Star of the Month — March, 2017
Star of the Month — March, 2017 - Taipei Film Commission
"We Try to be Creative in Film Structure and Presentation" ── Interview with White Ant Director Chu Hsien-che
(Article/ Ho Chun-mu; photography & video/ May Wen)
Director Chu Hsien-che of White Ant in an interview with Taipei Film Commission. The film was to be released on March 17th.
Having worked more than twenty years in image production, Chu Hsien-che made his first feature film - White Ant after the age of 50. The film may have arrived at a rather late stage of Chu's career, but it is every bit as creative as any title in its time. Featuring a distinctive theme and strong visual style, the film was shortlisted in the "New Currents" section in the 2016 Busan International Film Festival and won the FIPRESCI Award. The jury was especially impressed with the originality and depth of this film, and commented: "The film made excellent portrayal of the mental state of the characters, with no intention to imitate the style of any other director. It looks like a film only an unorthodox child can dream of!"
Prior to White Ant, Chu Hsien-che was best known for documentaries. He won Golden Harvest Award - Merit Award of Short Documentary for West Island (2001), a documentary based on Xiyuping Island to the south of Penghu, and won Golden Horse Awards - Best Documentary for Pick of the Litter - Stray Dogs in Taiwan (2001), a documentary on the story of stray dogs. Despite winning these awards, he still longed for a chance to direct a feature film. Chu said that he enjoys writing scripts, and has so far completed seven or eight film scripts on his own. He used to write scripts for soap drama, but it was not until 2013 when Cross Color (later changed into White Ant) brought him the first nomination for Ministry of Culture's Excellent Screenplay Award for the very first time that he started to make a change to his career. Although he did not win the award in the end, the nomination gave him the motivation to apply for subsidies and make the film he had always wished for.
"Death and lust are the themes that most creators try to explore." said Chu Hsien-che, and this is how the story of White Ant begins. The story begins when a man named Bai Yi-de (played by Wu Kang-ren) is caught on camera by Tang Jun-hong (played by Aviis Zhong) and her classmate when trying to steal women's underwear to satisfy his fetish. Tang then made a DVD copy of the footage and mailed it to Bai both as a warning and as a threat. This action triggered a series of chain reaction that eventually made everyone feeling guilty about what they did. As much as they wanted redemption, they found themselves trapped by their own actions.
In White Ant, Wu Kang-ren (winner of Golden Bell Awards Best Actor) plays the role of Bai Yi-de, a man with a fetish(still/ Content Digital Film Co., Ltd.)
Attention to the minority and an attempt to change the audience's perspective towards fetishism
Why film a story about fetishism? Chu Hsien-che said that Taiwanese people used to link fetishism with "the perverted," but as it turns out, fetish can actually be found in people of all education levels and social status. He then became intrigued by the topic and decided to make a film script out of it. Perhaps it is because of his personality or his prolonged experience in filming documentaries, Chu was especially attentive to the rejected, isolated and discriminated people in the society. With this film, he hoped to change the viewers' perspective and said: "The film would have served its purpose when people no longer feel disgusted by news of fetishism."
"We try to be creative in film structure and presentation!" Having previously studied the art of Chinese painting, Chu Hsien-che took the approach of making a "bold yet unsurprising presentation" and arranged Bai Yi-de's death from a car accident at the halfway of the film, which was followed by flashbacks that completed Bai's story. It was an ambitiously creative attempt to explore different possibilities of storytelling. According to Chu Hsien-che, this method of storytelling served another purpose: "When someone we hate lives, we keep on blaming him for his sins; but when the person dies, we start to see things clearly and objectively, and even think about whether we have mistreated him."
