Journey of a Thousand Miles is a 90 minute feature documentary film written, shot, directed and produced by Zhu Shen, a multiple award-winning filmmaker who was formally trained in biomedical research and business. She is best known for producing two Oscar-qualified, critically acclaimed animated documentary shorts: Changyou’s Journey about her late husband’s life, written and directed by her son Perry Chen in 2018, and Ingrid Pitt: Beyond the Forest about a young Holocaust survivor, character design and storyboarded by two-time Oscar nominee Bill Plympton, animated by her 11-year-old son Perry Chen in 2011. Both films qualified for best animated short film Academy Awards, won multiple US film festival awards, and screened at dozens of film festivals worldwide.
Journey of a Thousand Miles is a character-driven documentary feature, an intimate, complex family chronicle that ultimately spans five decades. It’s told primarily through the eyes and narration of director Zhu Shen, a first-generation Chinese American immigrant, biotech executive, and “Tiger Mom” who would do anything to ensure her only child Perry’s success.
Zhu Shen and Perry Chen at 2010 Annie Awards (Photo credit: Yan Gan)
When Perry’s dad and Zhu’s husband Changyou, a China-born, Stanford-trained biotech founder and cancer researcher is diagnosed with terminal cancer with two weeks to live, 12-year-old Perry decides to make an animated film Changyou’s Journey, in honor of his father, which his mother Zhu wholeheartedly embraces and becomes his producer.
Perry Chen showing Changyou Chen his trailer for Changyou’s Journey
(Photo credit: Brian Bostrom)
It takes Perry and Zhu five agonizing and conflict-filled years to finish making Changyou’s Journey, during which their lives and relationship are transformed forever. The story is also told partially from Perry’s perspective as he navigates the myriad challenges of making his directorial debut with his strong-willed producer mom. Artistically-gifted, Perry also transforms, from a dutiful prepubescent boy to a thoughtful, independent college student who challenges his mom’s way of thinking and parenting. In her efforts to connect with her son and rebuild their relationship, Zhu learns to embrace the essence of a “Zen Mom” to understand, accept, and respect her son as she relinquishes her control on his life while reclaiming her own artistic prowess.
Perry Chen and Zhu Shen at Changyou’s Journey film premiere at Toronto International Film Festival, 2018
(Photo credit: Johnson Cheng)