Tastefully dressed in black, commercial director Chung Mong-hong (鍾孟宏) looks relaxed as he sits down for our interview in his studio on Minsheng East Road (民生東路). Decorating his workspace are storyboards pinned on a wall like pieces of art and several vintage bicycles that lean against a spotless glass window.
Chung has just finished a television commercial that took two days to shoot.
But the subject of this particular meeting, though, is not the 43-year-old director’s
successful career as a maker of TV advertisements — he’s filmed more than 100 — but his debut feature film Parking (停車), which premiered this year in the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard section and opened last weekend in theaters across Taiwan.
Parking is a black comedy and contemporary fable about one man’s Kafkaesque journey through Taipei over the course of one night, and stars a company of fine actors including Chang Chen (張震), Jack Kao (高捷), Leon Dai (戴立忍), Chapman To (杜汶澤) and Kwai Lun-mei (桂綸鎂).
Taipei Times: You were an information technology engineering major at National Chiao Tung University (交通大學) and obtained a master’s degree in filmmaking from the Art Institute of Chicago. What inspired you to become a director?
Chung Mong-hong: I had lived in the countryside in Pingtung until high school. Going to a movie was the ultimate form of entertainment. We saw lots of Bruce Lee (李小龍) and Michael Hui (許冠文) films. I was particularly fond of the James Bond movies because they were like pornography for us kids. [He laughs.]
In high school I had a chance to see Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence. There is one scene where David Bowie kisses Ryuichi Sakamoto. It got me to start thinking, “Wow, movies can show so many special things, things I don’t understand.”
TT: You came back from Chicago in 1994. Why did it take so long for you to make your first film?
CM: Filmmakers born in the 1960s were born under an unlucky star. We were in high school when Taiwan’s New Wave cinema started to take off in the early 1980s. We were inspired and had certain expectations and ideals for films. We went abroad, studied film and came back, only for Taiwanese cinema to collapse in the early 1990s.
Back then all you saw and heard were people selling houses and borrowing money to make movies that no one wanted to see. The only option you had was whether or not you wanted to follow the same road. I chose another way.
TT: Why did you choose to make your entry into the film world with the documentary Doctor (醫生)? The subject mater was rather challenging, especially considering you had no previous experience in documentary filmmaking.
CM: To me, it was like taking an oath and chopping off a chicken’s head in a temple to show your determination. [He laughs]. Documentary filmmaking is the opposite of commercial filmmaking. By taking a stab at a medium that’s foreign to what I know best and doing it right, I can tell myself, “Yes, we are here to stay and make movies,” and show others that, besides technique, I do have other abilities required for being a film director.
[Chung and his team spent three years making Doctor, which was completed in 2006. Shot in black and white, the award-winning documentary explores the meaning of life and death through the story of a Taiwanese-American doctor who loses his 13-year-old son to suicide and then a young Peruvian patient to cancer. The film was well-received because it refused to fall back on sentimentalism, and looked at its subject matter with a composed and contemplative gaze.]