Bridging the gap between Asian Culture and Storytelling

Despite staying in US, Hann Li is the main driving force behind the push to represent Asian culture in film and media.

Bridging the gap between Asian Culture and Storytelling

As the Project Director of Matlock Stone, Hann Li strives to bring in more Asian stories and characters into the world of storytelling and entertainment! Matlock Stone’s goal and vision is to push Asian culture and representation into film entertainment.  

In this week’s #PotatoSpotlight, we focus on Hann Li, as he guides us through the process of introducing Asian cultures and stories through film and media!  


1. Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I was born in Singapore, but grew up in Hong Kong before immigrating to the United States. Despite being a big kid, I’m also the father of two little boys.   


2. What is an interesting project you are currently working on?

We’re currently working on the development of an independent feature film project about the life of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American whose unjust, tragic death led to the first ever Asian American civil rights movement.

Although it is an Asian American story, we see this as a project that can resonate beyond the US and across Asia, especially in China where the stories, experiences and struggles of the Chinese diaspora are not widely known.   


3. What is exciting about being in the entertainment industry?

Although a long and arduous process, it’s always exciting and inspiring to see projects move through the pipeline.

To see the adaptation and evolution of stories and characters as they travel from script to screen, and to witness the amount of skill and expertise that goes into every stage of the filmmaking process from development and production to marketing and promotion.

This gives you an incredible appreciation for film as both an industry and an art. I wouldn’t say there’s any particular aspect that standouts for me, but understanding the overall process and the tremendous work that goes into each project is what makes it special and exciting to be a part of.  


4. Why does Matlock Stone focus on Asian content?

While Matlock has always been focused on Asian content, with the recent rise of anti-Asian hate crimes around the world, I think everyone has come to realise the importance of diverse representation in film and media. It goes far beyond just basic entertainment.

Film and media play an enormous role in shaping our views of reality. They help shape how we view others as well as ourselves.  Hollywood has for long been the biggest exporter of culture, but largely ignored the importance of diversity.

Although there has been steady improvement over the years, progress has been long and slow, especially with regards to Asian stories and characters. Because of this, the beauty and complexity of Asian culture remains largely invisible to those outside of our community, and sadly this leads to stereotypes, misrepresentation, and inevitably racism.

In order to change this we need stories with multifaceted, three-dimensional characters that embrace, showcase and explore the complexities of our people and our cultures. Simply put, we need our stories to be told, and film and media is a way to bring these stories to life.


5. How do you pick interesting stories? What are your considerations?

I’m sure most of us are familiar with the iconic Thai phrase: ‘Same, same, but different’. I tend to reference this a lot when trying to describe what producers and filmmakers tend to look for when evaluating a script or story. Essentially this implies that there is an underlying science to storytelling.

Although every story is unique and different, there are universal elements to good storytelling from plot structure to character arc that translates across any language and culture. What this means is two completely different movies like Taken (starring Liam Neeson) and Finding Nemo, are in essence, exactly the same story. We’re simply replacing an ex CIA-Agent based in France with an agoraphobic clown fish in the Great Barrier Reef. You remove these elements and the plot structure and character arcs are almost identical.

Filmmakers are often not looking to reinvent the wheel in terms of storytelling. Although they do want unique stories and characters, inherently they still want a story that is familiar and safe. Hence the phrase ‘same, same, but different.’

One of the most important books I read in college was ‘Save The Cat’ by Blake Snyder. The book helps to describe and breakdown these fundamental mechanics of plot and character transformation. Although Matlock is always looking for unique and original Asian content and stories, I still like to reference the book to ensure every story abides by some of these key storytelling principles.

Although some have come to criticise this over the years as formulaic, I still believe these mechanics help set a foundation for good storytelling. 


6. What makes working in the US different from Singapore?

We simply worked on different types of projects under different scopes.

In Singapore we worked with more local independent film projects which were smaller budget and more community driven, and we were primarily involved with marketing and promotion (i.e. Singapore International Film Festival, Ilo Ilo, Unlucky Plaza).

In the US we worked more closely with our sister company Radical Studios, who dealt with larger budget, studio-driven projects where we were more involved on the development side.

With this I’d say the US just has a more established infrastructure for larger projects. But Singapore’s industry and landscape is growing fast, fuelled by a small albeit strong community of filmmakers.  


7. Share with us a project that you are most proud of!

(I) don’t think there is any one particular project. As per above, I’ve had the privilege of working on several different projects across different scopes and capacities. Each project taught me an important and different aspect of the filmmaking process, and each one I’m proud of in a unique way.   


8. What is the best movie/drama that you think everyone absolutely needs to watch?

I don’t think there’s just one film. I also don’t like being presumptuous in thinking I know what people should watch, so I’ll just give you some of my all-time favs (in no particular order): 

  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  • Better Luck Tomorrow
  • White Men Can’t Jump 
  • Saving Face
  • Clueless
  • Dazed and Confused
  • Back to the future
  • The Farewell

To find out more about Hann Li and Matlock Stone’s journey in the film and entertainment industry, check out their website here!