Growing up in Xi’an, China, Danwen Lei was always fascinated by the arts. She spent her earliest years dreaming of being a painter and practicing fine arts. However, she was always captivated by the power of film, realizing the power the medium holds when one watches a good movie; it can be life changing. She knew one day she wanted to be a part in making a great film, and now that dream is a constant reality.
Lei is now an in-demand film producer in her home of China and around the world, known for her extraordinary talent and superb work ethic. She has impressed audiences everywhere with impactful films like Under the Flag, Happy Birthday to You, Where the Dream Begins, and Sunrise in Heaven, but the real shining star in Lei’s resume is her film Gold Fortune.
Inspired by a true crime story, Gold Fortune tells the story of a 25-year-old Chinese man, Yuzhong Chan, who has been working in various Chinese restaurant kitchens since he illegally entered the United States in the hope of a better life. As he moves to Los Angeles to seek legal identity through asylum fraud, he meets and falls in love with a waitress at his cousin’s restaurant. When Yuzhong receives a phone call from his asylum lawyer that he missed his court hearing, where would the tide of fortune take him to?
“I like the story not because of how dramatic it is on the screen, but because I think even though it’s a tragedy, it can be very meaningful to people who suffer from similar situations, have the same confusion or pain in their life. In the end, people will think about this character and his fate when they are facing their own various ills of life. This film also cast a new light on undocumented immigrants,” she said.
Gold Fortune was released worldwide in October of 2017 and had an exemplary run at many festivals all over the world. Not only was it selected for nine festivals, including the Delhi International Film Festival 2018, UK Film Festival 2018 Buenos Aires Film Festival 2018, it also took home many awards. These include The Van Gogh Award for Best Drama at the Amsterdam International Film Festival, Best Picture and Best Director at the AFMA Film Festival of Young Cinema, and Best Narrative Short at the Beijing New Era Film Festival. The highlight, for Lei, came when she was invited to screen the film at the US Embassy in Beijing after its international success.
“It feels very satisfying, as our goal with this film was to let more people learn things about this group of people, make their story heard by the world. Being screened all around the world, getting all kinds of recognitions, that goal has certainly been achieved,” said Lei.
As a producer, Lei’s job was crucial because her responsibilities span all phases of the production: development, pre-production, production, post-production and marketing. The difficulties in making this film included fundraising, writing, and finding the right cast and locations. First of all, to raise enough money for this project, Lei and her team started crowdfunding in mainland China so they were able to make their voice heard among their families, friends and people online who were supportive in sharing this real story with the world. To do this, Lei designed and created the film’s official website and made all the promotional materials to raise awareness. In the end, they reached their goal to raise $60,000 within one month. Lei also put her creative voice into this story. Before production, the director had written 15 drafts of the script, and Lei was always the first to read them and provide important edits.
“I like working on this project because this was the first time I was with a project from literally the beginning to the end. Starting with development, I visited the journalist of the article that we read, I was there with my director reading and giving notes to all 15 drafts, doing fundraising, creating our own websites, casting the right actors, finding all locations, doing car scenes, helping with post production and holding previews, and finally applying to film festivals around the world. After this whole process, I realized how much I grew as a producer,” said Lei.
Lei has come a long way in the last three years since working on Gold Fortune, but she still looks back at the experience as one of the best of her career. Not only did she make important contributions to the film’s continued success, but she had the opportunity to tell a story she felt the world needed to hear.
“I want to produce this film because it tells the story of an undocumented Chinese immigrant’s life change. Based on a true event, this story has its own strong power of offering the audience a whole new point of view when they face someone like our protagonist. Although it is a tragedy, it touches my heart and makes me rethink the ‘American Dream.’ I want to make it so people around the world can learn something from the story,” she concluded.