Jon M. Chu

Jon M. Chu Biography

Director (1979–)
Jon M. Chu built his reputation in Hollywood by directing two dance-themed 'Step Up' features and blockbusters like 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation,' before helming the groundbreaking 'Crazy Rich Asians.'

Who Is Jon M. Chu?

Born in 1979 to Chinese immigrants and raised in the San Francisco Bay area, Jon M. Chu developed his filmmaking skills at the University of Southern California. After making his directing debut with Step Up 2, he continued with musical-themed projects like Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and the web series The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, before earning a shot at blockbusters like G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Now You See Me 2. Chu then directed Crazy Rich Asians, a romantic comedy adapted from a best-selling novel that became the first contemporary Hollywood feature with an all-Asian cast in 25 years.

Jon M. Chu Photo

Jon M. Chu attends the 'Now You See Me 2' World Premiere at AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 theater on June 6, 2016 in New York City. 

Jon M. Chu's Movies

'Crazy Rich Asians'

In 2016 Chu was tapped to direct Crazy Rich Asians, based on Kevin Kwan's 2013 best-selling novel about an American professor of Chinese descent who accompanies her boyfriend to Singapore and learns that he hails from one of the country's wealthiest families. At the time, Chu was thinking more about projects that reflected his Chinese-American identity, and it turned out he already had a connection to Kwan through a cousin, who unwittingly helped shaped the book's main character through her descriptions of visits to Chu's family home during the holidays.

Chu helped recruit some of the biggest names from the admittedly shallow pool of well-known Asian talent in Hollywood, nabbing Constance Wu from the hit sitcom Fresh Off the Boat to play the lead, Rachel, and Michelle Yeoh of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame to play the boyfriend's protective mother, Eleanor. The part of the boyfriend, Nick, went to British–Malaysian BBC travel host Henry Golding, who was all but unknown in the U.S. but won over producers with his leading man looks and charisma.

Outside of casting choices, the production team faced a major dilemma with competing offers for distribution. Netflix promised complete artistic freedom, the opportunity to produce a trilogy and massive paydays up front. Ultimately, Kwan and Chu chose to go the more traditional route through Warner Bros., with the chance to make the Hollywood's first contemporary feature film, with an all-Asian cast, since the Joy Luck Club in 1993.

Crazy Rich Asians, which also stars Gemma Chan, Ken Jeong and rapper Awkwafina, is scheduled for widescale release on August 15, 2018.

'Now You See Me 2'

Prior to signing up for Crazy Rich Asians, Chu was coming off direction of Now You See Me 2 (2016). Like its predecessor, the magician caper featured an array of plot twists and visual deceptions, with Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Morgan Freeman and Daniel Radcliffe leading the big-name ensemble cast. While drawing mixed reviews, the film performed capably at the box office, an important development given the disappointment of Chu's previous effort with Jem and the Holograms. It also foreshadowed his turn toward a stronger embrace of his Asian heritage on screen, with scenes in China deliberately rendered so as to eradicate stereotypical notions of it being an "exotic" country of stoic people.

'Step Up 2: The Streets' and 'Step Up 3D'

Chu made his feature film debut in 2008 with Step Up 2: The Streets, a sequel to the moderately successful 2006 musical drama with Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan. With the film slated as a direct-to-DVD release, Chu intended to pass before being set straight by his mother, who called him a diva for thinking he was too good for the project, prompting Chu's change of heart and goal to "direct the best damn direct-to-DVD dance-movie sequel ever."

The movie wound up earning a theatrical release and performed better than expected at the box office. Chu subsequently agreed to helm Step Up 3D (2010), taking advantage of the format to deliver visual flourishes on top of the already impressive choreography. Step Up 3D became the most profitable film in the franchise, pulling in nearly $160 million globally.

'Justin Bieber: Never Say Never' and 'Believe'

Having displayed his touch at handling music-themed projects and reaching younger audiences, Chu was chosen to direct Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (2011). A 3-D concert film and documentary, the production centered on the teen pop superstar's countdown to a big performance at Madison Square Garden in New York City, interspersed with footage from other shows and videos of a pre-fame Bieber. Its success led to a follow-up documentary, Believe (2013), with Chu taking a different tack by including personal interview clips with his subject this time around.

