An Interview with Chen Huai-en
Island Etude is about Taiwan. What are you trying to say about the current state of the island?
We feel anxious because a lot of issues are ignored. Mass media in Taiwan doesn't pay enough attention to important issues, like the economy and environment, and mass media plays a large role in people's life. That's why these issues continue to be ignored. The media covers crime and politics a lot and focuses only on that, so Taiwanese people do not feel stable. They don't know what type of environment they are living in.
You did the cinematography for Hou Hsiao-Hsien's 1989 film City of Sadness. Both films are stories of loss—the loss of political freedom in City of Sadness and the loss of cultural identity and a rich environment in Island Etude. Are there other parallels between the two stories?
First, the stylist principles I used to make both pictures are the same. I make long scenes, not too many cuts or close-ups.
But this is a big question. Many of the same issues still exist but definitely right now Taiwanese people are more confused than those in the 1940s. Because of political development, most Taiwanese people don't know what to do and what they can do. Some people feel stuck.
Are you optimistic about Taiwan's future?
I actually felt more optimistic before making Island Etude. Before, I looked at the world through my perspective and through my experiences. After starting the film, I met many people and realized these people still exist. I brought all their different stories into the film. So although the film is fiction, the characters are real. While making the film, I got to know a lot of Taiwanese people who take this island very seriously. They told us what they are doing for Taiwan. I also feel that right now Taiwanese people have more dignity. Hopefully that will change politics. This year we had a very important election [where Taiwan elected new president Ma Ying-jeou who is focusing on economic growth and calls for closer relations with China] and I see people becoming more reasonable and more pragmatic. In the past, there was more nationalism and now there is a move toward being more pragmatic. And what all these diverse people have in common is the island.
The film depicts a sad, uncertain Taiwan. Why does the main character, Ming, remain so positive?
I chose Darren Chiang Chun-jui to play Ming because I immediately noticed a characteristic in him: that he is willing to listen. I feel that right now people need to listen more clearly. Although Ming is deaf, he is very willing to listen. Most normal people can hear but don't actually listen. If people start listening to each other, they will finally understand each other. If you spend any time in Taiwan, it feels like everyone is arguing and fighting. Taiwan will be better if people stop and listen to each other's stories; Ming represents this.