It’s a precarious thing to label people under a group heading, particularly when it comes to artistic endeavors. Still, it’s undeniable that Asian filmmakers are capturing the attention of the U.S. film community and audience. Everything Everywhere All at Once, Parasite, Crazy Rich Asians, these and many more testify to the creativity, diversity, and remarkable talent of Asian artists within the industry. Equally undeniable is the fact that artists bring their own unique style and perspective. Those like cinematographer Teddy Jian have proven to the American film community that extraordinary talent combined with a specific perspective is profound and inspiring. It’s impossible to separate a cultural vantage and the masterful skill of someone such as Mr. Jian, nor is it advisable. His dynamic lighting designs and inventive use of camera movement are just some of the stylish characteristics Teddy has become so recognized and acclaimed for. Perhaps the highest praise for an artist of any medium is that you instantly recognize their work; this applies resoundingly to the productions Teddy Jian has contributed to.
Style is something you can perceive even when the presentation is quite varied. Two of Teddy’s most recent films display his ability to use vastly different approaches while still allowing them to be infused with his particular artistic fingerprint. The 2022 film Cash Only is set in early 2020, right before the pandemic and leading into it. The story follows a restaurant worked named Jack (Justin Sun of the Image Award–nominated series Launchpad, available on Disney +) who loses his job as the pandemic sets in and finds the promise of the American Dream dissipating right in front of him. This film gives an honest view of the Chinese-American experience during Covid. Teddy avoids close-ups for the most part, preferring to use the power of wide shots. The lighting is subtle and naturalistic. Color and lighting play a visibly prominent role in this film, most poignantly when Jack has a discussion with his mother and son about their dire situation. The darkness which envelopes most of Jack’s face in this scene communicates the darkness which is overtaking him. Moments like this are a counterweight to brighter and more colorful kitchen scenes with Jack discussing the future with coworkers like Bob (Zhan Wang of the Golden Globe Award–winning and Primetime Emmy Award–nominated series Goliath). While most of the film takes place in a restaurant kitchen and Jack’s home, the emotional impact is immense and never suffers from any feeling of a mundane setting. This is directly contributable to the way Mr. Jian has manifested the emotional feelings of Jack in the outward environment. Teddy received numerous accolades for his work on Cash Only including Best Cinematography Awards from the Fox International Film Festival, Paris Film Awards, and New York Movie Awards.
Remarkably different from Cash Only, with special emphasis on “remarkable”, is the visual style Teddy utilized for the newly released action film Strike. In addition to the film garnering numerous awards (Best Picture at the Hollywood Gold Awards, Best Action Film at the Paris Film awards, and others), Mr. Jian has been recognized with Best Cinematography nominations from the New York Movie Awards, New York International Film Awards, and the Sci-Fi & Horror International Awards. Visually Stunning, Strike follows a group of super-soldiers on their quest for life sustaining pills. An admitted huge fan of the action genre, Teddy eagerly accepted the DP role based on the stories promise for creative visual opportunities. Though the scenery may be Spartan (the entirety of the film takes place in a large industrial parking garage) the aesthetic personality of Strike is sleek and stylized. The cyan hues of the fluorescent lighting give a cold futuristic sense of time and focus attention on the combat taking place. Thrilling choreographed fight scenes, speeding cars, and the threat of what lurks behind the shadows; all these craft a constant state of readied anxiety throughout this film. This energy is carefully crafted as Teddy describes, “The high-speed chase scene is a crucial element of our film, and we devised clever techniques to convey the intense velocity of the pursuit. By using the garage's numerous pillars as both foreground and background elements within the frame, we were able to generate a significant amount of motion blur. As the camera moved in tandem with the actors, the pillars rapidly shifted in the opposite screen direction, amplifying the sensation of speed. To capture the dynamic movements of the characters running throughout this maze of columns, we mounted the camera on a vehicle that traveled parallel to the performers. This method enabled us to film the chase with precision and fluidity. The garage's fluorescent lights further accentuated the feeling of speed by casting alternating light and shadow patterns on the actors' faces as they raced past.” This combination of inventive camera work and strategic use of the environment resulted in a thrilling, high-octane chase sequence that is sure to keep audiences on the edge of their seats.
From the pensive seclusion of Cash Only to frenetic looming threats in Strike, the emotional expanse is mammoth and the look of each is remarkable. These films are proof that “range” can exist within the work of a cinematographer and simultaneously be identifiable with its creator. Talent like Teddy Jian is certain to surprise and evolve while still retaining that spark of inventiveness that has already led to such acclaim among his peers.