Thursday, November 18, 2010


Late bloomer

Three years after he shot to fame on the ‘Happy Sunday’ TV talent show, WeiBird has finally released an album and is preparing for his first stadium shows

By Andrew C.C. Huang
CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Taipei Times, Fri, Sep 10, 2010


PERFORMANCE NOTES

WHAT: Escape of the Two-Legged Bookshelf WeiBird concert (兩腳書櫥的逃亡—韋禮安演唱會)

WHERE: Taipei International Convention Center (台北國際會議中心), 1, Xinyi Rd Sec 5, Taipei City (台北市信義路五段1號)

WHEN: Sept. 18 at 7:45pm

WHERE: Chung Hsing University Huisun Auditorium

(台中中興大學惠蓀堂), 250 Kuokuang Rd, Taichung City

(台中市國光路250號)

WHEN: Sept. 25 at 7:45pm

ADMISSION: NT$800 to NT$2,600, available through

7-Eleven ibon kiosks or at www.tickets.com.tw

ON THE NET: www.weibird.com

Fans of the now-defunct TV talent show Happy Sunday (快樂星期天) had to wait three years for the arrival of their messiah. But it was worth it.

The show’s champion, William Wei Li-an (韋禮安) aka WeiBird, made a splash this June with the release of his Wei Li-an Debut Eponymous Original Album (韋禮安首張同名全創作專輯).

Wei — who performs his first stadium shows next weekend in Taipei and the following weekend in Taichung — possesses an impressive pedigree (he graduated from National Taiwan University), matinee idol looks and talent to spare as a singer and songwriter. He wows his fans with a smoldering charm reminiscent of Wang Lee-hom (王力宏), his down-to-earth persona and the fact that he writes his own songs, all of which help him stand out in a Mando-pop landscape populated by overly polished, self-promoting idol singers with suave dance moves.

“I’m a singer, not an entertainer,” Wei said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “People usually don’t recognize me on the street. It’s good that my career and life are separate.”

Much of Wei’s charm derives from the fact that he is a bashful, self-effacing star who is quick to flash an awkward smile.

“The most unforgettable thing in life is that I suffered from an acne problem for six years and didn’t dare to go out of the door,” he laughed. “I channeled my energy into singing and found comfort in music.”

“I’m pretty shy and don’t usually approach people. I don’t even go to out too much unless friends ask me,” he said.

But he’s propelled by an impeccable melodic drive. For his debut album, Wei crafted a pop opus by waxing poetic about love and the meaning of life. The album’s lead single, Yes or No (有沒有), is an irresistibly catchy tale of unrequited love.

“I wrote this song in college when I realized my love for a girl was not reciprocated. This song is about unspoken feelings,” Wei said. “[It] simply flew out of me in a few days.”

Wei isn’t considered a vocal powerhouse, but he’s a better singer at live performances than he is on his recordings, as he showed when he delivered a ravishing rendition of Blue Eyes (藍眼睛) at label partner Angela Chang’s (張紹涵) concert last month.

Wei performs at the Taipei International Convention Center (台北國際會議中心) next Saturday and at Taichung’s Chung Hsing University Huisun Auditorium (台中中興大學惠蓀堂) on Sept. 25. The set list will include covers of songs by Mando-pop/R ’n’ B star Khalil Fong (方大同) and veteran crooner Fei Yu-ching (費玉清).





Mando-pop's poetess lets loose

Tanya Chua, one of Mando-pop’s most acclaimed singer-songwriters, celebrates her birthday this week with a concert at Riverside Live House

Taipei Times, F R I D A Y , J A N U A R Y 2 2 , 2 0 1 0

By Andrew C.C. Huang
Contributing Reporter

PERFORMANCE NOTES:
WHAT: Tanya Chua’s 128 Lounge (蔡健雅的128包廂)
WHEN: Thursday at 8:30pm
WHERE: Riverside Live House (河岸留言西門紅樓展演館),
177 Xining S Rd, Taipei City (台北市西寧南路177號)
ADMISSION: NT$500 at the door.
Tickets can be purchased online at tickets.books.com.tw/concert
ON THE NET: www.tanyachuamusic.com


Singaporean songstress Tanya Chua (蔡健雅), Mando-pop’s urbane
poetess, is a troubadour who delivers lessons on life’s romantic
encounters.
On Thursday, her birthday, Chua will present a small concert
at Riverside Live House (河岸留言西門紅樓展演館) titled Tanya Chua’s
128 Lounge (蔡健雅的128包廂), at which she’ll sing signature songs from her
repertoire, in addition to covers.
One of the most popular and acclaimed singer-songwriters in the pop
scene, Chua captivates fans with folksy ballads delivered in her hypnotic
and sultry vocals, often set against a sparse guitar backdrop.
“I have spent many birthdays alone abroad during the past decade.
This year, I intend to celebrate my birthday with my fans,” said Chua
in a phone interview with the Taipei Times on Tuesday. “I rarely go
to KTV, but this year, I intend to break some boundaries and have a
sing-along with fans.”
A two-time Best Female Singer at the Golden Melody Awards (2006
and 2008), Chua is as much revered by her musical peers as her fans.
Her songs Bottomless Abyss (無底洞) and Reminiscence (紀念) are
favorites for hopeful singers on the TV talent show One Million Star
(超級星光大道).
Chua is also a hotly pursued songwriter who has composed hits
such as Wrong Call (打錯了) for Faye Wong (王菲) and Longing for
Love (對愛渴望) for Aska Yang (楊宗偉).
Because of her image as a modern, cosmopolitan woman delving
the vicissitudes of love, Chua has been dubbed the spokeswoman of
the “urban ballad” (都會情歌) by the media.
“I am OK with that label, even if I don’t feel that’s who I am,” Chua
said. “I think it’s fine if people relate to me in ways that I didn’t intend
because I still build bonds with people.”
Chua collaborated with professional lyricists for much of her early
career because she had difficulty writing in Chinese. It wasn’t until the
last two albums that she wrote the majority of her own lyrics.
“There was a period when I felt lost singing those commercial ballads,
written by other people. My confidence was low and I didn’t know what I
was doing standing up there on the stage,” Chua said.
After her contract with Warner Music expired in 2006, Chua worked
with an independent label and produced her last two albums herself.
She found her way when she became a producer. “I got to
know my flaws and strengths more,” Chua said. “I want to
make the best of this second chance and become a bona fide
singer-songwriter.”
“When I write songs, it’s just me sitting at my dinner
table with a guitar,” Chua said. “The best songs are
songs that just flow out of you like a stream and you
don’t think too much. These are typically composed
within five minutes, and they feel natural.”
For those unfamiliar with her albums, Chua
comes across as an ultra-sensitive goddess of love
who lives and breathes romance.
“It’s true I am a very sensitive person. I feel a
lot, and sometimes that’s painful because I can’t
block out emotions,” Chua said. “My sensitivities are
such that memories [of my relationships with people]
stay with me.”
What about her own romantic life? “Just because
I write a lot about love doesn’t mean I have a busy
romantic life,” Chua said. “Sometimes, a previous
romance inspires me to write a song later on,
from a different perspective. You can always
recycle.”
“I would love to do a world tour
someday,” Chua says about her future
career path. “There’s also an English language
album that has been put on
hold for years. I would like to get
that off the ground this year too.”




Spring is in the air

Sandee Chan performs a concert tomorrow of classic hits and numbers from her upcoming album
by Andrew C.C. Huang
CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Taipei Times, F R I D A Y , A P R I L 1 6 , 2 0 1 0

PERFORMANCE NOTES:
WHAT: Sandee Chan — Spring Goddess
Cometh (陳珊妮 — 春神來了)
WHEN: Tomorrow at 8pm
WHERE: Legacy Taipei, located at
Huashan 1914 Creative Park (華山1914),
Center Five Hall (中五館), 1, Bade Rd Sec
1, Taipei City (台北市八德路一段1號)
ADMISSION: NT$600 in advance
or NT$800 at the door. Tickets are
available through ERA ticketing and
online at www.ticket.com.tw
ON THE NET: www.sandeechan.com

andee Chan’s (陳珊妮) image as an ice queen is set to melt tomorrow
when she ditches her goth-punk guise to unveil a new persona, that of
spring goddess.
As a prelude to the summer release of an as yet untitled springthemed
album, the singer, songwriter and producer is holding a
concert, dubbed Spring Goddess Cometh (春神來了), at Legacy Taipei
tomorrow for which she will perform classic hits and new songs from the
upcoming CD.
“This new album is modern, retro, simple, youthful and laid-back,” Chan
said in a phone interview with the Taipei Times last week. “It’s not as heavy
as my previous works.”
Chan won plaudits as the songstress of hits for heavyweight stars
including Sammi Cheng (鄭秀文), Tony Leung (梁朝偉) and Faith Yang (楊乃文).
Her career reached a new apogee in 2005 when she beat Jay Chou
(周杰倫) to pick up the coveted Best Album Producer and the Best Mandarin-
Language Album awards at the Golden Melody Awards for the extravagant
love opus When We All Wept in Silence (後來我們都哭了).
In 2006 the eponymous debut album from the group Miss Gold Digger (拜
金小姐) (a band Chan formed with Hong Kong musician Veronica Lee
(李端嫻) and Taiwanese illustrator Cola King (可樂王)) took the Best Group
Award at the Golden Melody Awards.
“These days, computers allow everyone to produce professional music,”
said Chan. “I’m always listening to new music on the Internet and looking
for chances to explore new ideas or collaborate with new musicians.”
Two years later Chan won the Best Female Singer Award at the Golden
Melody Awards with the pop-meets-orchestra If There Is Something
Important (如果有一件事是重要的).
Her fans and friends call her “princess” (公主), a nickname that befits
Chan’s commanding and majestic stage presence, and she has a reputation
as a tough operator.
Asked what defines good music, Chan said: “I don’t think there is such a
thing as good music.”
“Music is such a strange thing because it’s all tied to your emotional
experiences,” she said. “We all have music from our high school or college
years that we are emotionally attached to. Whatever music you respond to
is good music.”
Over the past few years, Chan’s media profile has skyrocketed with her
turn as an acid-tongued judge on the TV talent show Super Idol (超級偶像).
“There are already so many singers out there launched by TV talent
shows. I wonder how many more we can accommodate,” Chan said. “The
talent show can give you instant recognition. After that, you still need to face
whatever challenges come up.”
In addition to music, Chan published the award-winning illustrated book
Gloomy Sunday Rosy (short-listed in the Most Beautiful Books in the World
category at the Leipzig Book Fair) in 2005 and displayed her photographs in
an exhibition titled Little by Little in 2007.
In 2000 she penned the theme song performed by superstar Tony Leung
for Wong Kar Wai’s (王家衛) In the Mood for Love (花樣年華), and she wrote
and produced the whole sound track for the blockbuster Taiwanese movie
Monga (艋舺), which was released in February.
Asked if she would like to push the envelope further by tackling acting,
Chan laughed: “We actually talked about having me play a gangster boss’
mistress during the filming of Monga. But that didn’t pan out.”




















