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Summer Knight: Sculpting Stories of Inner Greatness with Emily Zhai

In life and in art, you can follow the path of others and impose the same “tried and true” methods or you can take risks and strive for greatness. Both of these choices come with the potential for great success or great failure. Having the right professionals with a shared vision helps to ensure the former, as evidenced in the film Summer Knight. While at first glance this seems to be the tale of a young daydreaming boy, the film reveals itself to be itself to be a story of how powerless people of all ages can feel and how they may redirect their circumstances. While this transcendence is the careful crafting of story by the cast and crew, the masterful role of editor Emily Zhai is profound in this production. Summer Knight is truly an international phenomenon with director/writer Xing You filming in China, Zhai cutting the film in Los Angles, and awards that span the world from Japan (Winner of Best Film in the “Asian Futures” at the Tokyo International Film Festival) to a nomination at the Eurasian International Film Festival for Best Feature Film. Summer Knight’s director and editor have worked together to create a film which resonates across cultural divides even though it takes place in China. This story of one person’s shortcomings and perseverance to become the hero they feel they truly are inside themselves is an inspirational one; one which might simply have achieved the goal of entertainment rather than the truly moving tale it became in the hands of these filmmakers.

Emily Zhai

Lingchen Ji appears as Tiantian, an 8-year-old boy whose spirit is that of a courageous hero; trouble is, reality hasn’t caught up with that yet. He connects with champions of the weak in films and movies but is bullied by his classmates, unable to summon the bravery to fight back. Tiantian again falls short when he witnesses his grandmother’s bike being stolen and fails to act. Partnering with his cousin to trap the thief, Tiantian is unsuccessful until his grandfather partners with him. Multiple characters in this tale, including Ludi Lin (Power Rangers, Aquaman, Black Mirror) as the Uncle and award-winning Chinese actress Lu Huang as Ms. Chen, display the struggles that people of all ages have in life which challenge their ability to take control of their circumstances. Ultimately, Tiantian’s manifestation of his true heroism is something quite different than what he or the audience expects.

Summer Knight is directly based on personal experiences of director Xing You. While he was insistent that the story be authentic, it was also imperative that the film be presented in a manner that did not lay out all of the events in an overly obvious way. The difference between a good story and a great story is often the way it is conveyed rather than simply the message itself. To achieve this, Xing placed the film in the expert hands of Emily Zhai. What she so remarkably achieved in her editing is an ironically distinct tone of ambiguity in the behavior of the characters which assigned no direct implication to the reasons for their actions. In so doing, Zhai created a story within the story, one which asks each individual viewer to decide for themselves to assign reasons for the actions of these characters. Even more remarkable is that the editing process began when the director was in China. It wasn’t until well into the three-month edit that director and editor were both in the same country. Describing the intensive scrutiny between herself and Xing in cutting the film, Zhai notes, “I indulged myself in the nuances between frames. The director and I would spend days on a single scene to make clear the reasoning behind the characters’ dialogue and to present it in the most visual way possible. I was proud of the improvement the film made from the assembly to the final cut, as well as my own growth as an editor along the way.”

More than simply piecing the scenes together, great editors find the best way to tell the story. When a flashback/dream scene didn’t work, one in which Tiantian’s grandfather recalls his youthful days as a swimming pool manager, Zhai pieced together shadows from unused scenes to manifest the perfect transition from reality to this “dream.” It’s this ability to imagine what “could be” that leads so many filmmakers like Xing You to enlist Emily Zhai for their productions. Her knack for seeing the common experiences and lessons in so many stories has allowed her to assist filmmakers to reach different cultures and audiences. She imparts her personal perspective stating, “This film tells a story of a normal family. They have problems that are just partially resolved at the end of the film, but life goes on. Their emotion and struggle are true to life, which can universally resonate with audiences from all over the world. Everyone has a childhood; the period when we didn’t grasp the notion of the ‘grey area’ between good and bad. We didn’t understand adults’ choices back then but we gradually became adults and often reminisce about that innocent stage in our life. As we each grow, we understand ourselves and others better even if we may not always like what we see.” Other than two upcoming doc-series collaborating with Candice Kumai in 2021, Emily will be working with IMC Film in 2022 and 2023, editing two feature films Pink and Cold Day in Hell, which are both family stories that take a dark turn.

Author: Patrick Wilson

Summer Knight: Sculpting Stories of Inner Greatness with Emily Zhai Reviewed by JaamZIN on 7:03:00 PM Rating: 5
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