YIDFF 2011 A Reunion of Taiwan and Japanese Filmmakers: 12 Years Later
The Stages, Swimming on the Highway
An Interview with Wu Yao-tung (Director)

Life Means Going Ahead

Q: I was moved by the characters’ affection for Taiwanese opera (Koa-a-hi). Isn’t it similar to Beijing opera?

WY: Taiwanese opera has a history of around 100 years. It derived from music and songs of Quanzhou and Amoy in the south-east of mainland China, and saw its development in Yilan, Taiwan. Initially, it was a form of singing and playing string instruments by men in between hours of labor, and later the theatrical element was added. Then as professional performers emerged to play on stage and tents set up for temple festivals, the theater troops began to grow.

In the days before television, Taiwanese opera was the number one form of entertainment. It was performed in theaters with a proper script and the performers were huge stars renowned to the general public. At this time, the performers were female. The male performers were taken over by female-only troupes when the art developed into a formal stage performance.

Q: Why did Taiwanese opera performers change from male to female?

WY: With the advent of commercial theater, the theater groups became all-women. Perhaps it is because many fans were women and many women wanted to become performers. The opera troupes began to recruit women.

Q: I hear it took you three years to film and edit this film. Why did you decide on Taiwanese opera as your subject?

WY: After Swimming on the Highway, I could not find a subject I wanted to film. As I was searching, I happened to come upon a travelling female troupe, and was struck by the dismal scene. They had been performing Taiwanese opera in temporary tents, but there were few people to watch them after television came into households. I was drawn to their “floating” life, traveling like gypsies from place to place.

At first I thought of a documentary project that projected my own life upon their wandering existence, and discussed it with filmmaker Wu Yii-feng. He agreed that Taiwanese opera is an important subject for Taiwan, and became my producer. I did a lot of research on the many existing opera troupes. I chose three groups and decided to focus on the traditional form of the art instead of the wandering troupe in my first idea.

Q: How did you see Taiwanese opera until then? Did your thinking change after doing research?

WY: My grandmother used to watch it on TV a lot, and my first Taiwanese opera experience was watching it together with her. As I lived in the city, I had no opportunity to see it in temple fairs, but I do remember the stars of the time. Nevertheless, that was when I was a child and later as a film student I had no contact with the opera.

I did a lot of research for this film, but Wu Yii-feng advised me not to be too distracted by history, since I wanted to make a film about the people themselves. I decided to focus on the everyday lives of the performers and make a film contemplating life. I was touched by the people I filmed and I hoped that emotion could be expressed through my film.

Q: In the film, Li Jing-fang won a prize for her Taiwanese opera CD. Did you predict this would happen?

WY: I was surprised. I went to shoot because I wanted to show the mother’s high expectations for her daughter, but I never imagined that she would win. Through the stories of the three troupes, I wanted to say, “Life means, moving ahead.”

(Compiled by Kusunose Kaori)

Interviewers: Kusunose Kaori, Tanaka Miho / Interpreter: Higuchi Yuko / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Iwahana Michiaki / Video: Oba Maho / 2011-10-09