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Justin Ivan Hong takes innovative cinematography approach in award-winning film
Sculptor; creator; storyteller, as an in-demand cinematographer, Justin Ivan Hong is many things. Through the lens of a camera he does not simply entertain, but also educates and captivates. He uses image composition, lighting, lenses, and movement to tell a story and evoke emotion. He takes a director's idea and interprets it into a series of images that reflect the intended emotional context and subtext of a story and add a deeper layer of meaning that cannot be expressed through words or dialogue alone. It is an intricate art form, and Hong is, above all else, a true artist.

Throughout his esteemed career, Hong has worked on countless acclaimed projects. Films like The Buddhist and I Love New York and television series including Mark Hamill's Pop Culture Quest and Bad Chad Customs have shown his extraordinary talent to the world and his unique approach to cinematography.

"I've never been very good at verbal or written communication. Cinematography is the expressive voice of my thoughts and feelings. I try to keep my approach genuine and honest to how I subjectively view the world and how my taste guides my choices," he said.

Hong aims to tell impactful stories, and with the 2016 film Sui Side Inn, he did just that. The film tells the story of Mr. Sui, the owner of a hotel that provides a service that no one else does ? if you have a death wish and want to take your own life, you can book a room and do it, and he will take care of everything after. No hassle, no fuss. When a teenage girl shows up one day, requesting a room, he tries to turn her away because of her age, but ends up letting her stay because he empathizes with her situation. He soon finds out, however, that she has a hidden agenda and that she is not who she says she is.

"I like this story because behind the weird and strange fac?ade of the fictional world lies a question that I think is worth thinking about and discussing. The question being, if someone wanted to commit suicide, should the people around them intervene? This is certainly a taboo and morbid topic, but I believe that we should at least be open to a discussion and try to understand a differing point of view. That is why I think this film is important," said Hong.

Sui Side Inn premiered in early 2017 with a screening at the Warner Brothers Studio Theatre in Burbank, California. It then proceeded to do very well at several film festivals throughout the course of the year, taking home several awards including Best Narrative and Best Editing at the LA Film Awards, Best Drama, Best Producer, and Best Production Design at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, and the Platinum Winner at the International Independent Film Awards. The Director and Writer, Bai Hua, believes her film could not have been as successful as it was without Hong.

"Justin was able to bring the surrealistic world of this film to life with his unique choices of lens, lighting and composition. He and I had many discussions about color and how best to represent my directorial vision on screen, and I would say that he nailed it perfectly. He has a very sensitive yet dynamic touch to cinematography, where he is unafraid to make bold, unorthodox decisions, but also understands when to scale it back and take a gentle, invisible approach to let the acting performances shine," said Hua.

With such an unorthodox story, Hong needed to try untested methods to really capture the feeling of the film, which was both creatively satisfying and a bit scary, going against his instincts and taking risks. In one scene in particular, it was a flashback sequence, which is quite common in films and the visual methods to denote this are equally common, almost cliche. Hong was determined to find a fresh approach. He ended up removing the lens from its mount and used his hands to physically spin the lens in front of the sensor. Because he was using anamorphic lenses, the spinning made the image stretch, skew, bend and flare in such a perfectly odd way. It matched the context of the scene beautifully and he was especially proud of this novel, new idea.

"Bai is extremely open to ideas and is bold enough to try anything. She gave me complete freedom to think of and suggest creative choices. Not all ideas are good ideas, but when there are no restrictions or judgement, it affords you liberation to explore and discover things you may not dare to try in a normal frame of mind. This made for an approach that was refreshing and exciting," said Hong.

Sui Side Inn is the perfect example of the creativity that Hong brings to cinematography. He is constantly looking for new ways to expand his talents, knowing that to be successful, he will never stop learning. This is exactly what he says when advising others looking to follow in his footsteps.

"Keep exposing yourself to all forms of art and don't just restrict yourself to movies and television. There is inspiration and ideas to be taken from everywhere. Take the time to observe the things and people around you, put yourself in as many different situations as you can, and be self-aware of how you emotionally react to what you're seeing. This will form a basic foundation on which you can draw from," he advised.

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