Writer, director, producer, and Jill-of-all-trades Yulin Kuang seems to get it. A content creator for the new media landscape (I hate myself for typing those words), she’s a very talented young filmmaker hell-bent on making and producing content to be consumed online. That in and of itself doesn’t seem like too unique of a feat (who isn’t making content for an online audience nowadays?), but it’s not just that Kuang is making stuff for the internet, it’s how comprehensive and targeted her strategy is—from a smart social media presence to her YouTube Comedy channel to stories meant to appeal to all ages (check out another short, Irene Lee, Girl Detective), Kuang isn’t just creating films that she then happens to post online. She’s creating a brand. And with I Ship It, her newest film, she has crafted the ultimate meet-cute, nerd/hipster romantic comedy.
Now, if that previous sentence turned you off, there isn’t much that I can say that will flip you back around. This is a film very much targeted at a specific audience (think skinny jeans and a fluency in pop culture). It’s cute. Really, really cute. But, it’s also built on a solid foundation of strong storytelling, bolstered by impressive visuals (shot on the Blackmagic cinema camera), an acerbic wit, and great lead performances from guys and girls you may or may not recognize.
A rom-com for “today’s generation” (yes, also I hate myself for typing that), I Ship It at times feels like it was the product of some sort of SEO keyword generator—Harry Potter Wizard Rock, breakups, catchy pop music, personal vlogs—the list goes on. But, surprisingly, the film is still very charming and sweet. Despite all the cutesiness, it’s hard not relate to our lead characters, Zoe and Charlie, as they mend the damage of their respective broken hearts. It’s twee without being annoying, which, beyond being a slight oxymoron, is the internet equivalent of performing actual magic. Kuang deftly keeps this ship afloat, molding something that feels like Scott Pilgrim (if Scott Pilgrim also happened to be a huge Harry Potter fan).
I Ship It is one of fourteen films by YouTube filmmakers funded as part of the New Form Digital Incubator series, designed to help foster the careers of new talent in the digital generation. And while that all sounds very “press release” friendly, there’s some serious weight being put behind these films: both Ron Howard and Brian Grazer are the founders of New Form Digital. The idea is to sort of “test drive” all the filmmakers as creative collaborators in the hopes that they can work on bigger projects together in the future.
Kuang was selected for the program because her work was spotted by New Form on YouTube (again, remember what I said about branding and audience building). Kuang’s webseries, Kissing in the Rain, was one the things that caught the higher-ups’ attention, but her body of work speaks for itself (including another SotW pick, The Perils of Growing Up Flat-Chested). From there, New Form provided some seed money and a quick turnaround schedule to complete the short. Kuang answered the call swimmingly without sacrificing her unique voice in the process. Like I said, this isn’t the type of short that will change minds. But, it will make Kuang’s core audience very happy.
As the characters in this film would say, be sure to like, subscribe, and share.