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From Red Guard to Red Carpet


By Marc Cuenco

Published Jul 7, 2009 4:40 PM


Director Anna Chi shooting Dim Sum Funeral, from left to right: Chi talks to Talia Shire about a kitchen scene; Chi decides how to frame a shot; Chi and Russell Wong discuss a scene.

Filmmaker Anna Chi's remarkable life is peppered with happy accidents — events which took her on a dizzying journey from dedicated Communist in Red China to the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television's directing program and a career as an acclaimed movie director. The journey began when the Communist Party recruited her as a child during the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

"Nothing in my life is ever easy, it seems," says Chi, director of Dim Sum Funeral, which revolves around a Chinese-American family reuniting for their mother's funeral and boasts an all-star cast that includes Russell Wong, Kelly Hu, Bai Ling, and Talia Shire. "Everything has to be a struggle. But the end result is always good and that's why I'm always optimistic."


Anna Chi.

After attending UCLA, Chi began working with filmmakers such as Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club) and Oliver Stone (Nixon) as a production assistant. In 1998, she produced, directed and co-wrote the film "Blindness," which premiered at the Hollywood Film Festival. It was a heady experience for the young artist, and literally worlds away from the land of her birth.

When she was just 8 years old, Chi wrote to her father, who was in an education camp at the time, urging him to give the Communist Party a chance. That letter convinced officials to send Chi to school to become a privileged Red Guard. "I did not really understand what was going on, except that this whole thing was like a big party and I was a part of it," she recalls. "Many others were hurt or destroyed by the Party but my experience was different."

Chi spent the next nine years as a member of the Communist Party, studying literature and discovering a passion for writing. But the Party sent her to work as a film editor. "It was my first real heartbreak," Chi shares. "I had this whole romantic notion of writing poems, novels, and plays. Film editing to me was not romantic at all. It was the first time I felt the conflict between what I desired and what the Party desired."

The aspiring filmmaker broke from the Party in the late '80s, no longer believing in what it stood for. But she was not keen on moving to the United States in the beginning because she was taught the country was China's enemy. Friends coaxed her into coming to Los Angeles with her 3-year-old son even though she spoke very little English.

Eventually, she learned English — and was accepted into UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television's graduate program. She remembers feeling an overwhelming sense of freedom on her first day at UCLA. "I was a little lightheaded," Chi says while laughing at the memory of her first reaction to a new life in Westwood.

"It felt," she adds, "like I was stepping on cotton."



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