CCA Alum Wayne Wang Directs Films Based on Yiyun Li's Short Stories
Posted on Friday, October 3, 2008 by Jim Norrena
(Yiyun Li will speak at CCA as part of the MFA Writers' Series on November 21 at 3:30 p.m. in the Writers' Studio.)
In a recent interview with CCA alum and celebrated writer/director/producer Wayne Wang (The Center of the World, The Joy Luck Club, Smoke), who has been making films for the past 30 years (starting when still a student at CCA) and who has remarkable influence on aspiring Asian filmmakers, he discussed his recent departure from Hollywood big films to focus more on smaller, independent films:
"I got on this treadmill of studio movies and I had fun, made a lot of good money, but I was having a hard time getting off of it so I sort of consciously just got off and said, 'How can I go back to some of my own films, independent films dealing with the Chinese in America again?' I found first of all one of the big changes with the Chinese community here is that there are a lot more new immigrants from China, and second, I found Yiyun Li's book, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers. There were two stories that I really liked in there, so I ended up . . . making two films." (Read the full interview with Wayne Wang.)
Two stories indeed. "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers" and "The Princess of Nebraska" are each featured in Li's award-winning collection of short stories, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, which impressed Wang.
Oakland-based Yiyun Li's debut collection of short stories won the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, PEN/Hemingway Award, Guardian First Book Award, and California Book Award for first fiction. She was recently selected by Granta as one of the Best Young American Novelists.
Li grew up in Beijing and came to the United States in 1996. Her stories and essays have been published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Zoetrope: All-Story, Ploughshares, The Gettysburg Review, Glimmer Train, Prospect, and elsewhere. She has received grants and awards from Lannan Foundation and Whiting Foundation.
So it's not so surprising that a director as talented as Wang would recognize talent in a writer like Li.
Li was able to work extensively on the screenplay for Thousand Prayers (Magnolia Pictures); however, she was knee-deep working on her first full-length novel, and thus less involved in the film production of "The Princess of Alaska," which Wang codirected with Richard Wong under the same title.
The films had a back-to-back screening (as a single feature) at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival. Then Thousand Prayers opened the 2008 International Asian Film Festival. But it was only recently that Thousand Prayers had its theatrical release opening at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in New York September 19. (Interestingly, in France the two films were released simultaneously with theater venues offering viewers a choice of either or both.)
However, nowadays when a film releases is less intriguing as how it releases: on October 17 YouTube's Screening Room will air the U.S. premiere of The Princess of Nebraska, also from Magnolia Pictures. (Watch the exclusive YouTube Princess of Nebraska trailer.)
Much like the subject matter of either short story, Wang hopes the innovative release strategy will serve multiple audiences, thus uniting different generations and cultures—be it symbolically or otherwise.
"A Thousand Years of Good Prayers is classical and is being distributed classically," Wong says. "It's about an older generation. The Princess of Nebraska is about a new generation. It's shot in a very contemporary way. It was very guerrilla style, and we used a lot of cell phone stuff, and it made sense for [the film] to go to the Internet." (Listen to the complete NPR interview. Approximately five minutes.)
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