'G.I. Joe: Retaliation' and 'Jem and the Holograms'

Chu got his first chance at helming a major blockbuster with G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013). A sequel/reboot of the 2009 feature G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Chu's version drew praise for his familiarity with the characters that propelled the comic and action figure line to the height of its popularity in the 1980s, his experience with intricate dance choreography serving him well for a stunning mountainside fight scene.

Chu's follow-up effort to revive a 1980s-era property with Jem and the Holograms, on the other hand, was a spectacular failure. Released in October 2015, the feature was pulled from theaters after only two weeks due to low turnout. While acknowledging the disappointment, both Chu and Jem's producer, Jason Blum, insisted that they were proud of the feature for remaining true to the spirit of the original creation. 

Net Worth

According to Celebrity Net Worth, Chu is valued at approximately $16 million.

Online Projects

'The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers'

In 2010 Hulu debuted an innovative new web series, The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers. Written and directed by Chu, the series embraced the concept of dancers as people with superhuman powers, telling the story of the rise of the titular dance troupe and their arch-rivals, the Alliance of the Dark, over a timeline spanning the 1920s to the year 3000. The LXD earned the chance to perform at the 2010 Academy Awards and TED conference, with the production winning Advertising Age's Media Vanguard Award for Outstanding Web Series later that year and the Digital Pioneer Emmy Award in the spring of 2011.

'The Biggest Online Dance Battle'

Following the success of Step Up 2, Chu and pop star Miley Cyrus engaged in an online battle in which their respective dance crews sought to outdo the other through a series of increasingly outlandish and creative videos. While never partaking in the dancing himself, Chu had his Step Up star Adam Sevani lead the way on screen, with both sides roping in celebrities like Adam Sandler, Ryan Seacrest and even Diana Ross as part of the one-upmanship, eventually drawing some 45 million views on YouTube.

Virgin America Safety Video

In 2013 Virgin America debuted a Chu-directed video of preflight safety instructions, boasting catchy music and stylish choreography as performer Todrick Hall and a group of flight attendants sang about buckling seatbelts, donning oxygen masks and the like. Unlike the usual staid airline instructional videos, this one appeared on a Times Square billboard and Ellen DeGeneres's talk show before going viral.

Once, when asked why so many of his productions are centered around dance, Chu replied, "There's something about the dancers that motivate me the most. I don't know if it's just dance, but I do think that the dancers are amazing artists, and every time I meet a new dancer, that triggers something in my brain, and I'm more creative than I could ever be."

Childhood and Directing Beginnings

Jonathan Murray Chu was born on November 2, 1979, in Palo Alto, California. The youngest child of Chinese immigrants, he grew up in comfort thanks to the success of his parents' restaurant, Chef Chu's. However, mom and dad all but pushed their five children away from the restaurant business by encouraging them to pursue other hobbies; Chu was enrolled in an array of art and music classes, including 12 years of tap dancing.

He also developed his life-long love of film thanks to the gift of a video camera in the fifth grade. After initially using it to record family vacations, he soon had his brothers and sisters performing in skits and short movies. His enthusiasm also won over teachers at Los Altos' Pinewood School, who let the burgeoning director create video reports in place of writing papers.

USC and Early Career

At the University of Southern California's School of the Cinematic Arts, Chu established himself as a standout talent thanks to his imaginative creations and grasp of industry technology. He was honored with numerous student accolades, including the Princess Grace Award, the Kodak Student Filmmaker Award and the Jack Nicholson Award.

Chu also made a strong impression with his final thesis, a 17-minute song and dance number titled "When the Kids Were Away." The project quickly accelerated the young filmmaker's career, as it earned a showing at the 2003 Tribeca Film Festival, led to representation from the William Morris Agency and caught the attention of Steven Spielberg.

Riding his hot hand, Chu pitched a remake of the musical Bye Bye Birdie to Spielberg, resulting in what appeared to be his first major directing gig. However, he soon received a lesson in the realities of the business, as the film stalled in development for 2 1/2 years before being dropped by Sony Pictures.

Marriage and Personal

Chu married his longtime girlfriend, graphic designer Kristin Hodge, in Napa Valley on July 27, 2018. The couple already were parents to a young daughter.

Along with being invested in organizations like the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE), the director has supported Invisible Children, which aims to combat the use of child soldiers in Africa, and charity: water, a non-profit devoted to providing clean drinking water to developing nations.

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