Game Changer Spotlight: Justin Lin

As part of the Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month collection, X1 Asian American Film & TV will highlight various Game Changers, influential Asian Americans across entertainment.

The following interview is with Justin Lin, an American film director whose films have grossed US$2.3 billion worldwide as of March 2017. He is best known for his directorial work on “Better Luck Tomorrow,” the “Fast and The Furious” movies, and “Star Trek Beyond.” He is an executive producer on CBS’s “Magnum P.I.” and “Warrior” on Cinemax, based on the writings of Bruce Lee. 

Image Credit: Justin Lin

Congratulations on “Warrior”! Can you give some insight on how it all came together?

Justin Lin: It all started with a simple question from Danielle, who I worked with: “Is it true?”  I had heard of what I thought was a myth of Bruce Lee’s writings and how he got screwed because the network didn’t want to cast a Chinese man to play a Chinese role and ultimately we got “Kung Fu.”  I decided to call Shannon Lee and she said it was all true.  She then shared with me the 8-page treatment Bruce Lee wrote, and I couldn’t believe it was true.  Knowing the truth inspired us to see if we could help bring Bruce Lee’s idea and vision to life.

The reviews have been fantastic. What was the creative process like to world-build considering that Bruce Lee’s original treatment was just a few pages long?

JL: It’s all about respecting the essence of what Bruce was trying to do.  Early on, Shannon and I were very conscious of creating the right process, which included trust and POV from everyone involved.  We met with a lot of studios, networks and showrunners to start.  When we sat down with Cinemax and Jonathan, we felt we had the perfect fit in a showrunner who is not only extremely talented, but had the passion for the material.  In Cinemax we had a network that was respectful of the project and was going to be supportive of the talent’s vision first and foremost. 

Image Credit: Justin Lin

What is your outlook on the state of Asian Pacific American film and TV? Do you think it’s all about timing for a show like “Warrior” to exist?  

JL: I think the state of AA films and TV is promising.  I’ve been so impressed and proud to see so many talented people in front and behind the camera rise up and creating great stories in the last few years.  And with new streaming services come windows where those stories will have an opportunity to be told.

You’re one of the most sought-after directors in Hollywood. You’re executive producing several TV series. A lot of Bruce Lee’s philosophy is finding that life balance. How do you do it all? 

JL: Try to surround myself with people who love what they do. And for me it’s been great to try to tell stories in all mediums so that I could also create time to be with my family. Definitely the hardest thing is to find time to be grounded with real life, but without it, I don’t think I’d be able to continue to grow as a filmmaker.

What are you doing next?

JL: I’m prepping “Fast & Furious 9” right now in London. 

Bill Simmons heralded your fantasy basketball league as the greatest ever. How are you doing this season? 

JL: Oh man, that’s a tough question.  My team is like the Clippers this year.  Played tough and even though I traded our stars, we kept fighting.  We’ll be top 5 team, but are set up to take it all next year!


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