Interview: Wei Te-sheng, director and writer of “Cape No. 7”

The Taiwanese film “Cape No 7” has broken box office records in Taiwan and is also set to be a success in Hong Kong. The first feature film by director Wei Te-sheng, it’s a romantic comedy, with music, set mostly in Hengchun, a small town in the southernmost part of Taiwan.

The protagonist of the main story is Aga, a failed rock-star who returns to his hometown from Taipei and becomes a postal worker.

His interest in music is reawakened when the town decides to put together a local band hastily as the opening act to a beach concert by a famous Japanese singer.

A relationship develops between Aga and the Japanese woman who is helping to organise the band. It’s mirrored by seven love letters written by a Japanese teacher to the Taiwanese woman he is leaving, as the Japanese left Taiwan after the Second World War.

cape-7

During the making of the film, director Wei ran into many obstacles, from a string of typhoons at the beginning of the shoot to serious financial difficulties. To make the film, he refinanced his home, initially with his wife’s full support, but got himself heavily into debt as the production went on.

He spoke to The Works’ Diana Wan.

(This interview was conducted in Chinese, and translated)

Diana Wan
When did you first come up with the idea for “Cape No. 7”?

Wei Te-sheng
It was back in 2006. At that time I couldn’t get finance for my previous project. I remember thinking that I wanted to make a film that could move the hearts of people, which was about our local culture, but which could at the same time be commercially successful. So I spent a year in preparation and research and took about a month to write the script.

Diana Wan
You took a lot of personal risks financially to make the film.

Wei Te-sheng
Yes. It was very tough when we first got the film together. When we started filming in the southern part of Taiwan we had only NT$5 million to make the film. The reason we still went ahead with the shooting was that we had applied for a guarantee fund from the government to insure any bank that would give us a loan. But I couldn’t believe it. No bank wanted to lend us the money. We had the guarantee fund from the government but we still couldn’t get a loan. We had thought we’d definitely get it. So as we started filming we were waiting for a loan to come but no bank would help out. In the end, finally, one bank turned up that was willing to lend us the money and we had to overcome so many obstacles. Before we got that loan I was really worried and scared. It was so terrible! What could we do? In the end the film was made and it was quite something. I made this film with NT$50 million and it took in NT$500 million at the box office in Taipei.

Diana Wan
Your wife was very supportive of the risks you were taking.

Wei Te-sheng
That was a long time ago. Towards the end of the film project she lost faith in me totally. It was true very early on. Five years ago she said to me, “Go ahead and do it. Don’t wait till you get old and complain that you didn’t do this because of this and that. If you want to do it, do it.” We were talking about NT$2 million back then, which was something we could afford at the time. But at a later stage, when we were making Cape No. 7 she had to sign off on a loan for NT$15 million, and she thought I was actually going crazy. She thought I didn’t know what I was doing and our lives were going to be ruined once we signed for this loan. But I still wanted to do it, and she lost faith in me.

Diana Wan
You weren’t tempted to give up?

Wei Te-sheng
There was no turning back. Money had been spent. You can’t quit in the middle of filming. If you quit you’ll be in debt and you won’t have made your film. I couldn’t afford to lose in this, and the only way I could win in the circumstances was to finish this film. I couldn’t compromise on even one frame. I could only say okay when it really was okay. If it was not okay it was not okay. Even when I was just half way through I knew I had to finish it. I couldn’t spend the money and come back empty handed. There should be no regrets. I realised my vision to the best of my ability and if that failed there was nothing more I could to. And if it turned out to be successful, it’s something we achieved. There was no turning back because we were already so much in debt, We had to continue, take the gamble.

Diana Wan
So you felt exonerated in the end?

Wei Te-sheng
It was totally out of my expectations. In the end I realised that if you do something honestly and with sincerity, the result can be overwhelming. It went far beyond what we considered to be commercially successful. What is successful with our audience is sometimes not the kind of commercially successful films we expect. What makes a movie commercially successful for the audience is to have a story that’s close to their hearts, close to their language and thinking, something that they would like to see. It’s not always about using a star-studded cast or expensive sets. Of course, those things could be of commercial value, but what is the real value in all of this? Can they relate to the film? Can it say what they have always wanted to say in their heart? Is it the dream they have that they can’t bring to life? Could it make them think again about the dreams they had when they were young?

