In recent years, China has begun to regulate online BL (Boys’ Love, a fiction that depicts homosexuality). The government intends to reduce the social consequences of homosexuality.
In China under the communist party, freedom in the general sense, such as personal feelings and beliefs, is not infinitely given to individuals. Moreover, especially in Asia, society is not yet ready to be tolerant of LGBTQ.
Director Zhang Wei came to the 23rd Busan International Film Festival last October with his film “The Rib.” This movie tells a story about a sexual minority (Transgender) who grew up in a Christian family in China. If you look at the basic concept of this movie, you might be worried about whether it would be risky to handle a story that could be considered as subversive or harmful to society. However, the director stated, “I only make movies that show the society of the time.”
What inspired you to start this movie?
In 2014, a devoted son appeared on a Chinese broadcast programme. He told his story, saying that his dream was to do a “sex-change operation.” When I heard the story at first, I became interested in his life, and it made me make this movie. Transsexual surgery is legitimate in China.
In Asia in general, the public is not yet ready to accept the sexual minorities, and many people discriminate against them or exhibit strong prejudice towards them. Is it the same in China or do you think the attitudes towards sexual minorities is more generous than the standard of Asia?
The public view is more or less similar to other countries. There are various people in China, so there will be different opinions. I think Asian society shares a similar situation.
The father of this movie is a Christian believer. Are you a Christian?
Were you able to understand the characters when you produced this title?
Although they have a different sexual orientation, I respect them, because they are also part of our society. When I filmed this movie, actually some of the staff were members of sexual minorities. Some of them have lived openly , others have not. The more I talk with them, the more I can understand them.
Did you worry about the subject of this movie?
I think the most important thing is love. God says to love everything. It is the religion to emphasise love, embracing people no matter of their sexual preferences.
So how was the reaction from your Christian community?
Of course, not everyone agrees. There was a real pastor among our staff. Participation in the film itself cannot be seen as agreement on the subject. Instead, he opposed it, but he also participated in the movie in the desire to express his opposition reasonably.
Did you ever experience any issues during or after the shooting?
In our film, there was a part shot in an actual church. The local people were not aware of our film in detail, but we had to edit and remove some scenes.
This film is black and white, was there any specific reason to choose this approach?
Black and white film shows the story in its most fundamental way. I want the audience to have more room for interpretation on their own. However, in the scene that shows the sex exchange that is the biggest wish of the main character, the scene is converted into colour. The intense red dress is set up to stress the greatest wish of the character.
Then why did you make the dress in red?
I want to show the most traditional form of the dress. The colour of the dress is close to Chinese red, and the design of the costume reminds the traditional Chinese garment, Qi-pao. This is not very modern or extraordinarily beautiful, but I just wanted to picture the most normal feminine style.
In fact, until the son reveals himself, it is hard to guess he is a sexual minority.
Their life is not too different from the “ordinary” people. However, when they go to their peer group, their feature (or character) becomes more visible.
How did you feel when you first encountered them?
I prepared the movie for about five years and met these people in various locations such as California, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Since I am a Christian, it took me a while to fully accept it. In California, however, I was able to understand as I attended a same-sex wedding and met more people.
Preparation for this movie is quite long; can you feel the changes within society?
Yes, most of the people in this movie are not professional actors. I can feel the social changes when I watch them.
It seems that your filmography does not deal with easy-to-understand subjects
In fact, it is not a matter of easy or challenging. I just let the audience think more and further. In that sense, I am sorry for that, but I cannot say I only choose hard and complicated themes.