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Good Friend from the West: Producing a Modern Mulit-cultural Western with Liv Li

Purity in film is not always optimal. As with many art forms, mixing two seemingly unrelated concepts creates something all-together new and highly enjoyable. There is perhaps no better description of the film Good Friend from the West. In taking two well established concepts and combining them, writer/director Shuaiyu “Lance” Liu has given the audience something familiar and yet fresh. The film’s producer Liv Li understood from her first meeting with Lance how exciting the idea was. She recalls, “When he pitched to me about his idea of making a nostalgic Kung fu western film paying tribute to the 70s Hong Kong Kung Fu films, I immediately jumped on board. I would not lose the chance to be a part of it.” Good Friend from the West is the type of film that sounds odd until you see it and get a sense of how much fun it is; so…in hopes of giving readers the best sense of it, we asked producer Liv Li to give her “behind the velvet rope” take on this modern genre mixing western.

Beyond the obvious skills a producer possesses, being able to “read” the director of a production is vital. Even though the idea of the film sounded a bit far-fetched, Liv knew from experience that Shuaiyu would be able to manifest the ideas he had into reality. The visual traits of each genre would complement each other in a very pleasing way. Liv recalls, “I’m a fan of Hong Kong Kung Fu films so when Lance would describe a super quick zoom in shot on the villain followed by a quick whip pan on both characters, I could see it all in my mind. When a Chinese railworker gets shot on one scene, we’d use a Steadicam to slowly push in on the shooter and enhance the tension for this unfortunate gunshot moment. When you see the same ideas clearly you develop a shorthand that makes everything move exponentially quicker. The benefits of sharing this with someone in the film industry can never be overstated.”

From classic Westerns like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly to more recent productions like No Country for Old Men and The Hateful Eight, a great lead character who is an outlaw looking for either a reward or revenge is a staple embraced by the genre and its fans. The element that makes these films great and unique is the personal story of these characters. Good Friend from the West possesses this essential element as well. (Spoiler Alert!) The story takes place in 1873 when an enslaved Chinese railroad worker called Wong escapes from his master. On his way, he runs into a wounded cowboy [John] who is hunted by a group of Indian soldiers for stealing a gemstone from the Chief of their tribe. Wong’s conscience compels him to aid John with his martial arts mastery, defeating the Native American soldiers. The duo sets out on a course but meet up with John’s friends who mistake Wong for Native American and shoot him dead. There’s no happy ending for the good guy in this story. The ending is shocking and an indicator that the filmmakers have more invested in taking the audience on a thrilling and uncertain ride as opposed to spoon-feeding the outcome they want to see. Though not comforting, the film’s ending is daring and unexpected.

Liv Li admits that the film is exceptional but also concedes that it came at the price of uncomfortability and anxiety. She informs, “I don’t think any producer ever feels like the budget is exactly what you want. I had to stretch a lot of things to get this film made. Notably, we shot on 35MM film. It’s beautiful but most certainly not as cheap or forgiving as digital. We shot in the desert with high gusts of wind and drastically changing temperatures. The crew often got sick due to this and that’s not even factoring in the rattlesnakes that continually challenged us. Still, on the last day of shoot, we wrapped by sunset. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. The sun goes down to the heated dessert horizon surrounded by mountains that still have snow on the tips of it. That bizarre view undoubtedly exaggerated my emotions.”

Written by Patrick Wilson
Good Friend from the West: Producing a Modern Mulit-cultural Western with Liv Li Reviewed by JaamZIN on 6:13:00 AM Rating: 5
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