The original author Liu Zhenyun as screenwriter, Jiang Zhiqiang as producer, “Someone to Talk to” directed by Liu Yulin is short-listed for the highest award “new wave” of the Busan International Film Festival competition unit, which opened on October 6th. The film tells the story of Niu Aiguo, acted by Mao Hai. With the suspicion of his wife cheating him, he finally caught in an inner war of “taking out the knife”, “using other one’s knife” and “putting down the knife”, which can be called ” the epic under a green hat.”
Graduated from the Department of Directing in New York University, winner of the Oscar student unit narrative film award, Liu Zhenyun’s daughter director Liu Yulin had a dialogue with “The Chinese Film Market” before taking off to Busan. She talked about the creation background and process of film “Someone to Talk to”, expressed her opinion on the current Chinese and foreign film market, as well as the pressure and power as the new generation of young directors.
CFM：When did you decide to be a director? What kind of mentality have you gone through?
Liu Yulin: My major of undergraduate was not about film, but the broadcast host, because I always wanted to be a moderator to host interviews. I would like to interview those who have made great achievements, great people, to see the story unknown behind them. Although I like films from an early age, I never thought about having the film as my career. But in fact, sometimes the cause to change the direction will become a call. This call is not a momentary change, but a gradual accumulation. So in sophomore year, I have been reluctant to focus only on great people who are in front of the camera and flash. There are so many heroes in my daily life, and these people deal with the things, which are the joy and anger we each will encounter. Why not use the language of the lens, and to pass out the feeling by films?
So I chose a conversion, and I was very fortunate to have a good family environment. Whether my father Mr.Liu, or mother Ms. Guo, they are very aware of a reason that a child must find their own thing, and then they will live healthy and happy. So when I was a kid they did not force me to do anything. And when I said I was going to do something, if I knew why and how to do it, they will fully support me.
The real transition to the film major was in my sophomore year. I was the kind of person that once decided to do one thing I would do it right away and would devote myself into it. So I decided to go to the United States to learn films, and I was sure that I wanted to go to the best film academy in United States. At that time I applied for 11 film academies, and I was admitted to eight. Finally I chose New York University.
“Someone to Talk to”: fit it easily with the original works
CFM: When did you make your decision to shoot the film “Someone to Talk to”?
Liu Yulin: In fact, the fate that causes me to shoot “Someone to Talk to” happened even before the year 2009. When my father wrote this book, from 2007 he began to do interview in lots of places. At that time I drove with him, spent more than a month to do research in Shanxi, Shandong, Hebei and Henan. I was in the junior summer vacation. Walking along with Mr. Liu, I did not know the character framework and the story, but only completed my record work quietly, such as the hotel name, the menu, or chatting with people on the roadside. “Someone to talk to” was published in 2009 and I read it at the first hand. When I was reading, those experiences happened before were brought into the book. I had read this book more than 20 times until I was filming it. Every time I could always be brought into the book. And I laughed and cried with the characters from time to time. This forces me to be deeply obsessed with the characters in the book. When you devote your feelings, characters will become alive. They are no longer a black and white description in the book, but becoming friends into your heart, and begin to pull you to listen to the words inside their heart. There are too many characters can be made into a film, but I am very clear that I cannot eat to a fat man by once. I am a person who does not worry things, so I decided my first work to start from one of the characters.
For me, the first attempt will be easier to start from the modern period. Therefore, I chose two characters in the book that are Niu Aixiang and Niu Aiguo. They are looking for “that sentence” on the road. Both of them are lonely in their hearts, but they never give up. Although they looks all calm, the emotion inside the characters is in the rough. One is the sister, the other is the little brother; one is in the marriage, the other is in the divorce. This characters’ relationship is very interesting. So when I exchanged the very specific creative ideas with Mr. Liu, he felt that I could try it.
Many people have asked me whether it is true that because you are his daughter he gave the script to you. In fact, it is not true. When I am in cooperation with Mr. Liu, our relationship is really not father and daughter. Because we all understand a reason, when we cooperate together with the feelings of father and daughter, and if he gives me the script because I am his daughter, it means that probably I have no considerable strength and ability, and I may not understand the script. Then he might harm me by giving me the script. And he is very clear about that. So our cooperation is based on the consensus in the creation of the films. Both of us have fully understood the creation and implementation of the film.