Joanna Gets Real

Taipei Times, Sep 24, 2010

Joanna Wang is in charge of the set list for the first time tonight at her concert at Legacy Taipei
by ANDREW C.C. HUANG
Contributing Reporter

Performance notes
What: Joanna — New Tokyo Terror
Live Concert (Joanna—新東京恐懼 Live
Concert)
When: Tonight at 8pm
Where: Legacy Taipei (傳音樂展演空間),
located at Huashan 1914 Creative Park
(華山1914), Center Five Hall (中五館), 1,
Bade Rd Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市八德路
一段1號)
Admission: NT$600 to NT$1,000,
available through 7-Eleven ibon kiosks,
ERA ticketing outlets or online at
www.ticket.com.tw
On the Net: www.sonymusic.com.tw/pop/joannawang

For fans of Joanna Wang (王若琳), now is your chance
to see the “real” Joanna, the outspoken singer/
songwriter engaged in a very public struggle to break
free from the jazz princess image manufactured by
her label, Sony.
In a candid e-mail interview, Wang — who will perform
more than 20 new, unreleased songs tonight at Legacy
Taipei — slams Sony for packaging her music as “jazz,”
reveals why her band is called New Tokyo Terror, and
shows her sardonic sense of humor when she says she
drinks “a glass of hatorade every morning.”

Taipei Times: Will you be performing new songs you’ve
written at the Legacy concert? Can you describe them?
Joanna Wang: I will be performing about 20 or more new
and unreleased songs. All written in the last four or five years.
The show will be divided into two parts, the former part
being my more classically influenced songs, which are played
in a baroque-esque manner, the latter being my more pop/
rock influenced music played in a traditional rock band setup.
There’s a costume involved as well! How very exciting.
TT: Will you perform songs from The Adult Storybook CD
from your second album? Any cover songs?
JW: I will perform three songs from The Adult Storybook.
As for covers ... a most rockin’ and totally awesome tune
called This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us by a
badass band by the name of Sparks.
TT: What do you think about your current status as the
preeminent “jazz singer” in the Chinese-speaking world?
JW: I think anyone who dares call him or herself a music
buff (I suppose one such as myself ... ) would say that I am
not, in fact, a so-called jazz singer. I’ve always been infuriated
at the fact that the marketing team I worked with decided
to promote me under the guise of “jazz,” when I clearly only
sang commercial pop ballads. If these ballads I had to sing
are so easily labeled as jazz or bossa nova, then I’m sure that
would be a true insult to actual jazz musicians. Deceit is a
terrible thing and this is a blatant (and not unusual) case of
deceit to consumers from the record label.
TT: What kind of musician would you like to become? What
kind of songs would you like to sing?
JW: I’d just sing my own songs. Trust me, if you’ve been
misunderstood ever since the beginning, the first thing you’d
want to be would be yourself.
TT: Which singer do you admire and would like to emulate?
JW: Danny Elfman. What a colorful musical career he’s
had! From his time in The Mystic Knights of the Oingo
Boingo, to Oingo Boingo and to his career as a TV and film
composer ... I’ve adored works from all of those phases.
TT: Tell me about the story behind the group New Tokyo
Terror. Do you write songs with them or by yourself?
JW: New Tokyo Terror is actually just me with a roster of
musicians that is constantly changing due to mostly location
and what kind of music we’re playing. I write all of the music.
The names New Tokyo Terror and my sometimes-used stage
name Chicken Joanna come from a manga called Fourteen
Years I read in my teens.
TT: You described yourself as a “cynical, angry character” in
our previous interview. What kind of songs do you write these
days? Are you going into darker and more emotional terrain?
JW: My writing style hasn’t changed much, as a few of my
more representative pieces were written when I was around 18.
I think “emotional” is a pretty lame-o word. And yes, I am very,
very cynical. I drink a tall glass of hatorade every morning!
Also I don’t trust people who use LOL without being ironic.
TT: What do you envision your next album to be like?
JW: Dark and mischievous. A mix of the classical (think
baroque), prog rock (if I may ... ) and synthesizers! I hope it
doesn’t come out too terribly.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Nothing Succeeds Like Success




Labels:

A-mei: Rebel with a Cause
















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Thursday, December 11, 2008







Sense and Sensuality
---Art-House Master Tsai Ming-liang discusses his new movie “The Wayward Cloud” and his philosophies in a moody, existential interview ---
By Andrew Huang
Contributing Writer

(This article originally appeared in Taiwan News on Friday, February 18, 2005)


