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Monday, November 23, 2009

TOKYO FILMeX 2009, Tsai Ming Liang and the opening film 'Visage'

I had a lot of fun in last year's TOKYO FILMeX film festival. (can read about all my blog posts here, til this very day, my review of Sono Sion's LOVE EXPOSURE is still one of the most-read posts in this blog), so I definitely had to come this year. And this time, I even have a pass!

So yup, the opening ceremony was held yesterday evening, at 5:30pm (it's currently 3:20am as I'm writing this). Here are this year's jury members.

The jury members of TOKYO FILMeX 2009
From left to right: film critic Jean Francois Rauger, Toronto Film Fest (Italy/ Asian Cinema) programmer Giovanna Fulvi, filmmaker Sai Yoichi, actress Chen Shiang-chyi and filmmaker Lou Ye (whom I met during my stay in Seoul during August)

The opening film was Tsai Ming Liang's new film VISAGE / FACE. You can read about a brief anecdote of my first meeting with TML 2 years ago if you want). Cheng shiang-chyi is, of course, a regular in Tsai Ming Liang's films. (During the shoot of my short film LOVE SUICIDES, I was heard constantly making instructions like "Cry like Cheng shiang-chyi in WHAT TIME IS IT THERE!".

My star, Arika, however, wasn't too fond of that.

Arika waiting for us to shoot a scene

But anyway, here's a video of both of them introducing VISAGE.

(click here if you cannot see embedded video)

VISAGE is the first TML film I've ever seen on a big screen (actually, I haven't really seen that many of his films, just WHAT TIME IS IT THERE, GOODBYE DRAGON INN and THE WAYWARD CLOUD), I have to say that the experience is quite different. Watching his films on a small computer screen, I was prone to lose some sort of attention to them, yet seeing it on a big screen, the visuals were more striking, the framing much easier for me to appreciate. It's still a very challenging watch, but there are many images from the film that just pop out. I might actually like this more than GOODBYE, DRAGON INN and THE WAYWARD CLOUD.

Trailer of VISAGE

Here are the two videos I shot of the Q and A session.

(click here if you can't see embedded video)

(click here if you can't see embedded video)

Since I understood Mandarin, I didn't bother to move to the 'whispering English translators' section, although I guess that would've been useful for the videos above. But anyway, I'll try some brief translations myself. In the first video, TML explained how he was approached by the Louvre back in 2005 (handpicked from a list of 200), during a Francois Truffaut film fest, to make a film for them (it's an art installation of sorts for the museum) TML heard that astronomical sum had to paid by the DA VINCI CODE film team to shoot there, so being able to shoot in the LOUVRE for free, and being able to use some of his cinematic idols? Hell yeah.

So yeah, after that he looked around the Louvre, finding places to shoot, even found out about the underground tunnel (an impressive place in the film, btw) from the fire department.

After that he explained that he wanted to make a film with Jean-Pierre Léaud. Then TML explained how when he first left Malaysia (yes, to the uninitiated, Tsai Ming Liang's Malaysian) and went to university in Taiwan, he saw 400 BLOWS. He was 20. Jean-Pierre Léaud was 14 in the film. But of course, he only discovered the film 20 years after its release. Tsai Ming Liang and Jean-Pierre Léaud first met when he asked him to cameo in WHAT TIME IS IT THERE?

(continued in the second video)

Over the years he realized that Jean-Pierre Léaud seemed to have aged too quickly. TML wanted to make another film with Jean-Pierre Léaud, but couldn't find any opportunities until VISAGE came along. He thought Jean-Pierre Léaud's face existed for film, and felt that he was given a chance by his (TML's) idol, Truffaut, to shoot an aged Jean-Pierre Léaud, which Truffaut never had the chance to do.

Truffaut's collaboration with Jean-Pierre Léaud reminded TML of his own collaboration with Lee Kang Sheng, whom he had worked with since he was 20. Since the faces of both men had been so important to him, he wanted to make sure he will immortalize them for the Louvre.

I stopped recording the session after this, because it's exhausting, and my hands were visibly shaking if you look at videos.

One audience member asked TML to explain some plot points of the film. TML said he hoped VISAGE will be picked up for theatrical distribution in Japan so that audiences can see it a few more times. Said that his film (like his other films) is opened for interpretation, and that he prefers it if they were like a book for someone to digest after reading.

Then he quoted a Taiwanese monk, who said: "If you don't understand now, you might understand it tomorrow, if you don't understand it tomorrow, you might understand it next year, if you don't understand it by next year, you'll understand it in ten years." So he urged audiences to take their time, no need to seek answers that soon.

After we left the hall, TML was mobbed by audiences.

(Click here if cannot see embedded video)