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APA sits down with filmmaker Cheng Yu-chieh, whose metaphysically inclined "Do Over" was one of the sensations at the 2006 Taipei International Film Festival.
Cheng Yu-Chieh was born in 1977 to a Taiwanese mother and an ethnically Chinese father from Japan. Raised in a bilingual and bicultural home, Cheng speaks Japanese with his father and older brother and Chinese with his mother and younger brother. Deeply influenced by Japanese aesthetics in general, and by the work of writer Haruki Murakami in particular, Cheng’s work is a reflection of his life experience intimately mediating the space between two cultures. Thematically, Cheng is particularly intrigued by what it means to be a minority, and has been deeply influenced by growing up as a product of two cultures in Taiwan. Upon graduating from the Economics Department of National Taiwan University, Cheng began making films only after he completed his mandatory Taiwanese military service. Cheng’s short film, Summer Dream, won Best Short Film at the 2002 Golden Horse Awards, and was invited to the Vancouver, Pusan and Tokyo Film Festivals. Do Over is his first feature film, a meditation on self-fulfillment and personal redemption, set over 12 hours spanning New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, structured into five non-linear segments.
APA: How did you decide on the film’s narrative structure?
Cheng Yu-Chieh: I wanted to try it out and see. The structure of my first film [A Summer Day] was the same, created in the form of a circle. This time, I wanted to make the structure slightly more complex. To give an example: I came to this interview from my life, but we’re here talking as two people. From my perspective, our two stories are different. The style of each individual’s scene is then different. Each individual’s perspective is different.
APA: Why did you choose to make this particular film?
CYC: I put everything that I knew how to do into this film. Everything I know up to now came through. I wanted to get feedback on my first film, so I chose a comparatively difficult work to make. Shooting this film seemed like playing. It
was just fun. Films should be a form of enjoyment.
APA: Who was the film’s composer, and what was your process of collaboration?
CYC: [Renowned Taiwanese composer] Lim Giong was our composer. Typically, when shooting a film, the director gives the composer other film soundtracks. But this time I just told the composer what feeling I wanted. At the end of the film, I wanted a sweet feeling. Maybe, in Lim Giong’s case, sweet is techno. Although he is very famous, working with Lim Giong was like two creative people in dialogue with one another.
APA: What was it like collaborating with American cinematographer, Jake Pollock?
CYC: This is my second collaboration with Jake. The first time was when I was filmed by him. [Jake Pollock was the cinematographer for Lin Shu-yu’s film The Pain of Others, also in competition for the Taipei Grand Award.] It wasn’t easy to film something that everyone liked. Our equipment wasn’t great, but he did a great job. He’s a cinematographer who takes actors seriously. Actors are top priority to him. This is rare.
Perhaps the reason he can capture scenes so well is because he is a foreigner. He has to feel everything very deeply. He’s a great person, and very open-minded. I can communicate with him very smoothly. There’s only one place where he filmed something in a way I didn’t want him to, but I ultimately preferred his way of filming the shot.
APA: What references, foreign and Chinese, would you say influenced this and your other work?
CYC: We looked at many references. I really enjoy Run Lola Run. In terms of Chinese directors, of course I enjoy Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang. I also like Tsai Ming-liang’s What Time Is It There? However, the director that I worship is Japanese director Koreeda Hirokazu.
APA: Do you find Taiwan to be supportive in developing the talent of young directors?
CYC: In terms of creative work, Taiwan is a very free place. Audiences like variety; it’s very different. Taiwan really supports young artists -- this includes both the government and industry. Half of Do Over was sponsored by the government, and post-production was done by the Leader Corporation. It was their first time investing in a film, and they invested in a first-time director.
APA: Please talk more about the character of the director in the film. He seems like an empty vessel whose thoughts are filled in by the other characters. How did you identify with the director in the film?
CYC: The director wasn’t me. The director in the film couldn’t forgive himself. Inside of him was nothing, but there also was nothing as terrible as what he thought was inside of him.
APA: Your use of space in the film is interesting. Could you talk more about how you conceive of and use space?
CYC: I wanted to leave space in the frame so that the audience can see more than their eyes perceive. In the fifth part of the film, I wanted a liubai [traditional Chinese aesthetic concept of leaving white space in a painting to allow the eye to travel outside the frame], or should I say a liuhei feeling [refers to the fact that the screen actually was composed with a large amount of black space to achieve the same frame-expanding effect]. After they smoked weed, the sky was completely black. I wanted to make it black so that I could give a pure feeling.
Once Xiaohui and Rat pop pills, the characters don’t know where they are. It’s like they’ve washed away their entire past life. I wanted to create a classical Chinese feeling in that part of the film. The sound in that part of the film
is water. When they went from the field into a tunnel, it sounds like they’re in water. That whole part of the film is talking about rebirth.
When the character Butterfly and the director go to the place we called the "dark side of the moon," the director is reborn. The director burns up his first film because he is reborn. The newly reborn director is the actual director of
Do Over. The happy ending that comes at the end [after the director burns his film] is the real New Year and the real film, Do Over.
APA: In the second part of the film, the character Ding An refers to Taiwan as being a fake country. Given Taiwan’s political situation, would you care to comment on that specific remark?
CYC: In the second part of the film, an illegal immigrant from Thailand who has since become a gang member asks whether or not his country is a fake country. This isn’t a reference to Taiwan’s political situation. Instead, it is discussing a larger global phenomenon. That which is authentic is becoming rarer as time passes. In Taiwan, one can frequently see things that are fake. Our world has more and more fake things.
Date Posted: 7/13/2006