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Hey all, we had a great chat with director Arvin Chen, whose 2010 debut feature, Au Revoir Taipei was a festival hit.  Chenís follow up, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? tells of a husband and dad at odds with the truth of himself and how his long-denied feelings will affect those around him.  Itís a warm-hearted story handled with humour and care.

Dig it!

 

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

Arvin Chen

 

The Lady Miz Diva:  Where did the idea for the Will You Still Love me Tomorrow? come from?

Arvin Chen:  I knew that I wanted to make a film about families.  I had seen a lot of Japanese films that dealt with families and what makes a family, and I wanted to put my own twist on that. How it turned into a story about this man coming out started with conversations with a gay friend of mine living in Taiwan, and he was telling me about people he knew who were gay men being in a straight situation for years.

 

LMD:  It felt like Kismet to see the film when I did; I learned only days before that Taipei is one of the most gay-friendly cities in Asia.

AC:  Itís probably the most open city.  What we wanted to show in the film, too, was that itís a weird dichotomy in that itís still kind of conservative when it comes to families, but the city itself is quite progressive and liberal.

 

LMD:  Besides the friend you mentioned, did you speak to anyone else whoíd been in Weichungís situation?

AC:  My friend that told me about it, heís a lot more open, I think.  He doesnít have the same issues.  I didnít really talk to anyone that had specifically, probably because I would think anyone who had that kind of life would be in a kind of secluded, closeted life.  I met a couple of women who had been in the situation where they found out that their first boyfriends or even that their husbands were gay.

 

LMD:  How did they take it?  Were their responses anything like the wife in the film?

AC:  For most of them, it had been years since it happened.  They tended to be not too bitter, it was just the initial hurt.  But I had heard from a couple of women something kind of weird; they said it had been less painful than if it had been another woman.

 

LMD:  You said you initially wanted to make a film about families, but regarding the gay aspect; it is not a widely discussed subject in Asia and some places still debate whether homosexuality actually exists.  Was part of the motivation for making the film to promote dialog?

AC:  I wasnít trying to do something that was too overtly social or political.  I think its part of the movie was that itís not supposed to be so much making a statement, as just saying ĎWell, this is the kind of situation and this character is probably like this in real life - although our characters are kind of like funnier versions of those characters.í  When we do Q&Aís, especially in Taiwan - right now gay marriage rights are an issue in Taiwan - there are people who ask me if I support it.  If you watch the movie, pretty much what Iím saying is, you donít have to have the traditional family structure to make it work, because, in fact, the traditional family structure is not working for these characters.  I try to not to be too preachy about it, but obviously, thereís a viewpoint in this movie.  So yeah, I could say itís something to be discussed.

 

LMD:  Knowing there is that conservative viewpoint across Asia, were you worried about creating controversy?

AC:  Itís funny cos I think one of the benefits of being seen at festivals, especially if itís outside of Taiwan, our film goers are usually a little bit more worldly, or international, or theyíve seen a lot of film, which also means that they probably have a bit more open viewpoint about culture in general.  But I think even if itís seen in conservative places such as Korea, we wonít have that problem because I think the people whoíll watch it are actually the people whoíve seen different types of movies and so are a little more culturally open anyway.  And in Taiwan, I think some audiences didnít see it at all just because it had the gay aspect to it.  Iíve had gay friends who told me that itís almost like a gay film for straight audiences.  I didnít think it was going to be a controversial movie; to me it was just the story about a family, in which one of the characters was gay and obviously heís dealing with a long-delayed coming out.  But to me itís as equally a gay romance as much as it is a straight romance, showing those silly romantic issues.

 

LMD:  Why does Weichung have these feelings now all of a sudden, when he seemed to be going through his life well for the past decade?

AC:  I had thought of it about being sort of a midlife crisis, but a very different midlife crisis.  To me, I felt like this was a guy who had oppressed who he is for so long, his midlife crisis mightíve been longing for who he was, and who he was was obviously not a straight man.  I thought of a few triggers where that might happen, using my experiences and other peopleís experiences, like his sisterís getting married, which is a huge thing in his life, his wife wants to have a second son, heís completely devoted at work.  All these things are a reminder that his life is coming to a crossroads, and then all these things happen that heís really going to be revealed for who he used to be.  So itís kind of like a midlife crisis.

