Web-only Interview with Pure Accidents' director Hung Chih-yu
By MACABE KELIHER
Taiwan director Hung Chih-yu's first feature film, Pure Accidents, breaks away from the dark realism that normally characterizes the island's movies. In an interview with TIME contributor Macabe Keliher, Hung talks about the next wave of Taiwanese cinema and chastises traditional filmmakers for failing to adopt a livelier style. Edited excerpts:
TIME: Pure Accidents is your first feature film, yet its style and story differ drastically from what we know as traditional Taiwanese cinema. Is not such a break a gamble?
Hung: Taiwanese cinema has been caught in a rut for the past 20 years, and has failed to evolve with local audiences' tastes. The poor circulation of local films and sorry box office sales are reflective of this. I think anything you do in local cinema today is a gamble because traditional styles are not popular, and we have not discovered what is.
TIME: But you obviously have hope that Pure Accidents will succeed where others have failed.
Hung: Of course.
Hung: The biggest problem with local film is that it fails to bring people out to the movies. Nobody wants to sit through three hours of melancholy expositions of Taiwanese history, anymore. People have enough pressure in their daily lives. They want something that can touch them. They want to go to the movies and be entertained. We did a lot of audience planning in Pure Accidents, calculating when people should laugh, when they should be nervous, etc. It's a commercial technique but I think it worked as it drew the viewer into the film.
TIME: What about camera work?
Hung: That is an important part of my work. Many directors forget that they are making movies for a big screen and get too focused in looking into the movie rather than up at it, as the audience does. I make my films for the theater. The camera angles, the sound...all provide a total experience that you don't get on a TV. Pay attention to how I use the camera to convey a feeling rather than just tell a story.
TIME: Who have been your biggest influences in achieving these affects?
Hung: Hou Hsiao-hsien. I studied and worked with Hou Hsiao-hsien for eight years. Serving as his assistant director I learned a tremendous amount and he is undoubtedly my largest influence.
TIME: But your work bears little resemblance to the Taiwanese film legend.
Hung: People that don't know me and learn that I am Hou Hsiao-hsien's student-- after seeing my film--also find it hard to believe. I have my own style, but if you pay attention to the camera work, Hou's influence is definitely there.
TIME: Who influenced you in developing your style of humor and color?
Hung: I don't know. I watch a lot of the work of directors that I like, people like Takeshi Kitano, Woody Allen. Taiwanese director Chen Yu-hsun has influenced my style as well. In fact he even acted in Pure Accidents as the wedding photographer.
TIME: What about the other actors? Did they influence you?
Hung: Chu Chong-heng, who played the lead male role, is a professional actor. But many of the other actors were amateurs, acting for the first time, like Hsiang Li-wen who played the female lead. They all worked well together and I adjusted the personalities of some characters to fit the actors.
TIME: Stylistically, what where you trying to achieve with Pure Accidents?
Hung: A balance between an art film and a commercial movie.
TIME: Some shots, it seems, are overly commercial and stuck in there just to get a reaction from the audience.
Hung: That's true, I admit. There are a few scenes that are really banal and have nothing to do with the story, but they spice up the film and give it a burst of humor.
TIME: Doesn't that detract from the overall quality of the film?
Hung: I don't think so. It's part of the balance.
TIME: So you don't feel you are selling out your artistic ideals?
Hung: Film is not that majestic. I make movies because I like to. It makes me happy, it's what I like to do. People get too carried away and think they are going to make some great influential film--and end up confusing their audience. The truth is many Taiwanese films aren't up to art film standard.
TIME: How long did it take you to shoot Pure Accidents?
Hung: It took 27 days to shoot and 10 days to edit.
TIME: Excuse me!
Hung: I am only telling you because you have seen the film and appreciated its quality. If I tell people that before they see the film, they will think it can't be any good, like it was some home project of mine. But I am extremely efficient. There is no need to spend years shooting and then years editing. I know what I want and how to get that result. Directing for me is a job, and it is a job I know how to do well. Directors often get too carried away and think they are magnanimous artists, and don't eat and don't sleep during filming.
TIME: What were you trying to do with Pure Accidents?
Hung: I wanted to use a relaxed style to tell an old story in a new way. Although we have seen hundreds of times scenes of 'the kidnapped wife' and organized gangs and husbands that wants affairs, we wanted to prove we could film an old story in our own style and do it successfully to produce a good quality film.
TIME: Where is Taiwanese cinema today?
Hung: Still wallowing in its past. In 1980, the new wave of Taiwanese cinema began with directors like Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang making realist films about Taiwan's historical predicament or personal tragedies. It was extremely popular because it broached subjects that Taiwanese viewers were previously restricted from by government censors. So Taiwan viewers could relate to these films, many of us had had the same experiences or lived through the periods depicted in the films. But that was 20 years ago and directors are still making the same type of movies today. In brief, Taiwan film has really failed to evolve.
TIME: In what direction does Taiwanese cinema need to go in order to evolve?
Hung: We are still experimenting so it is really hard to say. But theoretically, it needs to address people's viewing desires. Give them what they want to see. I believe you can still make an artistically good quality film that is entertaining.
TIME: Sounds like things are just beginning for you. What is your next project?
Hung: I have a good team now, and pending on the success of Pure Accidents, we should be able to get funds to work on our next project. Part of my philosophy is to work together with other people in the movie scene here such as directors and scriptwriters. We have a group that meets and discusses how to develop the movie industry in Taiwan, and what direction it ought to be moving in. We are currently working on some ideas for our next project but nothing is concrete.
Pure Accidents, which made its debut at the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival last month, will open across Asia later this year.
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