Best of 2007: Behind the Scenes
APA looks behind the spotlight to uncover some of the behind-the-scenes talents we admired in 2007.
Published: Friday, January 04, 2008
Shigeru Miyamoto, game designer
Nintendo game producer Shigeru Miyamoto had a banner year as he witnessed his company's latest console, the Wii, establish itself as a global phenomenon. Even a year after its launch, Wiis are still in high demand and short supply, thanks to its wide reaching appeal to gamers and non gamers alike. The success of the Wii can largely be attributed to Miyamoto's successful design philosophy, which emphasizes creative, uncomplicated, and accessible gameplay for everyone. Miyamoto's latest masterpiece, Super Mario Galaxy, further propelled the Wii into the gaming stratosphere, blasting off as the most imaginative and enjoyable game this year. At this summer's Electronic Entertainment Expo, Miyamoto unveiled Nintendo's latest, most ambitious Wii project, Wii Fit, a unique exercise software bundled with the Wii Balance Board peripheral. With Wii Fit already a huge success in Japan, Miyamoto continues show why he is the Renaissance man of the gaming industry. In his keynote speech at this year's Game Developer Conference, Miyamoto proudly proclaimed his most prominent gaming convert: his wife, who previously wouldn't even play his games. He boldly concluded his speech by stating that if Wii could make a gamer of his wife, Wii can make a gamer of anyone. He received a standing ovation, with everyone in audience likely sharing the same thought: In Miyamoto Wii Trust. --William Hong
Larry Fong , cinematographer of 300
A Bruin alum helped 300 become a hit in 2007 with his cinematographic skills, even being called a “genius” by 300 director Zack Snyder. As the Director of Photography for the film, Larry Fong created a **“visual feast” in the filmic adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel which tells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae. Graduating from UCLA and then attending the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Fong always had an interest in film, growing up in the suburbs of Southern California. In an AsianConnections interview, he states that the defining moment for him was when he watched 2001: A Space Odyssey and “had to pick up my jaw from the floor, and the bug had bit me.” In 2004 he began to work in the hit TV show Lost with his old friend J.J. Abrams, even shooting the pilot episode. But 2007 marked the year for Fong with the huge success of 300. His hard work is finally being recognized with the unique look and feel of the film, and he is working with Snyder again on an adaptation of another graphic novel called The Watchmen. Fong is also a member of the Magic Castle, an organization that promotes magic, and he has been known to entertain his crew during breaks in shooting. --Richard Park
Takashi Murakami, designer/artist
Not since the late Andy Warhol has a contemporary artist straddle and skirt the lines between commerce and art as adroitly as Takashi Murakami. Anyone who pays attention to either pop culture, haute couture, or both knows that Murakami's candy-colored pop vision has seeped into the style dialectic in ways that make it difficult to distinguish between one or the other. His signature graphics graced Kanye West's Graduation, one of the most successful hip hop albums (just ask 50 Cent) of 2007. It certainly isn't Murakami's first time collaborating with an artist of a different ilk. The seminal point dates back a few years ago when Marc Jacobs enlisted Murakami to revamp the monogram for the luxury line's 2003 Spring handbags. The resultant mesh of multi-colored LVs and jelly fish eyes, as well as cherry blossoms with happy faces, created a consumer frenzy that made it enviable to not only see the world with multi-colored lens, but to wear that vision on one's sleeve. It's no coincidence that the stylemakers of today's youth have allowed more than a little pink and yellow in their wardrobes since then.
At the end of 2007, Murakami's art continues to vacillate between the lines of pop culture, high fashion, art, and commerce. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles recently curated an exhibit featuring his Poku (pop + otaku) paintings, sculptures, installations, and films complete with a gift shop that has Murakami merchandise of all kinds, including the LV bags that brought him fame. The museum has even launched a website that offers video tours of the exhibit. For all the impact Murakami has made on pop culture and vice versa, he denied that his work is that of Pop Art in a 2000 interview with Journal of Contemporary Art, calling it Poku and superflat instead. All generic labels aside, Murakami's impact is irrefutable, as he has given the public a rare public access to his art during his lifetime -- one that conjoins young and old, high with low. --Christine Chiao
Farah Khan, director/choreographer, and Shah Rukh Khan, producer
Did someone say something about 31 stars? Technically, 31 accounts for the number of Bollywood superstars that make appearances during the mesmerizing nine-minute song-and-dance number "Deewangi Deewangi." However, if you count all the rest of the cameos in Om Shanti Om (including Hrithik Roshan, Akshay Kumar, Bipasha Basu, Karan Johar, and the Bachchan men), the total would arrive at well over 50 -- including an appearance by director Farah Khan herself, chiding Shah Rukh Khan's character in the beginning of the movie for thinking he's the star of the show. This playful and exquisite spectacle of a film, both a homage and parody of the growing Bollywood industry, could only have been put together by combining the talents and the pull of these two industry powerhouses.
