, Gao Shan
LOS ANGELES, Nov. 2 (Xinhua) -- "I hope my film 'Unfinished Lives' is not only a lasting memorial to Ji Xinran, but also an alert for the international students community and all ethnicities in American society," said Chen Yucong, a 2020 Student Academy Awards gold medal recipient, in a recent exclusive interview with Xinhua.
"It was a wonderful honor," said Chen about her award, as she joined the ranks of past Student Academy Award winners, 63 of whom have gone on to be nominated for the full Academy Awards and 11 have won.
Chen, a China-born Master's Degree student at USC's School of Cinematic Arts, was one of only 18 students from colleges and universities from around the world who were honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences this year at the 47th Student Academy Awards.
This year, the Student Academy Awards competition received 1,474 entries from 207 domestic and 121 international colleges and universities, according to the organizers. Chen took home the best documentary by a student from a domestic film school at the online event on Oct. 21.
Chen credits her win in part to the potency of the tragic story she depicts in her 23-minute short documentary. The film follows 24 year-old Ji Xinran, a top electrical engineering USC Master's Degree student from China, whose life was brutally cut short by a gang of four inner-city youths who beat him to death with a baseball bat and a steel bar after he fled in terror when they tried to rob him on his way home from USC after dark.
"I truly believe that we took home the award because of Xinran's blessing," she lamented.
"For other Chinese students this was a very relatable story," Chen told Xinhua. "We feel close to it when we were doing the interviews because any one of us could be the next victim."
She said one of the reasons she made the film was to correct the misunderstanding many people have about international students, especially Chinese students.
"People think all Chinese international students are rich, but that's not true," said Chen. "Many Chinese students and their families have had to sacrifice so much to come to study at good schools in the U.S."
"We face many difficulties and challenges when we are studying overseas," she noted.
Ji was a smart, hardworking kid from an ordinary Chinese family.
"He was a very kind, friendly, talented guy with a bright future ahead of him," Chen lamented. "But he didn't have a chance to live it."
"As a director, this story really got under my skin," she told Xinhua.
Her film honors Ji and chronicles the long and difficult years of struggle by Rose Tsai, the attorney who represented Ji's parents. Tsai worked tirelessly to bring the young man's murderers to justice.
"Her efforts were very moving," said the young filmmaker, noting that Tsai did everything in her power to keep Ji's story alive and worked all those years for free. "She is warm and caring and a great female role model. She kept Xinran from being forgotten."
Tsai's efforts paid off when she landed four "guilty" verdicts for the offenders, three for first degree murder and one for second degree murder.
Chen said her film serves as a warning to international students who don't understand how dangerous certain parts of American cities can be.
"In China you can walk alone after dark. It's safer there. But parts of Downtown Los Angeles are not safe areas to walk alone in after dark. Chinese foreign students are unaware of the danger and need to be warned."
The USC is working to make the neighborhood near campus safer for their students by providing free shuttles for students after dark and beefing up campus security.
"The university is trying hard, but they need more help, more resources and more police from the city," Chen said.
Chen's "Unfinished Lives" is playing on a double bill in some U.S. film festivals with "Finding Yingying," a feature film about another senseless murder of a female Chinese student.
Chinese students have taken several top awards at the Student Academy Award three years in a row. Another Chinese student at the USC, Tian Sicong, is the winner of the Alternative/Experimental category at this year's awards.
"In an increasingly internationalized world, the young generation of filmmakers are seeking a wider and diversified perspective," Chen said. "Chinese film students are increasingly active in telling stories they are interested in with confidence and enthusiasm." Enditem