For all the film buffs out there, Taiwan’s film world enfant terrible Tsai Ming-liang is back again with his new movie “The Wayward Cloud,” his bravest and most controversial work so far.
Tsai’s latest movie “Wayward Cloud” is a daring, envelope-pushing movie about the lives of pornography performers. Tsai’s long-term actors Lee Kang-sheng portrays a porn actor while Chen Shiang-chyi portrays a librarian girl who starts a relationship with Lee and ends up discovering that he is a porn actor. The movie contains colorful musical scenes and sexually explicit scenes. The movie is selected for the official competition section in the 2005 Berlin Film Festival, which will wrap up its week-long event and announce the winners on February 20.
An award magnet, Tsai has won awards with every single one of his movies. His debut movie "Rebel of the Neon God” won the Bronze Award at Tokyo Film Festival in 1993. His highly acclaimed second movie “Vive L’Amour” won the highly coveted Gold Lion Award and Fipresci Prize at Venice Film Festival in 1994. His third movie “The River” won the Silver Bear Award at Berlin Film Festival in 1997. His next movie “The Hole” won the Fipresci Prize at Cannes Film Festival in 1998. The 2001 movie “What Time Is It Over There” won the Grand Technical Prize at Cannes. The 2003 movie “Goodbye, Dragon Inn” won the Fipresci Prize at Cannes.
For this new movie which made its world premier in Berlin this past week, Tsai’s long-term collaborators show up for this cutting-edge project. Actress Lu Yi-ching portrays an older, has-been porn actress who sings her swan song against the backdrop of an errie room filled with smoke and fire. Last year’s Golden Horse best actress winner Yang Kuei-mei portrays another porn actress who sings a song in another scene. A real Japanese porn actress also portrays a minor character.
As with all the Tsai movies, the revolutionary “The Wayward Cloud” contains minimal dialogues, almost invisible plot, continuous long shot and long scenes, lingering shots of human body parts that border on fetishism, dark-toned cinematography and, last, but not least, infinite possibilities for symbolic and metaphysical meanings.
Born in Malaysia in 1957, Tsai grew up in an idyllic small town named Kuching. The pace of life is leisurely and almost aimless in the small town. Tsai’s favorite pastime during his youth was to go to the various movie theaters to watch Hollywood movies. He wasn’t particularly interested in academic study.
At the urge of his father, Tsai moved to Taiwan when he was 20 years old to pursue college education. Tsai chose to major in theater study because movie study was not available at that time. He graduated from Taiwan Culture University with a degree in theater in 1981. During his college years, He started writing theater plays and also directed three short films. His shorts “Instant Minced Meat Noodle” in 1981, “A Door That’s Unopenable in the Dark” in 1982 and “The Closet in the Room” in 1983 all explore the themes of self-defense mechanism of modern urban denizens. This is also the recurrent theme in all of his later feature films.
After graduation, Tsai spent a decade working in television as a screenwriter. He started writing and directing his own single-episode TV drama since 1989. It’s during the shooting of a TV drama entitled “Child” (1991) when he accidentally discovered a youth named Lee Kang-sheng in a video game bazaar.
Lee later became the muse and Tsai’s alter-ego in all of his future movies. Tsai wrote and directed his debut feature film “Rebel of the Neon God” based on the non-professional actor Lee, who even used his real name as the character’s name in this movie.
I arrived at Tsai’s film company Home Green in Yongho area in Taipei County around 4: 30 p.m. on Sunday, February 6 for the planned one-hour exclusive interview. The company building is an old-fashion, almost derelict three-story old structure housed inside a brick-and-cement square wall with a court yard in the center where a giant tree looms in front of the building.
Tsai was in the kitchen cooking something when I entered. He told me to go up to the second floor. After I ascended the stairs, actor Lee Kang-sheng – who was surfing the internet with his face lit by the glow of computer monitor in the first room – told me to go straight to the last room at the end of the corridor.
I went inside the room and sat down to pull out my cassette recorder and notes, waiting for Tsai. The room is a Japanese-style room with straw mats covering the ground and a long rectangular wood table in the center. Surrounding the room are massive amount of Tsai’s works including theater prints, video cassettes, promotional materials, reference books, scripts and books that pile up against the wall to the ceiling except the windows.
Ten minutes later, Tsai came into the room, sat across the table from me, poured tea from a kettle and offered me my cup. Tsai looks exactly like the photos in the newspapers. He sports a very short hair that’s only an inch more than a shaved head. His facial structure is a curvy long shape with meaty cheeks and pouty lips. His eyes are so huge that they almost seem like they are bulging. His mouth is the shape of two rivers twisted upwards at both ends so that he looks like he is smiling constantly even when he is not.
“The idea for ‘The Wayward Cloud’ started in 1999 when I went back to Malaysia for a trip. At that time, I wanted to write and direct a movie about the south Asian foreign laborers who are often exploited and abused in Taiwan,” says Tsai. “However, that plan never panned out. Another four years passed. I thought, if I don’t do it, I will never get to make this movie. So I plunged in and made this movie ‘The Wayward Cloud’.”
Asked how the concept of a movie about exploited foreign laborers makes the astonishing leap to a movie about porn actors, Tsai explains, “It’s still the same idea but with different occupation. What I am interested in is exploring the identity issue of these individuals who are caught and get stuck between two worlds. There are many foreign laborers who lost their work rights in Taiwan and they can’t go back to their own home countries. They are stuck in between two worlds. The same idea goes for porn actors. They live double lives as porn actors and normal people but end up stuck in between two worlds.”
“Originally, I wanted the Hong Kong actress Hsiao Fong Fong to portray an aunt who comes to Taipei to visit Lee and suddenly discovers that he is a porn actor,” Tsai says. “Hsiao is not available. Then I asked Hong Kong director Ann Hui to portray this part. She is very interested and willing to do it. Unfortunately, by the time when we started shooting this movie, Hui was busy with other projects. So I ended up having Li Shang-ling play a librarian girl who dates this guy and suddenly discovers that he is a porn actor.”
Because of the subject matter of porn actors and Tsai’s unwavering faith in presenting the absolute truth as he knows on the screen, it’s reputed that the nudity and sensual quotient of “The Wayward Cloud” might even upstage Japanese master Nagisa Oshima’s “In the Realm of Senses” about a sexually sadomasochistic relationship which rocked the film world when it appeared in 1976.
“I really prefer not to talk about how much nudity there is in this movie because that is totally not the point. As with all my previous movies, ‘The Wayward Cloud’ is about the emotional lives of these characters. Talking about the amount of nudity involved will simply mislead the audience,” Tsai asserts. “As a director, I also need to protect my actors. They give me their trust and strip naked to perform these characters for the sake of art. They deserve our utmost respect. This is not a porn movie. This is a movie about human emotions.”
I asked Tsai about the several important recurrent themes in his movies: alienation in urban life, frustrated desires, unfulfilled love, deviant sexual behaviors and a deeply-rooted sympathy for people who live in the margin of the society.
“I moved to Taipei when I was 20 years old. That was a time when Taipei was still relatively innocent and simple. We used to have three TV channels only in that era. During that time of rigid political climate, they even play patriotic songs on TV everyday,” says Tsai. “Then we went through the most drastic changes that could happen to a city. Taipei has changed so much and become so complicated during the past two decades. Because I grew up in a very simple small village in my childhood, the changes of Taipei left a huge impact on my mind and psyche. In my 20’s, there was a period of time when I could not spend time with anyone for more than 24 hours without freaking out.”
“The other thing is of course that -- I am a Chinese who is born and raised in Malaysia for the first 20 years of my life,” Tsai professes. “Even today, I feel I belong neither to Taiwan nor to Malaysia. In a sense, I can go anywhere I want and fit in, but I never feel that sense of belonging.”
“It’s also part of my natural personality trait too,” Tsai adds. “I am suspicious of the notion of a country, family or home.”
“The main point of my cinema is to pursue the truth, and there is nothing more truthful than when a person is being alone. When a person is alone, he doesn’t need to perform for anyone anymore. He simply does what he wants and be his real self,” Tsai explains. “I, for example, enjoy myself the best when I am peeing. That’s the moment when I am totally alone and do not need to pretend anything for anyone.”
“I also want to expel the notion that ‘solitude’ has to be a very depressing state. It’s a concept concocted by this society,” Tsai elaborates further. “’being alone’ does not necessarily means ‘being lonely;’ solitude can be a very happy state too.”
I nodded and applauded Tsai’s opinion on this. Then, a question suddenly popped up in my mind. “Tsai, I totally agree with you that solitude does not necessarily mean loneliness. It could be very liberating and comfortable, such as when I am reading and listening to music before going to sleep,” I said. “But according to this theory, half of the characters in your movies should enjoy their solitude too. How come all of your characters suffer and drown in loneliness?”
Tsai paused and thought about this for a while. He then agreed, “that’s a good question.”
For anyone who have sampled Tsai’s movies which are replete with depression, suicide attempt, alienation, estrangement, fear and death, it’s naturally to be curious if Tsai Ming-liang the person spends his life in depression and is suicidal all the time too.
I asked Tsai if the alienation and depression in his movies mirrored his life. Tsai paused for a few minutes before answering, “I would say that my real personal life is a lot better than my movies. I have pretty good and steady friendship with my actors and crew, with other culturati and my own family --- but based on a finely-defined distance. I am still trying to find that fine point where I can have good relationship with people without colliding.”
Closely related to the theme of alienation is the sexual deviation in Tsai’s movies. In all of his works, there is a chain reaction of frustrated desires, unfulfilled love, and then sexual fantasies that lead to all antics such as masturbation, voyeurism, and casual, meaningless sex etc.
Tsai responded first by telling me a riotous joke about a presidential screening of his masterpiece “Vive L’Amour” in 1994. After the movie won the Venice Gold Lion Award, the then President Lee Teng-hui invited Tsai and his actors to go to the Presidential Building for a private screening. Tsai hesitated but accepted the invitation anyway. Tsai, his actors, President Lee and Lee’s staff sat awkwardly through this movie about a complicated triangle that involves masturbation, nudity and voyeurism. After the light came up, the audiences were speechless and trapped in a cloud of embarrassment. Ever a tactful politician, President Lee stood up to declare, “Well, masturbation! Everyone has done it. No big deal!”
After this laugh-out-loud tidbit, Tsai went on to explain his filmmaking philosophy. “I always feature characters who are sadly without love and lonely because that’s human beings at their most real,” Tsai says. “People have asked me why all the sex scenes in my movies are so sad and awkward. I tell them that because these two people are having sex without love. They don’t even know or care about each other enough, and of course their sex is awkward.”
“For me, solitude and sex are the moments when people are being their real self; there is nothing more real than solitude and sex as far as cinematic devices,” says Tsai. “My ultimate goal is to pursue the truth of human relation. Sometimes, even my actors ask me ‘director Tsai, do we really have to go to this extreme in our movie?’ My answer is yes. That’s my method of pursuing the truth.”
Asked about his sympathy for the socially marginalized people such as homosexual, porn actor, prostitute, handicapped and elderly etc., Tsai frankly responded, “I do not pretend that I have such a big heart and I want to push for social reform; my movies are about the lives of these characters rather than social reform.”
“It’s about my upbringing. I come from a small village where most people are working-class. My grandfather is a farmer. My father sells bowls of noodles on the street. I grew up helping to sell the noodles and washing the bowls,” Tsai reminisces. “After my grandfather passed away, my grandmother opened a Ma Jung casino in order to make a living. People from all walks of life came to the casino to play. I saw so many eccentric characters that might be considered ‘at the bottom of the social hierarchy.’ But I feel close to these people because I grew up with them. In my movies, I make no judgment about these characters. Whether they are gay or porno actor, they have the same feelings as other people too. They are all human beings.”
Near the end of our interview, I took 20 minutes to confirm about certain information I read from a book entitled “Tsai Ming-liang” originally published in France in 2001. The book’s contributors include writers from Cahier du Cinema, the powerhouse magazine that launched the influential French New Wave movement. This book is apparently published with the collaboration and approval of Tsai and is undisputedly the most authoritative book about Tsai in both Asia and the western world so far. Tsai’s mood, however, shifted from his jovial chatter earlier to an impatient stance.
I ended my interview by asking an essential and entertaining question, “Have you ever considered making the movie that every Chinese director in the world wants to do now --- a kungfu movie?”
Suddenly, Tsai exploded into a tempest of tantrums, screaming at me while jumping up and down on the straw mats. Tsai accused me of asking “stupid questions.” He told me, “I overestimated you! I thought you are from the English press and your questions will be more intelligent! But you are like some of those Chinese press! All they care about is nudity, dirt and scandal!”
Although a darling of prestigious international film festivals, Tsai has frequently come under fire with the Chinese press. He was harshly criticized for the depiction of father-son homosexual bathhouse incest scene in the movie “The River” by gay rights organizations and advocates. He is also attacked by feminism groups for his more focused, careful attention on the male characters in contrast to the often trivial, abused female characters.
“Why does everyone think it’s the most important thing to make a kungfu movie or go to Hollywood?!” Tsai scolded. “Is that all there is in this world? Kungfu movies and Hollywood?!”
I denied the charge that I ever asked Tsai if he wanted to go to Hollywood. Then I spent the next 50 minutes explaining the logic behind my every question while Tsai raved about the Chinese media which have unfairly criticized and labelled him.
Tsai calmed down after 50 minutes. Then I spent another 10 minutes to explain the logic and the importance of the “kungfu movie” question. Three internationally acclaimed Chinese directors – Ang Lee, Zhang Yimou, and Chen Kaige – have made foray into the kungfu movie genre. Two others, namely Wong Kar Wai and Hou Hsiao-hsien, have announced their plans to make a kungfu movie. As Ang Lee puts it, “every Chinese director wants to direct a kungfu movie.” Does Tsai -- who has paid tribute to kungfu master King Hu’s classic “Dragon Inn” with his “Goodbye, Dragon Inn” – has the desire to attempt a kungfu movie too? Finally, Tsai gave me his answer: “of course.”
Tsai escorted me and the photographer who accompanied me on this assignment downstairs and to the door. Tsai invited me to go to the screening of “The Wayward Cloud” when it opens commercially this June and invited me for another interview with him.
I left Tsai’s company in a state of shock and went home to rest. Rick Yi, the photographer, got into a car accident that night after leaving Tsai’s company. Yi was hospitalized and released the next afternoon. When he turned up his camera the next day, Yi was shocked to find the images of Tsai inside. It took a few days for the memories of this Tsai interview to come back to Yi. However, Yi still does not remember how he got into the car accident that night.
The experience of this Tsai interview could be best described as “life imitating art.” I, Tsai and Yi sat in that conference room that was spacious at first and then grew claustrophobic with fear, anxiety, isolation and anger permeating the whole space. This interview and its subsequent consequences is a real life version of a Tsai Ming-liang movie with the 2-hour continuous long-take interview, fear and alienation, a car crash and loss of memories.
This writer wants to ask the same question Tsai’s actors have posed, “do we really need to go to the most extreme?” Does the truth of human experience only exists in the most extreme, dangerous and dark corners? Is there more to the human experience other than loneliness, fear, alienation and incest? Aren’t the happier sides of solitude and sex as truthful to the human experience as the dark sides? As talented a filmmaker as he is, Tsai apparently still has a lot of thinking to do in his cinematic journey of pursuing the human truth.




