Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Messiah for Taiwan movie industry?

Messiah for Taiwan movie industry?

Discussion on Taiwan movie industry and some parts translation of the article

A star, a gangster, and a prodigal, all can be a sweetheart Lama”,

an interview with Director Niu Cheng-Ze on his movie What On Earth Have I Done Wrong?

Yes, We have Hou-Yang-Tsai (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Edward Yang, Tsai Ming-Liang), and we have Ang Lee; we shall have confidence in our Taiwan cinema. But, since when does going Taiwanese movies become Bourgeois activities? Since when does going Taiwanese movies become high-art support? Since when do audiences bear the responsibility of “saving Taiwanese film”(ROC Government Information Office’s policy promotion)? Since when was such simple pleasure loaded with those cultural burdens?

Again, some mention that we need Messiah for Taiwan movie industry. So, what the critiques of Messiah? Which meant big money? attracting audience back? “rescuing” the Taiwanese cinema? Or, who is winning the title of Messiah? Is the burgeoning gay genre in Taiwan? Or Mr. Chao’s (Jay Chao) enthusiasm for movies? Or the new generation after Hou-Yang-Tsai? Or the audiences who are “brave” enough going cinemas to support Taiwan movies? Or the mythologized belief of new president “magic Ma” (Ma Ying-Jeou), since he is Ma, everything would turn a new leaf immediately after he taking presidency? I shall stop here, and give a no-no answer to those over-simplified questions. The whole “plight” of Taiwan cinema couldn’t be categorized into the discourse “it’s economics, stupid!”. [Apparently, living in the speed of click-and-show, what make things easier is merely to provide yes-or-no answers.]

Recently, there is a new Messiah appearing, Director Niu Cheng-Ze’s What On Earth Have I Done Wrong? (Chinese Title: 情非得已之生存之道, literally “last resort” ); Director Niu's popular mockumentary (pseudo-documentary) provided another thoughts for those questions. Famous for being a prodigal son in his early days, Director Niu now is another prodigal son blurring the genre of art and commercial movie in Taiwan. In his interview with Pots post, he explicitly explained that, he is no Messiah and honestly sharing his view on Hou-Yang-Tsai.

The interview is posted on POTs paper, titled “A star, a gangster, and a prodigal, all can be a sweetheart Lama.” [Original Text]

My translation on selective parts:

Director Niu began his early stardom when he was nine, took part in many classic films such as Growing Up, Boys from Fengkuei, Banana Paradise, The Personals, and Millennium Mambo. After directing several successful idol dramas, he began his mockumentary on celebrities, What On Earth Have I Done Wrong?. Unlike other Taiwanese art film style, What On Earth Have I Done Wrong is highly entertaining in mocking Taipei life. Though commercial and amusing, this film has already won 2008 Rotterdam Film Festival "Best Asian Film award" and the 2007 Taipei Film Festival “FIPRESCI Prizes”. All in all, the best compliment is from PTT villagers [the largest online discussion forum in Taiwan] :” this is my first time going to Taiwanese movie ever since Dragon Ball (1989)”



Pots: Many actors started their career in the heyday of Taiwanese movie (abbr. TW movie) have their personal comprehension of the massive change in recent decades. You are also the one entering film industry in Hou’s era, how do you feel this moment calling people to “support” our national cinema?

Niu: Wow, your question is too heavy, I don’t think myself qualified enough to answer. In order to echo their concurrent environment and respond to their inspiration deep inside, every single generation would have varied characteristics of their works. We have Hou-Yang-Tsai, but I don’t want to be another Hou-Yang-Tsai. Sometimes it is rather ambiguous to describe the whole situation right now, of course I can analyze it rationally and systematically. But I think it’s too dangerous for me to express that much. Of course I can bullshit you that how about French government, Taiwan government, what alienate our audience, blabla. Of course I have my own observance, but I don’t think I am qualified to discuss about it.

The things matter to me are my life, my true feeling and my state of mind; thus I accept the result full-heartedly under this condition of interaction. The only thing I can say is “ I am ready”. As long as I already have been an actor for a long time, and also worked as TV series director, I am quite knowledgeable of technology field; therefore, I can execute my film in requirements. Especially no one holding gun force you to do that, if you don’t want to shoot movies, then don’t. I don’t want to call on everyone to support TW-movies, we cannot take advantage of using the discourse of compassion, moral sense, or patriotism to drive the audience into cinemas but bored them to sleep.

