Shuntian Jiang talks passion for cinematography and award-winning film ‘La Pieta’

When Shuntian Jiang was a teenager, he found himself easily distracted from his studies. He felt he didn’t need school, and knew he was an artist at heart. However, he didn’t know what kind of artist or where to begin. Instead, he immersed himself in sports, until one day he broke his foot playing basketball. To pass the time during his injury, he would watch movies, and that is when the magic happened. He watched more than 1000 movies that year. He wasn’t just entertained; he fell in love with the art of cinema. He knew then and there he was destined to become a filmmaker and he has never looked back.

Now, Jiang is a renowned cinematographer. Known for films like Path to Salvation, music videos such as Mona Haydar’s “Barbarian” and viral commercials including a recent spot for Japanese sporting apparel brand Descente starring Chinese icon and Hollywood star Daniel Wu, Jiang is at the top of his game. He loves what he does, and knows that those years he spent lost in his teens allowed him to find the path he was meant for.

“Being a cinematographer is cool and fun. It is one of the dream jobs of so many people. It’s an amazing career, even though telling stories and creating images never feels like a ‘job’ to me, it’s like making a living by having fun,” he said.

One of the highlights of Jiang’s career came back in 2017 when he worked on the highly decorated drama La Pieta. The film follows middle-aged female celebrity Crystal, who stars in a show by a young director named Kronos and she falls in love with him. However, after they have sex on stage, she finds out Kronos is her son she abandoned. It’s a story about the love of theatre and revenge. It is a very controversial story but Jiang was ready to capture the dark and moody tone required to tell it.

“The title La Pieta caught my attention right away because I’m a Christian, so I always like a film inspired by stories in the bible. I’m also a big fan of Renaissance art, and this story is also inspired by Michelangelo’s sculpture ‘La Pieta’. This is also a story about revenge. The story itself is inspired by the Vengeance Trilogy of Park Chan Wook, which is another favorite of mine. I think it is important because it exposes the weakness of the human relationship, and the hard choices the characters have to make in order to achieve their goals is extremely emotional,” said Jiang.

La Pieta premiered in Los Angeles, California on May 2018 followed by an extraordinary film festival run. It was an Official Selection at countless festivals, won six awards and was nominated for another three. Jiang is proud to have contributed so greatly to such a critically acclaimed film, and still feels passionate about it to this day.

“During the premiere I was watching it on the big screen. It was screened with 10 other films, and the reaction from the audience after the film ended was golden. After the last shot of the film, it cut to black and the audience was silent for very long. When the credits started to roll, they started to clap. The reaction from the audience is very different from other films. I’m really happy that the film I shot drew the audience into the characters’ minds and made them think,” he said.

When shooting, Jiang altered his style of cinematography to a darker and higher contrast. The reference the director gave him was The Godfather, so Jiang did a lot of research on Gordon Willies’ cinematography style, which is very dark and underexposed. He had to commit to this style and make sure every shot was perfect, as once the digital image goes dark, there is no room in post-production to brighten it. Jiang soared with the challenge and was able to finish very complicated lighting and camera movements brilliantly.

“This project was really fun to work on. It was a challenge, but the experience provided a depth to my work,” he concluded.

By Annabelle Lee
July 12th, 2019

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