MIFF 2013 – Interview with Jonathan Ng director of Requiem for Romance

In the last couple of days I went to see the always popular Animation Shorts Program, the WTF! Shorts program and the documentary Exposed. I thought I would do something a bit different while I get the reviews for these films ready and try to get in touch with a couple of the directors from the animation shorts program as they were at the screening and in theory would be easier to contact while they are in Melbourne. It also gives me an opportunity to hear from new people on the creative scene before they become really big.

Q) There seems to be a lot of influence of Kung Fu movies in the film, it is even mentioned by the characters. Do you have any favourites? Shaw Brothers or modern?

A) I have many favourites. Fists of Fury, Way of the Dragon for Bruce Lee. Drunken Master II and Rumble in the Bronx for Jackie Chan. More recent ones include Drunken Monkey, Crouching Tiger and Hero, who’s colour coded flashback sequences had influence on my film. Actually conventions within martial arts films have separated into two sub-genres, Kung Fu films (comedy, action) and Wu Xia films (poetic, cape and sword). Hopefully my film captures somewhere in between as I tried to maintain both subtle humour and melancholic emotion. One of the reasons I like Kung Fu in films, versus efficient combat forms such as Muay Thai or Ninjitsu, which I have dabbled in, Kung Fu maintains its artfulness, something that links it to other art forms like painting, dance, calligraphy, and the healing arts. While some Kung Fu styles seem to become less efficient for real combat, I find their cinematic quality increases. Thus, I approached the choreography more like a tango between two lovers and not as a lethal death match. The male character’s style suggests a more modern street dance flavour, while the girl’s style and weaponry would evoke the more traditional ribbon and fan dances.

More broadly, my goal was to unite the three signature genres of Chinese cinema, martial arts films described above, Chinese water ink animations from the 50’s that were banned during the cultural revolution, like Buffalo Boy’s Flute, and the love stories that don’t end well, like Spring in a Small Town, and In the Mood for Love.

Buffalo Boy’s Flute part 1 & 2

Q) Dubbing or original language for kung fu movies?

A) Although the dubbed versions can be entertaining, I always try to go for original language in Kung Fu films, whether it’s Cantonese (which I speak) or Mandarin (which I try to speak) or English or whatever. But dubbing is so hard to avoid, because there are so many languages and dialects in Asia. I think of Mr Nice Guy as a fun example, a cheesy Jackie Chan film that would otherwise fade from memory, but for some reason I enjoy it because the Western actors are dubbed to speak Cantonese in goofy accents. It provides the perfect equivalent for all of the poorly dubbed films in English that seem to come off so goofy.

Q) With the live painting under the camera did it take a long time to get the results you wanted or did you go the route “we don’t make mistakes, we just have happy accidents”?

A) For the live painting under the camera, I had a period of 4 weeks to shoot everything. I used the first week just to experiment with all the possible ways to create movement in the water & ink, using different types of paper, brushes, eye droppers, shot glasses, and blow dryers. Once I got comfortable, each time I filmed a specific colour, I had specific shots and sequences in mind based on my storyboards. My concept was to use the ink flow to represent the elements such as wind, clouds, ink, fire, rain, foliage and the river. This meant that I had to closely reference my storyboards to coordinate screen direction with the ink flow direction. In this sense, I thought of the wind as another character, so it would have it’s own moody, energetic and calm periods.

The little bubbles that appear to form in the water were a completely unexpected result. At first glance I thought they were going to ruin my shots. But then they sort of became those “happy accidents” that added an imperfect spontaneous charm, and makes clear that the ink is real and not software generated. Due to the unpredictability of the process, I had to shoot tons of extra footage, then sifted through to find the appropriate takes for each shot.

Q) What are you looking forward to working on next?

I am developing my first feature length animated script, and I intend to continue refining the ink technique for the feature. I now have a world-class, Oscar nominated, French Canadian producer named Roger Frappier, and I am now teaming up with a co-writer from Beijing who recently wrote a feature script for Lou Ye. We recently traveled to Hong Kong and Beijing to meet with potential co-production partners Galloping Horse and Cashflower. A three way co-production between Canada, China and France to create an epic animated feature film is our goal.

Link to Jonathan Ng’s website with DVDs of the short and Limited Prints for sale:

All proceeds go towards financing his next film.

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