Wednesday, November 19, 2008




Love, Friendship, Jealousy and All That

Eternal Summer
Directed by: Leste Chen
Starring: Bryant Chang, Hsiao-chuan Chang, Kate Yeung
Release date: October 13, 2006

Reviewed by Andrew C.C. Huang

Directed by Taiwan up-and-coming director Leste Chen, “Eternal Summer” is part of a Taiwan New New Wave films that feature coming of age story with teenage protagonist and told in accessible plotlines. It’s also a piece of the growing canon of Taiwanes queer movie with “The Wedding Banquet” and “Vive L’Amour” as its progenitors and “Blue Gate Crossing” and “Spider Lily” as the recent examples. That said, “Eternal Summer” is also one of the best Taiwanese films of the year.

Director Chen, who put his name on the cinematic map last year with the ghost thriller “The Heirloom,” also the second highest grossing film n Taiwan in 2005, proves his mettle by serving up this poignant tale about interwoven love and friendship among three high school students.
Jonathan (played by Bryant Chang) is an honor student who enjoys the company of his roguish and handsome friend Shane, (played by Hsiao-chuan Chang) who excels in basketball but is aimless in life. The two spend their time frolicking until the appearance of a female student named Hui-chia (played by Kate Yeung) from Hong Kong.
Hui-chia becomes attracted to Jonathan and spends her time with him. The two skip school one afternoon for an adventure to the big city Taipei and check into a love hotel. As Hui-chia starts to become intimate with Jonathan, a flustered Jonathan bolts and leave the hotle with Hui-chia behind.
When the two show up in school the next day, Hui-chia doesn’t appear irated. She is in fact tolerant and understanding. Jonathan is standing in the library taking a peek at Shane, who is playing basketball in the baseball court. Creeping up on a wistful Jonathan, Hui-chia knowingly suggests, “Why don’t you go down there to watch him play?”
Later on, Hui-chia confronts Jonathan about his sexuality and assures him that she would not tell others.
As Jonathan strays from Hui-chia, Shane takes up his chance to pursue her. The two quickly become a couple, leaving an awkward Jonathan as the third leg in the equation.
As Jonathan begins to untangle himself from this complicated triangle, Shane attempts to win his friendship back and ends up having sex with Jonathan. The complication rolls on until all three of them yell their hearts out in confrontation on a beach.
As Shane, actor Bryant Chang successful holds the film together by conveying the desires and ordeals of this conflicted homexual teenager. Formerly a TV actor with credit mostly in television idol soap dramas, Chang sheds his TV mannerism to portray this character with minutiate gestures and subtle facial expressions. The shock on his face upon learning that his two friends are a couple and the spaced out agony on the bus ride home are in-the-moment emotions that pull the audiences right in to side with his character.
Actor Chang Hsiao-chuan, who played against type as a tall but subservient teen homosexual in the highly acclaimed TV drama “Crystal Boys” two years ago, plays up his mascular physique this time by portraying a devil-may-care charmer running around on the basketball court. Chang’s natural charisma makes him the ideal actor for this character as the subject of desire.
Hong Kong actress Kate Yeung, who played a ditzy young girl in the Pang brothers’ horror flick The Eye 10,” gets to show off her ability as a dramatic actress here with her unfeigned presence.
Director Chen errs by opening the movie with a prologue scene in which a teacher in the kindergarten instructs an honor student to befriend a deviant student who has no friend.
Meant as a set-up scene to explain the unlikely friendship between the goody-goody Jonathan and the rakish Shane, this scene is extraneous and actually undercuts the power of the movie.
Even without the prologue scene, the wonderful finale scene on the beach would have still worked and actually resonate on more levels.
Classic lines such as “I need you because I have no friends” and "No one should be lonely. How about us?" are bound to strike a cord with the audiences even without an expository scene.
While this writer is usually not a fan of ambiguous ending, director Chen is well advised to keep this ending ambiguous. Wonderfully suggestive, infinitely haunting and effortlessly resonating, this open ending serves as a delicious icing on an already well baked dramatic caked filled with juicy fillings of human emotions.

Thursday, November 23, 2006








Master of Beauty and Desires
--A Retrospective of Hong Kong master Yonfan and his new movie “Colour Blossoms”
By Andrew C.C. Huang

(This article originally appeared in Taiwan News on August 12, 2005)

