Pin It
Yuen Hsieh
Yuen Hsiehvia Instagram (@yuenhsieh)

Inside the cyberpunk world of Taiwanese filmmaker Yuen Hsieh

From virtual reality gangs to the cosplay community, Hsieh’s portfolio of short films and videos unpack the joys and issues at the heart of Asian youth today

Yuen Hsieh creates “fiction for a new generation”: the Taiwan-born, Shanghai-based filmmaker is known for his dystopic, futuristic videos, many that shed a light on the issues facing Chinese youth today. Inspired by dystopic sci-fi, video games, and anime, he aims to reveal “unspeakable truths” or taboo subjects such as sex work, suicide, and bullying.

Having graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2010, when social media was still in its infancy, Hsieh witnessed first-hand the growing impact of the digital on our lives IRL. “People are now married to their virtual characters from video games, apps like Kissenger stimulate kissing your long-distance lover, photo retouch apps allow anyone to change their face however they want, and Google Afterlife allows you to delete any data you don’t want to see,” he tells us. “We’ve been living intimately with machines for a long time now. We’re not just human anymore.”

Below, we select five of our favourite short films and music videos by Hsieh, from a commentary on Japan’s underground sex industry to a mega-elite girls school in Taipei, where teachers try to ‘pray-the-gay-away’.

LOVELESS

Watching Loveless feels like stepping into an erotic video game. It follows Roland, a futuristic pimp who sells Real Human Connection for a high price. “You can be very happy drinking and hanging out with people. Emotional companionship is something way more luxury than many others. People would pay high prices for it,” he says. 

Inspired by host culture and the Japanese sex industry, Hsieh depicts a seedy city underbelly, complete with futuristic booths, where women wait for clients to enact their deepest desires.

RADIASIAN

“We use our phones to snap selfies, we surf, we dance, we love, we destroy and we reconstruct,” says Hsieh. “Young pioneers in every field are expressing their energy and uploading their creativity to the world through the internet. I wanted to find a word to describe this generation, and since I wanted to talk about youth in Asia, the word RADIASIAN was born.”

Hsieh highlights different youth subcultures across Asia, in what was one of his favourite projects to shoot. The video explores the vivid and ongoing oppurtunities for the new generation, raising questions on gender, national, social, and racial identity. “The dragon is awake, young Mulan is awake. This is our generation. This is Radiasian.”

INTERNET PHENOMENON PRODUCTION COMPANY

Introducing: Mean Girls 2.0, made by Shiya Entertainment. Set in the Taipei First Girl School – an elite local program that exists IRL – the 2016 music video project goes in on the institution’s known treatment of LGBTQ+ people and its issues with suicide. 

Yuen’s take of the story takes place in 2026, in Neo Taipei. He questions the ideas of being ‘internet famous’ – our main character, Mei-Er Wang, receives a mysterious package from the “INTERNET PHENOMENON PRODUCTION COMPANY”. The company promises you that with its pill, you’lll live a celebrity-like virtual life. Looking back at her young life and experience of bullying, she takes the chance. With it, comes a dastardly revenge plan.

LIKE A MERCEDES 

Welcome to the new way of dating; YURI 4, a virtual girl for personal companionship. This fascinating look at what might actually be a pretty near-future sees a human man fall in love with a ‘V-girl’.

Making the video in collaboration with 19-year-old rapper Lexie Liu of the lauded 88rising collective, for her track “Like a Mercedes”. The music video has some Black Mirror vibes meshed with Studio Perriot and classic cyberpunk aesthetics, with a startling ending.

YUEN HSIEH X LU YANG

“I often listen to anime songs, imagining not being bound by gender or time or space. Finally merging into the eternal wisdom of the universe!” he says. Using anime as a visual starting point, Hsieh plays with the idea of Chūnibyō, a colloquial term used in Japan that translates to “middle two disease”, and sometimes known as “middle-school second-year syndrome”. It’s usually used to describe younger teens who have grandiose tendencies and delusions of self to the point they believe they have super powers or vast knowledge beyond their means. It’s drawn out here, playfully, with the cosplay community.