Wed, May 14, 2014 - Page 12 News List

The land of stories

Writer/director Lou Yi-an talks to the ‘Taipei Times’ about Taiwan’s rural life, land issues and his inspiration to make the movie ‘The Losers’

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

Lou Yi-an in Waterfront Villa Bonita

Photo courtesy of Lou Yi-an

Lou Yi-an (樓一安) has had a recurring dream since childhood. In the dream, he stands alone on a stage. There is one word he needs to communicate, but he freezes. The audience laughs as he struggles to remember.

“It is a strange, vivid memory. I suddenly become aware of my own existence. What am I doing standing here? Why am I here at all?”

The dream becomes the opening scene of The Losers (廢物), the second feature film directed and written by Lou. In the film, the word he struggles to recall is “land.”

Lou arrives to the interview wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a McDonald’s logo with an upturned middle finger and “I’m fuckin’ it” written on it. When pushed for an answer on how he became interested in left-wing causes, he mentions Karl Marx, Lu Xun (魯迅) and Woodstock.

The filmmaker is frequently spotted at street protests; his films always center on the disadvantaged.

The Losers is no exception. Following Shiou, a failed actor, returning to his Greater Kaohsiung suburb hometown, Meinong (美濃), the film probes some of the difficult issues facing Taiwan’s farming villages. One involves what locals call “venomous dragon ponds” (毒龍潭) — sand and gravel companies buying up fertile land from elderly farmers, which they turn into gravel extraction sites while selling the soil for whopping profits. The companies then refill the farmland with medical waste and other scrap upon which houses are to be built later.

Such operations are a common occurrence in Taiwan’s countryside, and Meinong is one of the areas where the shady business is out of control, Lou says.

Lou and his crew were able to film one of these sites, but had to ask the local police to “guarantee” their safety.

“The sand and gravel business can, you know, spell danger,” the director says.

It is the kind of danger touched upon in a sequence in which Shiou stops by the extraction site, trying to take a photograph as a piece of evidence. A man looking like a hoodlum appears out of nowhere and chases him away.

RURAL PROBLEMS

Originally a project commissioned by Hakka Television Service, the film draws its inspiration from the defunct Hakka band Labor Exchange’s (交工樂隊) Night March of the Chrysanthemums (菊花夜行軍), an epic album telling of a young Hakka man returning to Meinong to become a flower farmer and raise a family with his Indonesian wife.

“I have this strange attachment to Meinong because of Lin Sheng-hsiang’s (林生祥) music. It inspired me to learn about this place … It just so happens that lots of things I am particularly concerned about are happening in Meinong,” Lou says.

For Lou, all the issues revolve around the idea of land, its value and people’s relation to it.

“When you enter the town, there are real-estate ads everywhere you see … Farmers are too old to farm, and their children are not coming back. The land is unused, waiting for the right price,” he adds.

While dealing with unsavory issues — land exploitation, drug abuse, rural poverty — Lou’s film doesn’t differentiate the good guys from the bad guys, or draw a clear line between right and wrong. Each of the characters is on their own, striving to find a place in the world.

“I don’t want my characters to make demands, take action or affect change, because that’s not what happens in real life. Most kids who live in rural areas don’t think, of or are incapable of, fighting for a cause … I don’t want to make a statement. I see problems, put them into my works for people to see,” Lou says.

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