It’s difficult to make a film about the wrongs that have been done by the people of one culture to another, while still making something unusually fascinating and enjoyable. Quentin Tarantino did this with Django Unchained in recent times. It’s a delicate balance that is precarious in its manifestation. Good Friend from the West evokes shades of this, juggling the cultures of White settlers, Native Americans, and Chinese railworkers in the Old West. Late nineteenth-century United States is a vibrant petri dish for exhibiting this trio of vastly different cultures and their perceptions of each, as well as their confrontations. Executive Producer Yuanhao Du is more than a talented filmmaker; he has the perspective to bring essential elements to this film. A native of China who has made films in the US and throughout the world, Yuanhao was void of the template of manifesting this era of US history even though he was well aware of it. Lacking a pre-imposed idea of “how” a story set in the Western US Frontier “should” be told, this EP and his cast & crew created an immensely unique modern Western film. With some obvious nods to martial arts filmmaking techniques, there’s even a bit of whimsy to this story which is most certainly dark in its lesson.
Good Friend from the West takes place in 1873 as a Chinese railworker (played by Zhan Wang) makes a hasty escape from his indentured servitude on the expanding westward rail system construction. During his journey, he encounters a wounded cowboy (played by Dan Rutkowski) who is himself avoiding capture by Native American soldiers. When these Native Americans descend upon the duo, one of the most satisfying, surprising, and unintuitive scenes is presented. The film integrates 70’s Kung Fu film stylings as the railworker fights off the Native Americans. Not since films like Shaun of the Dead have we seen such an unusual and positive complementing mish-mash of genres. Producer Yuanhao relates, “This story combined three cool elements for me; a Western, a physical film, and Chinese and American sensibilities. At one time, films about Chinese and American people working together were very hot; like those Jackie Chen movies. But now, people barely can see these kind of movies. Filming has magic that can influence people’s minds. If we want to reduce the misunderstanding between these two big countries with two different cultures, then as filmmakers we need to make more of these films. We have a lot of films to show how American and Chinese people are different but more importantly, we should find out what we share in common. If we want to survive, we need to know each other and work together.”
Shot in the desert on 35 MM Film, the production costs were ample. A blending of traditional Western meets Kung Fu action is also not the most obvious and easy concept to sell to investors. Yuanhao turned to crowdfunding to ensure sufficient funds for the film. While it has the obvious result of raising the necessary capital, Yuanhao reinforces that he saw this approach as being an added source of advertisement which greatly benefited the production as well. More than most, the concept of the film was a gamble. The physical and creative efforts of the cast and crew are obvious in the truly cinematic presentation of grand vistas and cultural clashes that are visible on-screen. The film’s cultural appeal and resonance is vetted by its status as an Official Selection at important events including the Hong Kong Film Art International Film Festival, Miami Independent Film Festival, Los Angeles Film & Script Festival, and awards from WordFest-Houston International Film & Video Festival (Gold Remi Award), International Independent Film Awards, European Cinematography AWARDS, and numerous others. For Yuanhao, it’s more about the reception he sees in the audience as he states, “It always feels good when I see that people like my films because I know deep down in their hearts, they agree with the philosophy of my films. I believe that this will eventually be the foundation of reducing the misunderstanding between different cultures.”