Everyone knows about the desire for beauty and the disappointment in the loss of it. Invariably, filmmakers all over the world all make their careers out of exploring their desires and disappointments – for what else matters the most in this world besides love?
If Hong Kong master Wong Kar Wai is torn between the intrigues of romance and unrequited love while Taiwan auteur Tsai Ming-liang is irrevocably fixated with the allures of human bodies and sexuality, then Hong Kong director Yonfan willingly and gleefully swims in the river of beauty and its enchantment.
This week, Yonfan’s highly controversial and extremely erotic movie “Colour Blossoms” will make its Taiwan premier at Taipei’s Spot Cinema under the festival entitled “Music in Taiwan and Mandarin Films: A Companionship.” The festival runs from August 12 until September 29. Three of Yonfan’s movies, including the erotic fantasy “Colour Blossoms,” costume drama “Peony Pavilion” and docudrama “Breaking the Willow” will be featured in the festival.
“Colour Blossoms” recounts the story of a young real estate agent (portrayed by Teresa Cheung, the prodigally squandering ex-wife of Hong Kong singer/actor Kenny Bee and the tabloid queen known for her socialite antics) who struggles between her love for a impeccably handsome photographer and a shy but equally gorgeous cop when she takes on the rental management duty of a luxurious apartment owned by a wealthy Japanese Madam.
While Yonfan’s pervious movies explored the topics of sexuality and human longings, he pushes the envelop further this time by tackling erotic sexual scenes, sadomasochistic games, galore of shots featuring beautiful actors and actress’ skin and, last but not least, a subtle contemplation and questioning of the meanings of fantasy, sex and love.
Because of the risqué subject matter of the movie and the involvement of the controversial personality Teresa Cheung, the project had an unusually difficult production process because it was spurned by most of the talents and investment firms invited by Yonfan even with his the shining brand name.
In addition, the nudity scenes presented enormous challenges for the movie’s two first-time actors -- namely Teresa Cheung and Japanese model Sho. During the difficult shooting that dragged on for more than 13 months because of financing troubles, both Cheung and Sho experienced major emotional hurdles performing their nudity scenes. Once, Cheung cried for two days after shooting a sexual scene. A concerned Yonfan asked Cheung if she could stick it through. A notorious personality known as much for her excess and strength, Cheung answered, “Yes, I can do it. I just need to let my emotions out. You put your trust in me by casting me. I will finish this movie no matter what.”
When “Colour Blossoms” released in Hong Kong last year, it was greeted with pervasive ridicules and was labeled as pornography. However, this finely crafted movie won its due respect it was invited to be screened at Berlin Film Festival this year. “Colour Blossoms” also eventually won the Film of Merit award from Hong Kong Film Critics Society this year.
No stranger to awards, Yonfan’s 2001 lesbian costume romance “Peony Pavilion” won the FIPRESCI Prize at Moscow Film Festival and sent the movie’s participating Japanese actress Rie Miyazawa to the Best Actress award glory at the festival. In October 2003, Yonfan was acknowledged again for his cinematic excellence with a “Yonfan Trilogy” Film Festival held in Guimet Museum in France.
All these accolades might not be so surprising if Yonfan is not tackling risqué subject matters in his films – homosexuality, transvestite, sadomasochistic romance and prostitution.
A true-to-his-heart artist, Yonfan does not treat these subject matters with any sensationalism or shock values. Rather, he gently tells us the stories and emotions about these characters – be they homosexual, transvestite, prostitute or the sexually confused.
“Colour Blossoms” marks the first time Yonfan makes the foray into the so called sexually explicit and consciously controversial movie. The movie’s subject matters of sexual fantasy and sadomasochistic relationship made the project a magnet for sneering and mockery by the media and the public before and during the movie’s shooting and even after the Hong Kong release.
"Colour Blossoms" is a further development from Yonfan's risky but critically acclaimed so-called “Yonfan Trilogy,” which includes "Bugis Street," "Beauty" and "Peony Pavilion." In the small-budget 1995 film "Bugis Street," Yonfan paints a sympathetic and touching portrait of a group of transvestite prostitutes who make their living by conning sailors into their brothel house when they are drunk. The success of “The Burgis Street” paved way for a bigger budget gay romance “Beauty” in 1998. In this sumptuous project of passion, a Hong Kong young policeman from a conservative family discovers his homosexuality through the experience of falling in love with a budding pop star before the singer achieves his fame. The exploration of this subject matter culminated in “Peony Pavilion,”a lavish costume drama set in early Republic China about the love triangle between a male teacher, a bisexual female teacher and her lesbian lover.
Yonfan’s obsession with human beauty is apparent in his choices of actors. He prefers to choose beautiful and photogenic actors even if they are new comers or stars known more for their charisma rather than acting chops. However, with Yonfan’s acute sensitivity, he is able to draw out the best of his actors and elevate their acting caliber. With “Beauty,” Yonfan uses four new actors including Daniel Wu (who went on to win the Best Supporting Actor Award at Golden Horse last year for Jackie Chan’s “New Police Story”), the ravishingly handsome Terence Yin, Stephen Fung and a young Shu Qi (who successfully transforms herself from a star to an actress in Taiwan master Hou Hsiao-hsien’s “The Millennium Mambo” and then in this year’s Cannes competition film “Best Years”). With “Peony Pavilion,” Yonfan pairs up Taiwan superstar Joey Wong of the celebrated “A Chinese Ghost Story” trilogy fame and Japanese superstar Rie Miyazawa as a lesbian couple in a nostalgic and lavish end-of-aristocracy era love tale. Wong, who is as known for her shockingly celestial beauty as for her one-note facial expression, manages to deliver the most touching performance of her career under Yonfan’s tutelage. Miyazawa, on the other hand, went on to claim the glory of a heavyweight best actress award at the Moscow Film Festival.
While these heart-felt, poignant movies about people who live on the margin of the society and are torn apart by the society’s decorum of forbidden love move the hearts of critics and audiences, their fruition did not come easy. Yonfan started his career as a commercial director specializing in sentimental romance movies. The success of a long string of commercial romance movies finally afford Yonfan the clout to embark on his own personal journey and explore the topics that’s closer to his heart as an art-house auteur.
Born in 1952 in Hunan Province in China, Yonfan immigrated to Hong Kong during his youth. Fascinated with beauty since youth, Yonfan picked up his camera to photographs different objects and quickly landed a job as a photographer.
His unwavering sense of capturing the beautiful aspects of all things was quickly noticed by Hong Kong’s movie industry – an industry that specializes in selling dreams and stars’ charisma for audience’s escapism enjoyment. He moved up to become a cinematographer and soon had enough clout to become a director.
Yonfan’s early phase as a commercial director saw him directing several romances back to back. His first success is the 1985 romance blockbuster “The Story of Rose” starring a young Chow Yun Fat and Maggie Cheung. In the movie, Cheung portrays the title role of a girl named Rose who lost her beloved brother (portrayed by Chow) and then ten years later marries a man (Chow again) who is a dead-ringer of her brother only to lose him again in a car crash. This classic features the young but already a thespian actor Chow in a rare dual role. The young Cheung, whose acting skill is hugely overshadowed by her fame and Miss Hong Kong title back then, also delivers a touching performance as Rose that foreshadows her future success.
Riding on the momentum, Yonfan went on to make another romance “The Flower Floating on the Sea” in 1986 starring superstar Sylvia Chang as a prostitute who falls in love with a soldier. In 1987, Yonfan reinterpreted Alfred Hitchcock’s classic “Vertigo” into a thriller romance entitled “Double Fixation” starring 80’s reigning sex goddess Cherie Chung Chu Hong as a mysterious beauty who captures the heart of a office man played by Hong Kong pop star Jacky Cheung. Under Yonfan’s adroit direction, the already astonishingly beautiful Chung literally becomes Venice reincarnated with an endless array of lavish gowns and delicate dresses that show off her through-the-ceiling sexual wattage.
In 1988, Yonfan pairs up the two female reigning superstars Cherie Chung and Maggie Cheung in another romance movie “Golden Years” with Chung and Cheung as two childhood best friends who move into drastically different paths in life.
In 1994, superstar Maggie Cheung again returns to collaborate with Yonfan to star as a single woman looking for love in a three-part movie entitled “The New Age of Living Together.” By 1994, Cheung has already established herself as the unrivalled award-winning queen by raking up the best actress award at Golden Horse Awards for “Full Moon in New York” in 1989, the best actress award in Hong Kong Oscars for “A Fishy Story” in 1989, and three best actress awards at Golden Horse Awards, Hong Kong Oscars and then at Berlin Film Festival for “The Actress” in 1992.
“I feel safe in the hands of Yonfan,” Maggie Cheung has once said. “I know that no matter what, he will always capture the most beautiful sides of me and show me at my best.”
Yonfan’s esthetic is extreme, lavish, elegant, and almost nihilistic. His pursuit of the human beauty ideal is unflinching and reckless. China master Zhang Yimou explores the darkness and the decadence of the corrupted old China underneath his beautiful cinematography. Hong Kong master Wong Kar Wai contemplates the sadness of lost love and yearning with the aid of Christopher Doyle’s gorgeous cinematography and William Chang’s art design. By comparison, Yonfan projects his highly polished sense of esthetics into the characters and the humanity itself. Ever an optimist who holds the religion of beauty and ideals, Yonfan’s movies are almost devoid of villainous characters. Even though most of his romance movies take the final note with tragic endings, the nature of these tragedies are never dark. His characters are ordinary or beautiful human beings driven by desires and yearnings to pursue their ideals out of good intentions. In his cinematic universe, fate is the force that tears the beautiful lovers apart and leaves their love unconsummated.
However, as the old saying goes, beauty exists in the eyes of the beholders. With Yonfan’s unerring eyes and magical cinematic touches, even marginalized personalities such as homosexuals, transvestites, transsexuals, the sexually confused and aging divas all put on their invisible cape of glamour and become beautiful objects of desire.
Maybe Yonfan is right after all. In his early 1984 small-budget film “Diary of a Young Girl,” a young girl having a crush on her physical education teacher learns the pain and pleasure of love. As this small movie foretells and continue to asserts, there is no villain and devil in this world. There is only coveted beauty and the forlornness or hatred of desires gone unfulfilled.

(“Colour Blossoms” is shown with both Chinese and English subtitles. Screenings for “Music in Taiwan and Mandarin Films: A Companion” film festival will be held in Taipei, Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Kaohsiung. For ticket and schedule info, please contact Spot Cinema at (02) 2511-7786 or check out www.artstikcet.com.tw )









The Pleasure of Fear
--- A New Wave of Asian Horror Films Tells Us How to be Scared Ecstatically
By Andrew C.C. Huang


(This article originally appeared in Taiwan News on September 23, 2005)


