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Meet Kristi Hoi

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kristi Hoi.

Kristi, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I’m a Los Angeles based Director and Storyboard Artist. I’m currently a graduate student finishing my MFA degree in Directing at the UCLA School of Theater Film and Television. I moved to LA four years ago to pursue directing and it was quite a strange full-circle moment for me because I was actually born in LA but grew up never really knowing the city until now. I’ve lived long term in Fort Worth, Texas, Hong Kong, and Savannah, Georgia. It definitely feels right to be living in LA now at this part of my life, though all the places I’ve lived will always be home to me. It’s hard to pinpoint just one place as being home.

In 2015, I received my undergraduate degree from the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia specializing in Sequential Art (comic book art) and Sound Design. I absolutely fell in love with comic books and drawing when I was in high school. I immersed myself in these complex and multi-dimensional worlds of Greg Rucka & JH Williams III’s Detective Comics, Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely’s Batman and Robin, Iron Man, and Journey Into Mystery. I’m quite a daydreamer so I just soaked it all in and totally got lost in it. I wanted to build my own worlds and tell my own stories so I armed myself with the skills to draw (which took quite a few very painful years). I wrote, drew and actually did it and I’ve been doing it ever since. I’m a storyteller by nature, whether it’s through drawing, sound, or films, so it was only natural to bring it to the next level and become a director. I’ve worked in China as a Storyboard Artist, directed films in Los Angeles and Hong Kong, and have had my comic work exhibited in France. I am the recipient of the 2019 Women in Film Verna Fields Memorial Fellowship and have received funding for my work from the Motion Picture Association of America, the Antonio David Blanco Fellowship and the Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme Scholarship.

I’ve directed four short films, two of which are currently in post-production. My films center on explorations in identity and family with ordinary characters in extraordinary circumstances existing in highly stylized worlds. My Hong Kong Chinese heritage informs a lot of my work and has provided a wealth of inspiration for me as a writer-director. As a first-generation Chinese-American there is a weight that I feel to strengthen my connection to my heritage and also to represent an experience of life that is rarely seen on the silver screens of Hollywood. We’re just starting to see a peek of it now with movies like The Farewell and shows like Fresh Off the Boat and Nora from Queens but a handful of content is not enough. The world holds so much diversity that we live in every single day and yet there’s this selective process that goes on when it comes to representation in media and popular culture. I’ve been marginalized my entire life, never really feeling like I fit in growing up in incredibly white suburbs of Texas, and never being Chinese enough when living in Hong Kong. I have always been “other” and have always felt “other” and it’s about time “other” is the new normal.

Has it been a smooth road?
You know, I think with all things creative it’s both a struggle and blessing all wrapped up in a single never-ending experience. It’s like purgatory and heaven all at the same time. It’s been a wild ride to say the least. When I came to LA to start film school at UCLA, I came with practically no previous knowledge about making movies technical or otherwise. It’s stupid to say, but I had “vision” and that was all I came to school with. Sure, I was part of my high school’s film club. I’d made a few videos with my friends for fun but to be thrust into a professional program that was highly collaborative and with so much to learn, I had a really daunting task ahead of me. I was coming with training from a field that was not very collaborative and depended entirely on myself. As a comic artist, I was the writer, penciler, inker, colorist, costume designer, production designer, director of photography, and way way more. I was used to drawing alone in my room and being on set is the complete opposite of that.

When I got to film school, it was a huge learning curve for me to learn to trust in my collaborators and to really lead my team to create a singular piece of art. Not only do I have to have the film straight in my head but I also have to make sure my team and I are making the same movie and not three different movies. It was a lot of learning how to communicate and to be firm with the right amount of flexibility. I also had to learn to think on my feet because in this industry, anything could happen on set, and no amount of preparation can prepare you for what goes wrong on any given day of a shoot. There is absolutely always more to learn. But I will say the production program at UCLA definitely got me caught up technically and I work as a freelance camera assistant and focus puller when I’m not directing!

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
My most recent short films in post-production are “GIRL FIGHT!” and “No Law, No Heaven.” “GIRL FIGHT!” is a classic high school tale flipped upside down. When Katie starts her new life at Fairmont Valley Academy, she learns that people are not who they seem. After attracting the attention of queen bee Jen and her drones, Katie finds that the friendliest looking girls can be the cruelest and the toughest can be the most compassionate. With a target on her back, she finds friends in cool girl Ruth and the Westside Widows, the bad gals of the Academy. As Katie finds her voice and her place among her friends and all their hijinks, she smashes through boundaries within herself and with her parents, exacting revenge on Jen. When thrown into fight or flight, Katie plants her feet and fights. High on power, Katie takes things too far, hitting a boundary that not even her friends are willing to cross with her.

“GIRL FIGHT!” was inspired by my upbringing in affluent, suburban Texas and the teasing and alienation I experienced in my very formative elementary school years. I wanted to make a film that depicted Asian female characters that subvert expectations while still adhering to very classic character archetypes. It’s a story we all know and love but with a twist of ultra-violence and magical realism. I also wanted to interrogate female friendship and sisterhood during adolescence and highlight this time in young people’s lives where needing to belong and sifting through who you are, who people say you are, and having to make formative choices is everything. And all of these thoughts, opinions and hormones can push you to extremes. In this film, not everyone is who they appear to be and in the end everyone has insecurities, everyone is going through their own issues no matter how they appear on the surface level.

I had the pleasure of working with my incredible ensemble cast starring Alison Chang as Katie, Stephanie Wong as Ruth, Bria Wade as Bambi, Georgia Gould as Pyro, Shannon Sheridan as Jen, Abbie Georganna as Linda and featuring Kiki Yeung as Anita and Henry Mark as Charles. This film was my first experience with stunts and I was able to work with my incredible stunt coordinator, Aimee Zannoni, to orchestrate and bring to life this really fun and high-energy nine-girl fight scene. This film was quite an undertaking for a student film so, to my department heads, cast, team and my amazing producer, Griff Jones, I cannot thank enough for the experience and for your support!

