When Shu Zhu was growing up in the industrial city of Daqing, Heilongjiang, China, there was only one movie theater, and it was his favorite place to be, going with his mother to see the newest releases each weekend. The first movie he ever saw there was Titanic, and it sparked an interest in Zhu that is still there to this day; he was not just entertained by films, they were his passion, from how they were made to the stories they were telling, and even at that young age, he knew one day he was destined to make movies of his own.
“I like working in film because of the endless possibilities this medium gives us, the amount of impact it has in terms of number of audiences, and the supportive community of people working in the industry. It gives me tremendous freedom in expression and also a great sense of purpose and responsibility, in learning more about the world,” said Zhu.
Now, Zhu is an internationally renowned and award-winning director, known for his outstanding approach to visual storytelling. His films like The Man Who Fell from the Sky, The Creep, Fever, and more have gone onto receive great acclaim around the world, and Zhu’s dynamic leadership approach is a big part of that.
Last year, Zhu created his most decorated film to date, Moth, the project he deems the highlight of his esteemed career. The film tells the impactful story of an Asian-American actress who struggles to revive her career in the sexually commodified entertainment industry. In the wake of an impending transformation, audiences observe the banality of her daily routine as her mental state slowly deteriorates.
Zhu first conceived this idea back in 2015 when he saw an image of an old lady wrapping herself in a cocoon and regressed in age. It was a haunting image for the director that has since been ingrained in his mind, and he really wanted to make it into something. He approached his screenwriting partner, G. Wilson, and together they created the script for Moth.
“I met a few actresses in their forties while making projects in LA and was immediately captivated by their charisma, skill and dedication to the craft. Los Angeles is known to be a cruel battleground for aspiring entertainers, and it is especially cruel for female entertainers when youth is no longer on their side. Getting to know them, I resonated with their struggles and aspirations. As a foreigner in this country, I found myself sharing with them the very same struggles – the feeling of being an outsider, constant rejection, self-doubt, lack of support, alienation,” said Zhu. “In a way, we are making Moth as an ode to the dreams we all share, as artists living in Los Angeles, waiting for our metamorphosis, not knowing what we will be.”
Zhu was extremely dedicated to his film, and his hard work more than paid off. Moth has screened at over 35 international film festivals in 13 countries and 4 continents, including Oscar qualifying LA Shorts International Film Festival, Utah Arts Festival, Anonimul Film Festival, Panamerica International Film Festival, and countless more. It has received many awards and several nominations, but Zhu is most proud of the two major awards he received in his home country of China, which were Best Director at Chongqing Film Festival and Grand Jury Prize at Chinese Young Generation Film Forum. Both had amazing star-filled ceremonies and it was a surreal moment for him to accept the awards from people he grew up watching on television.
“Our faux-documentary style of shooting was a big risk to take on set, but I think it yielded amazing results. It is essential for artists and filmmakers to try their best to break down the traditional boundaries and push the medium forward. We have to keep innovating. Taking risks is always scary but as long as you remain authentic, it will definitely pay off,” said Zhu.
Zhu is so proud of what he and his team achieved with Moth, and the success of the film just makes him even more encouraged to continue on the extraordinary path he is on as a director. The awards and accolades are, of course, amazing for any filmmaker, but the greatest reward of all comes from sharing an important story with the world.
“Moth is as much a cautionary tale as a cathartic experience. It poses a very urgent message: our obsession with beauty, fame and perfection, as an industry, is the very thing that corrupts us on the inside. And it is our responsibility, as the next generation of filmmakers, to shift the industry for the future,” he said.
Zhu is currently in preparation for a feature film set in Daqing,
his hometown in China. It is a surrealist thriller film taking place in the
backdrop of a dying oil town. They have some amazing collaborators on board,
and he is very excited to keep pushing it forward. He also has two more
projects lined up in the United States and is very excited about the years to
come. Keep an eye out for his future works.Photo of Shu Zhu by Leo Purman
Festival Photo from left to right: Ouyang Ying (Vice President of Western Film Group Corporation), Shu Zhu, and Producer Huang Bin.