Unrivaled Under Heaven is a historical epic set in 18th century China. A farmer who is a huge loser in his community accidentally kills a notorious bandit (a la 2011’s Rango), becoming a celebrity. Thrust into the spotlight, he gains the attention of the local and national populace, becoming a leader not by his own volition but by the expectations of the people around him.
Writing this now (2017), I realize the story was very personal. I was painfully shy growing up. In my adolescence, my social skills withered as my avoidance grew. I became incredibly depressed. Desperate for a way out of my self-imposed isolation, I told myself that I needed to fix my problem by any means necessary.
I took on people facing service jobs. I remember being too shy to look at customers in the eye. I did weird social challenges, like lying on the sidewalk and high-fiving strangers. I read books with cheesy titles like How to Talk to Anyone. Over the next few months my social skills improved by leaps and bounds. When people started to look to me for leadership, I was bewildered and deeply humbled. It’s this feeling, this feeling when people perceive you entirely different to how you perceive yourself, that I wanted to capture with Wudi, the protagonist of Unrivaled.
At the time I actually sent the slide deck below to some art directors of films I admired. Needless to say, I didn’t get any replies. The project means a lot to me regardless; it’s how I was making sense of my own life at the time.