TNC Film Interview | 2020
"Originally, it’s based on my personal experience. Like that bridge scene at the end. That’s the year before I wrote this story. I was circled by a bunch of bullies on a basketball court and I was alone. My parents saw that and broke into the circle to fight for me."
Yan is an illegal second child born during the One-Child policy. To avoid government punishment, Yan's parents hid their oldest daughter in the countryside and raised Yan as a girl. Now a young adult, Yan struggles with his gender identity and being treated as an outcast in a conservative society. His sole escape is drifting his father's old taxi through abandoned parking lots.
Hi Hanxiong thank you for talking to TNC, how are you holding up during the lockdown?
I’m good in my apartment. Thank you for asking and having me. Hope you are doing well as well. I have been using the lockdown to read, watch films and write.
Do you think this time will provide you with new creative inspiration?
I think that just having the time to really think is a benefit. But the inspiration might not be necessary about the virus itself. Watching the news at home still feels that there is a distance between you and what’s happening in the world. But I can reflect more about myself, relationships and life in general. But I still hope to go out and travel to experience the normal life.
Did you have any apprehensions about making a film that deals with such an important issue in China?
Well, I think the starting point should always be personal, instead of issues. Like this film is inspired by my real experiences, similar to the bridge scene. I want to make a film about how Chinese families express their love and feelings and issues that either happened to me personally or to my friends so that I’m familiar with what I’m talking about.
During your research what did you discover anything new about the One Child Policy that you hadn't known previously?
It’s a complicated thing and I don’t want to comment on the policy itself. I will say that my film is not about the policy, instead about how the family was influenced at the time. About the conservative ideology of the importance of having a son, the gender preference. Like the protagonist in the film is inspired by a real story during my research.
"If you truly love cinema and telling stories, you should give it your all to make it happen."
Can you tell me a little bit about your latest film Drifting, how did this come about?
Originally, it’s based on my personal experience. Like that bridge scene at the end. That’s the year before I wrote this story. I was circled by a bunch of bullies on a basketball court and I was alone. My parents saw that and broke into the circle to fight for me. That experience really inspired me and I simply wanted to make a film about love between two generations in China. Then, I just want to tell some of my experience growing up as a single child in the family. While I was writing, I heard the story about a family that disguised their boy as a girl growing up. And that really intrigued me. I went on researching more, and found a lot similar stories like that.
Some families simply wanted a boy and dressed the girl as a boy, and sometimes are the opposite. So I wanted to share that story and combine my own experiences. I struggled finding the right person to play the role. It had to be convincing, and not through acting. I couldn’t find any actors I liked through auditions. So I started to go for street-casting looking at people on the street, bus and subway. It was kind of awkward, but I had to do it. I ended up finding my actor on a subway. He has never acted before. He and his personal life experience really contributed to the role, and he gave me a lot of inspiration for the role and the story. But I also wanted to make a film for younger audiences. It’s a generational thing and I want people who are around the same age as me or younger to enjoy the film. Then, some of my friends are car drifters. There was a time they put me in a drifting car and I felt that I was on the edge of being in control and out of control. It was a feeling of freedom. And my friends told me about what they feel when they drift cars and why they drift cars. I feel it’s a fascinating and generational thing that the protagonist could really connect to.
What was the most challenging scene for you to film?
I think it might be the drifting scene because the actor has to really drift the car, there is no way to fake it. We have the stunt and trainers protecting him on set, and we had long training before the filming to make him well prepared. But drifting at night still feels scary. But luckily we have a great team of drifting trainers and stunts that guaranteed everyone’s safety. But the scary emotions and expressions from the dad and mom are real and were captured on the camera in the film.
What would you say has been the biggest lesson you have taken from making Drifting?
I think the biggest lesson is to embrace the accident on set and don’t limit yourself to your script and plan you made before production. That also really makes filming fun. Like the herd of sheep was a total surprise on set, and we just captured that, and I really liked that image. And allow the actors to contribute to your role and give them some freedom especially if they are non-actors. Building trust between you and your actors is very important.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
Yes, from a very young age, I just enjoyed watching films and picturing what kind of films I want to make all the time.
How much has your approach and style of your films changed since your debut film?
It changes through my understanding of the world and cinema. I made a zombie film when I was in college. It's a completely different thing. But I will say later on when I came to the U.S. to live and study, and to see and experience more, I started to think more about how to express my voice through cinema. You definitely can tell a similar style within my recent films.
Has there been any advice you've been given that has really helped you as you started out?
I think being passionate and consistent about filmmaking is very important. If you truly love cinema and telling stories, you should give it your all to make it happen. Also, I once worked with Francis Coppola on set when I was at school, and he mentioned that it’s very important to be close to your actors on set. It helps me to really think about the relationship between the director and actors.
Do you have any tips or advice you would offer an emerging filmmaker?
I think just tell more personal stories. A film that is too general is boring. I think when the story is personal, you have more passion and confidence, and it has more details that people can relate. I sometimes think that it’s the small details that make a film believable and special.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this short Drifting?
I hope people can understand and appreciate the hidden efforts that the parents and their children are making, even if it's small and emotionless. Like in a lot of Chinese families, people are not good at expressing love through words. But when the situation comes, your family are the ones who are willing to sacrifice themselves and fight for you.