When in fear and uncertainty, one wants to scream one’s anxieties out as exemplified in the famed Edvard Munch painting “Scream.” What better way in this world to let out one’s fear and angst by experiencing vicariously the fictional horrors on the silver screen and scream out one’s own anxieties out loud in the darkness of movie theaters --- the only place where screaming is considered legal in modern civilization other than the psychiatric ward in the hospital.
This month, Taiwan’s film industy challenges the audience’s capacity for facing fear again with the wonderfully executed horror film “The Heirloom.” Already breaking box office record and on its way to become the highest-grossing domestic film this year, the movie is about a young couple moving into their family old mansion. The couple soon find that there are more than inheritance awaiting them --- family sins, curses, death and spirits from the other world.
“I don’t want this movie to be a typical horror film,” says emerging director Leste Chen, who came from art-house background and had a short film “Wandering” nominated by Venice Film Festival’s Critics’ Fortnight. “I try to bring my art-house sensibilities into this film. Horror film happens to be a genre that allows the slow build up of emotion and suspense. It’s also a genre that demands believable characterization. I allow this movie to progress slowly. The frights here are not the sudden screaming kind but psychological and emotional. I also let the characters stand out by emphasizing the actors’ personal traits.”
“The Heirloom” is only the latest example of the mainstreamization of Asia’s horror films to feed into the audiences' insatiable appetite for fears. Before this millennium, horror films used to be B-movies made with shoestring budgets relegated to the watch-and-toss teenage market. During the past few years, many brand name directors have ventured into the horror film and elevated the genre into a respected trend that speak to the mainstream audiences and reflects the Zeigeist of a world entrenched in fears of terrorism, wars and plunging market forces.
The explosion of horror movie rage always occurs during the time of economic hardship or sociopolitical unrest. The German Expressionism movies reflect the anxiety of the German people during the Nazi-rising pre-WWII German while Universal Studio's horror movie cycle in the 30's bespeaks people's fear in America's Depression era. The ghost movie rage in Asia during the past few years reflects Asian people's fears and anxiety in the face of the region's economic setback after five decades of economic booming, the global recession and China's possible totalitarianism after the takeover of Hong Kong in 1997.
Before “The Heirloom,” the first mainstream horror film was the mega-budget “Double Vision” produced by Columbia Asia. Directed by Taiwanese auteur Chen Kuo-fu, who also helmed the 1995 art-house lesbian tale “The Peony Pavilion,” "Double Vision" is a spooky cross between ghost movie and serial killer movie. The movie unfolds with an FBI agent Kevin (American actor David Morse) pairing up with a troubled Taiwanese cop Huang (Tony Leung Ka Fai of "The Lover" fame) to track down a serial killer who is embedding a mysterious fungus into the brains of his victims. The degree of chill intensifies when we find out that the serial killer is killing the victims according to Taoism cult ritual in attempt to achieve immortality. By throwing out the double-punch of ghosts and serial killer at the same time, "Double Vision" made huge waves and became the top-grossing movie in Taiwan that year.
Several recent Hong Kong horror classics also attest to the audiences’ hunger for fear. “Three” part one and the sequel “Three – Extremes” produced by Hong Kong’s Applause Picture and “The Eye” trilogy directed by Thai brother team Pang are the recent classics of horror film canon.
"Three" is a high-concept film that aims to bring together three acclaimed directors from three Asian countries for a three-segment collaboration horror film. “Three” features director from Korea, Thailand and Hong Kong. In the first segment "Memories" helmed by Korean director Kim Jee-woon, a middle-class family moves into a new city and apartment with anticipation of new life. However, the woman suddenly wakes up on the street without memories of her identity and past. As she tumbles through the streets, she slowly remembers her lovely husband, their disintegrating marriage and finally his murder of her. In the second segment "The Wheel" directed by Thai auteur Nonzee Nimibutr, Tong is a poverty-ridden street puppetry player who envies the millionaire puppetry master Tao for his puppet passed down from 15th century Thai court. Realizing his court puppet has been cursed, Tao orders his wife to discard the puppet into the river. This action comes too late as Tao's wife drowns in the river while Tao is found dead the next day.
"Three" saves the best for last with director Peter Chan's (of "Comrades, Almost a Love Story" fame with Maggie Cheung) third segment "Coming Home." Policeman Whee and his son Kiny moves into a new derelect apartment complex where the only neighbor is a Chinese herbalist doctor named Pahy. One day, Whee's son Kiny disappears with Pahy's daughter. To track down the whereabout of his son, Whee breaks into Pahy's apartment and discovers the corpse of Pah's wife. It turns out that Pahy has been bathing the corpse in herbal bath tube in the belief that she will come alive again after three days. Fearing possible disruption, Pahy inprisons Whee at his apartment and awaits for that morning when he believes his wife will resuscitate.
South Korea’s recent cinematic renaissance also produced a crop of horror classics that has Hollywood rushing for remake rights. Director Kim Jee-woon’s (who directed the segment “Memories” in “Three”) haunting “A Tale of Two Sisters” is about two sisters who return from treatment in a mental institution only to face the inhuman behavior of their absent-minded father and cruel step-mother in addition the other-worldly forces that seem to be ghosts.
Thai director Nonzee Nimibutr (who helmed the segment “The Wheel” in “Three”) put his name on the cinematic map with 1999's ghost fable "Nang Nak," which won the best picture and best director awards in that year's Asia-Pacific Film Festival. Based on a Thai legend, "Nang Nak" recounts the journey of Mak as he leaves for Bangkok and becomes seriously wounded in the Chiang Toong War. His wife Nak meanwhile dies with her stillborn child in Mak's absence. However, when Mak returns from the war to his village, he continues to live happily with his wife without realizing that she is a ghost. However, the forces of cosmic natural laws intervene and push this forbidden human-ghost marriage to a hauntingly unexpected denouement.
“Three -- Extremes” again features three segments from three Asian directors. The highlight is again the Hong Kong segment directed by award magnet auteur Fruit Chan.
In this segment entitled “Dumplings,” an aging wife with a womanizing husband goes to the back alley to seek help from an illegal mainland Chinese doctor. The doctor offers dumplings made of baby embryos which could help one reclaim youth. After eating the dumplings, the middle-age wife becomes young and beautiful. The suspicious husband pays a visit to the sultry doctor too, only to end up having sex with her. Half way during their intercourse, the husband suddenly sees a document on the wall that describes the birth date of the woman in from of her as early Republic China.
The other segment “Box” is directed by Japanese helmer Takashi Miike. Miike made his name with the 2003 horror hit “One Missed Call” which tells the chilling story of people who receive voicemail messages which contain the recording of their future selves reacting violently to impending death. The third segment “Cut” is directed by none other than Korean master Park Chan-wook, who won the Grand Prix at Cannes last year with his highly acclaimed “Old Boys.”
In the highly acclaimed "The Eye" trilogy directed by the brother team Danny and Oxide Pang, the Pang brothers recounts the trials faced by people who could see ghosts. In “The Eye” part one, a blind girl finds herself seeing living people as well as ghosts after a corneal transplant. In “The Eye II,” a pregnant woman who attempts suicide starts to see ghosts roaming on the street and ghost who is trying to enter her embryo in order to become her child. In the third movie entitled “The Eye 10,” a bunch of teenagers go to Thailand and purchase a book that instructs ten ways to see ghosts. The heedless teens start to experiment with all methods and slowly die one by one.
As horror films start to turn from B-movie to prestige films with acclaimed auteurs’ stamps on them, they start to attract award as well as mainstream audience. The “Coming Home” segment of “Three” won Hong Kong idol star Leon Lai a best actor award at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards whereas the actress Lee Sinji who headlines “The Eye” swept the three major film awards in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China by picking up three best actress awards.
Japan is also a powerhouse in producing high-caliber horror films that scare their ways through Asia all the way to America. So far, three Japanese horror films – “The Ring,” “The Grudge” and “Dark Water” -- have been remade into American versions with box office success.
"The Ring" has its premise on a mysterious video tape that kills off anyone who watches it. Whenever a victim is hapless enough to watches the tape, the phone rings and tells the victim he or she has only one week to live. A young journalist named Rachel is investigating these mysterious events. However, matters become personal when she realizes that she and her small son have just watched the tape. Hence, it becomes a race against time to find out the curse of the tape and how it could be stopped. “Ringu,” the original Japan movie, was so successful that it spawned four sequels and still counting.
In the American version of “The Grudge” directed by the original Japanese horror master Takashi Shimizu himself, Karen is an exchange nurse student from the U.S. who fills in at the last minute for another nurse in a Tokyo suburb house where the house owner was rumored to go crazy, kill his wife and then himself. After starting her job there, Karen is alarmed by the bizarre behavior of the aging American woman Emma who is mute and sleeps through the day. Karen soon discovers that the house is possessed by a vicious curse caused by someone who dies with a unrelenting grudge a decade ago. After several horrific deaths in the house, Karen finds herself in a race against time to save herself or be consumed by that deadly grudge from the dead.
In this year’s another American remake of Japan horror film hit “Dark Water,” Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly portrays a newly divorced wife Dahlia who is struggling to make the ends meet with her daughter with a new job and a new apartment as their home. Things turn spooky when mysterious noises and persistent leaking of dark water start to overwhelm the apartment and send the already embattled Dahilia’s imagination run wild. Is this just an embittered divorced wife’s imagination or is there dark force at work in the apartment? Dahilia is determines to find out the answer at all cost.
As Indian master M. Night Shyamalan has demonstrated with the blockbusters "The Sixth Sense" and "The Signs," Asians know there's more to horror than what meets the eyes. The true chilling horror resides in a mind that believes in a horrid thought than seeing simply blood and gore.
Despite some inevitable gory scene, bloodshed is never the core attraction in Asia's quality horror movies. The drawing gravity is always a haunting thought or idea that would ferment in the audiences' minds and then consume them with gratifying fears long after they leave the theater. In "Double Vision," it's the idea of a serial killer who kills the victims in Taoism ritual in order to become a demi-god. In "The Ring," the chiller is the video tape that would kill anyone who watches it. In "The Eye" trilogy, it's the hapless ability of being able to see ghosts. In the “Coming Home” segment of "Three," it's the maniac thought of a doctor who keeps his wife's corpse in bed in the belief that she will resurrect three days later. In the “Dumplings” segment of “Three -- Extremes,” it’s the horrid and disturbing thought of eating dumplings made of minced meats of unborn babies’ embryo to renew youth.
In “The Heirloom,” the director and the screenwriter push the envelop further again by tackling the subject matter of keeping a baby ghost and feeding blood to it in order to dispatch him out for missions and accumulate wealth. The subject matters slowly progresses from people who can see ghosts in “The Eye” trilogy, to keeping the corpse of one’s diseased wife in “Three,” to eating dumplings made of still born babies’ embryo in “Three -- Extremes,” and then to the grisly practice of keeping a baby ghost as slave and sacrificing a family member to amass wealth. In Japan, the fear of a modern technology that distorts humanity from “Ringu” that features a video tape that would kill anyone who watches it to “One Missed Call” in which a phone message warns you of your future tortured death.
In a world where renewed ancient civilizations clash with modern technologies, there is no doubt that horrors that come from deep rooted superstition or traditional rituals are far more scarry than cutting-edge special effects. While American horror classics such as "Friday the 13th" series and "Nightmare on Elm Street" series or even the recent “Aliens vs. Predators” boast state-of-the-art special effects and flying heads aplenty, the lavish splashing of blood becomes comical in comparison to the psychological and emotional neurosis in Asian horror films.
The real horror comes from a real or even ambiguous belief in the darker world – a belief that could only come from a nation with an old culture and civilization. In a new country like the U.S. where skyscrapers and upscale cosmetics dominate, the true horror is to see movie audiences becoming bored with splashing blood and decapitated heads. Hence, Hollywood studios rush east-ward to seek inspirations from older civilizations in Asia where primitive religions and darkly rituals have existed for millenniums. To see the ancient Taoist practice of keeping baby ghost in order to seek prosperity in “The Heirloom” is to realize the horror of actual human cruelty and decadence.
With global recession and terrorism still hanging over our heads, what better time to exorcise one's fears and feast on the pleasure of seeing one's inner and outer demons in horror movies?

