China, 2003. Society is restless with excitement; everyone is eager to prove themselves. The Internet has yet to take over. Newspapers are king. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed journalism intern Han Dong decides to change the fate of 100 million people with a single article. This film is inspired by true events.
Hello Wang Jing thank you for talking to The New Current, have these very difficult times offered you some additional creative inspiration?
Far from inspiration, but the events of the past six months have given me more certainty about the film. We finished the shooting of the film in January 2020. After watching all the materials and making the work plan in Beijing, Matthew, the editor and I said goodbye to each other and went back home to spend the Chinese New Year with our family. Unexpected, neither of us would see each other again until the film was made.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 makes us trapped. He is in Taipei, and I am in Hainan, two islands 1,300 kilometers apart in the Pacific Ocean. Thanks to modern technology, we did most of the editing on the remote Internet. The pictures are translated into code and transmitted over undersea cables. Looking at the map, I would think, distance is not a bad thing, it gives us some space and time for calm thinking.
The so-called "infectious disease", the prejudice and discrimination between people, and the difficult communication and understanding in the film, at first, I just thought these themes were valid was due to the story structure of the film. I never thought that the changes in the news and social atmosphere I saw during the epidemic made me a little confused about the boundary between drama and reality. Every once in a while, When I see a piece of news, I send it to Matthew and say to him, "Isn't that the scene we cut yesterday?" There was a silence, and then a reconsideration of the importance of the scene.
It was these happenings that convinced me that The Best is Yet to Come was more than just a nostalgic tale set in 2003.
Ahead of a major festival like Venice do you ever get nervous about screening one of your films?
After replying to your questions tonight, I must go to have a good sleep, because the film's premiere is two days later. I guess I will be too nervous to sleep in the next two days, and then go to the premiere with a pair of dark circles under my eyes.
I'm a self-doubting person, and making this film is a constant process of trying to assuage those self-doubts through feedback. Fortunately, everyone around me still loves the film so far. Hopefully, on the day of the premiere, there will be less self-doubt.
"This is a story about how one cannot be defeated, about the spirit of doubt...
Congratulations on having your debut feature film Bu zhi bu xiu (The Best is Yet to Come) selected for the 77th Venice Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be part of this year’s festival?
After a brief moment of euphoria at the news that The Best is Yet to Come had been nominated for the Venice Film Festival, we in Beijing were faced with a very difficult decision: Whether to go or not? How to get to? How did you get back? It would be incredible to be able to tell these dilemmas to people who have never experienced an epidemic.
Fortunately, our extraordinary production company and producers solved all the problems. We will be in Venice because we are eager to communicate, to see the expression on everyone's face when the lights come on in the cinema, to hear their suggestions or questions. Film has always been one of the ways to communicate, but through it all, it has become extraordinary.
While in high school, I learned about the diversity of the world through VHS and DVDS. The pictures and sounds are far more vivid than the text in the book. I haven't been to the Deserts of Africa, or the countryside of Brazil, let alone New York, but those movies make a child feel connected to the world.
No one wants to be trapped, but if one day we have to face separation, I hope there will be movies that let us know each other.
Bu zhi bu xiu (The Best is Yet to Come) is also nominated for the 2020 Discovery Award at TIFF, did you imagine you would get such recognition for your debut film?
It is a custom in China, when the last day of shooting is over, we will organize a wrap party. Sometimes the atmosphere can lead the person who strays into it to think it's a wedding.
That day I was heckled onto the stage and everyone was waiting for me to say a few words. I held the microphone and looked down at my colleagues and did not know where to start.
"Thank you for helping me make this movie. I don't know if it's a good movie, I don't know if it's a hit movie, but I do know that we made a very 'serious' movie together..." That was how I really felt.
Ms. Giovanna Fulvi of TIFF used "This timely debut…"to describe the film, "timely" is the right word here, it means a lot. It's not me to decide what kind of recognition the film is getting, no one ever imagined what we are going through in real life. All I can do is make the movie a little better, with as much seriousness as I can.
Can you tell me a little bit about Bu zhi bu xiu (The Best is Yet to Come), what was the inspiration behind your latest film?
In 2003, a young man who came to Beijing from a small city in the north, an "idealist", stuck to his values in the face of constant setbacks, longed to become a journalist, and tried to change the fate of nearly 100 million people with a report after his dream came true. This is the story that "The Best is Yet to Come" tells.
This is a story about how one cannot be defeated, about the spirit of doubt (including doubt of the established order and self-doubt), and about the right and courage to say no.
It all started with the chance to meet some of the most influential journalists of that era, who lived through the golden age of print media and. As the times have changed, they are now mostly resigned to the torrent of the Internet flowing in new directions.
Recording reality has always been the most important existence in my aesthetic system. A film, from the perspective of a journalist, is a natural way to see the society, the emotional changes experienced by the living bodies in the society, and the past era to take care of the present.
I wrote the script following the life experience of Mr. Han Fudong, because his growth experience was the most representative and dramatic among many journalists I met -- a small town youth who had nothing and became one of the most important journalists in China only by his warm blood and courage -- which belonged to the unique story of that era. It was the "age of ambition," a time of rising tides, possibilities, hopes for a better tomorrow, a better world, a belief in change, the power of the individual.