Lead actor Wu Kang-ren lost 14kg for the role
Wu Kang-ren, who played Bai Yi-de in White Ant, had deliberately lost 14kg just to be in the right physique and state of mind. When presented on the big screen, his fragile body looked as if it would crack at any moment. Chu Hsien-che praised Wu Kang-ren for being a creative actor who frequently shares his ideas with the crew, and Chu Hsien-che had made adjustments based on Wu's opinions on several occasions. For instance, when Bai Yi-de received the second DVD from Tang Jun-hong, Bai was supposed to go up to his bedroom before opening up the mail, but Wu Kang-ren suggested that given the character's current state of mind, Bai would open the mail on the spot instead of waiting until he reached upstairs. Chu Hsien-che was doubtful at first about this suggestion, but he was later convinced by the image captured on camera, and the shot was completed in one take. There was also another scene where Bai Yi-de was trying to find the person who took picture of him, and unexpectedly ran into the culprit on the corridor. The script called for no dialogue at this moment between the two, but Wu Kang-ren added his own line and Fang Ting, too, improvised her response and completed the scene without hesitation. Having witnessed the spark of creativity, Chu Hsien-che said: "This was as real as a documentary!"
Chu Hsien-che admitted that his imagination about performance is largely affected by his extensive experience in documentary films. When interviewing people, his subjects would jump from topic to topic, stutter, or make errors. To him, this is the real performance, because the speakers speak their minds. When making films or TV shows, the actors read their lines without stutter because they are not exactly speaking their minds. For this reason, Chu Hsien-che made dialogues as short as possible and tried to use words that people actually speak in real life. He did not ask for actors to stick exactly to the script, but speak the meaning in their own words where appropriate so that they could better portray the minds of the characters.
White Ant shows traces of documentary in terms of acting and filming (still/ Content Digital Film Co., Ltd.)
Due to the director's professional background, White Ant was filmed similarly to a documentary
In terms of visual presentation, White Ant was filmed in ways similar to a documentary, using hand-held long shots for the entirety of the film in order to fully capture the performers' mental state, while at the same time produce images of high contrast. Chu Hsien-che gave credit to his cinematographer Lei Heng and first assistant cameraman Chang Hsiang-yi, both of whom had won Best Cinematography in Asia Pacific Film Festival. Lei and Chang had spent much of their career working in commercial productions, and eventually grew tired of the mundane images required of commercials. Their creation this time round received rather extreme comments; some critics found the images rather crude and unrefined, while some praised for their distinctive style.
Chu Hsien-che has indistinguishable passion towards filmmaking, whether he makes small projects such as documentary and short films or feature films that involve extensive resources. He studied Chinese painting in university and eventually began making films. Chu thinks of himself as "someone who enjoys creating," and is an admirer of Polish film master Krzysztof Kieslowski. In White Ant, Chu used the names Bai Yi-de (white), Tang Jun-hong (red) and Lan Hu (blue) to pay respect to the Polish master Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colours trilogy. Chu Hsien-che said that in Kieslowski's films, most characters looked to themselves for redemption but eventually failed; Chu was greatly influenced by the director's attempt to redeem the characters, and he hoped that he may open the minds of a new generation of audience, similarly to how Kieslowski has given him a new perspective.
[About the director]
Chu Hsien-che graduated from Syracuse University, U.S.A. with a master’s degree in filmmaking. He is now a full-time assistant professor at Ming Chi University of Technology.
He had won Best Documentary in three of the most prominent film awards in Taiwan, including: Golden Horse Awards, Golden Harvest Awards, and South Taiwan Film Festival. Furthermore, he won awards in Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival on two occasions, and was nominated for International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam and Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival. He is a four-time winner of the Golden Harvest Award in fiction, documentary, and experimental short film categories. In one of Chu's three-part feature films, lead actor Duan Chun-hao was nominated Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Horse Awards that year. His award-winning productions include: Pick of the Litter - Stray Dogs in Taiwan, West Island, An Exposure of Affected Hospital, and Artist's Film (unofficial).
White Ant was Chu's first feature film; it won the FIPRESCI Award in the "New Currents" section during the 2016 Busan International Film Festival.