Staff Reporters
Jun 23, 2022

Creative Minds: Lilian Li fondly remembers shivering in Tengger Desert's biting cold

Get to know Sweetshop China's executive producer whose work is inspired by her surroundings.

Lilian Li
Lilian Li
In Creative Minds, we ask APAC creatives a long list of questions, from serious to silly, and ask them to pick 11 to answer. (Why 11? Just because.) Want to be featured?

Name: Lilian Li

Origin: Shanghai, China

Places lived/worked: Shanghai, Singapore, Melbourne

Pronouns: She, her


  • Executive producer, Sweetshop China, July 2021 to present
  • Freelance executive producer, November 2019 to June 2021 
  • Executive producer, PartnerShip, 37 Films, December 2018 to October 2019
  • Production director, Verawom, Isobar Group, May 2017 to October 2018
  • Executive producer, We Production, May 2014 to May 2017
  • Executive producer/producer, Studio Stare, October 2010 to April 2014
  • Producer, Cental Studio, March 2010 to September 2010

1. How did you end up being a creative?

I feel a lot of my inspiration is drawn from my surroundings. Being back in Shanghai after many years in Singapore and Australia, I’m inspired by the people I am around and the memories of growing up here. And constantly inspired by the people with whom I’m lucky enough to collaborate with—especially Sweetshop. I joined in 2021 and I’m so lucky to work with such talented teams. 

2. What's your favourite piece of work in your portfolio?

The Last Transfer of Western Tang Empire, a short film of historical war directed by Chinese director Ding Yuchen. This is not just a commercial. I was lucky enough to go to the Tengger Desert in Gansu, China. At night, our crew huddled in a tent in the desert during -20 degree temperatures just to hunt the mysterious and ancient story of the desert. When the crew knocked off, I got on a train alone and headed west. Climbing up to the Jiaohe Ruins and standing on the beacon tower of Kizilgaha, I fixed my gaze on the bright Mount Tianshan. As the train traveled westward along the southern foot of Mount Tianshan, passing through Luntai County, I silently read the first governor of the Western Regions Zheng Ji, and the name of the nation—Han.

3. What's your favourite piece of work created by someone else?

Carol directed by Todd Haynes. From my own perspective, I think that no matter who we love, as long as we have someone we admire or like, eventually it's a lucky and happy thing. Love is something unrelated to age, gender, education, it's something between two living souls. I've had hard times, although that's what I don't want to experience. But in our lives, there's no accident. We are a mixture of fate and willpower. I always believe love is something shining in the eye.

4. Do you work best under pressure, or when things are calm?

I think it has to be somewhere in the middle. Pressure pushes me, makes me think fast and makes me move fast. Calm gives me time to think more clearly and find more solutions.

5. What advice would you give to 10-year-old you, if you could?

Drink more milk. I might be taller than I am now (haha!). Read more books. They might have made me more interesting. You realise you don’t get as much time to do any decent reading once you grow up.

6. What’s your favorite music / film / TV show / book / other of the past year, and why?

Inside No.9. Really amazing scriptwriting! Good fun to guess what’s going to happen next every second of the film, and the ending is always surprising. Also, we can tell every series is kept to a low budget production scope and the story is the absolute core of the film. From this, I think we can learn how to build up a creative idea in a solid, interesting concept, but keep costs controlled.

7. What food can you not live without? What food would you be happy to never taste again?

Vegetables and seafood keep me breathing! I would be happy to skip pork forever, I had a really bad experience by having too much pork when I was around three years old, and I haven’t eaten it since then.

8. Tell us about your tattoo(s).

I had my only tattoo 20 years ago in Melbourne. It is a colored rose. 20 years ago I thought it was super cool to have a tattoo on my body. And now, it’s still in good shape, and more like a good memory from my teenage years.

9. What makes you really angry?

Lies. I hate people who lie to me, no excuse is acceptable. Honesty is a fundamental requirement for people who work with me or are my friends.

10. Early riser or night owl?

I’ve had a 13-year production career so far and it’s made me a night owl. That’ll be no surprise to people in the commercial production industry. Multiple coffees and working into the night is my ordinary state.

11. Extrovert or introvert?

I can say most of me is extroverted. I love talking and dealing with people, which is the most part of my job. But I also love alone time too—some peace to empty my mind and relax my nerves.

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