You need a lot of hyphens to describe the filmmaking abilities of 25-year-old Livi Zheng, the director, producer and star of “Brush with Danger,” a martial arts-inflected action film shot largely in Seattle.
That’s quite a few above-the-line credits for one person, but Zheng is quick to heap praise on others, including stunt coordinator and second-unit director David Boushey and her co-star brother, Ken Zheng, who also wrote the script.
“I think filmmaking is very collaborative,” she said. “It’s hard to do it by yourself no matter how good you are.”
Not that long ago, Zheng was an economics student at the University of Washington, pondering her future as she applied to graduate programs in both economics and film. She had done stunt work in her native Indonesia and some film production on the side at UW, but knew she would have to devote herself full-time if she wanted to be serious.
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Then, she got the news she’d been accepted to USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. That was a clear sign.
“Of course I decided film,” she said.
By the time preproduction began on “Brush with Danger,” Zheng was already living in Los Angeles, but she flew to Seattle almost every weekend to plan the film before dedicating nearly a month to shooting across the city, from Volunteer Park to Alki Beach.
Much of the action takes place in Pioneer Square, a picturesque setting but not the easiest place to shoot, given stadium events and other restrictions, Zheng said.
“We had to really fight to get it shot there,” she said.
“Brush with Danger” tells the story of a brother and sister who arrive in Seattle in a shipping container, forced to use their kickboxing and karate skills to navigate a criminal underworld.
Though Zheng cites a love for Bruce Lee — a fellow UW student and actor/director himself — it’s clear her dad is a primary influence.
“He loved martial arts,” Zheng said. “Every Sunday, the whole family would go to train together, including my mom.”
Actor Nikita Breznikov found that out the hard way when Zheng’s mom doubled for her in a close-up and put him in a surprisingly effective arm lock.
“Afterwards, I said, ‘Liv, Mom’s good with martial arts,’” Breznikov said. “She said, ‘Ken and I can’t beat her.’ I went, ‘Wow.’”
Zheng has already wrapped shooting on her next project, which she directed but does not star in — probably a likely career trajectory, she says. But co-starring with her brother was a special experience.
When she was in 11th grade and he was in 5th grade, the pair moved to China for school without their parents.
“It was just me and him,” Zheng said. “Naturally, you get really close. You don’t really have anybody else to rely on.”
That closeness is evident in the film as the fictional brother and sister display a bond that was forged in real life.
“I have a really strong connection with the material,” Zheng said. “This is my passion project, and I (was) lucky enough to get it made.”
Dusty Somers: firstname.lastname@example.org