Many of us from the West are mesmerized by the martial arts. Though we might pretend otherwise it’s mostly about self-protection peppered with a dash of “I’m cool.” The difference is that those from the part of the world in which this discipline originated and who truly understand it is this; it’s a way of life. There is a mastery of self that transfers to all parts of one’s life. It becomes a lifestyle rather than an expertise with combat. Yes, the physical benefits are there but the mental and spiritual one’s supersede them. Livi Zheng is a respected producer and director began her career as a stuntwoman and actress due to her mastery of martial arts on the enormously popular Asian television program Admiral Zheng He. Immersing herself in the production world, she began assisting in all of the different department until she became the assistant to the producer. Quickly thereafter she was working on scripts, doing research, prepping for shoots, and finally became the producer herself. The immensely popular program about Admiral Zheng He led to a film about this historic Chinese figure. As a testament to the benefits of her martial arts training, Livi assessed what was needed to conquer the production world; achieving great acclaim in the ever-expanding Asian TV and film industry; no small achievement for even the most accomplished professionals.
Livi is originally from Indonesia but moved to Beijing, China with her brother to further pursue martial arts training. While her excellence in the discipline would lead her to working on the hugely popular TV show about one of the most respected historical figures of China, it would also take her life down an entirely different path. The Admiral Zheng He TV series is a massive hit in Indonesia; to simply be an actor on the show would already register as a great success for Livi. But she was so interested in the workings she saw behind the camera that she immediately began the pursuit of assisting in the many different parts of production. Her dedication to learning every aspect of production paid off when she began her role as a producer on the program. In her role on the series as Suhita she was a Javanese queen regnant and the sixth monarch of the Majaphit empire (the biggest empire in Southeast Asia), ruling from 1429 to 1447. Somewhat mirroring that character, Livi oversaw productions that took place in China, Indonesia, and Thailand. It’s poetic that Zheng would learn the lifestyles of each of her people (the cast and crew) and then rule (produce) with the knowledge and empathy gained.
Livi’s work was so successful and lauded by the viewing audience as well as the production company that she was asked to produce the film inspired by the TV program’s success; The Empire’s Throne. Her abilities as an actor together with her skill as a producer, handling the production schedule and budget, made Livi the two most valuable people involved in the series.
Managing hundreds of extras and animals on set with lead actors is quite a feat for any producer. Zheng is frank about the fact that The Empire’s Throne was all about spectacle with expansive vistas and huge numbers of foot soldiers and cavalry. Recalling one scene she states, “There was a very big fight scene with a many horses and challenging stunts. We prep it ahead of time but there was still so many details to work out on the day of; such as getting all the stunt people and extras in the period costumes and props. I hired an extra crew just to get everyone ready faster. I wanted to maximize the shooting time rather than using it to prep the hundreds of people involved in front of the camera.”
The Empire’s Throne is a colossal dramatic action film, based on the story of the empire Majapahit, the most powerful Empire in Southeast Asia. The film tells the story of the epic struggle for the throne of this kingdom. It features a huge cast, stunning Southeast Asian sets, costumes, locations, and music. This epic period piece possesses a unique cultural aspect. Its spectacular production design is extravagant and unique in the eyes of US audiences, so much so that it garnered an official selection in Boston International Film Festival. It’s of great relevance that one of the stars of both the TV series Admiral Zheng He and The Empire’s Throne took note of Livi’s professionalism and excellence on these productions. In addition to being a star of the show, Saifullah Yusuf (also known as Gus Ipul Job) also has the distinction of being the Indonesian State Minister for National Development Planning (2004-2007) and Deputy governor of East Java, Indonesia (2009- Current) …meaning that he understands the historical accuracy and authentic recreation of these tales. as Saifullah Yusuf related,
”Livi Zheng is a talented and dedicated producer who has shown herself capable of executing sophisticated productions with significant budgets. On the TV series Admiral Zheng He (Laksamana Cheng Ho) and the feature film The Empire’s Throne she coordinated a cast of over 1000 extras along with hundreds of horses while shooting in three different countries. In the action genre her personal experience as a multiple award-winning martial artist gives her unique insight into the stories she produces. Not only was I impressed by her ability to access her prodigious skills and experience, but also by her devotion to depicting realistic portrayals of the locations and historic periods in her films. To this end she spent a good deal of time gathering research from museums around China to add authenticity to the production.”
Director/producer Nirattisai Kaljaruek has worked with American household names such as Nicholas Cage and Bon Jovi. Regarding his experience working with Livi on these multiple productions, he comments
“Livi’s upbeat spirit and strong vision were an inspiration to our cast and crew, helping them realize the tone and spirit of the film. Her energy and passion are infectious. She manages to oversee everything with compelling detail, while paying attention to budgetary and scheduling constraints. Having grown up in Indonesia and China, and then continuing her education in the United States, she brings a unique multicultural perspective to all of her creative work.”
Zheng’s work on the productions concerning this popular historic figure continued as producer on the feature film Legend of the East. The film was a huge hit with notable achievements, including: Nominated at the Madrid International Film Festival for Best Foreign Language Feature Film –Legend of the East (Livi Zheng and Nirattisai Kaljaruek), Best Director of a Foreign Language Feature Film (Nirattisai Kaljaruek), won Best Actor for Foreign Film and Best Supporting Actress for Foreign Film. With her successful directing credits adorning her resume Zheng continues to expand her role as a respected filmmaker, more recently producing and directing the suspenseful Victorian period-piece The Lost Soul. Livi is currently fielding several offers in the US.
(Title featured image courtesy-of-marie-claire-indonesia-by-irfan-hartanto-2)