Movie Chaser· Wei Te-sheng, Mona Rudao in Contemporary Chinese Cinema

As fans of Director Wei Te-sheng know, Director Wei Te-sheng is not a prolific director. He really directed only two feature-length films (i.e. CAPE NO. 7 and SEEDIQ BALE) in his directing career. However, these two works have great influences in both Taiwan and the whole Chinese cinemas. The imaging information about Wei Te-sheng in Mainland is not much, as well as interviews by media in Mainland China. So, this documentary by Movie Chaser to record Wei’s life by follow shot and interview for 15 days is rare and precious.

In current film market, some film directors have to serve commercial interests, while some of them are bound by entertainment utilitarian goal. However, in the eye of Movie Chaser, Wei Te-sheng is a 100% pure creator. His works give us a sense of far-reaching and dignified feeling. In his fans’ eye, he seems a slightly serious person. When Movie Chaser team firstly met him at his ARS Film Studio, he had a casual suit with a T-shirt and jeans. He was not serious as we imagined and talked with us freely like an old friend. Wei shared his film-making experience with us, from an unemployed director to recognized by Director Chen Kuo-fu, from an assistant to cinematographer to an assistant director of DOUBLE VISION; from CAPE NO. 7’s success to SEEDIQ BALE’s making dream come true, from production troubles encountered one after another to won the Golden Horse Awards. He still remembered clearly all of these details even so many years past.

 

A Jobless Unknown Director’s Counterattack

“Dear Mr. Van Gogh, I only have a few of worship idols. You are one of them. Your status in my mind is only second to triune God… I lost my job, but I am not a loafer. I kill time at the coffee shop but I never get stale. In six months, I completed three great scripts, which could compare to your lively Sunflowers, Bedroom in Arles desiring for rest and despairing Wheatfield with Crows. Each of them gives audiences food for thought. Resignation, both of us have too much resignation…” The beginning part of the documentary, Wei Te-sheng reads this paragraph, which is from his autobiography,  Jobless Unknown Director. This autobiography was written before the fever of CAPE NO. 7 swept the whole Taiwan.

At that time, Wei Te-sheng, like his autobiography and his idol Van Gogh, fell to the bottom of life. Despite his works unrecognized, unemployed and boring daily routines, he still didn’t forget his dream and laughed through his tears.

Wei Te-sheng remained slumbering for nearly 18 years, from engaged in film and TV production after left the army in 1991 to CAPE NO. 7 making a great coup in 2008. During this period, he worked as grip, cinematographer assistant, script holder and assistant director, even courier and porter for making a living. Later, Wei selected to quit the job to focus on script writing.

At that time, he wanted to produce SEEDIQ BALE, but failed to find investment. To win honor, he put all elements that were doubted by investors to CAPE NO. 7. By coincidence, he met unemployed Van Fan who was exiled by his agent to Taiwan and Chie Tanaka who planned to return Japan on the next day. In Wei’s words, everyone was in a bad time. Surprisingly, such “loser team” created a miracle and had a wonderful counterattack.

In 2008, CAPE NO. 7 was screened and hit the highest box office record in Taiwan cinematic history. This film won six awards at 2008 Golden Horse Awards, including Outstanding Taiwanese Film of the Year, Outstanding Taiwanese Filmmaker of the Year and Best Supporting Actor. This film not only makes Director Wei jump onto the rank of tier-first directors, but also attracts the attention of Taiwan media and audiences on locally produced films, building the confidence of young audiences on local films and re-walking into the cinema. After CAPE NO. 7, a series of Taiwanese films such as YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE and OUR TIMES emerged and are still popular today.

 

SEEDIQ BALE, Fight to Win or Die

When CAPE NO. 7 became popular in Taiwan and hit over TWD10 million at box office every day, Wei Te-sheng still remembered that his dream was to produce SEEDIQ BALE.

