“When I see someone like a Harry [Shum, Jr.], I get excited. I think about me as a kid — like, ‘oh my god, I want to be cool like that.’” — Jon M. Chu on Asian role models.
ISSUE: Spring 2011
STORY: Katrina Guevara
Jon M. Chu may be known for directing dance films, namely Step Up 2: The Streets and Step Up 3D, but don’t pigeonhole him just yet. The 31-year-old says he’s just a modern fairytale story- teller, whether it be through dance, superhero stories, or an old fashioned boy-meets-girl romance. He even considers his latest film, the 3D musical documentary, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, a modern-day fairytale. “[It’s] about a kid from a small town who follows his dream, has Usher as a mentor, finds his way and is anointed by the king,” says Chu.
But the Chinese American auteur is not content with just telling a good story. He knows how to work the story, too. An avid tweeter, he nearly flooded the social media site while filming Never Say Never, with juicy tidbits and pre-release hype that drove fans wild. He’s also breaking new ground with a second volume of The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers (The LXD), the world’s first online dance adventure series through Paramount Digital. The popular webisodes, choreographed by fellow Chinese American Harry Shum, Jr., of Glee, is paving a new movement, experimenting with diverse dance genres in everything from dramas to westerns.
Chu’s storytelling began as far back as in the fifth grade, when he would create storylines and movies during family vacations. His father, a well- known chef of family-owned Chef Chu’s in Palo Alto, Calif., along with his mother, both made sure to feed his creative energies, filling his childhood with enriching experiences from sports camps to saxophone and guitar lessons. “They never let us work at the restaurant,” he says. Instead, they told their five children to work hard and they could be anything. “They gave us everything they didn’t have,” he adds.
One thing Chu didn’t have growing up was an Asian male hero. “When I see someone like a Harry [Shum, Jr.], I get excited,” he says. “I think about me as a kid — like, ‘oh my god, I want to be cool like that.’” Perhaps that’s why Chu’s projects feature a lot of talented Asian Americans, though he says it’s not a conscious effort on his part. “It’s just that when people are talented, there won’t be anything in the way to stop that,” he says. “It’s all very natural — the way it should be.”
— Katrina Guevara
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