The life of writer-director-producer Ann Hu could easily be the subject of a feature film. Born and raised in China to parents who were academics, she found her life uprooted in the mid-1960s when Mao Tse-tung instituted what has come to be known as "The Cultural Revolution". Separated from her parents (who were sent to labor camps), Hu spent some ten years working at a dingy restaurant just outside Beijing barely earning enough to support herself and her younger brother. When the government relaxed some of its constrictions, she taught herself English and began earning extra money as a translator. In 1979, she passed China's first college entrance exams and was allowed to travel to the USA to attend NYU. Earning a business degree in 1985, she began a career as a successful commodities trader, working first for an Australian conglomerate and then forming an investment company with her husband. Still, something was lacking in her life, despite the trappings of wealth.
At the height of her career as a businesswoman, Hu withdrew and took an 18-month sabbatical, during which she traveled the world alone. Visiting such far-flung places as Egypt and Tibet, she developed a greater appreciation for the various cultures of the world. To further satisfy her yearnings, Hu enrolled in a summer course at NYU's film school and found her metier. Penning the experimental screenplay "Dream and Memory" (1993), she went on to finance and produce the 85-minute, 16mm drama which focused on a pair of artists whose lives are altered by the Cultural Revolution. Now ensconced in her new career, Hu began to research a documentary on the Red Guards but stumbled upon a screenplay that caught her attention and eventually became "Shadow Magic" (2000), a lilting drama set in 1902 about the introduction of movies to Chinese society. The film worked on many levels: not only did it depict a society in flux thanks to new technologies but it also dealt with a clash of cultures and the passing of older traditions. The beautifully rendered film which was a rare joint production between China and Taiwan earned laudatory reviews and numerous prizes.