Good afternoon, YouthMundees! Meet Kristi Hoi, a director and storyboard artist based in Los Angeles. Her most recent film, No Law, No Heaven is a winner of the 2020 IFP Gotham x JetBlue x Focus Features Student Showcase Award, currently being shown on JetBlue in-flight entertainment systems. Additionally, the film has been nominated for the 2021 Student BAFTA Award – Live Action and 2021 Student Academy Award – Narrative (Domestic). Following a man living in Hong Kong’s Kowloon Walled City, Hoi explores themes of sexual identity and tradition in three hyper-realistic, melancholic vignettes.
How did you enter the filmmaking world?
Directing has always been a dream of mine since I was young. I’ve always had a fascination with the craft of storytelling and the magic of film. My dad and I would watch movies together (some of which I was probably too young to see at the time) and I was so enamored by the behind-the-scenes featurettes you often find in DVD special features. These two fascinations manifested themselves in high school, where I was that kid who loved comic books and whose friend group was basically the entirety of the school’s film club. We’d make these little movies together as often as we could with nothing but a DV cam and an idea.
I went to undergrad for Sequential Art (comic book art) at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where I honed my craft as a storyteller. This is where I really fell in love with world building and visual storytelling. During my time at SCAD I still couldn’t let go of my dream to be involved in film. This lead me to the UCLA MFA Directing program where in 2020, I earned my Masters degree and I developed and completed my most recent short film and thesis project, No Law, No Heaven.
How are your roots and these experiences reflected in your work?
I’m very much a third culture kid, coming from a family of first-generation immigrants. This shows up in my work in that identity, family, and culture are recurring themes. Often my characters are navigating and encountering cultural and societal frameworks that are much bigger to them, and it’s always a lot to take on as a storyteller and a filmmaker. But these stem from my own experiences and grievances of being a third culture kid, navigating my place in society and the world.
I grew up in Texas and lived in Hong Kong as a teenager. I always felt I wasn’t Chinese enough to participate in Chinese culture in Hong Kong and on the other end never felt accepted as a true American, seen as Asian and therefore “other” in the states. So I hope to bring that level of complexity and awareness about how intricate the world really is into my films. In many ways, being a third culture kid and this feeling of displacement has pushed me to use my voice as a filmmaker to explore not only my heritage and to dive into my cultural impostor syndrome, but to do so with my own third culture lens. For most of my life, Eastern and Western values and cultures have been at war within me, and I certainly use storytelling to navigate these complex societal structures.
Let’s talk about your most recent short film, No Law, No Heaven. Congratulations on all of its success! I had a chance to watch the film before this interview, and it is beautiful! Who inspired the protagonist, Ming?
Ming is inspired in part by my grandparents and in part by my own fears and issues with Chinese familial structure and cultural/sexual/gender identity. For me, Ming represents the everychild of filial piety. Ming is someone who is faced with navigating his sexual identity under the shadow of Western influence and culture clashing with Eastern culture and values. Often, protagonists are strong characters who overcome and often represent the best of humanity. They act fiercely, heroically , and passionately, always solving the problem and always finding a way out. This is not who Ming is. I really wanted Ming to be someone who wasn’t strong enough to face his parents, tradition, and culture; someone unable to break the cycle of filial piety and unable to put himself before all else. I wanted to explore this concept of self-erasure for family that is so engrained into Chinese familial culture with filial piety. I think about my grandparents, who were Chinese refugees in Burma, running from war to protect their family and finally coming to America, all to give their family a better life. I always wonder what regrets they have and what dreams they cast aside for future generations. I wanted this film to be about regret and a man whose life COULD have been so different and beautiful and free. But for Ming, the wall of tradition and society seemed too tall to climb. This is inspired by my own feelings- that’s often how I feel about aspects of my own life and I fear being stuck in a life that’s not authentic to me.
In Ming’s world, where do you see yourself?
I see myself everywhere. The world and all its characters are children of my imagination, so naturally I see parts of myself in every aspect of the film.
What impact do you hope you and your work will make, both on viewers and the entertainment industry as a whole?
I really hope that my films will open conversations and ultimately be a catalyst for change. I often focus on the tragedies and difficulties of society, centering around very human issues that aren’t always easy to navigate and overcome. I reflect them back to the world with a hyperrealist twist, hoping that my audiences can be shaken into change or at least start a dialogue about it.
I also hope that, moving forward, the entertainment industry can champion underrepresented voices and stories. There is so much more to explore culturally, regarding gender,sexual identity, and ethnicity that I feel is just now beginning to be given a chance. It’s my hope that the horizon expands for emerging filmmakers like myself to make films that are specific and poignant, and aren’t just trying to be as general as possible in order to make the most money. Art is a litmus test for society and I feel society desperately needs voices in the industry that represent them.
Finally, what is up next?
I just wanted to say thank you so much to IVA for featuring me! It’s been an honor and a pleasure to speak with the IVA team and I loved all of the thought put into the questions that were prepared for me.
As for what’s next, I’m currently in the very early stages of developing a narrative TV series that centers a Chinese-American crime family operating in the heart of cow country, Texas. It’ll be a dream come true to bring this story to life and I hope to do so in the future!
No Law, No Heaven is a winner of the 2020 IFP Gotham x JetBlue x Focus Features Student Showcase Award and has been nominated for the 2021 Student BAFTA Award – Live Action and 2021 Student Academy Award – Narrative (Domestic). Catch No Law, No Heaven online and/or in theaters at the San Diego International Film Festival as well as the SCAD Savannah Film Festival in October!
Thank you all so much for your continued support. We look forward to bringing you the voice of more inspiring artists and changemakers in 2021.