Wed, Jun 18, 2008 - Page 14 News List

Chang Tso-chi, a survivor of his own art

Despite several successes, director Chang Tso-chi has found the film industry unforgiving


CT: I learned that filmmaking isn’t rocket science. Your job is merely to visualize what is in your own mind and make other people believe it. Watching a movie is a magical experience, don’t you think? You enter the theater holding a box of popcorn. You know the whole thing is fake. The lights go off, you sit there eating popcorn and you surrender yourself to whatever is being shown on the screen for 90 minutes. When the lights are turned back on, you go, “Hmm, that’s not real,” and you leave the theater. Some [directors] move you and make you cry. Others wake you up and make you think.

There are people who say art-house cinema bores the heck out of audiences — you say my films are like that? [Chang needles the young PR handler who remains with us throughout the entire interview]. My films are calculated. When the story hits the 30-minute mark something big always happens to wake up the people who are half-asleep.

TT: Why is that? Is it because you are afraid of boring your audiences?

CT: No. My films don’t have flashbacks or alternate between color and black-and-white. In terms of form, I have my own limits and idiosyncrasies. Besides, audiences aren’t familiar with most of my actors. I build up my stories not from who my actors are but from [the characters’] family relationships and how they interact with each other. It usually takes 30 minutes before the narrative finally starts. [At the end] people in the audience are like, “Oh OK. Now I know what this family is all about. What? The film is over already? But who was that guy? Can they play that again?”

TT: Soul of a Demon was originally three hours long, but you cut a lot from supporting roles like the grandfather.

CT: Yes. Since I’m not a master [director], I really shouldn’t pull a stunt like that. The reason why it was originally three hours .

long is that I tried to tell a complete story without the planned CGI effects. Do you remember the opening scene where Che is on his way home along the Suhua Highway (蘇花公路)? There were supposed to be [CGI] dolphins leaping out of the water [in that scene]. I have a habit of setting the tone for my films around one minute after they begin. So people think, “OK, from this point on I won’t be able to tell what is real and what is not.” The films I made before are realistic in structure. [For Soul of a Demon], I wanted to jump out of the frame. Put two real things together and all of sudden you get absurdity.

TT: Does it take you a long time to conceptualize and develop your stories?

CT: Not really. It’s just a bad habit I used to have. I usually take one year off after each work and spend all the money I earned. When do I plan the next project? When the accountant says to me, “We don’t have enough money to pay for the bills next month.”

TT: Doesn’t your film studio do television productions that make money?

CT: No, we do mostly film productions. Even Holy Ridge (聖稜的星光) [an award-winning television series shot in super 16mm film] was like 11 miniature movies. That was an entirely new experience for my company: we lost NT$30 million. The government has made lots of effort to promote digital cinema. I have nothing against that. The question is whether or not a government should promote digital photography? No, because it is too easy. In traditional filmmaking even a focus puller needs 10 years to master [his or her] craft. Experience is everything since you don’t know what you have on the film until it’s developed. I don’t think that any effort is being made to [compared to two decades ago] train and support experienced, professional film technicians in Taiwan.

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