In everyone’s life, no matter how ordinary he or she is, there should be one thing that you can talk proudly about, that one thing. Even though you can maybe tell it in ten minutes, it’s good enough. An old man should have a story to tell. “Grandad or grandma, what did you do when you were young that you could tell me about?” Nothing? How can you tell your grandson or granddaughter that your life is a blank? Nothing. It’s what you achieved that matters. People nowadays give up their dreams very early. At most they allow themselves ten years to realise their dreams. If you live to 100, spending just 10 years to realise your dream is too short. People give up too soon and too easily these days.

Diana Wan
What’s the role of the music in the film?

Wei Te-sheng
A film about music is a method, it can easily provoke an audience’s emotions. But what the film actually talks about is dreams and the value of love. A romance is filled with regrets. After 60 years can this love take on a new set of values? It’s about the realisation of dreams, and the regrets of romance and dream, but told through the use of music.

Diana Wan
Some people praise the film for it’s “local” sensibility. Will it sell worldwide?

Wei Te-sheng
When we are blindly chasing the so-called world trends and trying hard to make ourselves fit into this global perspective do we notice how much we give up in the process? We try hard to chase these things and at the same time we are losing our own values. I want to look at this from another perspective, and to show people around the world our own unique culture. I think things can coexist: we can have new things but at the same time not forget our existing culture. Of course new culture and old traditions can conflict with each other. I also look into this in the film to see whether the new and old can work together. What I’ve always advocates is that we shouldn’t be scared of new culture but at the same time we shouldn’t forget our heritage because the two are closely related. So when we try to become internationally recognised or take on this global perspective can we use a local perspective to do so? Or should we lose ourselves totally to pursue this? Can we look at this from our own perspective and create something new from it?

Diana Wan
You have plans for another epic movie on Taiwan’s indigenous people. Is the global economic downturn going to make it hard to finance an epic?

Wei Te-sheng
Filmmakers shouldn’t have this mindset and say: “Oh, the financial situation is bad, so let’s forget about making this film.” It should be the other way around: “How can we make this film or project a reality despite the financial difficulties?” The first lesson in making films is problem solving. Isn’t this the first thing we learn in film school?

Diana Wan
How do you think audiences outside of Taiwan will receive it?

Wei Te-sheng
I think they will understand. Music, love and dreams are universal themes. Which places on this planet don’t have love? Don’t talk about music or dreams? These are all universally accepted. I just focused on the culture of Taiwan in talking about these themes.

Diana Wan
You used mostly non actors?

Wei Te-sheng
Our actors are all very real and natural. People found them funny not because they said something funny but because they act like people you know. For instance, the village political representatives do talk like that. People’s uncles and aunts do talk like that. Their friends’ children do talk like that. So the audience feels that these people do live around them. They won’t treat them as actors. It’s like watching people they know on screen. These ordinary people realising their dreams, the group of losers trying to put their first music performance together, these things happen around the world. There is no language barrier and it’s a common value we all share.

Diana Wan
For a long time the Taiwanese commercial movie scene hasn’t been very competitive.

Wei Te-sheng
Maybe noodle shop A sells a bowl of noodles for $100, and noodle shop B also sells it for $100. But one bowl has noodles, beef, egg and vegetables for $100, while the other has just noodles and soup and still charges $100. This is the dilemma the Taiwan film industry faces at the moment. Our budgets have dwindled but you have to try to give the same value for money, so how do you attract the audience?

Maybe the soup I made the bowl of noodles with was brewed for more than 20 hours. Do we want to spend the time to make this 20-hour soup? You can’t say I don’t want to spend the time and effort. If you do, why should the audience want to come to see this film if they could spend the same amount of money somewhere else? Maybe I don’t have the beef or all the other extra condiments but my soup has to be worth the money. This is the area we need to work on. That’s what I’m trying to do and I’m not quite sure whether I can do it. At that time I took a big risk. I was encouraged and ridiculed at pretty much the same rate. They encouraged me because they knew how tough it was and they laughed at me because they thought I was heading to my doom. But we made it, we made it and proved we were right.

I think whether it’s a Taiwanese film, or a Hong Kong film, or a movie from other parts of Asia, we lack the spirit of risk-taking. Not many people want to risk testing the potential of the market or wanting to do something good. We compromise because of the market situation. We encourage others to follow their dreams but we don’t actually make our own dreams come true.

Advertisements

One thought on “Interview: Wei Te-sheng, director and writer of “Cape No. 7”

  1. […] Works A TV Show on Arts and Culture in Hong Kong « In the Show – 25th November 2008 Interview: Wei Te-sheng, director and writer of “Cape No. 7″ […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s