Star of the Month — July, 2017 - Taipei Film Commission
Reflections on “Dreams” Wrapped in Passion: Interview with For More Sun II Director Lee Chia-hua
(Article/ Sophie Wong; photography & video/ May Wen)
For More Sun II Director Lee Chia-hua in an interview with Taipei Film Commission. The film was released on May 19.
In 2005, director Lee Jong-wang’s For More Sun documented the real-life story of Cheng Jung-ho, professor at National Taiwan University Department of Mechanical Engineering, and around thirty students on a solar car team, who challenged the establishment and went to Australia in pursuit of their dreams. The film inspired wide audiences. A decade later, director Lee Chia-hua stepped in to helm the sequel as a direct “continuation” from the first film, beginning again on the campus of National Taiwan University to follow the team’s endeavors.
A successor to For More Sun 10 years later
Ten years ago, James Liu invited Lee Jong-wang to document the journey of Professor Cheng and the students on the car team to Australia in pursuit of their dreams. They have both been keenly interested in the subsequent careers of the students. (still/ Joint Entertainment International)
Back in 2005, at the beginning of Joint Entertainment International, founder James Liu was inspired by a talk given by Professor Cheng. He then invited documentary director Lee Jong-wang to document the story of Professor Cheng and his team of students. The story became the film For More Sun. For the decade that followed the film, Liu and director Lee have been keenly interested in the subsequent careers of the team. After contacting the team, they decided to make the sequel. As Professor Cheng was looking for a “successor” to his educational mission, director Lee also decided to pass the torch to up-and-coming documentarian Lee Chia-hua, for him to make the sequel.
Director Lee Chia-hua, who is particularly concerned with human rights and minority issues, saw For More Sun as early as 2006. However, he had been somewhat distant from such passionate, inspirational subject matters. Therefore, when he heard about the sequel project, he instinctively doubted what the point was in filming a group of “winners” from National Taiwan University. In fact, a decade ago, Professor Cheng urged the students to work in fundamental mechanical engineering, which would be instrumental in Taiwan’s industrial development, and the students went on to realize the professor's vision both in Taiwan and overseas. After learning about this, Lee Chia-hua was so inspired that he forwent his preconceived notions about the story and accepted directorial duties on the sequel. From his hesitation in the beginning to being increasingly touched, the filming process led him to discover the extraordinary qualities of the team, which he believes should be shared with the world.
The challenge of integrating the life stories of ten figures
In late 2014, James Liu and Lee Jong-wang did preliminary survey on the willingness of Professor Cheng and the former team members to participate in the sequel. In early 2015, the project was fully transitioned into the helm of director Lee Chia-hua. In the beginning, there were 14 or 15 former team members who were willing to participate. Later, however, some of them dropped out of the project due to company regulations and personal reasons. In the end, ten were featured in the documentary. To tell the stories of ten people was still a daunting task. Lee Chia-hua could not leave even one of them out, as he believed that only when the ten of them are put in one place could their shared traits emerge. In addition, they possess interesting characteristics individually that are worth capturing.
Director Chi-Hua Lee observed that one shared trait among the participants was that “dream” did not become a catch phrase for them. They simply did honest work to strive for their goal. Pictured: The team competing in Australia in 2005. (still/ Joint Entertainment International)
When filming Professor Cheng and the participants, Lee Chia-hua especially thanked director Lee Jong-wang for the trust he built with them ten years ago, so that the subjects had fond memories with filmmaking and were comfortable with the cameras. Lee Chia-hua and the participants went off on a great start when they first met, with no reservation even for personal details. This reminded the director of the impact the film could have on the subjects and his ethics and responsibility as a documentarian. The initial schedule called for a deadline in 12 months. However, Lee Chia-hua hit a wall. He realized that there were topics that he wished to explore but could not because he had to protect his subjects. On the other hand, he did not know how to integrate the stories of the ten participants and Professor Cheng. In addition to insufficient time based on the original schedule, the project also went over budget. Fortunately, the two producers of the film, Lee Jong-wang and Ching-Ju Tsai agreed to extend the schedule to 20 months. With James Liu’s bold approval of additional budget, it was finally possible for the film to be completed.
Reflections on the continuation of “dreams,” wrapped in passion
After the first 12 months of turmoil, Lee Chia-hua found his breakthrough. Eighteen months into making the film, editing and reshoots began, and the project found its right track. As a sequel, For More Sun II follows the reputation of the previous film ten years before it. For his film, Lee Chia-hua also found its central theme. “This film is about ‘continuation,’ about why this group of people can still strive toward the same goals they had ten years ago.” Personally, he is hesitant to use the term “dream” because he felt that it has become overused in Taiwan’s society. When handled poorly, it may limit the perspectives of the audience. By comparison, the engineers who are the subjects of the film do not draw pies in the sky. They strive toward their goals step by step, with honest work. “The more I get to know these people, the more I know that they do not talk about dreams. For them, it is about what they want and what they should do, without all the empty talk. When they have a goal, they work in its direction. They do not know if they will reach it, but they are determined to find out.” To Lee Chia-hua, only people like them are qualified to talk about “dreams.” On them, the director found the kind of simplicity and beauty that he has yet to achieve - that is lacking in Taiwan’s society.
