Manifesting Hollywood Dreams with Bali’s Ken Zheng

(Ken Zheng attending the Oscars)

Artists are dreamers by definition. Their talent and energy transforms the imaginary world and sometimes even the real world. Ken Zheng inspires not only via his films but also through his own journey; how else could you describe the tale of a youth from Indonesia who creates his own film in America as a nineteen-year-old? Not just “a film” but a film which boasts celebrated Hollywood names from multiple Oscar-winning productions. Before reaching his second decade of existence on the planet, Ken has achieved what so many all across the planet have dreamed of…becoming a success in the film capital of the world. The attention he has achieved as a result of Brush with Danger’s success is something he is using to shine the light on his homeland as an associate producer of Bali: Beats of Paradise. Ken Zheng is proving that exceptional talent exists in many parts of the world; talent which Hollywood is highly receptive towards.

As both the writer and star of Brush with Danger, Zheng made his first role in a US film profoundly felt. As the younger of the Qiang siblings, he plays the affable and sometimes reckless brother who is as apt to cause trouble as solve it. While often well intended, this character trait puts him and his sister in danger. The intense action scenes in Brush with Danger offered Zheng the chance to act alongside Nikita Breznikov (of 2008’s The Wrestler-recipient of two Oscar nominations, Golden Globe winner and BAFTA winner). It was a dually beneficial experience for Ken who states, “Nikita not only helped me understand the acting process better but also how the words I wrote could come to life. He was so quick in making changes that the director requested. I became both a better writer and a better actor by working with him. We developed a relationship onscreen that has become a friendship off camera as well.” The actions scenes in the film were the culmination of great acting as well as a great design, courtesy of Stunt Coordinator David Boushey. Boushey has instructed and worked with eight Academy Award-winning actors including Denzel Washington, William Hurt, and Tommy Lee Jones.

On the heels of the success of Brush with Danger, Ken Zheng has contributed to the awareness of other artists from his homeland via an associate producing role in this year’s Bali: Beats of Paradise. This is particularly poignant as this documentary displays the collaboration between Balinese and American creatives. The visionary tale examines the use of gamelan music (featured in James Cameron’s Avatar and television’s Star Trek) by Grammy Award-winning vocalist Judith Hill (20 Feet from Stardom). Celebrated Indonesian composer Nyoman Wenten worked with Hill on the creation of her single and music video “Queen of the Hill.” Bali: Beats of Paradise captures the process, preserving the musical and cultural exchange of two artists and two cultures. As a native of Bali who has established a successful film career in America, the project was personally meaningful for Ken.

Coming to America to become a success is a dream shared throughout the world and one which Ken Zheng confirms is gratifying. As Brush with Danger made its way through the US in major chain cinemas like AMC and Regal (the film was also made available on Amazon Prime), Ken’s talent attracted the attention of prominent figures in film and led to an invitation for Ken to attend the Oscars. Interacting with fellow attendees like Amy Adams and Anna Kendricks seemed like a long way from just a couple of a few years ago and Ken’s beginnings. For this young talent, it was a reminder that the dream is attainable for those willing to risk it all. He relates, “Being a nineteen-year-old and wanting to do something ambitious is hard; you are often doubted by your peers and elders. it is almost like a catch-22. You’re an adult now and you have to be industrious but opportunity only comes if you have experience. A lot of people will scoff at what you believe is possible. I knew it was going to be a mountain to climb but a mountain isn’t climbable…until it is. I did not know how I was going to do it but I knew the only way to make it is just to try.”

(Ken Zheng on set)

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store