Dividing his time between London and Shanghai, the joint winner of shots Asia Pacific New Director of the Year award, Zika Liu, recently signed with global production company Hamlet, representing him in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and the Asia Pacific region. 

It was his first spot with Hamlet, BMW The Icon, that won him his shots New Director award, as well a gold for Best Sound Design, a bronze in Music, a bronze in Editing and another bronze in Cinematography. 

Liu grew up in Shanghai before moving to the UK to study at the London College of Fashion, going on to work as a buyer. “I’ve always seen fashion, in its finest form, as a kind of applied art,” he says, “a space where creativity meets commercial viability. Getting to spend time with some of the top names in the industry and understanding their creative process was a real privilege. I’ve always been really into art and the whole idea of aesthetics, especially how they play into culture. For me, fashion is another form of artistic expression, a way to tell stories and share ideas.” 

I’ve always seen fashion, in its finest form, as a kind of applied art

It was Liu’s time in London which sparked his impetus to become a director, subsequently making his name with fashion films for brands ranging from Burberry and Dior to Calvin Klein and Lancôme, before branching out into high-end car brands BMW and Mercedes, as well as BEATS and Adidas Originals. 

BMW – The Icon

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His directional career began with three things: a mirrorless camera, a gimbal and a drone. His first piece of work followed a dancer friend, Tanya Ferguson, through her creative process and what it meant for her to be a dancer. “I’ve had the privilege of working with some truly inspiring people,” says Liu, “each bringing unique qualities that transcend fields. From fellow buyers I gleaned invaluable insights into the art of communication. The designers we carried I had so much to learn from – their unwavering dedication, meticulous attention to detail, and their ingenious approach to striking a balance between commercial viability and artistic integrity.”

When it comes to working with fashion brands, his initial focus is not just “about what’s visible; it’s about what it inspires us to be. This holds true for shoots too – we aim to paint a world and a story without pinning down everything too precisely,” Liu says “Leaving space for imagination is crucial for a successful fashion campaign. That said, it’s vital to really get to know a brand’s identity and grasp the core message they want to convey in their new campaign. With that understanding, I can use my vision and skills to turn it into reality.”

With one foot in London and one in Shanghai, how does he juggle the influences and energies of the two world cities? “I guess the key that ties me to both cities is freedom,” he says. “The freedom of Shanghai comes from the fact that it is moving so fast, so efficiently, and you can get things done almost in an instant, There are always new spots popping up around the city, and you can feel the energy of those who wish to push the boundary. 

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“Whereas in London, the freedom is more about creative expression. There’s this rich history and culture that you can tap into, and it’s a place where different ideas and perspectives come together. It’s inspiring to be surrounded by such a diverse mix of art, music and fashion. This blend of tradition and innovation in London really opens up spaces for creative thinking and experimenting in a way that’s unique to the city.”

Given that BMW The Icon won Liu that shelf of shots APAC awards, it’s no surprise to hear him recall the challenges it posed. “We found ourselves inundated with content,” he remembers, “so much so that we had to run two parallel filming sessions throughout, stretching resources and demanding exceptional coordination.” To keep it together, and on track, Lui found himself “oscillating between two active sets, ensuring a seamless transition of my vision, and collaborating with two different directors of photography. Making sure that, despite the physical distance and concurrent shoots, there was no deviation from the storyboard or compromise on the envisioned quality. It was exhausting,” he concludes, “yet deeply rewarding.”

Liu points to footwear company Salomon’s Raid Wind spot by Thibaut Grevet, with its mysterious black-clad figures, extraordinary landscapes and cosmic music, and to Albert Moya's otherworldly Spacewalkers spot for luggage brand Rimowa as two of his favourite campaigns. “It’s amazing how they each bring their own distinct personal style, yet still align perfectly with the brand’s ethos,” he says. But, reflecting on what is currently his main field of play, the Chinese market, he says: “2023 has been a tough year post-Covid, with more conservative approaches and tighter budgets. And, like everywhere else, creatives here have also started leaning into AI tools – but that’s a whole different story.”  

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As for his take on recent work from the wider APAC region, he says: “I sense that people here aren’t as proud of their work as they could be. With so much going on in the market, there’s a temptation to focus on quantity rather than quality.” He also points to the lack of a real representation system for directors or DPs. “Everyone just hops from one production house to another, depending on the project, which can get complicated and frustrating at times,” he says. 

Nevertheless, he adds, “There are so many incredible directors out there, each with their own unique vision and way of doing things in their films. No matter the genre, there’s always something in their work that sparks inspiration in me.”

Even as he embarks on new projects with Hamlet, “playing around with a lot of fancy gear and trying out various filming and post production techniques for different projects”, having one hand dipped in London’s creative maelstrom, and the other in the constantly renewing, changing, adapting city of Shanghai ensures he stays global, but grounded. “In the end,” he says, “I always find myself drawn back to the basics.” 

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