Tue, May 26, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Telling a familiar tale

Taiwanese-American filmmaker Barney Cheng talks to the ‘Taipei Times’ about his Hollywood career, the pressures of growing up gay in a Taiwanese family and his cinematic influences

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

Barney Cheng, right, in a scene from Baby Steps, a movie he stars in, writes and directs.

Photo Courtesy of Hualien Media

Growing up in a Taiwanese family that emigrated to the US when he was 12-years-old, Barney Cheng (鄭伯昱) has a coming-of-age story that sounds awfully familiar. At family gatherings, well-intentioned, albeit nosy, relatives would always express concern that Cheng is single. “When can we go to your wedding banquet?” was a common refrain by some. “I know a great girl. I can arrange for you to meet her,” others would suggest.

Innocent comments, perhaps, except that Cheng is gay — a secret he only shared with his mother, who he told when he was in college.

Now living in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, home to one of the largest and most vibrant LGBTQ communities in the US, Cheng has just released his debut feature Baby Steps (滿月酒), a comedy-drama about a gay couple searching for a surrogate to have a baby. The movie, written, directed and starring Cheng, is inspired by his experiences as a gay man, and centers on a mother who struggles to come to terms with her son’s sexuality and his non-traditional lifestyle.

Shot in Taipei and Los Angeles, Cheng’s debut feature is also a Taiwanese-American co-production backed by impressively strong talent on the production side. This includes the UK’s Stephen Israel and Taiwan’s Hsu Li-kong (徐立功), noted for producing Ang Lee’s (李安) Father Knows Best trilogy, including The Wedding Banquet (囍宴, 1993), and the martial-art classic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (臥虎藏龍, 2000).

Cheng, 44, says it has been a long journey getting to where he is now.


Like any Taiwanese who wants to make their parents proud, the young Cheng did well in school, and was admitted to Stanford University. However, ever since he was a little boy, the straight-A student had always wanted to act.

“I didn’t know if pursuing theater and the arts was possible. So I chose the traditional route of study, thinking maybe I go to the law school and become a lawyer. My mom would have been so happy,” the filmmaker recalls.

Chang’s professional interest in acting was kindled following a one-year program at Oxford University that turned into outings in London every night to see stage performances. After graduation, Cheng began to pursue a career as an actor in New York, working in theater, television, movies and commercials. His break came in 2002 when he got a part in Woody Allen’s Hollywood Ending. The experience not only brought Cheng plenty of attention and more working opportunities, but also became an important source of inspiration.

“When Woody worked as a stand-up comedian, he created projects for himself. He writes his own movies, directs them and sometimes acts in them… He inspires me to tell my own stories, to create opportunities for myself,” he says.


As a well-educated and fully integrated Asian-American, Cheng says that he has more opportunities than his Caucasian counterparts, as Hollywood is emphasizing the practice of non-traditional, or color-blind, casting, which means casting a role without taking into consideration the actor’s ethnicity.

“If there is a role, say a doctor or a nurse, it can be Asian, Black or Hispanic. Every actor has equal opportunity to audition for that role… But let’s say a TV project talks about an Asian family, a Caucasian can’t play those parts,” Cheng says.

Similarly, as characters of different cultures and ethnicities become the norm, gay characters have become so common in Hollywood that it is not considered a gay character anymore.

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