However, the success of Cape No. 7 didn’t make the production of SEEDIQ BALE much easier. In 2009, after ten years of preparation, SEEDIQ BALE finally started filming. This film is Wei Te-sheng’s dream, while he is nearly bankrupt for pursuing this dream. He pledged his property, sourced funds from investors, borrowed from all friends in the cinematic circle, owed several DWT100 million debts and the production was interrupted for many times. However, he still insists and burns his bridge behind him.

After viewed the script of SEEDIQ BALE, Chen Kuo-fu said to Wei, “You are really like a knight in ancient Greek mythology”. He believes that Taiwan couldn’t support such epic film work in current market environment. Like the character Mona Rudao in this film, Wei faces a lonely journey.

When interviewed the producer of SEEDIQ BALE Jimmy Huang, he shared a story with us and a story that he still remembered clearly. His words were fully of respect and emotion to Wei. Once Wei applied for loans from a Fund. He came from the scene in a hurry. His costume was worn out, with a pair of muddy shoes. When he arrived, his first sentence was: “I want to money. What do you want? Let’s talk about clearly today.” This sentence becomes an interesting story in Taiwan cinemas circle. However, we still could read some sorrow from this sentence. He changes to real Mona Rudao in the process of film making. The hero Mona Rudao, a barbarous and pride guy would rather die for protecting the tradition and walking over the rainbow bridge to meet ancestors!

After returned from Taiwan, Movie Chaser went to Xining and film another Taiwan director Chen Kuo-fu. At the First Film Festival, we finally interviewed Chen Kuo-fu, who offered his help to Wei Te-sheng and jointly produced DOUBLE VISION. He said, After DOUBLE VISION, Wei showed SEEDIQ BALE’s script to him. He believed that the project is too big for Taiwan market. However, this is Wei Te-sheng.

The filming fund is the first setback, but there are many obstacles ahead in the process. Wei said frankly, he was overwhelmed even he had no any filming plan at the end and he still encountered new problems every day.

From having ideas about Seediq Bale, searching documents, script planning to filming and post production, Wei went through 12 years, mobilized 20,000 people from different countries. Manuscripts have drawn three versions and revised repeatedly. The film finally won five Golden Horse Awards, including Best Feature Film and Audience Choice Award. We believe that how hardship he suffered, how high summit he scaled in the course of producing this film.

There is a coffee shop dedicated to Wei Te-sheng’s works in Taipei. Many valuable manuscripts and props provided by Wei for Cape No. 7 and SEEDIQ BALE are exhibited in it, as well as two of six Golden Horse Awards won by Wei. This coffee shop also implies the unique character of Director Wei, named A Special Shop. If you visit Taipei, we strongly recommend you having a look.

 

Art Creation Is Always Underway, the Next Would Be TAIWAN TRILOGY

With his awe and curiosity to the history and ancestors, Wei Te-sheng has also prepared for many years and aims at a higher goal, TAIWAN TRILOGY. This time, he decides to interpret Taiwanese story happened in the Dutch colonized period 400 years ago from the aspect of Taiwan aboriginal people, Han people and Dutch people.

With a lot of historical literature lost, Wei starts another journey of looking up history. He erects another higher and much more difficult summit for himself and re-explores this history. So, TAIWAN TRILOGY is doomed to contain unprecedented literature value. The film will not only limit to screening schedule at  theatre chain. He wishes good works with more opportunities and more screening time so that more people could watch them. By then, the film scenes will become offline experiencing sites. Apart from film creation, Director Wei also draws the latest layout of film commercial operation model in his mind.

It’s expected that this production budget will be over TWD1 billion (around RMB200 million). This is the largest budget fund of Director Wei’s work. Now, the investment is still an unsolved issue. In his eyes, money issue is always secondary to the film creation. Actually  he feels that “I am ready to confidently ask investors to invest my film now.”

 

Nobody in the Life, Meanwhile Big Hero in the Movie

To more accurately reflect Wei Te-sheng, we followed his daily routine for several days. He appeared at the metro station every 7 o’clock and arrived at the studio at 8 o’clock to start his work. Then, he worked off at 6:00pm and returned home by walk 11km. This was his self-discipline and carefree daily life. Amidst busy commuting traffic flow in Taipei, Wei told us the history of Taiwan and shared his film-making experience. He stepped forward like a vibrant young man full of vigorousness and enthusiasm.

