Ken Zheng-Mixing the Asian and American Perspectives in Screenwriting
Ken Zheng simultaneously sees the differences and commonality of people around the world. As an acclaimed writer, it’s his passion to seek out great stories rather than repeating the same tried and true tales. It’s not simply the artists who push an art medium to evolve; it’s the visionaries.
Growing up, Zheng was enchanted by films like Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant, Steven Spielberg’s ET, Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas, and Christopher Nolan’s Inception. These masterworks inspired him to tell the stories and experiences that were unique and authentic to his perspective cultivated in his homeland of Indonesia. He could see that the common element of all his favorite films from America was the communication of the filmmaker’s individual experience channeled through an undeniable personality.
It was then that Ken realized he could do the same with his signature style. Zheng shares his first experiences of moving to a new country that “the differences in language, customs, behavior, and values can be overwhelming and make it truly feel like a different world. Being born in Indonesia, growing up in China, and pursuing higher education in the United States has reaffirmed my belief that the human experience does in fact transcend culture and language barriers; it’s just our approach that is different. Growing up in multiple cultures has allowed me to craft my stories and expose audiences to the different ways characters in a story can share a profound relationship with each other despite differences.
More importantly, it reveals how the human experience that we all long for can be retold in different perspectives and with the flavors of different cultures. Writers and directors often gravitate to the experiences to which they are most acquainted; my journey allows me to experience and have in depth knowledge of cultures that are vastly different to each other while still being very familiar with them all.”
In order to speak and resonate to a culture, one must understand both their strengths and their shortcomings. Sometimes these can be the same thing. The American film industry is unquestionably a dominating force of creativity and innovation, yet it’s self-focus and drive has left it blind to the influences outside its own borders. Zheng confirms, “What was once the film capital of Hollywood has spread to Atlanta, Austin, and other locations in the US and even other countries. Whether it’s an Indie film or a superhero blockbuster, the whole world is aware of and appreciates the films that America makes but there is so much untapped potential outside the country as well.
Through exploring stories that are different such as those originating in Indonesia, a new avenue of creativity could be accessed in the industry. Whether to draw inspiration from this or use it as a setting, Indonesia has a plethora of stories and culture that has not yet been exposed or promoted on the world stage. Indonesian culture is heavy on the arts. There are infinite stories passed down through its oral tradition.” It’s no surprise that Ken Zheng is a creative force possessed by different influences as his homeland contains more than seventeen-thousand islands whose historical separation has allowed them to develop differently. More than seven hundred languages and six hundred thirty-three ethnic groups are represented there. Various cultures have immigrated into Indonesia over centuries, influencing the overall identity of the country. As with the United States, Indonesia’s strength is in its diversity.
Intuitive is the best description of Zheng’s collaboration with Hollywood on a number of projects. From feature films (Insight, Brush with Danger) to documentaries (Bali: Beats of Paradise and Vibrant Jakarta) and even music videos (Queen of the Hill starring Grammy Award Winner Judith Hill), Ken has established that his skill stands shoulder to shoulder with the best of Hollywood. He relates, “Working with talented actors such as Keith David (Primetime Emmy Award Winner) and John Savage (of multiple Oscar Winning Film The Deer Hunter) was amazing as they showed their craft and their ability to bring words to life and take on new meaning on them. Working with them made me extremely happy as they always improve on my script while having a deep understanding of the vision of the story. A few years ago when I attended the Oscars, I was able to meet actors and filmmakers whose work I had long admired and seen on the big screen. It was a true feeling of ‘Welcome to the American film industry.’ I’m excited to bring my ideas here and create alongside so many other great filmmakers.”