I am eager to depict that era, because many of the issues that have been repeatedly discussed are no longer relevant today. In the era of consumption, we are more focused on how we feel in the moment. When I was in high school, Kurt Cobain was my spiritual icon, and the words "It's better to burn out than fade away" he wrote at the end of his life have long been my motto. I'm not sure if this view of life can be understood by young people today, but It's a big part of why I wanted to make this film.
What were the challenges you faced making Bu zhi bu xiu (The Best is Yet to Come)?
Change, which is changing so fast.
When I was preparing for the film, I agonised over how to present the urban landscape of Beijing 17 years ago. I tried to leave Beijing and find an alternative city, but the more I traveled, the more I found that Beijing was irreplaceable. The city is the heart of China. It was urbanised in the 1980s and 1990s, and nowhere else can you find the highly consistent, Soviet-style high-rise apartments lined up along the second Ring Road. The city has always been a magnet for young people living in the country, attracting both the movie "Han Dong" and me when I was 20.
The period depicted in the film was the peak of China's rapid development, and the people living here embraced this rapid change with a cheerful attitude towards the future. In an incredible example, a scene we had chosen for a suburban neighbourhood was so quickly and thoroughly renovated in just two months of preparation that when I stood in the scene again, I could hardly recognise it.
But it would be selfish to be discouraged by such a change. Finally, I decided to face this difficulty and shoot the main body of the film in Beijing. Shooting in Beijing also made me constantly recall the little bits and pieces when I first came to this city, and those small emotions should have been part of this film.
Did you have any apprehensions about making a debut film based on true events?
No worries, and these real stories can make my creation more confident. After graduating from film school, I started my career as an advertising and documentary filmmaker. During that time, I fell in love with documentaries, because I found that if there were heavenly gods, they were the best writers. Real life is always more complicated and wonderful than a movie story, and you can't deny its truth.
I often recall a moment when I was filming a documentary in Shanghai on Chinese New Year's Eve in 2010. In a five-square-meter bungalow on the outskirts of Shanghai, a migrant worker, his wife and children sit in front of a television set -- we've been filming him for a long time, working alone in Shanghai cleaning the outer walls of the city's tallest skyscraper -- and it's a rare family reunion. The child kept changing channels with the remote control, but that night, all the Chinese TV stations were broadcasting the same "New Year party”.
We just hid aside to shoot, a yellow light bulb on the roof, connected directly to a wire, hung in the middle of the room, illuminated everything trivial. Suddenly an idol appeared on the stage. The father stopped the child from changing the channel all the time. We waited for the idol to appear all night.
As the music began, she sang, "When I think of you, you are in the sky; when I think of you, you are in front of me..." The air froze. Although the girl was singing a love song, I knew that the family in front of the camera must be embracing each other with the song in their hearts.
It was difficult for me to accurately repeat the scene and feelings with words. Fortunately, my camera was on at that moment.
China is a vast country with a large population. At the same time, it is in a period of rapid development. There are countless stories happening every day. If I were a professional screenwriter, I would treasure the social news App on my phone. So when I see the real story of "The Best is Yet to Come", which is legendary but logically consistent, what should I have to worry about?
"...I have to convey all my feelings and judgments to my partners in a timely and accurate manner."
Looking back at Bu zhi bu xiu (The Best is Yet to Come) do you think there is anything you would have done differently?
If the epidemic is a dividing line between how we feel in our lives, I would think that the life we've lived before has been more or less glamorised. Consumerism and globalisation are like the gold wrapping paper on the outside of a gift box. An epidemic can tear that off and reveal something that can be a bit disappointing.
"The Best is Yet to Come" was originally a story about an idealist finding self-worth, and if I were to do it over again, I would not overturn the story, or even find that idealism more valuable. But I would think that the obstacles faced by the protagonist in the film might be more extreme in the real world. The estrangement and suspicion between people have been placed under the magnifying glass in the case of the epidemic. This is something I didn't feel directly in my previous life experience, and I may have a chance to come back and rethink the way this problem is presented.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I'm not a very confident person. Making films and communicating with people through films are the few things That I think I'm competent at, which also gives me some confidence.
Now that your debut film as director his completed what would you say has been the biggest lesson you’ve taken from this process?
In fact, it is still the confidence problem mentioned above. Since it is my debut, I have to convey all my feelings and judgments to my partners in a timely and accurate manner. Some moments of hesitation or self-doubt will eventually be reflected on the editing line. I would have been annoyed, longed for a time machine, gone back in time and told myself that I should have stuck to my first instinct.
Because even if it's not necessarily the best choice, at least it won't make me regret.
Is there any advice you would offer any emerging filmmaker?
Fortunately, in the last two years, I was able to participate in the script venture evaluation work of Pingyao International Film Festival founded by Director Jia Zhangke. As a primary review judge, I get to see thousands of scripts written by young filmmakers every time. I wouldn't say that's the whole picture of young filmmakers in China, but I think it shows a certain direction to some degree.
In fact, I always try to distinguish which scripts are imitated and created based on the current popular film and television works, and which ones are written based on the individual life experience of the creators.
In my opinion, the latter is a valuable treasure. It's not necessarily popular, but it's unique enough.
As a storyteller, please don't belittle your own uniqueness.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Bu zhi bu xiu (The Best is Yet to Come)?
The strength and courage to face the world and your own life.