“I was an infantryman before and walked nearly 5,000km in two years. I hated walking. However, I love walking now.” Maybe, for Wei, walking is not only physical exercise, but also a kind of thinking and deposit. Wei has always bravely and lonely moved forward on this road. He still takes a calm attitude towards life and work as an ordinary creator even he owed TWD several billion debts and earned the box office several times more than his debts.

Movie Chaser team filmed in Taipei for 15 days. When we finished, it was the 10th anniversary of CAPE NO. 7 first screened at Taipei Film Festival. We were lucky to re-watch this classic work with the crew and cast of CAPE NO. 7. The outdoor theater was romantic and warm, making our Taiwan trip more meaningful and unforgettable. Before the screening, the organizers specially aired onsite premiere sidelights. Recalled by Wei, CAPE NO. 7 was selected as the opening film for the Taipei Film Festival at that time. However, some unexpected situations appeared and made Wei very nervous. Ten years passed, he expected the next decade.

For film directing, Wei has his own understanding: “We are angels and angels that bring good news.” Although we are separated by the Taiwan Straight, Movie Chaser expects to hear Wei’s next good news!

In the course of shooting the documentary film in Taiwan, the official website of TAIWAN TRILOGY has been gone online. Many manuscripts of Director Wei’s ideas are released, which constitutes the film prototype. After several years of preparation, TAIWAN TRILOGY finally moves its first step towards audiences and we expect to watch it on the big screen soon.

 

Movie Chaser: When did you have an interest in films? What kind of movies did you like in your childhood or teenage?

Wei: Actually, my childhood was like others. Nothing was special. My home was located next to a temple. There were all kinds of shops including watch shop, glasses shop and seal shop. My home gate connected to a road. The temple was on the back. In my childhood, I would see all kinds of people, except for sleeping. I had no my own room. All family members slept in a wide bed. My life was full of people, who were part of my life. When I firstly wrote the script, someone asked me how to prepare it. I told them just to write down whatever I thought. For many people, they don’t have such life experience. I frequently see some scripts, which include ten characters. However, ten characters speak in the same way, making us feel that there is only one character, instead of ten. This is not a problem for me because I know different people speak differently.

 

Movie Chaser: What other roles do you take in the process of film production?

Wei: I do a lot of different jobs. I started from an assistant to cinematographer. However, I was fired only two weeks later, because I always forgot to turn off light as I put myself so into watching the performance. Also, I felt waste time to remove the dust by a duster and clean machine. I am really not suitable for a technical job, which couldn’t arouse my interest and desire to learn. But, I am keen on stories or performance. I am interested in watching how they perform and produce a film.

 

 

Movie Chaser: Do you know why Chen Kuo-fu found you to produce Double Vision? Has he told you about that?

Wei: Chen was chairman of Taipei Film Festival at that time. The festival offered TWD1 million support fund each year. I once won the fund. So, my friends and I produced several films. Then, we participated in the Taipei Film Festival, while all of us failed to win the awards. One of my friends was not reconciled to the result and he was an acquaintance of Chen Kuo-fu. So, he asked Chen, “Do you watch those films shortlisted by the Festival? You watch them and then we have a talk.” Then, Chen Kuo-fu watched all shortlisted films. My friend asked Chen which one should win the award. He said, it would be my ABOUT JULY.

Nearly one month later, Chen Kuo-fu asked me to help him to review a script. Chen was the chairman of Taipei Film Festival. How did he ask me to review the script? I couldn’t believe it. He told me this script was their next film to be produced and asked me to give some opinions. I reviewed it seriously and told him that it had reached Hollywood standards. He asked me to act as the director for this film and he gave TWD80 million. I didn’t know how to reply to him. Then, I said I may not be competent to accept this job.