Farah Khan first made a name for herself as a celebrated choreographer, both in the Indian film industry (Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, Krrish, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna) and internationally (Monsoon Wedding, Broadway musical Bombay Dreams, the Chinese film Perhaps Love, Shakira's Bollywood-themed "Hips Don't Lie" perfomance at the MTV Video Music Awards). Her first film as director was 2004's Main Hoon Na (also starring Shah Rukh Khan), and with Om Shanti Om breaking box office and print release records, she's proven herself to be a bona fide filmmaker, rising in the ranks of a currently male-dominated profession.
With his track record, Shah Rukh Khan should probably be a consistent, irrefutable fixture on anyone's best-performers-of-the-year list (including this year, with Om Shanti Om and Chak De! India being two of the biggest Bollywood films of 2007). But wouldn't that just be too obvious? With the worldwide popularity of Om Shanti Om, the third film produced by his company Red Chillies Entertainment, Shah Rukh Khan also demonstrated his longevity and proficiency as a producer. In fact, in a recent interview with Roohafsa with Runjhun, good friend and frequent collaborator Farah Khan touted Shah Rukh Khan as an even better producer than actor. But is he better at producing than he is at glancing longingly at a dazzling beauty he barely knows but is convinced is his soulmate? Is he a better at producing than he is at performing gratuitous but hypnotizing dance scenes while shirtless, greased with gold, and splashing around in springwater? These are deep philosophical questions that may never be answered, but his fans hope that he will continue to juggle all of the above. --Ada Tseng
Apichatpong Weerasethakul, director/activist
Nobody doubts the artistic achievement of his latest film, Syndromes and a Century, but director Apichatpong Weerasethakul should also be remembered for helping to rally the fight against censorship in Thailand in 2007. The crusade against film censorship was a collaborative effort, spearheaded by poet Jiranan Pitchprecha and the Free Thai Cinema movement. But Apichatopong Weerasethakul gladly grabbed the torch when the government called for ludicrous cuts to Syndromes and a Century (censors: “there’s no drinking in hospitals!”). Instead of acquiescing, the director pulled the film from theaters completely, then took his cause to the streets (protesting with fellow directors in front of the Parliament House) and online (organizing a much-publicized petition against censorship). When the Film Act was passed in late December 2007, a rating system was instituted but censorship was still in play. Apichatpong Weerasethakul was first to stand up and voice his opinion against the ruling. Runner up: actor Choi Min-sik, for continuing the fight against relaxing the Korean screen quota. --Brian Hu
Johnny Tri Nguyen, choreographer
Johnny Tri Nguyen's action choreography (in particular, those high-flying scissor kicks that snap the opponents' necks and ruthlessly take them down to the ground) are what make the audience forget about the story's weaker links while watching the Vietnamese action film, The Rebel. An experienced stunt performer -- he doubled for the Green Goblin and Spiderman in the first two Spiderman films -- Nguyen has dabbled in acting, most notably with Tony Jaa in The Protector and with Jet Li in Cradle 2 the Grave. However, The Rebel was his first passion project as producer, writer, action coordinator, and leading man, and it was a family affair, with his brother Charlie as director, co-writer, and co-producer. Combining his experience in Hollywood and Thai films with the knowledge he gained while working with Chinese action choreographers, Nguyen sought to incorporate all these fighting styles with Vietnamese martial arts to create unique action sequences for The Rebel. --Ada Tseng
Jay Chou, director
Taiwan’s Pop Idol #1 is on our “best behind-the-scenes” rather than our “best music” list because his new album could be his worst ever, yet he proved that in the director’s chair, he is a force to be reckoned with. The extraordinary pan-Chinese box office success of his first feature film Secret had producers, policy makers, and distributors re-writing their playbooks on how to make a commercially successful Taiwanese film. Secret, which Chou directed, co-wrote, starred in, and scored, would have been the highest grossing Taiwanese film of the year, if a certain Venice-winning erotic drama directed by Ang Lee didn’t swoop in. And let’s not forget his self-directed music video for “Cowboy on the Run,” the best thing about his latest album. Ang Lee may be the master of the Taiwanese commercial film, but he’s not the only one with a perspective or two on colorful cowboys. --Brian Hu