 

LMD:  I loved the breakaway fantasy sequences like the boss flying away on the blue umbrella and the musical number.  How did you judge how many and where to place those moments without losing the narrative or making it too whimsical?

AC:  Yeah, it was a tough balance for me.  Some people have told me there arenít enough of them, then some people have told me theyíre too distracting. {Laughs} It was hard to come up with a perfect balance, but I thought it would be nice to see a little bit of what the characters might be thinking in their heads.  Even though theyíre everyday characters and their world is a kind of boring, mundane, everyday middle class kind of world.  I thought that at least once we should just see into their minds a little bit. So I took their most emotional moments; for Weichung, it would be the first time he kissed {his love interest}, or for his wife, it would be when sheís really falling apart, for the sister, it would be when sheís gone nuts and locked herself in the apartment.

 

LMD:  Speaking of the musical sequence.  What was it about The Shirellesí song, Will You Still Love me Tomorrow? that made you want to base the film around it?  What does it mean to the characters?

AC:  Well, originally it was just that I was trying to look for a song, preferably a female song that would capture the tone not only of the movie, but of also what she {the wife} had to go through.  It follows the romantic theme of the guy sheís fallen in love with may not love her anymore.  But then I didnít want it to be a sad song; which is why looked at sixtiesí pop songs in which when you listen to the melody, the arrangement of the song sounds so poppy, but that the lyrics are achingly sad.  I was looking at girl groups like The Shirelles and The Marvelettes, and I thought wouldnít it be funny to give her like a version of The Shirelles, to have two or three of these accompanying singers for harmonies, then I worked backwards and I thought that in her work life, she would have these three co-workers.  This is actually totally true that a lot of office workers still wear traditional uniforms; in a traditional office job like a pharmaceutical company, people still sometimes wear uniforms to work.  So it was a little way to play with the idea of the coworkers becoming The Shirelles.  Then the song is about her falling in love and giving herself to this guy, but she doesnít know if the guyís gonna continue love her.

 

LMD:  The palette of your films is gorgeous you use very rich, shiny, saturated colours.  Does the look come from your own visual sense or from collaboration with your cinematographer or production designer?

AC:  I happened to have the same production designer {Mei Ching Huang} for those two movies.  I think itís a big part of what we like to do.  It helps that weíre in Taipei.  I think a lot of people know what Taipei looks like; that itís an Asian city, so we like to play around with what our version of Taipei is.  For Au Revoir Taipei, we said our version of Taipei is gonna be all night and all colours; the romance of what nighttime Taipei feels like.  It is kind of like that at night, it is very colourful, but we just amplified it a little bit, especially with the story of the young kids falling in love and the gangsters and all that.  When it came to this movie, we thought what if it was more of a middle-class everyday Taipei?  More kind of muted, more soft.  I think part of that is that the production designer and I, we like movies that have a little bit of abstraction, theyíre not one hundred-percent docu-realism.  We always think of it as a way to play with the world a little bit more than a movie where itís supposed to be a one hundred-percent realistic version of the world.

 

LMD:  Can you talk about directing Lawrence Ko who plays Stephen, Weichungís gay friend in this film and Hong, the bumbling, would-be gangster in Au Revoir Taipei?  Heís hilarious in both roles with this innate sense of timing.

AC:  Heís great.  Heís a good friend of mine, as well.  He began as a child actor.  Heís been lots of indie films and a lot of Asian films.  He was in Lust, Caution.  Heís kind of like a chameleon.  Heís a pretty weird guy, to be honest.  He doesnít have any inhibitions; he just a kind of a guy that can go into any movie and heíll just turn himself into whatever the character is.  Heís not gay, but almost everyone assumes that heís gay because of this movie.  I give him very little direction; he actually takes a lot of time to figure out how heís going to become this character.  Heís also very easy to direct, because you can tell him to try all these things and heíll just try them and sometimes they donít work, but heís so malleable.  Heís got a weird comic timing thatís really his own.