CFM: You just said that the film would shoot the two characters of Niu Aixiang and Niu Aiguo. Will other characters be integrated into the future story, or be a separate chapter?
Liu Yulin: I think it may be a separate film. “Someone to Talk to” has great magic. Every moment I look at it I can enter the environment, and forget anything all around. In addition, there are new discoveries for me every time. This is really amazing.
CFM: What is the biggest challenge to you when you make “Someone to Talk to”?
Liu Yulin: It is at the preparation stage. How can such a huge volume of the original writing be adapted into a script? How to shoot? After that how to convert the literary language into the script language? Of course, most of them are the work of Mr. Liu. My work is to convert the script language into a lens language in the film, specifically including how to shoot the scene, how to select the location, as well as the relationship between each episode. The challenges and difficulties during the preparation period are the hardest. These challenges are fully solved in the preliminary preparation stage. In fact, the process in the field is the implementation process. The more preparation has been made, the fewer incidents.
CFM: When “Someone to Talk to” first screened, was there any impressive audience feedback to you?
Liu Yulin: When I have the opportunity to see the eyes of every audience, I was deeply moved. Because you will find that the audience of the film has no specific age and social level. Each audience can find themselves in the film, which is a big achievement I have particularly gained. A film management department has released a report on the industry recently. It asked where the Chinese audience was this year? When I saw these audiences, I knew that the Chinese audience was back, and they were waiting for good films, so I am now particularly confident. Because this is not only the victory of the film, it is a new chapter of the Chinese film market.
CFM: As the original writer, what is the feedback of Mr. Liu of the film?
Liu Yulin: I think Mr. Liu is satisfied. First of all, Mr. Liu’s satisfaction comes from the foundation of our cooperation. Many filmmakers and directors called him, saying that Mr. Liu’s works was particularly good and they wanted to shoot it. But no one knows how to shoot it specifically. What I differ from them is that I never want to eat to a fat man by once. I want to start from one of the characters, and then one by one. I know that from the moment I had the idea, Liu was full of affirmation on the film. He also knows that spending 109 minutes of the film to create one character, then the character will show fullness and variable width, and the inside of the character will be highlighted vividly.
Secondly, I think Mr. Liu has seen the emotions of the creative staffs to characters in the story. The most annoying thing is that the creators tried to fiddle with and take advantage of the characters and stories in the film. For instance, they will pull the audience to say that it’s time for you to cry or touching at this moment. The deep feeling in my heart is that if you have made a sincere work, this work will touch the heart of the audience naturally. A film that really touches audience will have more and more tempting characters enter the film initiatively, then it will build a forest in the heart of the filmmakers. You can give birth to good film works, which will touch the audience.
CFM: The starting point of your first film is so high. Do you have any pressure? What is your future goal?
Liu Yulin: In fact, my mentality is particularly peaceful. As a new director I never thought that the first feature film after “Door God” needed to be famous immediately. This is not the purpose of my film.
I had no utilitarian ideas when I made this film. And I didn’t know the future of the film. But now it really become high profile, and the audience liked it very much. I cannot stand in a personal perspective to evaluate it any more, because this work is not my own work. Behind me, it is a family of 150 people to complete this work. Secondly, I think this work has been able to impress everyone, not because of my creation, but for the inside of the characters themselves, which is very charming. The only thing I did was to be a good messenger. Because I loved these people, I transformed their inner feelings with the way I loved. Of course I have expectations of various awards and the box office. The reason for awards and box office affirmation is that I know once it is affirmed, it means the characters I loved are seen by the audience.
The best film is the film that has common emotion and can touch the audience
CFM: This year the Chinese film market has a lot of fresh themes. The fantasy ones are more eye-catching. From your first microfilm “Door God” to “Someone to Talk to”, both of them are very grounded and are about the multi-cultural theme. Is this choice your personal preference?
Liu Yulin: I understand the so-called “grounded” is actually making life around us into the film. The so-called illusory, in fact, for each person’s daily life, will be far away from the heart. No matter for “Door God”, “Someone to Talk to” and the future works I make, I will be more considering whether the characters in the film can be understood by every audience. In fact, these two films are not limited to the location of shooting, language and geography. They are able to get through the emotions. This simple feeling is what I want in the film. It is not buckled by a certain type of hat and cannot limit creative work. When you find this common emotion, everyone can find his or her own shadow and what they want to say from the film. I think this is the best film, which is able to attract the audience.
