Having earned a BA from the Hunan Art School in Traditional Opera, he received his MA from the Tisch School of Art at New York University. In 2000, Chen was awarded the title Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture.
Chen's directorial debut film, Dark Matter, was released in 2007, starring Liu Ye and Meryl Streep. This film won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. He also directed Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett's operatic stage adaptation of Monkey: Journey to the West at the Manchester International Festival in June–July 2007. In 2008 he directed the premiere production of Stewart Wallace's opera The Bonesetter's Daughter at the San Francisco Opera.
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