In addition to reflections on “dreams,” For More Sun II also explores some concerns. Because Lee Chia-hua teaches in the vocational education system, he experienced firsthand how education, society, and the job market in Taiwan harshly severs abstract thinking from hands-on practice, which has led to a situation where students from top schools lack practical experience, and students from vocational education are deprived of guided abstract thinking. In For More Sun II, Cheng Jung-ho represents a rare attempt at challenging the system. A question the film further pursues is how many more of his kind are there? Will this style of education carry on after he is gone? “A major part of the film is driven by the concerns and worries of us filmmakers. We hope for Taiwan’s society to recognize this issue.” The director did not want to make the film simply about passion. “Passion works more like a wrapping. The more important things are our reflections on their passion.” He hopes for the audience to consider what they can do to make a difference.
Yu Chen-yen (left), who works in the U.S., returned to National Taiwan University to visit Professor Cheng. They have been concerned about how the professor’s ideals can carry on. (still/ Joint Entertainment International)
Professional distribution of labor for telling the story well
In the beginning, Lee Chia-hua wanted to use the film to dissect systemic issues in Taiwan’s industries and education. In the end, he listened to senior filmmakers and centered the film on the people, presenting to the audience the pressing issues surrounding them through the real stories of the film’s subjects. Compared with For More Sun, which was released ten years ago in the early days of Joint Entertainment International, For More Sun II had more budget, time, and space. The crew worked together to tell the story of the people well. All members of the crew pushed their talents to the limit on their jobs. In particular, the film’s editor Huang Yi-ling exerted herself to sift through nearly 400 hours of footage that spanned a decade to weave together a story that connected two different points in space and time, which ended up being a 100-minute film.
Moreover, in For More Sun II, the cinematography also offers many different perspectives. The director and the film’s two cinematographers, Lee Jong-wang and Yang Chung-ming, have different styles of visual storytelling. Therefore, besides constant discussions while working together during filming, the editor must shoulder the responsibility of unifying the filmmakers’ different takes on the story into one consistent voice. For original score, the film had Golden Melody Award-winner Liang Chi-hui as composer, which certainly elevated the film. Looking back, Lee Chia-hua felt fortunate to have found the perfect crew for the film. Although they at one point had a hard time adjusting to one another, it was also an important part of the process. He admitted that with one extra year, he could have done even better. Although he did not achieve his ideal results, he believed that he had done his best and delivered a film worthy of its subject matter.
For More Sun II focuses on the people, presenting pressing systemic issues to the audience through their real stories. Lin Yi-hsiang (middle) and Lin Song-ching (right) now work together at the same company, after their collaboration on the solar car team. (still/ Joint Entertainment International)
For More Sun II as a tribute to Taiwan; and the director’s other future projects
A test screening of For More Sun II was held at Joint Entertainment International in 2016, before its premiere at Golden Horse Film Festival. The cut used for the test screening was over one hour longer than the final version, with some structural issues, and Lee Chia-hua was worried about James Liu's reaction. However, Liu was moved to tears watching the version. “We did the right thing. We can consider a third film!” Lee Chia-hua was in turn moved beyond words. More to his relief, the wife of Professor Cheng, who had dedicated herself to supporting the professor despite his absence from the family when he worked with the car team, came to shake the director’s hand with smile of gratitude after the screening. Seeing her smile, Lee Chia-hua was convinced that all of their efforts were worthwhile. Lee also agreed with James Liu’s idea of a “gift” about the film, hoping that For More Sun II can boost the morale of Taiwan’s society.
Professor Cheng Jung-ho (left) and his wife saw the film together. Having dedicated herself to supporting her husband, Mrs. Cheng was happy to find that her sacrifice was worthwhile. (photo/ Joint Entertainment International)
Having witnessed the story of Professor Cheng and the team for two years, Lee Chia-hua also reflected on his own changes through his career. He has been a fan of cinema since childhood. However, because of circumstances, he studied advertising in university, only to find that he could not bring himself to help promote products that he did not like. In his junior year, director Yang Li-chou was invited to screen his documentary Highschool Yearbook at Lee’s department. Lee Chia-hua, who saw a documentary film for the first time, was amazed by this genre of filmmaking. After completing undergraduate studies, he went to Tainan National University of the Arts to pursue documentary filmmaking and has not turned back since. He said humbly that he could not claim to be a successful filmmaker, but he is certain that he is on the right path. Even though he had thoughts about giving up in the face of obstacles, working on For More Sun II with the participants greatly motivated him. “I thought I was a film fanatic when I was little. Now that I have come to know these people, I see that they are the real fanatics, and Taiwan needs more fanatics.” Lee Chia-hua is currently developing several projects, working on issues of justice and capital punishment, along with plans on dramatic screenplays.
[About the Director]
Lee Chia-hua has a bachelor’s degree from National Chengchi University Department of Advertising, a master’s degree from Graduate Institute of Studies in Documentary and Film Archiving, Tainan National University of the Arts, and a doctorate in Art Creation and Theory. He is currently an assistant professor at Chaoyang University of Technology Department of Communication Arts and an independent filmmaker. His film The Spirit of 8 (2003) received Special Mention in the New Asian Currents category at the 2005 Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival and Best Documentary at Taipei Film Festival. His recent films include The Beginning (2011), Guanghua the Old Train (unofficial) (2011), Sunflower Occupation (24 Days Without Sunlight) (2014), and For More Sun II (2017).