CFM: In your opinion, what is the most touching thing in “Someone to Talk to”?
Liu Yulin: “Green Hat” or derailment story is just a primer, the appearance of life and fur, the inside is the loneliness in the heart. To person who you “can not tell”, ten thousand sentences is less than one sentence. When you see the “right” people, one sentence is like ten thousands in your heart. But the common problem to all of us is that it is hard to find this person. In fact, everyone is on the road to looking for the right person, and the loneliness we are facing cannot be solved by hard work. Meeting a “right” people can be lucky. I think this novel and the film are talking about the depth of loneliness, which can impress everyone.
CFM: Now the market changes particularly fast. Young people’s tastes have been changing as well. There are a lot of entertaining, fast-consuming products. Do you have the pressure that your works will be submerged in them?
Liu Yulin: It depends on a director’s vision and the director’s understanding of the film. What kind of works is able to stay for five days, five months, five years and fifty years? I believe that stories and emotions to stay long should involve the joys and sorrows of our lives, rather than live broadcast and Meitu Xiu Xiu. Those things left nothing in our hearts. A good film staying in our hearts is that we can remember every plot inside. For instance, “A Chinese Odyssey”, it is said to be a comedy movie. What really touched me of the film? “I expected the beginning of love, but I cannot expect this outcome.” This is the emotion that can stay in my heart, and can accompany me to go long-term. So I know that if you decide to be a director, you will have to insist on going forward, but not to criticize others.
Chinese films going abroad need new genes
CFM: You have had the higher education in United States film system. And you also joined the production of “1942”, which is a film with large investment. You have had contact with China’s first-line director. In your opinion, what is the difference between Chinese and foreign film production system?
Liu Yulin: The reason I choose to go to the United States to study is because I grew up in China with the Chinese oriental education. So I want to go to the West to accept the influence of another culture. I firmly believe that Eastern roots and western environment will let me learn to see the world, to watch movies, to watch life and to have the third pair of eyes. And it turns to be true. When I was filming “Door God,” I would not confine myself to looking at the world from the perspective of a village, but from a world perspective to looking at the village.
When I was at New York University, everybody told me that that the story is the most important. In China, student who learning to make the film may first think of how to be famous through the first work, ignoring the characters and stories in the film. Actually, these characters and stories are the key to a film to survive. Western learning experience teaches me that the real thing in the world is human emotions in our daily life. This human emotion is regardless of geography, which can get through every place in the world.
CFM: You have international vision of ideas. What is the image or state of Chinese film in the overseas market? How big is the difference between the western film industry and Chinese film industry? What else should we do now?
Liu Yulin: There are basically two kinds of Chinese films in the eyes of foreigners: one is martial arts film; the other is about early-liberated, minority nationality, border and poor areas. But I found both of these two types couldn’t survive in the overseas market any more. Westerners are no longer interested in them.
In addition, everyone knows that the Chinese film market is huge. But in recent years, how many Chinese films going abroad are remembered by westerners? Only a handful. China’s film market is developing too fast, which will lead to a lot of bubble. When this bubble comes out, there is no real core thing inside.
But I think the Chinese market is now beginning to change. It needs much more time. There is bubble as well in Hollywood in the sixties to seventies of last century. China, after a complete collapse of the bubble, will be in a particularly cool level, and at the same time powerful works will slowly emerge. It is because the audience began to change, I believe the Chinese film audience has began to focus on the film with content and can touch their heart rather than focus on marketing hype and the stars of the film. Therefore, the market, the audience, in fact, including the media and creators, all these links is complementary, which will form a cycle.
CFM: In your opinion, what is the biggest problem in Chinese film market now? What are the things they are lack of?
Liu Yulin: In fact, China has no problem with producing and technical aspects. The real shortage is of good stories and good actors. Now in China it simply cannot find a good story and a good screenwriter. Secondly, it is the shortage of good actors. Now some actors attended five plays at the same time. There are tips on the backboard in front of him. His mouth casually says some numbers, and then relies on dubbing. When the actors take themselves as small animals flashing in the pan, playing themselves and the audience in front of the screen, it is the most terrible thing. These actors sometimes will affect the market, but they are also untenable in the market.
