March 2014

Former Hill Resident Explores Issues Facing Modern Day Chinese

Jim Van Buskirk

Hao Wu lived in Potrero Hill for only a few years, while commuting to Excite.com in Silicon Valley, but the experience made a lasting impression on him. He has fond memories of the neighborhood, where he still visits many friends and former colleagues.

With a degree in molecular biology from Brandeis University and a masters of business administration from the University of Michigan, Wu entered the technology industry.  But his heart was always in storytelling. Wu’s first film, Beijing or Bust, documented the experiences of six diverse “ABC”s –American-born Chinese – who left their American jobs and families to make a home in Beijing. His latest documentary, The Road to Fame, chronicles the staging of the American musical Fame, China’s first official collaboration with Broadway by the senior class at Central Academy of Drama, China’s most prestigious theater school.

Wu heard about the production from a friend, and was pleasantly surprised to be allowed unprecedented access to the proceedings; Chinese educational institutions are often very protective of their students’ privacy.  During the eight-month filming process in 2009, Wu followed students as they competed for roles, struggled with pressure from family and authorities, and prepared to graduate into a cutthroat and corrupt show business. Part of China’s single-child generation, many of the students were spoiled growing up but now feel obliged to carry on the failed dreams of their parents. The film focuses on five young adults who must confront complex social realities and their own anxieties, and, in the process of staging Fame, negotiate their own definitions of and paths to success in today’s China.

While creating the documentary Wu also worked in Beijing, first for alibaba.com, and then for tripadvisor.com, filming during evenings and weekends. Lacking time to edit, he put the film on hold until he quit his day job at the end of 2011.

No longer in the technology industry, Wu now devotes himself fulltime to filmmaking, dividing his time between Beijing and New York, where his partner is in the finance industry. When the View spoke to him Wu was in Mexico participating in a fellowship program sponsored by the New America Foundation, “a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy institute that invests in new thinkers and new ideas to address the next generation of challenges facing the United States.”

Wu is dedicated to storytelling, specifically showing the complexities of contemporary China. He believes it’s important for Americans, and especially Californians, to have a more nuanced understanding of the Chinese people, other than the good/bad images portrayed in mainstream media.

 is being broadcast on public television in England, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Israel. Wu is pursuing other international markets and film festivals, and hopes that PBS will acquire the film.  In the meantime, this entertaining and illuminating film screens twice at CAAMFest 2014, on March 15 at 4:30 p.m. and March 21 at 9 p.m.

The 11-day festival, which takes place from March 13 to 23 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinema, and is sponsored by Center for Asian American Media, “aims to explore the landscape of Asian and Asian Americans in all avenues of multimedia. Through live events, fresh musical talent, culinary arts and cinema, CAAMFest gives festival attendees a diverse, immersive experience that entertains and enlightens.”

 

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