INTERVIEW WITH C. B. YI

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At the Viennale 2021, director C. B. Yi presented his feature film Moneyboys. Cinema Austriaco had the opportunity to have a chat with him and learn more about his film and his career. Interview by Marina Pavido.

Marina Pavido: How did the idea of making Moneyboys come about?

C. B. Yi: I happened to meet people very similar to my protagonist Fei. People who, like Fei, do something for their family or loved ones that is not accepted by society. They often find themselves in financial difficulties and for this reason they are forced to lead a certain kind of life. I found this extremely interesting and for this reason I have done a lot of research on people like him. People who are strongly criticised for what they do and are even sent away by their own families. However, I find their situation very sad and I absolutely wanted to tell their story so that as many people as possible would learn about their situation and try to understand their point of view. Anyway, it took us eight years to make this film and we had a lot of problems, but I believe that there are still people who are willing to understand their stories and be on their side.

M. P.: The directorial approach you adopted is very interesting. For instance, you staged many long shots. Why this particular stylistic choice?

C. B. Yi: In my opinion, when there are a lot of cuts, the viewer does not feel totally involved in what is being staged. With long shots, the viewer slowly becomes part of the story. This way there are no interruptions that can disturb this process of identification. With montage, moreover, you decide where exactly the spectator should look, it is a kind of manipulation, whereas with long shots it is the spectator himself who decides which character to pay more attention to or which character to identify with.

M. P.: You also cast non-professional actors in your film. How did you work with the cast?

C. B. Yi: Most of the actors came from the countryside, because we happened to shoot there as well. I chose actors from different regions, because otherwise, if I had only chosen actors from Taiwan, they would have characterised the film too much with their Taiwanese accent. I made this choice so that I could make the whole thing more harmonious in terms of dialects. Keiko, the main character, is incredibly talented and sensitive. Three months before the shoot, we met, talked for a long time about his role, until I realised that he was so experienced that he knew much more about Fei than I did. At that point I told him: ‘From now on you are Fei and everything you do is right’. In the end he was so good that often only one or two takes were needed to realise the long shots. He was even nominated for several international awards for this performance. I really hope he can win. The same goes for the other actors, they are all very talented and some have even played three roles. As for the actor who played Fei’s uncle, we met the very same day and immediately shot the scene where he argues with his nephew.

M. P.: The world you depict is a world in which it is impossible to live or even to love. Can it be said that capitalism is an additional protagonist?

C. B. Yi: Yes, of course. We are talking primarily about young people who come from small towns and have no future, but still have to help their families financially. They often move to big cities, work as waiters, but still struggle to pay the rent. I chose to describe their situation explicitly through dialogue, because although one can speak through metaphors, I believe that in certain situations it is important to be direct. It is not a ‘political’ film, but nevertheless it is a film that wants to be very clear about certain topics.

M. P.: The film is set in China. Do you think, however, that such a story could also be set in Vienna?

C. B. Yi: Yes. Moneyboys is a universal story about people who make many sacrifices for their loved ones, but are never accepted or appreciated as they deserve. Even in Austria there are people who are forced to do certain jobs every day, but are often criticised by society.

M. P.: What were the main difficulties during the making of the film?

C. B. Yi: I was very sorry that I could not shoot the film in China because, in fact, Taipei is nothing like China. You can feel the difference especially in terms of the people and their mentality. Even the wedding scene, for example, could have been much more realistic in China, just as weddings usually take place in the city. The location would also have been very different. In Taiwan, for example, there are no villages and what we see in the film is just a small group of empty houses, a tourist place that was depicted in a certain way just for this film. It is a place that is normally only used for taking pictures at weddings. Shooting in real locations would have been very different, but unfortunately this was not possible.

M. P.: Are there any films or directors that have been particularly significant for your studies as a filmmaker or for the making of your film?

C. B. Yi: Yes, of course. There are directors I admire a lot and have learnt a lot from, including Michael Haneke, but also Hou Hsiao-hsien or Tsai Ming-liang. For the wedding scene in particular, I often thought of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s directorial approach, for example. As for the directors of the past, I especially appreciate Yasujiro Ozu or even Shohei Imamura. And then, of course, there are also European directors who have always inspired me. Ingmar Bergman, for example, is one of them.

M. P.: One last question: are you currently working on any new projects?

C. B. Yi: Yes, I am already working on my next film. It is called Pure Land. It is a further chapter in a trilogy of which Moneyboys is also a part, but there are not the same characters. In this case, the story is set in a European city and concerns a son who cannot accept his father because he has a drinking problem and lives on the streets.

Info: the page of C. B. Yi on iMDb