When I was a kid, I adored Director Hou and his personality of great stature. I remember a poem written by Edgar Allan Poe, saying like: I like church, I like black color, I like the monk in black color, but I don’t want to become that monk in black. That specifically explains how I felt about Director Hou. Of course I was confused halfway; like, shit! Is that the only way to win awards by shooting this kind of movie?

There is only one Director Hou, a very controversial Hou. Some think he brought TW movie to an unprecedented height, and some think he kills TW cinema. BUT, he is merely an artist, a creator. He never wants to become any type of Hou. As to myself, I am soapy, emotional, sensitive and very dramatic. I certainly hope the audience can give a look on my movie, to smash the curse and to expel the fear of “award-winning TW movies”. I felt puzzled already when I was a young actor and audience, that is, why nothing exist between Director Hou and Director Zhu (Zhu Yan-Ping, a (in)famous Taiwan commercial director)? There are many attractive story lines, and smooth shooting scenes in foreign movies, and you can still grasp something significant within, such as seeing your living environment, etc. The commercial movies should be something more than a laugh, or a joker. When I was young, I already said that” I want to make a film with laughs and tears.”

At least I have one advantage! I went to Rotterdam Film Festival and visited many young directors, who inspired me a lot to make movies. Then I started to sweat like a hail, sell house, borrow money, apply government founding, so on so forth. In this environment, how much strength does one have? How many times can one withstand? I often tell some young staff of mine who want to be directors as well, (btw, I cant share this words with too many people, otherwise people would think “ fuck, who do you think you are? you merely shot some damn soapy dramas”. ) I often told them that, in terms of being a director, the later the better. Only when you accumulate enough life experiences, technology skills, resources, then you can initiate your career. “To be or not to be ” is not an issue of personal reputation, it regards more that Taiwanese audience can not tolerate another disappointment. Thinking the situation in Taiwan, you see the infinite passion for movies, but how about going details? Do you know how to communicate with the actors? Do you know how to fulfill your expectation?

After watching my movie, how much you felt enlightened is another thing. At least you won’t feel embarrassed, bored, and sleepy when watching it. Moreover, you can share tears and laughs with me. And, those are derived from my sincerity, bravery, technology knowledge, and life experience.

Part II (Besides of Hou-Yan-Tsai, more about Director Niu and his movie.)

Niu: Years before, I loved to talk some serious topics like “History will give us an opportunity”, “Taiwan envision Great China”, “Marketing through whole Asia”. Wow, CommonWealth Magazine interviewed me these! Me talking about the future industrial development?? Me, me me, fuck, what do I think I am? Here comes my another mask unconsciously. Through the years pursuing success, money, career; I’ve already become a rotten cheeky vicious bastard. Just like my movie, myself in middle age crisis faces another collapse in forties; and topping on that, my beloved women left me. Then I don’t know how to make myself happy, I blame all mistakes to others. Fuck, our life collapse because Bian sucks (Taiwan former president), politics sucks, media sucks, our fucking girlfriend/boyfriend sucks.

Fuck! What on earth have we done wrong? We've already got used to deal with those frustrations and defeats, thus we escaped. Go escaping, dancing, shagging, drinking, drugging, go chasing larger success, go searching woman loves me, and imagine the wonderful world with her company. Eventually, even the women really appears, we don’t know how to love her. Because we don’t know how to treat ourselves nicely, we are incapable of loving ourselves. Since we can’t get along with ourselves, then we can’t get along with the world. I film my movie with this epiphany, and destroy “Director Niu” myself. Only by confession can I face my later life, and avoid myself being somebody but doesn’t know who he really is.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Translated Review II : All's Right In The World (2008)

Chinese reviews of Cheung King Wai's documentary All's Right In The World
from HKIFF.

[From Beautiful Productions]

Lucky you (by Chen Hao) 陳浩 [from cliffandsea's quilt 剪貼簿]

20070920 in Taiwan Chinatimes

Director Cheung said, "there are no more poor."
"We will not 'see' poverty in Hong Kong anymore"...

We always need to fill certain forms during school opening days, my youngest daughter loves to ask every time "is our family well-to-do?" Whenever my older daughter hears, she answers impatiently "Of course, what else could we be?" More often the case she would start to count her school mates' "finance" situations, adding gossip on her new classmates, and then speak to herself like "so everyone is in the competition, at least we are better than some others." I did feel upset while listening to her precocious speech, she sharply defines "wealthy" by visible material, and understands "fortune" without conscience and modesty. Is that a blessing for their generation to ignore or even neglect poverty?