Monday, November 20, 2006





Merging the Tradition with the Modern
- The 30th Anniversary of Cloud Gate Dance Troupe -
By Andrew C.C. Huang
Contributing Writer

(This article originally appeared in Taiwan News)

For people who feel intimidated by the opaqueness of modern dance or doubt the validity of Asian dancers performing this decidedly western art form, Taiwan’s Cloud Gate Dance troupe has proved that modern dance can be very “Chinese” and could be enjoyable by all.
Cloud Gate Dance Troupe, the premier and the first ever dance troupe in Taiwan, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. The troupe celebrated by staging the world premier of “Cursive II” in Taipei on August 30 and a revival of its classic work “Legacy” for three months ending August 26.
After the world premier in Taipei, “Cursive II” will move to have its international premier at the opening of Melbourne International Arts Festival on October 9.
“I feel incredibly fortunately to being celebrating our 30th anniversary. It has been almost mission impossible,” laughs the troupe’s founder/director Lin Hwai-min. “I think we survived because of my enormously devoted dancers and because of this society which has a craving for arts.”
Lin Hwai-min derives the company’s name form an ancient Chinese myth. According to legend, Cloud Gate is the name of the oldest dance known in China, a ritual dance of some 5,000 years ago.
This year, Cloud Gate sets yet another historical precedent. In recognition of Cloud Gate’s outstanding artistic achievement on the international stage, Taipei’s city government renamed Fu-Hsing North Road, Lane 231 -- home of Cloud Gate’s office -- as “Cloud Gate Lane.” This is the first time Taiwan bestows the honor of naming a place after a living artist and/or artistic group.
Cloud Gate's rich repertoire has its roots in Asian myths, folklore, and aesthetics. Choreographer Lin seamlessly merges the story of Asian myths with the western art form, the modern dance.
Hong Kong’s revered critic Hu Chu-ren has proclaimed that “Cloud Gate’s works has solved the problem that has puzzled Chinese people since the historical 5-4 movement in the 1920’s. Its works prove that tradition and modernity can coexist in harmony…that Chinese culture and western culture and not contradictory but rather compliment each other.”
Cloud Gate has toured extensively overseas throughout Europe, Asia, Australia, and America continents. The troupe has performed at high-profile events such as New York’s BAM Next Wave Festival, the Sydney 2000 Olympic Arts Festival, Lyon Biannual Dance Festival, Melbourne Festival, the 25th anniversary festival of Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal, Sadler's Wells Theatre London, Deutsche Opera Berlin, and the Kennedy Center.
Since founding the troupe, Lin has metamorphasized style-wise as a choreographer. The troupe’s early works in the early 70’s drew inspirations from classical Chinese myth such as “Tale of the White Serpent” and “Dreams of the Red Chamber.” From 1978 on, Lin fashioned a string of socially concerned works such “Legacy” and “Portrait of the Family” that contemplate on Taiwan’s identity in its historical context. The troupe went on a hiatus from 1988 to 1991 because of creative exhaustion and financial setback. Then came the next decade of golden age into the millennium when the troupe’s well-financed structure allows it to put out spiritual and abstract works such as “Songs of the Wanderers,” “Bamboo Dream,” “Moon Water” and “Cursive” part one and two.
The troupe’s trademark is its outlandishly beautiful visual designs and often slow-tempo dances that don’t necessarily show off the performers’ well-polished techniques. The troupe’s works do not attack you with their velocity and accurateness; rather they let you soak in slowly the beauty and philosophies they are trying to convey.
Lin uses an unique multi-disciplinary program to train his dancers. In addition the dancing techniques from both the East and the West, his dancers are required to study Taichi, meditation, calligraphy and even arts appreciation classes.
The result is that many of the troupe’s work grow organically from this seemingly digressive curriculum. Meditation engendered the serene “Songs of the Wanderers,” Taichi inspired the pensive “Moon Water” while calligraphy gave birth to the “Cursive” series.
“Cursive” premiered in 2002 to acclaim with the dancers dancing and kicking to blown-up images of jet-black Chinese calligraphy characters projected onto the stage.
This year’s new work “Cursive II” takes another direction with the dancers prancing in a more meditative mood against five different colors of Chinese calligraphy ink.
Cloud Gate performs island-wide in venues ranging from the lavish National Theatre in Taipei to mid-sized cultural centers in various cities to high-school auditoriums in remote villages. In order to serve the public -- especially those who don’t have the deep pocket to buy the tickets -- Cloud Gate gives free outdoor performances about four times a year, drawing audiences of 30,000 to 80,000 per performance.
Cloud Gate Dance Troupe 2 was founded in 1999 to cultivate young choreographers and provide more job opportunities for professional dancers. In 1998, Cloud Gate Dance School was founded to bring the joy of dance to students of all ages.
Cloud Gate Dance Troupe 1 now specializes in international touring while Cloud Gate 2 takes over the duty of community performance. Both troupes have about two dozens dancers in them
Most of Cloud Gate's productions have been made into dance films. Among them, “Songs of the Wanderers” was filmed in the Netherlands, “Moon Water” was filmed in France, while “Bamboo Dream” was filmed in Germany by RM Associates, London. These productions are available on DVD and have been broadcast on television in many countries since their release.
This month, Taiwan’s Public Television is airing a three-part documentary chronicling Cloud Gate’s achievements and evolution.
“For me, there is no so-called highbrow and lowbrow arts,” Lin asserts. “Human beings have a very basic ability to enjoy and appreciate arts. Even the most uneducated village peasants can tell and enjoy a good show when they see it.”
As reality proves it, a near 100-year-old grandma in a free outdoor performance is captured gushing “beautiful! Blessing to You!” to Lin in the documentary series airing on Public Television.
Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang -- whose “Vive L’Amour” (1994) won the Silver Screen Award at Venice Film Festival and “The River” (1997) won the Silver Berlin Bear at Berlin Film Festival – has his take on Cloud Gate’s broad appeal to the audience. “Some audiences resist it at first because they haven’t seen it before. They only heard that modern dance is very ‘artsy’ and the dancers are topless or scantily clad,” he laughs. “But when they see a Cloud Gate’s performance, they enjoy and appreciate it.”
Lin is a legend himself in the Chinese world. Born into a prestigious family clan with his grand-grand-father as a governor under China’s Ching Dynasty, Lin’s own father has served the posts as both the Minister of Internal Affairs and the Minister of Transportation of Taiwan. With this aristocratic background, Lin went through a childhood when all his grades must be straight A’s – A minus is not enough.
He achieved famed as a writer by publishing the novel “Cicada” at the age of 22. He then went on to earn an MFA from the Writer’s Workshop at University of Iowa – a sojourn that also allowed him to take dance classes and swerved his career track into a dancer/choreographer.
Despite his status as a master and a pioneer of Taiwan’s art movement, Lin has a very easy-going manner in person. While many of his colleagues in Taiwan’s art scene respectfully call him “teacher” – a term reserved for a highly respected person in Chinese custom even if he has not taught you personally – he laughs heartily and jokes around with colleagues who are his junior. As a choreographer and dancer, Lin has kept his body in remarkable shape even at the age of 55. He currently sports a crew cut with gray hairs left untreated among the black hairs – a sign that he is not intimidating by aging and proudly wears his gray mane as symbol of maturity and wisdom.
During an exclusive interview with Taiwan News, Lin switches from his usual laughters-and-flancing-hands mode into a serene sternness that commands respect and attention.
Asked about Cloud Gate’s evolution of style over its three phases, he explains, “In the beginning I had to rely on existing materials to create the dances. With my literary background, I naturally turn to classic Chinese myths and tales.”
Cloud Gate’s first socially-aware work “Legacy” – a work about the brave pioneers of Taiwan at the turn of 20th century -- premiered in December 1978, the same day when the U.S. cut off its diplomatic relation with Taiwan under the pressure from communist China. The timing of “Legacy” was pure serendipity. Taiwanese people were outraged with the U.S.’s decision and responded fervently to “Legacy.” This work immediately became a classic and has since stand firm in the troupe’s repertoire.
“I have always been a socially committed person and want to serve the community and make commentary about our society through my works,” says Lin. “It took five years for us to have the confidence to march into the territory of socially aware dance works. Thus came ‘Legacy’ and ‘Portrait of the Family.”
The troupe’s style during the 90’s and into the new millennium is abstract and non-narrative. But behind all these seemingly impenetrable abstraction, there is the simple message of faith.
“I made my first trip to India in 1994. I was extremely moved to realize that Buddha is not a god but rather a human being too,” Lin says. “My works these years are about being spiritual. We all need to find that peace of mind in us.”
Asked about how he manages to balance and even merge the traditional with the modern, and the East with the West in his works, he replies matter-of-factly, “I don’t see any conflicts between tradition and modernity or between eastern and western cultures. They can co-exist in harmony.”
Lin adds that his work reflects the environment of Taiwan and his growing up experience. “We live in this island that is so multicultural. We enjoy and consume Chinese, western, Japanese and aboriginal cultures at the same time. We all grew up reading literatures and watching movies from nations around the globe,” Lin elucidates. “How could you say that these different cultures contradict each other? We already live this life that’s multicultural.”
Asked how he selects his dancers, Lin responds, “I select based on their bodies and the personality of their movements. Height is not a criteria. I hate uniformity of body height.”
Regarding Cloud Gate’s unique training curriculum that includes dances of eastern and western disciplines, and even Taichi, calligraphy and art appreciation, Lin explains, “I believe that body goes with the mind.”
“A good piece of dance is not about the dancers striking beautiful gestures and move at incredible speed,” he concludes. “It’s about the culture and the refined mind that are reflected through their bodies. The body reflects the psyche.”
Asked how he envisions the future for Cloud Gate, Lin says optimistically, “I hope Cloud Gate can go one performing for another 30 years or forever.”
“I am perfectly capable of enjoying my own life after I retire from the work of Cloud Gate,” says Lin. “But I hope to find someone who will take over the duty and continue with this art form. The torch will be passed.”

