The famed director and character actor Konstantin Stanislavski is credited with the adage, “There are no small parts, only small actors” in which he asserted that any exhibition of creativity offers greatness in the proper hands. It’s obvious that Livi Zheng has committed her career to this idea; most recently in the “Life is Full of Surprises” commercial for BRI Life. The insurance company noticed Zheng’s productions for the Indonesia Consulate in Los Angeles and asked her to bring her cinematic style to an advertisement for them. What they received from the producer/director is an epic tale worthy of any feature film, full of triumph and tragedy with the underlying message that you’ll want someone to help you through life’s difficult scenarios. Far from instilling fear, “Life is Full of Surprises” presents the unavoidable trials one will have to face and it does so with heart and tenderness. We live in a time when television has become the equal to film in quality and production; Livi Zheng seems out to prove that the next wave of this could be in commercials. If one bases their judgement on “Life is Full of Surprises”, Livi has already achieved success in proving this is true.
Advertisement is so ubiquitous in modern life that a sizable portion of the public has become numb to it. Pop up ads, billboards, even clothing inundates us with logos, words, and imagery that is incessant in its marketing. BRI Life wanted to reach consumers with the opposite approach. Understanding that insurance is something which is needed at the most vulnerable moments of life, they enlisted the acclaimed filmmaker to create a narrative approach that would illustrate this need in a manner that doesn’t focus on market competition. With “Life is Full of Surprises”, Zheng has crafted a story which crosses multiple generations and imprints the personal struggles each life must undertake while simultaneously reminding us of the importance of its subtle joys. More a short film than a commercial, the story follows one woman who tragically loses her mother at a young age. Enjoying a night of entertainment as a family, the mother looks lovingly at her daughter before fainting. Surrounding the matriarch at her hospital bed as she passes, the young girl becomes angry at being robbed of a life with her mother. The girl’s grandfather takes her in and helps her through a somewhat troubled youth. In adulthood, the same young girl has become a doctor with a successful career. She sees a reflection of her younger self at the hospital in another little girl who has also lost her mother. Through the losses of these characters, we see that life can bring loss and we can comfort one another through these times.
By design, this short film is grand. Written by Ken Zhang who has collaborated with Livi on the feature film Brush with Danger and many other productions, “Life is Full of Surprises” was created to elicit an emotional response through a connective story rather than a blatant appeal for business. The film is without question more a work of art than an attempt to corner a market or demographic. Livi and Ken undertook the same process as they would for any of their films, concentrating on story and characters first and above all else. An obvious indication is the opening scene of “Life is Full of Surprises” which carries a Livi Zheng trademark scene. She confesses, “BRI Life chose the city to shoot this film. One of the things I always like to do is to film something unique to the city in which I’m shooting. It is a clear way to establish something indicative of a location and its citizens for me in a personal way. We added a scene with performers and a firewhip which became the opening scene where the family is enjoying the performance before the mother then faints. This scene is very cinematic with the performers mixing martial arts and fire.” This is also very clever filmmaking as the celebratory tone instantly careens into personal loss. The resulting emotional whiplash is worthy of any silver screen feature film. Livi notes, “BRI Life gave Ken and I a great amount of creative freedom. With the story, we wanted to portray that sometimes you can become so busy with life and your career that you can forget what’s truly important, like your family.” There are only a handful of films which are a few minutes long and whose message remains with you the way “Life is Full of Surprises” does. If this is the future of advertising, it will be more enjoyable for everyone.
Published by Zoe Sewell