My most recent short, “No Law, No Heaven,” is a narrative Cantonese-Language short film that explores the life of a man, Ming, in three parts: early childhood, adolescence, and old age. Set in the Kowloon Walled City of 1950s-1990s Hong Kong, we observe Ming as he experiences the harsh realities of the world as a child, choosing between love and duty as a young man, and confronting the ghosts of his past in old age.

The film centers on exploring the extraordinary, unrelenting, and unforgiving world of the Kowloon Walled City in which the protagonist, Ming, lives. If you’ve never heard of this place, please google it! It’s absolutely fascinating and a marvel of the modern world. The Kowloon Walled City was a largely ungoverned, squatters’ settlement that existed from 1945 to 1993. Located between Hong Kong Island and mainland China, this six-acre plot of land was home to over 50,000 people who lived in a maze of illegally built apartment buildings and businesses. Under neither British or Chinese rule, the Walled City was a welcome home for criminal activity such as gambling, prostitution, drug trafficking, and triad activity. While the Walled City was most known for its seedy underbelly, most of its inhabitants were average people and businesses taking advantage of the cheap rent. With this film, I shine a spotlight onto the average person living in extraordinary circumstances.

This film was born out of curiosity about my grandparents and the unknown sacrifices they’ve made to give my parent’s generation and my generation the best life they could. My family doesn’t have a strong sense of oral history and with an added language barrier, there’s a lot I don’t know. But the little I do know is that they’ve had this incredible life journey from being refugees escaping China under threat of Japan and living in Burma (now Myanmar) and making a living selling fishballs and noodles to moving to Hong Kong and Macao and finally to the states. It’s overwhelming the amount of sacrifice they have had to make to see me and my cousins who are nearly all American citizens live and work as scientists, doctors, businesswomen, and artists. So, I wanted to explore a generation that wasn’t my own and develop a story centered and set in Hong Kong, a city I’ve always felt an outsider to, though it is my flesh and blood. It’s my way of getting closer to Hong Kong and closer to my grandparents as many aspects of the family in my film were inspired by my own family’s history. I wanted to capture the intricacies and dualities of life and focus on very personal struggles I’ve faced with identity, filial piety, personal authenticity, and family.

I am most proud of “No Law, No Heaven” because I set out to do the impossible and pulled it off. With the help of my production designer, the very talented Hakan Yörük, Hong Kong producer Gurt Wong, and my long time collaborator, director of photography, Xiang He, my team and I were able to recreate the Kowloon Walled City, a place that has been dead and gone for over 25 years. This film for me marked a series of firsts that I am extremely proud of. It was the first time working closely with a production designer to build a set that was designed inside and out with a high level of detail to suit the needs of the story and production. It was also my very first time shooting in Hong Kong and working with local crew and talent. It was the most Cantonese I ever spoke in my life (and I really don’t speak a lot). We shot this film at the height of the Hong Kong protests in the summer of 2019 and, while production was safe and unaffected, the energy of liberation and the clash of East and West over Hong Kong seemed a fitting backdrop to the whole shoot as the film deals very much so with colonialism and western presence in Hong Kong in the form of love story. The film stars an extremely talented ensemble cast with Jam Kwan, Torio Wong, and Dick Lei and features Will Cross, Tsui Mo Yin, Kelvin Wong, Yu Sau Ling, and Gary Lee.

As a director with these two shorts under my belt, I’m grateful for all that I’ve learned and what I’ve been able to accomplish. I look forward to what’s to come with bringing these two works to festivals. Please give the official “No Law, No Heaven” Instagram a follow for updates and where you can see the film in the future!

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
This is kind of an obvious answer from me but Los Angeles is THE home of Hollywood and the entertainment business at large. It all started here and it’s within the very DNA of the city. While there’s a very long way to go in terms of diversity and inclusion within the industry, LA is a place where productions are consistently happening side by side at all levels. You get your massive TV shows and blockbusters shooting right down the street from student films and indie productions. The fact that this city has the capacity for that range of filmmaking is what I really love about being here. Like, when LaLa Land came out, as polarizing as that movie is, it really depicted this shared dream of Angeleno transplants. It certainly put my journey and experience of moving and living in this city on the big screen. It’s what LA is built on, the dreams of artists and individuals trying to make it out here.

But if I’m to be very honest, the best part about LA is the food. I mean, we have everything here! LA’s like a big melting pot of cultures, mixing and mingling. You get some amazing culinary mashups because of it and all you have to do is go out and discover it. And with a city this big, there is so much to explore and uncover. And that, to me, as someone who had lived in the South for most of my life, is super exciting. But now I really miss some good, vegetarian-friendly southern food— hit me up with your recommendations, LA!

Now, what I don’t like about LA is what everyone else also hates, and that’s the traffic. And don’t even get me started on the lack of efficient, fast public transportation! After living in Hong Kong and getting used to really amazing, cheap, and fast public transportation, it’s sad how underdeveloped the public transport is here and how much LA depends on private cars! I also feel like the city can be so isolating at times. It’s a hub for dreamers and very hard working people, but everyone’s so focused in on chasing their dreams that I don’t feel a strong sense of community among Angelenos at large. Everyone is just doing their own thing in their own neighborhoods, in their own cars, in their own circles, and always on the move. LA needs to slow down, open up, take a breath!

Contact Info:

  • Website:
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  • Instagram: nolawnoheaven

Image Credit:
Lambert Grand, Alexander Stoeckel

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