Star of the Month — April, 2017 - Taipei Film Commission
"Practice Makes Perfect" - Interview with Who Killed Cock Robin Director Cheng Wei-hao
(Article/ Catherine Huang; photography & video/ May Wen)
Director Cheng Wei-hao of Who Killed Cock Robin in an interview with Taipei Film Commission. The film was released on March 31st.
Cheng Wei-hao, director of Who Killed Cock Robin, should be a familiar name to those who pay attention to Taiwanese films. After winning "Best Short Film" for The Death of A Security Guard in the end of 2015 at the Golden Horse Awards, Cheng's first feature film - The Tag-Along - later became the best-selling horror film in Taiwan in the last 10 years. Today, Cheng Wei-hao has established his reputation as a compelling story teller, which brings the public's attention to whether his latest commercial production - Who Killed Cock Robin - could once again exceed the audience's expectations and give the local film industry a strong sales boost in the moment of need. The answer seems affirmative given the level of applause Who Killed Cock Robin has received following its press preview.
Cheng Wei-hao is quite young for his profession; strictly speaking, he launched his film directing career only two years ago. Despite his young age, Cheng has demonstrated near perfection presenting "truth" and "perspective" in all his creations. He seems to be able to master the change of scenes and the pace of the story with great precision, and bending the audience's thoughts to his will. Cheng's latest production - Who Killed Cock Robin - once again keeps the audience focused throughout the film until truth is revealed in the final moment. "Truths and lies will be my main focus for a very long time," said Cheng Wei-hao. He admitted of having unexplainable obsession to exploring truths and lies, and hoped that the audience may relate their real experiences in life with the debate of truth and lie in Who Killed Cock Robin.
The birth of Who Killed Cock Robin
Cheng Wei-hao initially wanted to make Who Killed Cock Robin as his first feature film. (Still/ Good Day Films Co., Ltd.)
"In the beginning, I wanted to make a suspense or crime film for my first feature film, because this is the genre where a new director can demonstrate his story-telling abilities." Who Killed Cock Robin is a project that took Cheng Wei-hao 6 years to prepare. The original version of the script told a supernatural story about a fatal car accident and resurrection of the victim's soul in another body, which was significantly different from the version to be screened in theaters. Cheng Wei-hao made drastic changes to the original script after he received it; he ditched the supernatural elements, kept the main character's journalist role and "car accident" as the main event, but changed everything else from the story-telling to the relationships of film characters. It took three years for Cheng to arrive the suspense version of Who Killed Cock Robin known today.
Despite having a workable script, the film industry was in such a pessimistic state that no investor dared to finance a film that has a dark story produced by someone with no track record. However, Cheng Wei-hao did not give up hope, because: "I had become attached to my baby, even when nobody else did." He presented his script to every financier he knew of, until the proposal finally appealed to David Tung, a renowned producer; and after Cheng made his box office success with his first feature film - The Tag-Along, Who Killed Cock Robin received the money to commence production. After all the troubles he went through to complete the production, Cheng Wei-hao was especially calm moments before the film's official release. Cheng said: "I am satisfied seeing that the film received the best support possible at the time and had a chance to be produced. I am confident with my work, therefore box office performance presents less of a concern to me."
Casting and execution of Who Killed Cock Robin
Lead actress Hsu Wei-ning (left) and lead actor Kaiser Chuang (right) play work colleagues in Who Killed Cock Robin. (Still/ Good Day Films Co., Ltd.)
Ko Chia-yen plays Hsu Ai-ting, the depressed car accident survivor, in Who Killed Cock Robin. (Still/ Good Day Films Co., Ltd.) Who Killed Cock Robin features an award-winning cast including Kaiser Chuang (Golden Bell Awards Best Actor), Hsu Wei-ning (Taipei Film Festival Best Actress), and Ko Chia-yen (Golden Bell Awards Best Actress). Cheng Wei-hao picked Kaiser Chuang for his rough and tough appearance, and assigned him the role of Chi, a journalist with connections to the underworld. Hsu Wei-ning, on the other hand, was chosen to play Maggie, the main female character, even before her outstanding performance in The Tag-Along, which made Hsu the best candidate for the role. Lastly, Ko Chia-yen was chosen to play Hsu Ai-ting, the depressed car accident survivor, because she had the distinctive resemblance of a woman with secrets, and the fact that Ko Chia-yen was looking for a new challenging role at the time of casting. "It is very fortunate for any director to work with such a group of talented performers." said Cheng Wei-hao. According to Cheng, every scene in Who Killed Cock Robin involved a great number of complexity; as a director, all he could do was to create the best performing environment possible where performers may contribute their creativity to the production.
