Born in Guangdong, China, growing up in Hong Kong and moving to the US at the age of 18, Henry Chan (陳發中) has lived the life of a successful immigrant. His career in the entertainment industry began in 1986 with The Cosby Show, for which he won an Emmy Award for editing. He has since directed episodes of popular television shows such as Scrubs, Moesha and King of Queens. Chan’s Chinese-speaking mother, however, never saw any of his works, and sometimes wondered why her son didn’t produce anything that she could understand.
Across the Taiwan Strait, Lin Wei-ko (林偉克) left Taiwan for the US with his family when he was eight years old. Decades later, the award-winning playwright has built a prolific career in Hollywood. But Lin never forgot a promise he made to his mother that he would “come back and do something for Taiwan one day.”
Chan and Lin met nine years ago and hit it off right away. For years, the two talked about making a Chinese-language movie that would enable them to explore their roots.
And with 100 Days (真愛100天), currently showing in cinemas around the country, that’s exactly what they did.
A homecoming tale
Directed by Chan and co-produced by Lin, 100 Days tells the story of a US-educated, workaholic executive who returns to his island village for his mother’s burial. He soon learns that, according to an old tradition, he must marry within 100 days so that his mother’s spirit can peacefully move on to the afterlife. When a typhoon strikes, the man becomes stranded on the island and is forced to delve into his past — his relationship with his mother, his leaving home and his childhood sweetheart.
While the movie is a romantic comedy that builds around the theme of a city person returning to his village roots, Lin says the project is highly personal and evolved out of the death of his mother six years ago. Affected deeply by his loss, he first created a stage production in 2011 based on his experience of returning home for his mother’s funeral and discovering the “100 days” tradition. The film, however, is completely different from his “raw, X-rated” theatrical work. It has a distinct Taiwanese flavor, infused with local customs, traditions and ways of life.
“It is really about the family, about family obligations versus true love. It can relate to [local] audiences,” Lin says.
For Chan, Taiwan is like a second home because his parents lived here for many years before immigrating to the US and many of his family members and relatives still here.
“It is our story. We have all come home,” the director says.
A home to fall for
Chan says he shot the film in Cinbi (芹壁) Village on Matsu’s Beigan (北竿) island because the village looks like “it hasn’t been touched by time.”
“I wanted the village to be a character. If I came back to discover my own village and fell in love with it, it had to be attractive and beautiful,” Chan says.
But Matsu was an expensive choice. Lacking the infrastructure necessary for filmmaking, the crew had to ship everything to the island, including 14 trucks, cranes, generators and extras. And similar to the protagonist in the movie, a typhoon stranded the production team on the island a few times.
Taiwan versus Hollywood
Chan and Lin, who both worked exclusively in Hollywood before their Chinese-language collaboration, say the local way of doing things are vastly different from what they are accustomed to, which has both advantages and disadvantages. Working within the studio system, Chan says, entails following a set of rigid rules. For example, working overtime is expensive, and failing to give staff a coffee break can result in heavy penalties.