Old He: An Interview with Yi ZHANG


Tell us about yourself. What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

Hello, guys. I’m Yi Zhang (Ethan Cheung), a Chinese director, cinematographer. My works always focus on social problems. And many of them are based on true stories. I do not like to use garish ways to express my virtuosity. On the contrary, if you have viewed my works, you will find that my scenes are unpretentious but full of details. I got my bachelor's degree in Taipei, Taiwan and my MFA degree in Hong Kong. And now I am a filmmaker based in Shanghai, China. Different experience in different places helps me interpret this world more clearly.


Well, I think film is one of the artistic methods to express your feelings, emotions and thoughts. My temperament doesn’t allow me to be a silent person and I like to make my voice heard, especially for the underprivileged. Therefore, I became a filmmaker.



Talk about your last work. What are some of the challenges you faced during production?

My last work is a 3-minute short film, which talks about domestic violence. As for the challenges, well, if you were making a movie and you didn’t face any problems, that’s particularly strange, right? I faced COVID 19, a low budget and amateur actor/actress during the process of this work. Luckily, everything was under control.


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

As I said, I’m not a silent man. Film is my way to express my thoughts. I know there are lots of injustices on earth. Many people live in their own world and they have no idea how many people are dying outside. People need to know what happened and who were yelling in this society.


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

Just submit to your will and try your best to do better. When you concentrate your attention on your project, everything is going to help you.


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

I want to thank the filmmakers during the period of the Taiwanese New Wave cinema movement. Their movies nourished me a lot, like Edward Yang’s A Bright Summer Day and Hou Hsiao-hsien’s A City of Sadness. And I need to mention to Edward Yang’s Yi Yi. If you want to understand your whole life, just sit down and watch this 173-minute film.

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

As the internet turns on and on, less and less people are willing to go to cinemas. I don’t know whether it is good or bad, but in my opinion, watching a cinema means a person sits in a CINEMA and then watch a CINEMA, right? As for COVID, it affected filmmaking a lot. Sometimes it directly decided whether you could pick your camera up, but it never affected creation, which means your idea. You are the god in your creation world and you can do anything to make you create a good idea.


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

Firstly, believe in yourself. You need to hypnotize yourself and make you believe that your script is the best in the world. Then, as I said, be concentrated on your project, everything is going to help you.


If you are a film school student, please remember that your supervisor’s opinions are very useful and benefit your project a lot. Please do not ignore them, although this project is your own project.


If you are a filmmaker in the industry, please be confident and modest.



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

Of course. Many Korean films like Silenced helped to bring about the revision of the law in South Korea.


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

I think people in different periods like to watch different kinds of movies. For example, during the Great Depression, people liked to watch comedy movies.

For now, people like to watch movies from Hollywood. Why? Because the United States has been always exporting a lot of films all over the world.


I think the pandemic has changed the ways to watch films, not people’s taste.


Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

My upcoming project is my first feature film adapted from my own story. It is about my first love. To be honest, I had written this story in my student days but I decide to rewrite it now. If somebody asks me why I like films, one of the reasons is that the film can make two people meet again, although they may not see each other again in real life.


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