Born in 1988, the Chinese filmmaker partially grew up in Canada, studied cinema at UCLA and is now working in China.  He was in Udine to present his first movie.

Asian Movie Pulse met him on the occasion of his filmWhen Love Blossoms screening at Udine Far East Film Festival 21 and we talked about theatre, Chinese society and his new project.

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How did the project of “When Love Blossoms” come to life?

It took almost three years: working on the script, pitching, figuring out how we will proceed. The biggest challenge was actually the pre-production bit and raising the money. But I am very lucky that I found Longma Entertainment, which is my production company. It was also quite a challenge to work with different people than what I was used to. Because it is my first feature. As a student, you’re working with classmates. This time, I was working in the industry, with other professionals, and everybody has a different opinion, although the DP was my long-time friend.

For me, the journey is still long. Because it is my first film, I made a lot of mistakes along the way and I am still learning as I go.

You mentioned the DOP was your friend, how did you work the cinematography?

The DP (NB: Wang Chen) is actually my former classmate, we studied at UCLA together. This was a first feature for both of us. We spend years together, in school and after graduation, watching films and talking about them. We have a solid collaboration. It’s very time efficient when we communicate. Overall, for the movie’s cinematography, we wanted to keep some parts as realistic as possible, and for some parts, we wanted to push the emotional side. So we worked on the cinematography accordingly.

Why did you choose to use and base the movie on Zou Jingzhi’s play?

The play it is based on is a Chinese contemporary play. In the original play, it’s only two characters, and the story happens in one room, in one night. And the play is about a woman who goes through a break-up and wants to commit suicide. Her true identity is that she is from the county side in China, but then she really wants to be a city girl, with that projected idea of a city girl. Her foundation is not solid. And then we have this delivery boy, who is also from the country side, but he is true to himself – in the sense that he is not trying to be somebody else. The country side philosophy works better, and in the end, it is what took her out of her depression.

We can actually see the play in the movie. But theatre and movies are two different experiences. How did you manage to handle both?

They are quite different experiences. Well, theatre was a new thing for me. I wasn’t trained in theatre, although I had watched plays. I think that shooting this film, I was learning as I went. I was working with Longma Entertainment, which is the production company. They are experienced in theatre, so we were communicating all the time, and I learnt a lot from professionals.

There is a painting of Klimt, The Kiss, in the play stage. Why?

In the painting, there is a girl embraced by a guy. That is kind of one of the ideas the girl in the play has for her life: she wants to have a love experience and she wants to experience all the glamour with it; so, she has that painting in her house.

We can see a social gap described in the film. What did you want to convey with the movie, regarding the social gap in nowadays China?

Beijing is a very diverse city. Around 80% of its population are migrants coming from other cities and other provinces from China. You can especially see that during the Lunar New Year:  Beijing is pretty quiet then and after the New Year, it becomes crowded again. People from all over China come to Beijing trying to make a better living, making more money to have a better life than in their hometowns. That is the background of the movie. More specifically, for the delivery guys, they don’t make that much money but they are a really important part of the city nowadays. In Beijing nowadays, you order everything from Taobao (NB: Chinese biggest online shopping website, owned by Alibaba group). You can actually live without leaving your apartment. So, the delivery boys make everything possible.

In the movie, the characters are all a bit alienated. Do you think that it is something inevitable for migrants coming to work in the big cities? Or is it more related to the human condition?

City life is quirk and rushed and people are further apart. It is easy to get depressed. It’s not like before, there’s a lot of depression. But I think it mainly has to do with the economical level. On a good month, delivery boys probably make RMB 10.000. But then to make that much money, they have to work a lot, 12 hours a day. And maybe deliver 200-300 parcels. I have experienced that. When I was working on the script, I was living in a dorm with them. It is very tiring, they wake up before the sun rises, they have to run upstairs-downstairs all day long. And they make one to two RMB per parcel, with the delivery. So, I would say it is more linked to the income level. Because you can come to Beijing from a different part of China, but if you are making enough money you can live very differently.

Xia, the main female character, is living with her boyfriend. He is pretty horrible with her. But we never see a close-up of him. Is it voluntary?

It was a creative choice when we were shooting because I wanted to focus on the relationship between the delivery boy and the girl. By showing her boyfriend, you are taking away too much attention from their relationship. That is why I decided not to show him.

Why does Xia stay with him and hope to have him back?

I think it has to do with a sense of security. Even though the foundation of the relationship is not good, as a migrant worker in Beijing, you need somebody you can relate to, even if the guy is a jerk. It is still a home she can go back to. The city is very cold for her, and she desperately needs a little bit of warmth, even if he might not be the right guy. It has more to do with her insecurities.

If you look at both the couples (on stage and in ‘real life’), the woman is the receiver of romantic love, the man is the giver. Why is that?

It is the theme of the original play. It might be different nowadays because women are strong, but years ago there was still that idea a Chinese girl would be looking for a boyfriend, and she would be expecting him to be the giver. But I think nowadays things are changing and women are better at many things (laugh). But maybe girls are looking more for emotional support from guys.

In the movie, Qiang, the delivery guy, is the one who wants a romantic relationship though

He is thinking “Am I good enough for her?” He doesn’t know if he can provide a good future for her. Also, in China, when a guy marries a girl, he has to pay the bride’s family a whole bunch of money, as a gift. So, the more responsible guys will think “I should provide this girl a better life”. The delivery guy really loves her but he is too shy to communicate that, he is always wondering what he can bring to her.

How would you describe the different psychology of the two main characters?

The girl is more ambitious than the boy. She comes to the city, she sells houses every day. She sells expensive houses all day and she really wants a home for herself. She jumps at opportunities, which sometimes traps her. The boy is more poetic, in some sense. He likes drawing and he is okay living his life to make a daily living. He is okay. He develops different aspects of his spiritual life watching the rehearsals of the play. In that sense, I’d say he is in a heathier state of mind.

 What would you want people to get from the movie?

I want people to experience warmth and hope. The girl experiences a lot of unfortunate events, but when she leaves, she can look back to her memories and think “ok, there is somebody there who cares and loves me as a person”. I wanted to express that even in the most unfortunate situation, there is always a bit of light.

You grew up in Canada, studied in the USA, work in China. Where would be the next step?

Currently, for my particular situation, there are more opportunities in China. But eventually, I would like to do more international films, at least see if they are some opportunities. But I definitely still want to make two-three more films in China. Beijing is a good city to support filmmakers financially, which is very important.

Do you already have a new project?

I am working on a new project, it is also a romantic story. This time, it’s more playing on the cultural differences between the two characters. The girl is from mainland China and the boy in an American-born Chinese. Through my experiences, I have met these two types of people and it was really interesting. I am writing the scenario with my wife.

You have presented your movie to different film festivals. Did you see any differences in the audience’s reaction?

I have presented my movie at different film festivals: Pingyao, Beverly Hills, two film festivals in Beijing, and Udine. The audience here is very warm; the reaction is warmer here in Udine. I am very lucky (laugh).