The youngest child of immigrants from Hong Kong, Roseanne Liang was all set to follow her two sisters into medical school. But when the high school dux was encouraged by her siblings to defer for a year to try other things, Liang put aside becoming a doctor to concentrate on filmmaking.
At Auckland University Liang studied science and arts; she began making films in her first year (1998). Her short film Filmworthy won the 2001 TV2 Young Filmmaker award. In 2003 Liang directed love story Henchman, the thesis project for her Master of Creative and Performing Arts. It was selected for the 2003 Sydney and London Film Festivals. Editing was another skill picked up along the way: she was an assistant editor on teen hits Being Eve and Secret Agent Men, and soon graduated to cutting TV and commercials.
In 2005 Liang released her hour-long documentary Banana in a Nutshell, based on her own romance with a European Kiwi. Her parents didn't approve of the relationship, but eventually came round (thanks in part to Liang's partner learning Mandarin, so he could ask her father permission to marry). "Banana in a Nutshell was originally a short documentary I devised to distract me from the highly emotional events that I knew I would have to get through,"said Liang. "The camera was something to hide behind." The title refers to Asians (yellow on the outside) brought up in Western society (white in the inside). Liang continued the story with a 30 minute epilogue for the film's DVD release.
At Banana in a Nutshell's premiere, producer John Barnett offered Liang the opportunity to turn her documentary into a narrative feature. Liang has described it as an "'angels chorus' moment". "Most film graduates want the opportunity to make a feature film and it's a really hard road. But to have someone stride up to you and offer it to you is an incredibly lucky happenstance." In 2005 Liang was named New Filmmaker of the Year by screen organisation SPADA.
The dramatised version of Liang's romance emerged in 2011 as My Wedding and Other Secrets. The film won glowing reviews: The Herald's Peter Calder found "an unaffected charm about this movie that grabs you from the get-go", while The Dominion Post's Linda Burgess wrote: "It's possible that My Wedding and Other Secrets is the sweetest little New Zealand movie ever." Laing shared an Aotearoa Film and Television Award with Angeline Loo, for the screenplay, and was nominated for Best Film and Best Director.
In-between Banana and Wedding, Liang directed, wrote and edited Take 3 (2008). The short film got a special mention in its section at the Berlin Film Festival. The comedy follows a trio of young Asian-Kiwi female actors over three horrifying auditions. Liang went on to join the writing and directing team on sketch series A Thousand Apologies, New Zealand's first prime time Asian comedy.
In 2013 she teamed with actors JJ Fong, Perlina Lau and Ally Xue to create comedic web series Flat3. The women pooled their funds — $1000 — and with the help of friends filmed it over several weekends. The series follows three flatmates as they experience the highs and lows of life as 20 somethings. Flat3 won $100,000 from NZ On Air for its third season, and was invited to web festivals in Melbourne, London and New York. The trio's adventures continued via two seasons of Friday Night Bites and one of Unboxed (which saw them beta-testing a robot).
In 2017, Liang signed with an American agent, after directing action short Do No Harm. Liang describes action films as her "catnip": "It's entertainment. But it also really speaks to you, that you want to believe there really is good and justice in this world." The bloody action film, which premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, is about a Chinese surgeon facing off against gangsters just as she's about to operate. The film was funded by the NZ Film Commission as a proof of concept for an action film Liang was developing. Do No Harm won several awards, including the Audience Award for favourite short at the 2017 NZ International Film Festival and a nomination for Best Short Film at Sundance.
By 2018, the success of Do No Harm and My Wedding and Other Secrets had brought Liang to the attention of the 50 studio executives and producers behind the Alice Initiative, named after pioneering female filmmaker Alice Guy Blaché. They named Liang as one of 20 female directors from around the globe who merited a directing gig with a Hollywood studio.
In late 2018, Liang announced she was set to develop and direct the feature-length version of Do No Harm, produced by husband and wife filmmaking team David Leitch and Kelly McCormick (Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde).
Profile written by Natasha Harris
Published on 31 October 2018
'Roseanne Liang' Kathryn Rawlings & Associates website. Accessed 31 October 2018
Linda Burgess, 'Film Review: My Wedding and Other Secrets' - The Dominion Post, 21 March 2011
Peter Calder, 'Movie Review: My Wedding and Other Secrets' - The NZ Herald, 11 March 2011
Lynda Chanwai-Earle, 'Gunning for Hollywood and #TimesUp for NZ' (Radio Interview) Radio New Zealand website. Loaded 26 March 2018. Accessed 31 October 2018
Jennifer Dann, 'Twelve Questions with Kiwi director Roseanne Liang' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, Loaded 27 February 2018
Mike Fleming Jr, 'Roseanne Liang to Helm Feature Version Of Her Short 'Do No Harm'' Deadline website. Loaded 12 October 2018. Accessed 31 October 2018
Bill Gosden, 'Banana in a Nutshell' New Zealand International Film Festival website. Accessed 31 October 2018
Hannah McKee, 'Kiwi action film Do No Harm picked for Sundance 2017' (Interview) Stuff website. Loaded 19 December 2016. Accessed 31 October 2018
Unknown writer, 'Flat3: Web series success for comedy trio' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 14 October 2014
My Wedding and Other Secrets press kit