Interview with Hong Kong film director Stanley Kwan

by John Frame recorded 29th July 2001

for the Queer Radio program on community radio 4ZZZ fm102.1 Brisbane, Australia

regarding Stanley Kwanís film Lan Yu which screened 28th July 2001 at the 10th Brisbane International Film Festival

Transcribed by John Frame 30th July 2001 (Johnís contact details are at: http://www.queerradio.org/JohnFrame.html )

Throughout the Western world, the television broadcast and DVD/video release of the Queer As Folk series is considered to be a pivotal element in changing public perceptions of homosexuality. Will the film version of Chinaís most popular modern (and Internet based) novel, Lan Yu, bring the same change to much of Asia? Lan Yu is filmed and set in modern Beijing Ė itís the story of a wordly-wise businessman who finds true love with a student activist he thought was a "one night stand". Their love is tested by financial, cultural and relationship pressures.

Queer Radioís presenter, John Frame, talks in Brisbaneís Queen Street Mall with celebrated Hong Kong Chinese director Stanley Kwan, who had presented Lan Yu at the 10th Brisbane International Film Festival on 28th July 2001.

 

JF: Stanley Kwan, weíre here in Brisbane City, just outside The Regent Cinema, and as part of the Brisbane International Film Festival, welcome to Queer Radio on 4ZZZ. How are you?

SK: Good. Very nice weather and very nice city. This is really the first time Iíve been to Brisbane, but I feel good.

JF: We had the pleasure of seeing your film Lan Yu here last night as part of BIFF and itís a very honest portrayal of how men can love each other. You must be happy with the film?

SK: Iím quite happy Ė especially as I said last night, that this is the first time Iíve worked with a major Beijing film crew and I found the process very exciting and you know there are lots of efficient and talented crew members and actors in Beijing. So it was just a wonderful experience and during the shooting I found that they are also very devoted to the story Ė the emotion, the relationship of the characters. So I think somehow the final product Iím quite satisfied with, and part of the reason is that the whole crew were really devoted to it.

JF: I like the way that the characters are allowed to be men who are attracted to men and who love men Ė and that they donít have to justify that to the audience. Hangdong seems to be the main character, even though Lan Yu is the name of the film, but Hangdong seems to be trying to follow his heart. Thereís part of the film where he thinks that he could love a woman, and he goes in that direction. Thatís a real thing that happens to people doesnít it?

SK: Yes, I think that. I have quite a number of friends (like that) who are really successful businessmen or celebrities in Mainland China. But itís the environment, you know? Even now the situation is more open, but actually homosexuality is still a taboo Ė not exactly prohibited, but itís still a taboo. So I think somehow itís not like the Western world, where gay people can really honestly "come out" or just be open about their choices, or their own sexuality, in front of the public.

JF: I like the way Lan Yu also presents the "day-to-day"-ness of the sort of relationships that men have.

SK: I think that a "man to man" relationship for me is no different from a heterosexual relationship, you know, if they really fall in love with each other.

JF: There are a lot of rapid scene changes, but it seems to take its time in developing the characters Ė so you do find a strong affinity with them as well. And it has a moderately tragic ending. One person questioned why a character had to die in the end, but thatís part of the story obviously Ė you didnít just throw that in as an extra?

SK: About the ending, for example in my relationship with my friend - my boyfriend Ė I always have a kind of feeling Ė Iím really afraid that someday all of a sudden maybe he, or maybe I, would disappear. Part of the reason is because Iím quite afraid of death but on the other hand, I maybe fantasise "What is death?" and so it is a very major element in all my films.

JF: Thereís a story by American Psychologist Dr Evelyn Hooker in which she says we are lucky to fall in love even once in our lives, but that very often there is a price to be paid. She says that shouldnít stop you falling in love, that you donít stop enjoying life.

SK: Yeah, I totally agree with that feeling and Iíve got the same feeling, you know. I can imagine that, one day, if my lover all of a sudden died, I will have no regrets for being in love with this guy. I totally agree with what she said.

JF: I enjoy also with Lan Yu that we get to see what upper-class suburban Beijing is like Ė itís something Iíve never seen before in film. Itís really quite unusual isnít it?

SK: Itís really only part of it, you know, because this story only focuses on these two characters, but if you go to Beijing or see any other Chinese film, you can see about the society, after the financial and economic development, that itís changing a lot.

JF: The story that Lan Yu is based on is being represented as perhaps the most widely read Chinese novel Ė and itís an electronic novel, it exists only on the Internet. Because that story is so popular, do you expect that when Lan Yu is released on DVD, that it will be watched then throughout mainland China, even if it doesnít ever get to be in the cinema?

SK: I think theatrical release is still impossible. From "day one" the financier and producer knew that. With this subject we thought there is no way that we can release the film in theatres in Mainland China. But we believe that the filmís second life, the DVD market or the videotape market Ė that would be large in Mainland, because you know we set up a website for Lan Yu on the Internet and the audience response was excellent. So we are going to distribute the DVD, the VCD or videotape in Mainland on our own - and not particularly because of the money. Weíve made this film adapted from this popular novel and we would like that the product can be shown to most of the (potential) audience Ė especially the gay people, they are really longing for that.

JF: I would imagine that Lan Yu will have the same effect in China that Queer As Folk has had in Britain and America, in that it presents a realistic story for this couple of people and most of the rest of society will benefit from being able to see the stories told about those people.

SK: Yes I expect that. We really expect that the market will be large.

JF: Itís been a pleasure talking to you, Stanley Kwan Ė director of Lan Yu here at the Brisbane International Film Festival.

SK: Thank you very much, Iím quite happy to be here Ė thanks!