The real good actor should be the person that since I like this role, I will try to keep the role solidly, even if I do nothing this year. What the audience remembers is not my name, but the character I act out. What is a great film? I think that when the audience is watching a film, he cannot see the director, the script, and he forgets he is watching a film, but see himself from the characters. This is the fun of movie art. Our generation of young directors hopes that we can have such a bear to pick up the Chinese film and the Chinese film market. And the Chinese people have so many moving stories. You need to have a sensitive heart to find them and after that you cannot be utilitarian or anxious to make it into the film, but need to be down to earth, to create it step by step. Mentality needs to be adjusted.
CFM: Every country has its own genes, what are the genes of our Chinese films? What is that of your films?
Liu Yulin: Many movies like to shoot the lives of ordinary people in China. The show is always on young, old and poor. The house they live in is dirty and they do not pay attention on food. The main character in “Someone to Talk to” is Niu Aiguo. Although he is just a shoemaker, his small courtyard has a particularly beautiful yellow ginkgo tree, and the yard was spotlessly clean. When the cold winter comes, he uses the stove, and he will put a little orange skin on the furnace, which smells aroma. These details of life is warm and colorful. This colorful is the normal life of our Chinese people. In fact, most of us have lived these way for generations. It is not necessary for our films to become dirty and messy to enter foreign markets. In China these ordinary people is living in such a warm environment, and have their own smile. I think this is the concept and taste that I would like to convey representing China.
The pressure and impetus of the new generation of young directors
CFM: This year there is a particularly interesting phenomenon. The director of “Soulmate” Kwok Cheung Tsang is the son of Eric Tsang. The director of “Suddenly Seventeen” Zhang Mo is Zhang Yimou’s daughter. You and these young directors have special cultural situation and new ideas. Is this the pressure or power for you?
Liu Yulin: I feel particularly good. I am in the same generation with Zhang Mo and Kwok Cheung Tsang. I have watched the “Soulmate” and can feel that the director have done lots of preparation and put efforts to create it. It can touch people and the reputation is also very good. I know that the new generation of filmmakers and directors begin to make their own voice, and they make their own voice heard by telling the story in the heart, not in the form of all-star cast or relying on single visual effects to attract the eyes of the audience. This new director’s voice is now more and more stronger. We are working together for the prosperity of this market, the promotion of Chinese film. We need to upgrade, to issue new voice. It is a great honor to be with all the young filmmakers in this age.
CFM: Speaking of young filmmakers, is your team share a similar personality with you, young and dynamic?
Liu Yulin: Actually not. I was in a relatively small age in our crew. My lighting instructor Mr. Sun Hongtong has worked for “Qiu Ju Goes to Court”. The photography director Mr. Wu Di used to win the Golden Horse Award. And all of the actors and actresses are actually older than me.
I think the reason why they are willing to work with a young director like me, is that we all like the script. We all have feelings on the characters and stories. And we are willing to spend time to work on it. Perhaps they have seen my efforts for the preparation. In fact, you cannot win only by the age and qualifications, but by truth. The truth is not simply spoken out by somebody. Only the person who has deep understanding on the characters and the play can tell the truth to convince you. For example, before the shooting, my preparation work has already been done, because I have been prepared for a year. Every scene, every line and every character in the script has melted in my heart. I can speak out any lines in the script just closing my eyes. So the shooting is a process of implementation.
So in the end we become a family with the entire crew, and do not care about the division of departments. Each department works for all. The day when we wrapped, we were not celebrating we finally finished. All of us were crying, saying when we can meet again. It is such a good work atmosphere.
CFM: As a new director, what is your view on the environment of Chinese film industry?
Liu Yulin: I think I have caught up with a particularly good time. It is the era of Chinese film development and transformation. Last year the Chinese film development was extremely strong. The audience began to develop their own watching habits. When the habit has been developed, the audience will be hungry to watch whatever comes to them. But when they found many of them were terrible, they would begin to calm down. So the Chinese film is in this conversion period.
I would like to show the audience vivid, Michelin-level dishes. Even I have provided beef noodles to the audience with gluten and meat, with soup and water, I wish the audience also wants to eat more. The most important thing is not for the next time, but because I want to make my dish worthy of its materials and make the audience feel it’s worth eating as well.