(“Cursive II” runs from 8/30 to 9/6 in Taipei and from 9/12 to9/20 in Kaohsiung. The revival of “Legacy”’s ran from 8/21 to 8/26 in Taipei. For ticket info please call 02-2784-1011 or check out www.ticket.acer121.com “Cursive II” will run from 10/9 to 10/11 in Melbourne. For ticket info please call 61-3-9662-4242 or check out www.melbournefestival.com.au )

Monday, November 13, 2006



Touches of Zen and Kungfu
By Andrew C.C. Huang
Contributing Writer
(This article originally appeared in Taiwan News)

What happens when you pour in the Zen-oriented drumming of Taiwan’s celebrated U Theatre, mix it with essence of the real-life Shaolin kungfu, and then drop in the olive of drama? The result is a dazzling glass of Zen-plus-kungfu Martini – the stage version of the now all-the rage kungfu movie genre.
“A Touch of Zen,” the new work by Taiwan’s highly acclaimed U Theatre, will make its world premier at Taipei’s National Theater on June 2. The show will run from June 2 to 4 for four performances. This dramatic musical will run for approximately two hours and contains 12 acts with an intermission in the middle. The performers include 12 of U Theatre’s drummer/actor and 22 of Shaolin Temple’s kungfu practitioners.
“A Touch of Zen” is the first part of the planned “Journey to Shaolin” trilogy which will unveil over the next five years. “A Touch of Zen” marks the first collaboration between Taiwan’s U Theatre -- which put its name on the world’s theatrical map with its Zen-themed musical pieces – and the real-life kungfu practitioners from Hunan’s Shaolin Temple. The unprecedented mixture of the mesmerizing drumming of U Theatre and the authentic Shaolin kungfu techniques coupled with the story penned by U Theatre’s director Liu Ruo-yu makes this the theater event of this summer.
While the Chinese title “Chen Wu Pu Er” literally means “No other Zen and Kungfu,” this new work’s English title is “A Touch of Zen” – a tribute to Kungfu master director King Hu’s epic masterpiece “A Touch of Zen” which claims the honor of the first ever Chinese movie to win an award at Cannes Film Festival in 1969.
As one of the most celebrated theater troupes from Taiwan, U Theatre has enjoyed international acclaim and tours globally every year. U Theatre will perform its classic “The Ocean of Sound” on June 21 at Japan International Expo and another classic "Meeting with Vajrasattva" on October 4 at at Maison de la Culture-Bourges in France.
U Theatre’s made it name with abstract, Zen-themed drumming musical such as “The Ocean of Sound” and “Meeting with Vajrasattva." U Theatre’s music director/principal performer Huang Chi-chun utilizes the aborigine-style drumming and Zen meditation practiced by himself nad his 11 drummers/actors to create minimalistic, abstract musical pieces with no visible plotline.
Inspired by the raging kungfu fever instigated by Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and Zhang Yimou’s “House of Flying Daggers,” U Theatre cheerfully and bravely plunges into the genre of drama for the first time.
“The idea of combining the drumming music of U Theatre with real-life Shaolin kungfu was brought up by an agent,” says U Theatre’s artistic director Liu Ruo-yu. “It sounds like a fantastic idea. I said yes right away and that agent orchestrated the collaboration for us and Shaolin Temple.”
The result of combining U Theatre’s Zen-themed drum music, real-life kungfu from Shaolin and a strong storyline makes “A Touch of Zen” a genre-defying, landmark dramatic musical with real-life, real-time Shaolin kungfu display on the stage with no film editing and special effects.
“I wrote the story according to the convention of the kungfu movie genre,” says Liu. The story of “A Touch of Zen” recounts the journey of the hero named Ao-Hsiang or literally “flying” in Chinese. Ao-Hsiang is a kid whose father is wrongly killed and whose mother is unjustly imprisoned. He is taken in by Shaolin Temple and grows up practicing Shaolin kungfu techniques. He leaves Shaolin to look for his mother and finally tracks her down. After this last reunion of the mother and the son, the mother dies after 20 years of suffering and illness. The protagonist vows to track down the villain who destroyed the lives of his parents. During his search for his hated enemy, he runs into a mad monk who turns out to be a sage. The hero comes out of the mountain, finally with equilibrium of mind and no longer tortured by thoughts of vengeance.
“Writing this story according to the kungfu genre convention is the easy part,” Liu explains. “Trying to merge the theatrical professionalism of U Theatre with the rough-and-tumble realness of Shaolin kungfu practitioners has been the challenging part.”
“I got become so fond of these Shaolin kungfu kids,” Liu adds. “During the time we spent together discussing and rehearsing, I found that there is an unmistakable honesty and innocence with people who practices kungfu that really enchants me.” The 22 Shaolin practitioners’ age range from 14 to 24.
“However, the Shaolin discipline is a very hard-core kungfu techniques. What they practices at Shaolin and performs for the tourists at the temple there are all real,” Liu elaborates. “There is nothing fancy and fake about it.”
“These Shaolin kids are not actors or performers. They come out to display their real kungfu skills. As a result, they really know nothing about anything theatrical techniques such as timing or performing for effect,” Liu explains. “I have to keep coaching them to try to use their kungfu skills to serve the drama of the story.”
Liu says that there is one scene in which the Shaolin practitioners are required to walk slowly through the scene for the purpose of the story. During the rehearsal, she bemusedly found out that the Shaolin kids laughed behind her back about having to walk slowly.
“Because they are real kungfu practitioners, their first instinct always is to come out and attack right away. They had trouble understanding why they had to walk slowly through that scene when they could just fly or leap across the stage. I had such an amusing time coaching and convincing them that this slow scene is necessary for the story.” Liu laughs. “I also found out that these Shaolin kids cannot speak dialogues convincingly because they are not trained actors. There were too much dialogues in the beginning drafts of my play. I had to cut the dialogues to the bare minimal and keep only the most essential and precise languages only. As a result, it’s the body languages of these Shaolin kids that are serving the drama.”
In order to make this project come to fruition, U Theatre made a total of six trips to the Shaolin Temple in Hunan in order to discuss the collaboration details.
“The toilet is really a terrible big headache for me. It’s so dirty – it’s actually just a hole on the ground…,” Moans Liu with a laugh. “However, seeing the Shaolin Temple in person is such an amazing experience. Also, watching those Shaolin kids performing Shaoling kungfu in the mountain right in front of you is such an unimaginable experience. It’s literally pyrotechniques kungfu movements seen in kungfu movies happening right in front of your eyes.”
Because of China’s decades ban on all forms of religion since 1949, the spirit of Buddhism has long disappeared from Hunan’s Shaolin Temple despite the temple being preserved until today.
“When we arrived at Shaolin Temple for the first trip, we realized to our shock that Buddhism has disappeared from mainland China for decades. Even the people residing at Shaolin Temple have not seen Buddhism scriptures for decades,” Liu explains. “I decided right in the beginning that I want to put the holy Buddhism scripture of Vajrasattva into the story. So, I showed the scripture of Vajrasattva to the people at Shaolin Temple for the first time in more than 50 years.”
“One night, I purposely stayed up and chanted aloud the scripture of Vajrasattva in my room as my own personal practices,” Liu bemusedly reminisces. “Then, the second day, I found out that those Shaolin kids were mesmorized by the scriptures. They already learned the scripture the night before and were already walking around, reciting the scripture by heart the next day.”
If the real-life Shaolin kungfu practitioners from Shaolin Temple have become the main attraction in “A Touch of Zen,” U Theatre’s music director and principal drummer Huang Chi-chung has decidedly not taken a sideline for this production. In fact, Huang has used this chance where he does not need to dominate the whole show to expand his range as an artist.
“This is the first time I do not have to be in most of the scenes in a U Theatre production. In fact, I portray the third stage, the oldest version of the protagonist Ao Hsiang when he starts practicing meditation and achieves peace of mind. Literally, I am on stage only one third of the time,” Huang explains. “Therefore, I use the spare time to concentrate on composing the entire score for this production. If the music of U Theatre’s works before were episodic, then “A Touch of Zen” marks the first time U Theatre presents the music as a whole, coherent, continuous music work because I had the time to do it this time.”
“The process of creating the score for this production is very spontaneous,” Huang recounts. “The whole U Theatre went to Shaolin Temple to discuss with them and to experience the life there. Day in and day out, I was seeing these fantastic landscapes of mountains and sky and interacting with these innocent people in the mountain. The ideas simply poured out.”
During the rehearsal session on May 10, glimpses of the ingenuity of this landmark production could be sensed even in its burgeoning stage. While the drumming music of U Theatre’s past works before mostly derived from imageries and abstract ideas, the music this time is far more ambitious and achieved. The music of “A Touch of Zen” grows out of the plotline of the story and puts the musicality of the different musical instruments in the service of the central story about revenge gone and equilibrium acquired that holds the whole production together.”
With the act entitled “Little Monk,” a cute, delightful music that is would be considered improbable in U Theatre’s past work is used in order to convey the mood of innocence and glee during the protagonist’s childhood.
With the act entitled “Thinking about Mother,” Huang jettisons U Theatre’s trademark drumming music in favor of cello and flute in order to convey the mood need for this scene. The sad, ringing sound of the flute playing against the music of a weeping cello vividly brings the atmosphere of an orphaned child yearning about his mother’s love alive.
“I want to lead U Theatre into a new direction with more drama as a theater troupe,” concludes artistic director Liu. “At the heart of ‘A Touch of Zen’ -- underneath all the kungfu trappings -- are the themes of ‘ordeal,’ ‘meditation’ and finally ‘growth.’ The message and the central theme of this dramatic musical is redemption. I think, in this day and age when the world is so full of chaos and turmoils, we all need redemption in the end.”

(“A Touch of Zen” by U Theatre will make its world premier at Taipei’s National Theater on June 2. The show will run from June 2 to 4 for four performances. For ticket and schedule info, please contact Taipei’s National Theatre at (02)3393-9888 or check out the website at www. artsticket.com.tw or the U Theatre at (02) 2938-8188 or www.utheatre.org.tw)