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Reaction: An Interview with Director Liaoliao Wu

Tell us about yourself. How did you become an artist?

Hi! Friends from Tokyo International Short Film Festival, my name is Liaoliao Wu, I have had worked in China for 8 years as an actress. Now, I am active in the UK as an actress, screenwriter, and director, also pursuing a PhD at the University for the Creative Arts in film. It's a great honour to have my work Reaction reach your film festival and take this opportunity to have a conversation with you.

My experience as an artist has been relatively smooth. I was totally uninterested in memorising textbook knowledge when I was a child, studied film to get into university makes me feel fresh 😄. Although I was secretly volunteering to study film at the time, my grandfather told me that once I made a choice, I had to spend my life carrying it out. This statement had a great impact on me, I didn't have a plan indeed, my art career just suddenly descended.

What was your first job in the art field?

My earliest exposure was as a dancer from around the age of 13. But the job that has strictly influenced me is that of a theatre artist when I was under 20 years old. I used to perform at a Harbin Drama Theatre in Northeast China. During that time, I said the same lines and actions every day, sometimes even two shows a day nearly a year. It is the most precarious age, but this compulsive repetition of work has made me got patient for an art project. It may be that a deeper understanding of the same character will emerge after a period of perseverance in interpreting it.

What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work?

I think it is a sense of social responsibility. The length of my life is limited and my body’s death is certain, then the images are forever, so film is actually a way that I can still love and influence the world after my physical death. The theme of social reality is what I want to focus on most. I see some hurt, some injustice, and some tragedy, and I always want to record it as much as I can. Storytelling to the audience, as long as there is one person who likes, then what I do makes a little more sense.

Please tell us about your vision and your method of approaching a new project?

Watching the news. Every time I watch the news, especially social news, such as a murder that cause a social stir, it would make me wonder if this event could be adapted. Or some marginal characters who have no background but to seek help through the internet. Sometimes things happen around, and friends chat about their real experiences of these.

Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you?

Kim Ki-duk.

Spring Summer Fall Winter and Spring is the film I have seen the most times. Compared to photographic skills, I really like the philosophical expressions in his films. He always takes his time in narrative. An inclusive attitude to the sin of the process; a beautiful body to reveal the marginalised life. He was also very good at using semiotics. Although he focuses on social issues and the lives of marginalised people, his films do not consume suffering or have a didactic connotation. This is so admirable to me.

Technically, one of the most important things I've learn from following director Zhang Yimou on set is that he's actually a bit of a perfectionist. For the direction of a candle flame burning, the arc of a drop of the rain bouncing off the edge of an umbrella all had to be laid out, even for an afternoon. It really drove me crazy looking for details when I was filming.

How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation?

I am optimistic. In previous years, the global creative environment was not good. Especially for art films. The decade from 2009-2019 was the best time for cinema, it was very profitable. But it’s also the worst time for film, when the influence of commercial properties changed over artistic aesthetics, literature, etc. But the impact that covid has had on the global economy has challenged the policies of all countries. It's fair to say that after a period of quiet, people are significantly more vocal-able. This is a good thing for film industry.

I can see a resurgence in the artistry of cinema in the next five to ten years. Probably because it's not so profitable anymore.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid?

I would say, watch more films. Regardless of the genre and age, watching movies constantly is the quickest and cheapest way to learn about films.

About something that must be avoided, I can make a suggestion: the images have a long-lasting impact. Don't waste each opportunity to filming, there is no easy money coming in. Every shot you take today can have an impact on your future career.

Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world?

Of course. Whether the change comes quickly or slowly, whether the impact is wide or small. Even if it changes one person's life or brings joy to one person for an hour, it's worth it. It’s filmmaker’s responsibility.

What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed people's taste?

In terms of film genre, I find that fast-paced comedies and cartoons are the choices of the recent audience. Movies that are suitable for the family.

Some commercial investments should be lost after the outbreak. The number of small-budget feature films is likely to increase.

The viewing methods, streaming instead of cinema and short videos instead of long features, are both currently more affected by the epidemic.

Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

I am currently writing a script for an Asian film noir. I want it to combine a Hollywood commercial structure with Asian cultural elements. As a cultural crossover, it will use the German expressionist style of light and shadow, the streets of Weimar style, the concept of the doppelganger, and the Asian femme fatale image, Chinese and British immigration policies.

I would put my hope in breaking the influence of the patriarchy. As well as wanting to break out of the invisible post-colonial culture to perfect a true sense of world cinema where Asian-European cultures intermingle. It might be a bit over-ambitious to say that, but there's always a step-by-step approach to doing these things. Just start by making a cross-cultural film noir.


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