 

LMD:  You mentioned that people now assume that Mr. Ko is gay because of the movie.  I wonder if because of that possibility, any of the male stars were hesitant to play a gay character?

AC:  I think actors, especially, theyíre around so many gay men and women in entertainment - even in Asia, when you talk to the actors, like Richie Ren, heís a pop star, heíll say, ďIíve known so many gay friends that Iíve worked with in my twenty-five years in entertainment.Ē  It never occurred to him that he shouldnít take this role just because the character is gay.  I think itís a pretty great thing about these actors that the sexual identity of the characters never was an issue.  I think the bigger issues wouldíve been that they didnít want to offend any of their gay friends or gay audiences with their characterisations.  So they were almost sensitive in the other way, in which they were totally willing to play their characters, they were just afraid they wouldnít do it justice.

 

LMD:  Keeping that in mind, why were most of the gay characters effeminate?  Were you conscious of stereotypes when creating those characters?

AC:  Itís a tough balance, especially as itís a comedy.  Like Lawrence Koís character, heís much more effeminate, much more flashy.  It was hard to figure out if we should tone him down more.  He was actually based on a friend of mine who is almost like that.  At some point, I thought that the whole point was that the character is heís totally himself and if people thought, ĎWell, why is he so effeminate?í I would say, ĎWell, look at Richie Renís character who I donít think is effeminate.í  You can have effeminate gay characters.  You can have characters who are repressed and not effeminate.  I was trying to find a little bit of balance, but even I think maybe Lawrence is a little bit of a stereotype, but then at the same time, the whole point is that heís the contrast to Weichung.  If he wasnít so campy, he wouldnít make Weichung so uncomfortable.  This is not the best situation, but if those four characters werenít flashier and campier, or a little sunnier, then it wouldnít be so funny that the straight guy thatís hanging out with them would have no idea that theyíre gay.  Itís a little bit of trying to find justification in terms of the comedy or in terms of the contrast.  So far no gay friends of mine have told me they were offended, but I also know that probably that part of the storyline, especially Lawrence, does veer into camp.

 

LMD:  Your story is very interesting as someone born and raised in the US of Taiwanese parents, who went to Taiwan to make films.  What was behind that choice?  Was Taiwan simply a more welcoming to new filmmakers?

AC:  For sure there was something about Asian cinema at the time, especially in places like Taiwan or China, which was more exciting to me as a young filmmaker.  Where you could get into that world a little bit easier.  In LA, Hollywood, the American field, I think is so competitive: Itís still hard for a younger or first time filmmaker to break into.  I think that was more of a practical reason.  Another thing is I grew up in the suburbs in California and there wasn't a whole lot that was inspiring about where I grew up.   So many first time filmmakers tell stories about themselves or the world that they grew up in.  I really canít give you anything interesting about that world.  In a way, I kind of adopted Asia or Taiwan as a world that I wanted to make movies about because {making films about} my own background was tougher just because it was such an idyllic, kind of perfect place to grow up in.

 

LMD:  Your first feature, Au Revoir Taipei was executive produced by Wim Wenders.  What did having him on board teach you about filmmaking?

AC:  Well, heís such an artist.  To be around someone whoís already made so many films and is so accomplished, to see his attitude towards making films; heís so relaxed, easygoing and very generous as a person to younger filmmakers.  He came to Taiwan right before we shot Au Revoir Taipei.  He did a lot of Q&As with the students and a lot of promotional stuff to help us.  I think the way he interacts with people who love his films and the way he talks to critics and journalists, it shows you that you can be this kind of artist and he didnít seem crazy.  We talked about the films heís made and how he looks at film and how he feels he always needs to learn something new before he makes a new movie.  His approach to things was very soothing and calming.  He helped me not worry too much about my one film.  Itís just one of hopefully a lot more and hopefully I can find this balance of life and art that he has.

 

LMD:  I understand that the Taiwanese director, Edward Yang was a very big influence on you.

