An Interview with Gan Chao (Director)
Enduring Hardship with His House
Q: According to the film, someone introduces the house to your co-director Liang Zi, but was this encounter with Jiang a coincident?
GC: We were in the midst of producing another work. Liang Zi came from Beijing to stay in Shanghai for about a month so we could edit together. She was looking for a short-term residence to save money on the hotel expenses, since Liang Zi is a freelance filmmaker. She met Jiang when an elderly colleague introduced them. At the beginning of her stay, Liang Zi was saying that Jiang seemed a little odd and her room was dark and unpleasant, though she’s a tough woman, to the point of living together with African natives for her journalistic research. However, after a week she switched to saying he was a very kindly person, and he was treating her very well.
Q: You said that you were “taken captive by Jiang and his house,” but what was so appealing?
GC: In Shanghai there are elderly people like Jiang who were influenced by the era when Western culture flowed into China, and even now maintain upper-class lifestyles. In Shanghai, such people are called Westernized dandies. He’s like a representative example, someone who harks back to the distant past and lives at a slow tempo, different from today’s high-paced lifestyle. In other words, the appeal was that he lives differently from us modern people. So after a month or so had passed, Liang Zi said, “Jiang is amazing. He makes me a Western-style breakfast every morning, and in the course of a month he hasn’t repeated a dish once.” We decided to try filming him, though we didn’t know how it would turn out. However, through filming him the history that we Chinese people have shouldered came into sight. So, we felt that filming him was very significant, and that we needed to do a proper treatment of him and China’s history. There were three stages to the changes in our feelings. First we laughed at Jiang as an odd fellow. Then we cried as we glimpsed the burden he had shouldered. Third, there was silence, as his retreating figure on the day his house was torn down prompted us to think deeply.
Q: In the opening and midway through the film, Liang Zi bombards Jiang with provocations. Was that in order to get him to talk about himself?
GC: In the opening we wanted to show the contrast between their two personalities, and that they weren’t able to understand each other until the day he was evicted. Jiang is from the south, so he’s cautious and doesn’t really voice his thoughts. And Liang Zi is from the north, so she’s straightforward and businesslike. In fact when it was televised in Shanghai, criticism focused on Liang Zi for disrespecting an elder in the opening. Personalities in the north and south in China are really different.
Q: You comment that Jiang’s history overlaps with China’s history, but were you aware of that from the beginning?
GC: Of course, we knew the history. My parent’s generation experienced the Cultural Revolution, and the previous generation went through war and other things. Jiang has experienced it all. In the first edit, we included the story of him being forced to work in a factory hauling cement during the Cultural Revolution, as he was born into a capitalist family. People who know that era are aware that the wealthy were abused. So, we cut the scene thinking that it would be better to portray him as a symbol of his generation. We thought that his deep connection with his home was evident in the scene where he is evicted. He endured hardship together with that house. We felt again the strength at the core of people from that generation, and wanted to depict the strength of humans.
(Compiled by Kusunose Kaori)
Interviewers: Kusunose Kaori, Nakajima Ai / Interpreter: Higuchi Yuko
Photography: Oyama Daisuke / Video: Oyama Daisuke / 2005-10-09