While it wasn’t surprising to see Asian directors in Hollywood in the early 2000s, it wasn’t necessarily a common sight. These days, however, there are plenty of great Asian directors in Tinseltown: veteran actor and director Lou Diamond Phillips (directing episodes of Longmire, The Twilight Zone, and Bull); horror king James Wan (The Conjuring, Insidious, Malignant); Alice Wu of The Half of It fame; Jon M. Chu, director of Crazy Rich Asians; and Ang Lee, director of Brokeback Mountain; just to name a few. There are also some wonderful up-and-coming Asian directors everyone should keep their eye out for, including Hao Zheng, who has been making plenty of waves in the industry.
Hao Zheng isn’t new to the movie world. He knew he wanted to be in the film industry, even as a small child. After he watched Braveheart at his primary school, he knew acting (and directing) was his calling. In college he studied “film production” at Emerson College and “directing” at the American Film Institute. Since graduation, Hao has made several music videos and short films. The themes in most of his short films center around finding one’s place, identity, and a sense of belonging.
These themes are ones he is familiar with as he has moved a lot in his life. He was born in the Gobi Desert portion of China, moved to Guangzhou when he was five, then moved to Long Island NY in high school, went to Boston for college, went to graduate school in Los Angeles, and—as of 2021—he has been rooted in the US. All that travel during his formative years added to his fear of the unknown, which he says can be both scary and lonely. Just like his diverse background, his short films also vary in genres despite their centralized themes of finding one’s identity and one’s place. He has dabbling in everything from science fiction to fantasy and even war.
He has recently made the news by being a part of Disney+’s Launchpad program, which highlights filmmakers of various backgrounds and races. Hao’s film highlighted by the program is called Dinner is Served. The film itself is mostly autobiographical as it is based on his experience when he arrived at a boarding school in America when he was fifteen. In the film, the main character is a Chinese student at a boarding school who applies for a leadership position (one that no international student has ever won), only to realize excellence alone will not be enough. The message behind the film (in addition to the amazing cultural diversity of the Launchpad program itself) is poignant and moving: embrace yourself and don’t be ashamed of who you really are.
In addition to winning a coveted position in the prestigious Disney+ program, Hao has also successfully transitioned from acting in popular Chinese TV shows and films to directing, with his short films gaining international attention. Examples of his accolades include winning the Best International Film Award at Show Me Shorts New Zealand, winning an AT&T Film Award, Short Shorts Tokyo, and a Nowness Award. His recent successes have included a 2020 HBOAcess Directing Fellowship, and a position in the 2021 Forbes 30 Under 30.
Interested moviegoers can stream Dinner is Served on Disney+.