Jessica Yu, director/documentarian
Academy-award winning director Jessica Yu kept busy in 2007 with a new documentary Protagonist, which opened in limited US release in November, and a fictional comedy Ping Pong Playa, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. In Protagonist, Yu presents the complicated lives of four men undergoing different crises within the frame of Euripidean Greek tragedy. The men’s real-life problems are like tragic plays, or is it the other way around? The innovatively structured documentary was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Yu’s project Ping Pong Playa is a completely different story. The comedy centers around an Asian American family and their ping pong school. Jimmy Tsai plays a guy who dreams of scoring in the NBA but has to settle for teaching the neighborhood kids how to play ping pong. This year, Yu played both sides of the net, serving up a seriously artsy documentary and a heartfelt sports comedy. In addition to her moviemaking, viewers of popular hospital TV drama Grey’s Anatomy were treated to an episode guest directed by Yu. Watch the episode “Crash Into Me—Part 2” here. --Lisa Leong
Rose Kuo, film festival programmer
As an outsider, there’s no concrete way for me to confirm this, but something tells me it’s because of new AFI Fest artistic director Rose Kuo that my November was as exciting as it was. Festival programming is no simple task manageable by one person, and I’m sure the assistance of other programmers and consultants made a huge contribution, but certainly the presence of veteran Kuo marked a philosophical shift in the programming team. This year, the old habit of touting Indiewood’s horn was scaled back in favor of a more adventurous approach to world cinema. I certainly speak for many Angelenos in thanking the new team for turning to the best of Cannes and Venice rather than scrounging the leftovers for mediocre world premieres. After all, there’s no guarantee that such breakthroughs as Secret Sunshine, Munyurangabo, Silent Light, and Caramel would have otherwise found their way into commercial theaters in L.A.. --Brian Hu
Doug Chiang, production designer
Doug Chiang has fingerprints all over beloved Hollywood classics like Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Forrest Gump, working as a creative director during his Industrial Light and Magic days. He also employed his veteran touch as design director for the first two Star Wars prequels. His success led him to co-found his own production company, Ice Blink Studios. More recently, this UCLA alum had his hands full crafting intricate CGI movies alongside long-time collaborator Robert Zemeckis, sculpting elaborate CGI animated films such as The Polar Express and Beowulf into dazzling eye candy. From the wintry wonderland of the North Pole to Denmark's desolate snowfields, Chiang has updated these classic literary pieces into new life on the silver screen with his meticulous attention to detail and tone. Already the recipient of an Academy Award for another Zemeckis film, the black comedy classic Death Becomes Her, Chiang has received a nomination for an Annie Award, the animation industry's highest accolade, for his production design work on Beowulf. Along with establishing the film's foreboding, primitivism style, Chiang also had a hand in designing the climatic finale between Beowulf and the dragon. --William Hong
Hou Hsiao-hsien, director
No stranger to “best of” lists the world over, Hou Hsiao-hsien continues to solidify his reputation as one of cinema’s great directors. In 2007, he proved once again that he can do no wrong. Flight of the Red Balloon had so much stacked against it. The film is Hou’s first project outside of Asia, filmed in a language the director does not understand. More importantly, it’s a loose remake of one of French cinema’s most beloved children’s films, The Red Balloon. And lastly, it’s Hou’s first film without close collaborator Chu Tien-wen, whom many have argued plays an integral role in Hou’s success. Yet Flight of the Red Balloon is quintessentially Hou. His camera (once again lensed by master D.P. Mark Lee Ping-bing) has a unique ability to filter the world (be it Taipei, Shanghai, Tokyo, or Paris) through a kind of child-like fascination with precious spaces, lights, colors, and movements. 2007 is also the year Hou finally announced his much-anticipated martial arts film, which (fingers crossed) should join Ashes of Time, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and Hero as among Chinese cinema’s most aesthetically idiosyncratic forays into the genre. --Brian Hu
Best of 2007: