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Filmmaker-Director | John Hsu

  • Date:2020-03-06
Filmmaker-Director | John Hsu

  • Name: 徐漢強
  • Born: Nov. 9, 1981
  • Birthplace: Taipei, Taiwan
  • Did You Know That …?
  • Together with his friends, John Hsu founded the machinima production group AFK PL@YERS, which uses computer graphics engines to create cinematic productions. AFK has created many viral videos and web commercials over the years, leading Hsu to accumulate skills and creativity not practiced in standard film production and education. 

Known as the youngest director to ever receive a Best TV Movie Director award in Golden Bell history, John Hsu had originally never planned to be a film director, for he always meant to enter the gaming industry.

Hsu started playing video games when he was five years old, and it was only until he went to Shih Hsin University majoring in film that he started learning about movies and their unlimited and imaginative possibilities. Due to his love for video games and movies, no one better understands these two genres, and his portfolio of short films and dramas are always interwoven with gaming aspects.

His path to becoming a film director was nearly accidental, and began with his graduation project "Server #15 (第十五伺服器)," a refreshing short film integrated with video game attributes. For example, a character's intelligence level will increase when studying, or their health bar will decrease when they get in a fight. "Server #15" was quickly noticed and nominated for Best Experimental Film at the Taipei Film Festival. The award category however, was phased out after 2008.

The "Server #15" concept was then used to create Hsu's TV movie debut "Real = Online (請登入線實)," a satire film about three players switching between reality and the game and confusing desire with real life, which won him best director at the 2005 Golden Bell Awards. Due to public support, Hsu decided to continue down the path of becoming a filmmaker.

Hsu then went on to produce more successful shorts including "Intoxicant (匿名遊戲)" in 2008, "After Dark (黑暗之後)" in 2011, "The Great Escape From Café City (小清新大爆炸)" in 2013, and "The Weather Report Of The End (阿爸的天氣預報)" in 2015.

Additionally, Hsu was one of the few film directors actively trying to create virtual reality (VR) films in Taiwan then. In 2017, at the invitation and sponsorship of the Kaohsiung Film Archive, Hsu filmed "Your Spiritual Temple Sucks (全能元神宮改造王)." This movie was screened at the Sundance Film Festival as the first VR film from Taiwan to be screened at its New Frontier program, as well as at film festivals in Australia, France, Germany, Spain, Turkey, and the Netherlands.

Hsu was praised for his precise grasp of the rhythm of the film and understanding of the viewer's perspective. The design of two parallel yet concurring narratives further increased the immersive factor for the audience members.

For his first feature-length film, Hsu was asked to helm the film adaption of a video game called "Detention (返校)." Hsu has mentioned that he played the video game when it first came out in 2017, and really wanted someone to turn it into a movie.

As a loyal player of the game, he wanted to develop a film with unique vision and introduce the story to more people. The other challenge was to find a balance between meeting the expectations of players of the original game and helping those who have never played the game better understand the storyline. Lastly, another goal of "Detention" was to educate young people who knew little of Taiwan's White Terror history.

The film is set during the 1960s, when Taiwan was still under martial law, and tells the story of two students who find themselves in a realm of vengeful spirits in their empty school and must search for their missing teacher while making their escape.

"Detention" was a major commercial success that was also nominated for 12 Golden Horse Awards, and Hsu himself was named best new director. During his acceptance speech, Hsu mentioned that movies are very fascinating, but also extremely difficult to make, and that he wanted to thank his family, screenwriters, and camera crew who walked through the hardships with him to successfully produce "Detention."