At that time, Columbia Pictures Asian Headquarters was located in Hong Kong. Chen Kuo-fu went to Hong Kong and talked with them to appoint me as the director. They disagreed because I was a new director and asked Chen Kuo-fu to direct by himself. Later, Chen Kuo-fu let Jimmy Huang tell me that he would like to invite me to co-direct this film. Was that OK for me? I replied to Hung, “Except for twins, which films have dual directors? Don’t worry about me. I am fine with any role because my purpose is to expand my vision. The recognition of Chen Kuo-fu is enough for me.”

 

Movie Chaser: Chen Kuo-fu once wrote to the Australian team to notify them that you might not be able to speak English, and asked them to help him as much as possible.

Wei: Right, I was so touched because Chen trusted me. No one so trusted me in my life. So I was overwhelmed by such honor. Chen wrote the letter to Huang. The producer appointed by Columbia Pictures was so arrogant. Huang had to show Chen’s letter to him. Although I couldn’t speak English, I represented Chen Kuo-fu.

 

Movie Chaser: Why did you change to filming CAPE NO. 7 in the process of writing SEEDIQ BALE SCRIPT?

Wei: I liked this interesting story but I had no time to write it until I couldn’t source funds to produce SEEDIQ BALE. I received a lot of doubts. Well, I put all doubts to CAPE NO. 7. This film seemly has its fate. At that time, my situation was not good. Chie Tanaka came to Taiwan for study as her career got a setback in Japan. We found her when she planned to leave Taiwan. It was also true for Van Fan at the career bottom. This film is about people who need second chance. So, all anger and force break out. Finally, we get it. You know how powerful the angry force is!

 

Movie Chaser: Have you ever thought about why people questioned you about the possibility of SEEDIQ BALE? If this film failed, what consequences would you take?

Wei: Of course, I was angry. Why was it impossible? When should I wait? Is it unit I have no power to do so? It doesn’t matter. As such, no one would compete with me. Only I would do it. To be honest, I have never thought about what I would take if the film failed. I have no time to think that. I put all my energy into such issues as how much I need and how I could overcome this difficulty.

 

Movie Chaser: We heard that you had no money to live in Taipei before directing films. You planned to go home and borrow some money from your mother. But, you were too embarrassed to ask. Why are you willing to ask help to all people for producing films?

Wei: That’s about the state of mind at certain stage. If I have to borrow money from family for living, that means I am a loser. However, film production is a cultural mission for us. I feel I am great to undertake this historic mission. Everyone should make his contribution. That’s different mentality. I take you to enter the historical and cultural center. This is what I inspired when I take a bath after failed to source the funds.

 

Movie Chaser: When the film was screened, had you ever wondered it could become a worldwide craze. How’s your feeling after that?

Wei: No matter whose films are, I am pleased to see the film well responded by audiences. I would get sick after finished the film as I tried my best to do it. I was sick for three days after produced CAPE NO. 7. It seemed that the internal injury broke out. I have such feeling each time. However, I hadn’t such feeling after SEEDIQ BALE, including editing process, before screening and after finished screening in Taiwan. This film was screened in Mainland China. I still didn’t have such tried feeling after returned from Mainland China. However, I seemly got depression.

 

Movie Chaser: You are preparing for TAIWAN TRILOGY now. Do you have any money problem?

Wei: Money has always been a problem. However, I am confident that I could solve it. Importantly, I need to be well prepared to talk with investors. As such, I will be confident to ask investors to invest my film. This is what I should do and a good thing. Nothing is shamed.

 

Movie Chaser: I read from your book. You visited Edward Yang’s tomb in the USA. What did you think about when you found it?

Wei: I actually never carefully think about this question whether that day affected what I do today. His tomb is in a privately owned small cemetery. On that day, it’s difficult for me to find his tomb. The gate was closed and nobody could be found. So, I directly jumped over the wall and entered it. My English is not good. So, I had to look at each tomb. Finally, I found a small one.

His name was on it and also which year he was born and died, as well as a paragraph of his best scripture. Nothing else. I could say he is my master and he is a great director. However, when I sat aside his tomb, I wondered why just like that? It is only a small tomb without photos, or some words reading that he changed the history of Taiwan cinemas… Nothing at all. I wonder why it was like that? Why it is just like that?

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