AC:  Right.  Actually, they have very different attitudes about filmmaking, which was very interesting.  Edward was a like a pure, crazy artist.  When he made movies, he was so obsessed and methodical and precise and he knows exactly what he wants.  I think that why his movies are so carefully crafted.  And then Wimís approach to movies is much more open; he doesnít storyboard, he works a lot with the actors.  So it was interesting.  Both of them are great amazing filmmakers and so revered, but the way they approach filmmaking was so different.  So also that was very inspiring to me at the time to think, ĎWell, thereís no real right way to do it because obviously they both make great movies and theyíre both great directors and yet they arenít the same kind of people and they donít make movies the same way.í

 

LMD:  Au Revoir Taipei was so well received when it screened at festivals.  Did that add to the pressure or give you more confidence or freedom with this second film?

AC:  There was a lot of pressure.  I donít think Au Revoir Taipei was an amazing film.  I think thereís good things and bad things about it, but it was overall received pretty well, especially for a first feature.  I was actually pretty worried about it going into my second one:  I was kind of psyching myself a lot, I thought, ĎShould I do the same things, cos people liked these things that I used?í  I got really worried about following it up, but it didnít do so well that I was so overconfident and I knew I could do even better.  So it took me a long time to make my second movie mostly because I was kind of caught in between a little bit of success and then still knowing that it wasnít perfect yet.  I did know that I didnít want to make a movie that was similar.  I didnít want to make another movie with young characters; I wanted to make a slightly different world.  I think after having made Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?, Iím a little bit less worried about what the next movie is gonna be in terms of content.  Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?, it didnít actually do better than Au Revoir Taipei, but I think at least it proved that it wasnít a total fluke.  At least now I know thereís certain things I can try to do different.  It may not be better or it could be better, but I can try to do different things and itís no big deal.  Whereas I think after the first movie, I worried about what the second oneís gonna be.

Other directors and even Wim have told me that the second one is a lot harder to get out and once you make the second one you just move on.  Youíre not second-guessing yourself as much as after the first one.

 

LMD:  What is next for Arvin Chen?

AC:  There are a couple of projects that Iím working on; one is a road trip movie set in China with Taiwanese characters, housewives.  And then there is another more artsy movie that I want to do in Hong Kong thatís a little bit like Before Midnight or Before Sunrise.  Very much like a pure romance, almost no comedy.  The movie that looks like it will probably be my next one is a movie thatís set in the US about modern immigration and thatís more of a comedy.

 

LMD:  Will that be made with an Asian company or a US one?

AC:  Right now, itís with Ö Do you know a Hong Kong director called Pang Ho-Cheung?

 

LMD:  Yes, I interviewed him at the New York Asian Film festival.

AC:  Heís is the executive producer of that project, but weíll shoot in the US.  Itíll be an interesting collaboration.

 

LMD:  Are you interested in making a Hollywood film?

AC:  I would love to.  I also have no delusions.  I have friends that work in Hollywood, I know itís really tough.  Especially with the movies that Iíve made so far, theyíre a little smaller and theyíre very much my movies.  I know thatís very hard to do in Hollywood unless youíre someone very established; someone whoís really earned it.  So I think to get into Hollywood, I might be disappointed or it might take a little bit more time.  Itís tough.

 

LMD:  Coming from America and making films in Asia, do producers and other filmmakers kind of shake their heads when you suggest something that might not have been done before, or if you show some kind of sensibility that theyíre not used to?

AC:  You know, itís so weird, I live in the middle of that, I think.  Thereís some people who I think like the fact that I have kind of a western take on things and there are people who donít like it.  And that goes for audiences and other filmmakers; I get probably equally as much praise as criticism for the fact that my films arenít purely Taiwanese.  So, for me I think Iíve given up on trying to find the right answer.

 

LMD:  What would you like Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? to say to audiences?

AC:  To me, itís actually not either a gay or straight message.  I think struggling to find love balanced out with life is something that all these characters go through, and that people should just keep that in mind when they think about someone who is gay or straight; that itís not easy for anyone.  Itís a very simple message, actually.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

January 16th, 2014

 

 

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