Compared to my daughter, I always felt a bit scared at childhood when asking my parents to fill out school forms. I remember my mother's tears by heart that my brother hid his tuition fee notice in order to pay debts incurred by father's surgery. My mind is deeply shadowed by the fear that one day "the big tree" [translator's note - meaning family in Chinese] could fall apart. My parents are the diaspora generation, I am too familiar with their stories from affluent life to destitution, then struggling to build a family in troubled times. And our "poor" classmates revealed themselves by their lunch boxes rather than formally on official forms. "Poverty" is just next to our doors, it is on my way to school, on streets, on the edge of dikes, or on the side of the field. We are not separated from poverty, and it is even not below our class. The meaning of life is to remind us the vulnerability of ourselves and our neighbours. Have we already ruled out this kind of memory from our next generation's comprehension of the world?

Several days ago, I took a night cab. The driver started to talk about his story looking for a daytime job, his heartfelt tone moved me earnestly. "It's a school security job, 90 NTD per hour, and twelve hours per day. No pay on holidays. But there are so many days off in a month. In total, the monthly pay is merely ten thousands something. But I really want to take it, and drive cab for rest of time. My wife said I would be exhausted to death. I said, just for three years hardship, I can sweat till my kids graduating." I tried to persuade him giving up this idea by providing statical evidence, "it is unworthy!! if you crackup in sixties, who is going to take care the whole family? " My ride is less than 10 minutes; however, I didn't want to get off and we stopped at the road side discussing the possibility for his wife to get a job. Maybe he simply wanted a company to talk to, but at that moment I was bitten by my life memories all over again. When getting off, I gave him my best wishes sincerely. I knew his plight by heart, it's like walking on the floating ice; once he fell, the whole family would suffer more unbearable struggles.

My world is deeply connected with these issues currently, I watched ten documentaries under Mr. Jianxianbin's supervising production in the CNEX film festival. Especially All's Right With The World that tells us how the disadvantaged people face their "walking-on-floating-ice" life. The camera focuses the edge of Hong Kong city, beneath the glorious shopping paradise, filming the shabby houses in Lei Yue Men, silent corners in Shatin Village, and five families in old Shek Kip Mei including Sister Di, Madam Jinshui, Manling, Lava and other members. "It's like an endless predicament".

Director Cheung said, "there are no more poor." "We will not 'see' poverty in Hong Kong anymore". "The poor would no longer wear rags, yet the destitute and distress poverty still exists in everyday life among those grand skyscrapers and opulent communities"

Director Cheung's meant and heartfelt stories moved me earnestly as well. Furthermore, the best part of his movie is how he empathizes with such misery, and you don't need to lower you head to sympathize, to share your tears, and to donate for healing. He merely wants you to look at the injustice next door in an equal position. And you leave after seeing it, go back to your comfortable middle class life, and ticking the box of "well-to-do".

Translated by Mei Ko
Edited by Edwin Mak FTIN

20080407 archive

Translated Reviews I : All's Right In The World (2008)

Chinese reviews of Cheung King Wai's documentary All's Right In The World
from HKIFF.

People Living Underground by Liu Rui Shao (劉銳紹)

[From Beautiful Productions]

As many people would acknowledge, Hong Kong is a paradise of prosperous economics sharing international reputation. Nevertheless, life in the paradise includes people who are blissful to enjoy the fortune, also people who work diligently but unable to share same blessing. Those unfortunate are the people living underground while happiness already abandoned them. They are the people have no choices but live on social welfare.

Recently, one director filmed the documentary All's Right With The World recording those miserable stories of various plights. I emphasize the word 'recording the truth', that is, 'recording' preserves the truth and bears more significance than the word "presenting the truth". In the documentary, an sorrowful grey-hair madam can not cope with her druggie son's corpse due to finance difficulty; "Whatever!" (she said) the house is even too small to place the cremains jar.

Another old man with distinct cheekbones usually carries poisons for any anxious moment to commit suicide. His relationship with family is extremely intense, and once nearly killed his family member. Life is somehow monstrous to them, drive them demented and desperate. The reality lies in the stories is so true, so honest and so frightening.

They are one part of 500,000 people who rely on Hong Kong social welfare; every life holds their own deplorable stories. I just cant help but wonder how many people's stories could be far more tragic than theirs.

Even people who don't live on HK social welfare don't necessarily guarantee a well-being life. According the current research, there are about 1.3 million people living on the edge or below the poverty line. The smiles on their faces quickly fade away resembling the fireworks on the Victoria Harbor. Some social workers said, there is even no flash of smile on many people's faces.

I have worked in journalism for thirty-five years, and always remind myself "don't be numb" How can human call themselves human if they were so apathetic as dead wood?

Translated by Mei Ko
Edited by Edwin Mak FTIN

20080406 archive