Author: Sonny Chin
Date: 12-25-09 15:47
TAIPEI, Dec 19 — Taiwanese writer-director Leon Dai’s second feature, Not Without You (No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti), was made on a budget so tiny he could not afford professional actors.
So he called on friends to play the lead roles. The 43-year-old also funded much of the US$200,000 (RM680,000) cost himself, with help from small government grants.
The indie production has since become the fourth-highest-grossing domestically made film in Taiwan this year, earning US$400,000 at the box office. It opens here on Thursday.
The movie, based on a real 2003 incident involving a girl forced by the authorities to leave her single father, won accolades at Taiwan’s Golden Horse awards last month.
It picked up four prizes, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Outstanding Taiwanese Film of the Year. It has also been selected as Taiwan’s entry to the Academy Awards next year.
Dai burst into tears when he went up on stage to receive his Best Director statuette.
“I cried because there were times making this film that I felt like I was pushed against the wall. I thought it would never get made,” he said.
He took 18 months to write the script and develop the movie. To be presented the prize by the likes of Hong Kong producer-director Johnnie To (Election, 2005) and Taiwan director Hou Hsiaohsien (A City Of Sadness, 1989) was overwhelming, he says over the telephone from Taipei.
The film’s Spanish name came about while he was searching for an international release title and a friend returning from South America told him about the term of endearment, ‘no puedo vivir sin ti’, which means ‘I cannot live without you’. Dai thought it fitted the mood of the film well.
The seed was first planted in 2003, when Dai, a seasoned actor with more than 30 films to his credit, watched a news programme.
Social welfare authorities had tried to take a child away from a single father, saying he was not a fit guardian. The father staged a protest near government buildings in the city of Taipei. It was captured by TV crews which were there to cover political affairs.
“I wrote the script based on the facts of his case,” he says of the bureaucratic nightmare the man found himself trapped in. The real father and daughter were not involved in the film’s development, although they attended a screening in Kaohsiung.
Dai cast friend and film-maker Chen Wen-pin in the role of unlicensed diver Li Wu-hsiung, a man employed and exploited by fishermen and boat owners. Lin Chih-ju, another film-maker, plays A-tsai the mechanic, a close friend of Li’s.
Both characters are members of Taiwan’s Hakka minority. Li, being poor and illiterate, suffers most at the hands of glib, ambitious politicians and bureaucrats forced to execute one-size-fits-all policies.
In one scene, Li and his seven-year-old daughter, played by newcomer Chao Yo-hsuan, sit for hours in the rain, waiting for a government official. It did not occur to anyone to tell Li he could make an appointment at the reception counter.
While the film comments on how urban society favours the educated and the middle-class, leaving behind country folk and those who do not belong to traditional nuclear families or who do not understand society’s unwritten rules, Dai says he made sure that the film is not a one-sided attack.
“My father and elder brother are civil servants. I know that no matter what they feel about a rule, they have to enforce it,” he says.
He wanted to tell the story without the typical melodrama of the Taiwanese family drama genre: ‘I wanted to distance the viewer from surface emotions, so he can also see the social context.’
For the same reason, he shot the film in black and white.
The honours that have been heaped on the film signal a victory for film-makers struggling to make personal films that say something meaningful, he says. His first movie was Twenty Something Taipei (2002).
“China is finding success with big-budget epics. But in Taiwan, it’s different. My film shows that even very small productions can find an audience.” — The Straits Times