"For this particular genre, it is very important to make the film convincing to the audience, which made field investigation our first major task." In Who Killed Cock Robin, Cheng Wei-hao had journalists finding clues to the final puzzle instead of introducing "detectives" like most thrillers do. In order to ensure the authenticity of the fact-finding process, it was necessary to conduct field investigations on "news publishers" and "the police department." Owing to producer David Tung's connections, Cheng Wei-hao was able to give Kaiser Chuang and Hsu Wei-ning a chance to observe up close the operations of United Daily News, and even assign them to police precincts to observe how journalists interact with police officers. These field investigations were critical to the production of Who Killed Cock Robin.
When asked about the most difficult scene in Who Killed Cock Robin, Cheng Wei-hao replied without hesitation: "Every scene was as difficult as the other!" The car accident scene happened nine years ago in the film, for example, was especially complex as it involved car stunts, computer animation, and special effects. Furthermore, although the car accident is presented in many different versions in the film, given limited resources, he had to complete the shot in one attempt using affordable equipment. "We used 9 cameras to shoot the scene. It may sound like a big budget production, but it was nowhere close, because we only had one shot at it." As he recalled, the crew was filming at a mountain road with no light and no traffic signal, and for five cold raining evenings, they stretched themselves to the limit bearing a temperature of only 4 degrees Celsius.
The intricate plot of Who Killed Cock Robin
The film's English title - Who Killed Cock Robin - had originated from a popular children's song in Europe, which told the story of Robin, a bird adored by other species of birds, being sentenced to death in a bird trial. The hypocrisy of this story was consistent with Who Killed Cock Robin. Having decided on the official title, Cheng Wei-hao suggested to insert the image of robin in the opening and closing moments of this film to emphasize the metaphor, and used drones to shoot a bird's eye view of the city and passing vehicles to convey the message that no one could distance themselves from the story.
"Localization" has been one of Cheng Wei-hao's most persisted elements when making genre films. Unsurprisingly, this element was also seen in Who Killed Cock Robin. Out of respect for Taiwanese people's love for tea (and more so among police officers), Cheng Wei-hao decided to make "Oriental Beauty" (a luxury tea) a significant part of this film. Taiwan's distinctive "tea culture" is apparent from the clues that led to the rescue of survivor Hsu Ai-ting to the interaction between Chi and police officers and to the final ending.
"Practice makes perfect"
Cheng Wei-hao's talent has been recognized and praised among senior filmmakers after The Tag-Along, his first feature film. However, Cheng does not consider himself to be born with the right talents; instead, he said: "The more productions I make, the more skills I find myself lacking, therefore I do not consider filmmaking as my natural born talent. I simply practice more, absorb more like a sponge and try to make every shot and every production better than the previous one."
Cheng Wei-hao considers practical experience to be the key to the success of the next production. For this reason, Cheng has been studying intensively on post-production skills during the six years he took to prepare Who Killed Cock Robin, and grasping every opportunity he had to accumulate real filming experience. After rewriting the script of Who Killed Cock Robin several times, Cheng was able to improve his story-telling abilities, while his experience with The Tag-Along showed him the key to telling stories through image. Cheng Wei-hao admitted: "I would not be where I am if Who Killed Cock Robin was my first feature film." And now, he has the right experience and knowledge to make the long-awaited project a success.
[About the Director]
Cheng Wei-hao was born in Kaohsiung in 1984, and had obtained a master’s degree from the Department of Motion Pictures, National Taiwan University of Arts. He is known for adopting unorthodox approaches to present the debate of truth and lie. Cheng's first short film - You Are Not Alone - had won the Outstanding Asian Student Award during International Student Film and Video Festival of Beijing Film Academy (ISFVF) and the Best New Director Award during South Taiwan Film Festival for the clever use of filming techniques in mockery of many classic horror films. Cheng's mockumentary - The Death of A Security Guard - claimed multiple awards in 2015 including: Best Short Film (Taipei Film Festival), Merit Award for General Production (Golden Harvest Award), and "Taiwan Award" (Kaohsiung International Short Film Competition). In 2015, Cheng directed his first feature film - The Tag-Along - based on a popular ghost story in Taiwan. Not only was the film nominated for Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival and 4 categories of the 53rd Golden Horse Awards, it made a box office success that set the record for top-grossing Taiwanese horror film. Cheng's second feature film - Who Killed Cock Robin - was officially released on March 31.