Hsu Li-Da is a Taiwanese filmmaker that was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and acquired his MFA in Film at Taipei University of the Arts. His first film, True School, was officially selected by several film festivals, including the New York Festivals International Television & Film Awards, Prix International and ISFVF. The End Of Love is his second full-length narrative film, which won the “Special Jury Prize” at the World Premieres Film Festival Philippines 2015.
SineScreen caught up with Hsu to learn more about his craft and the inspiration behind The End of Love.
So, when and why did you start writing and making film?
My parents are movie enthusiasts and we went to the cinema almost every week as far as I can remember in my childhood. The films were mostly Hollywood movies. It didn’t occur to me that I’d be making films one day when I grew up.
In my high school years I first encountered Truffaut’s The Four Hundred Blows; it was indeed a “blow” to me. For the first time I realized an art film could convey so much charm and influence, so powerful that it could change lots of people, lots of things.
“The Four Hundred Blows” inspired me to the point where something was initiated in me, something I could not define then – yet from this point to the much later stage in my life when I made up my mind to make film, it was a very slow process and took a long, long time.
I studied my graduate degree in film-making at the Taipei Art University, and discovered that I had no interest in doing anything else besides creating and film-making. I was 24.
What inspired you to write The End of Love, and how did you come up with the situations for each couple? How did you know when the script was ready to shoot?
The End of Love originally was a short film. The script was merely three pages, with six characters. It was one of my assignments during the school. After finishing that short film, I kept feeling a little unsatisfied, that there can be more room for further development. I completed the long version of the script in 2014 and received funding from the Public Television Service (PTS) in Taiwan.
The sources of inspiration of each section are complex. The young socialist and the bar-girl are some self-projection plus the story of a friend’s; the man and his wife craving for pregnancy, a cast from the news; the boy and the teacher is totally my own projection; the only cast without my self-projection will be that of the elderly couple, it is inspired by a news reporting the high suicide rates in elderly homes.
I think there is never a day for a script to be ‘READY’. It is always changing, from the very first draft, to the day before shooting kicks off. And the so-called finalized ‘ending’ may change versions up to 7 or 8 times. Technically speaking, I say there is no such thing as “the script is ready to shoot the film”, it’s only in your heart there is a voice telling you “I want to make the film now, so let’s do it.” However, the most common scenario will be the producer screaming in your ear: “Shoot your film quickly or else we are over-budget!!”
The End of Love has many striking visuals in its coloring and composition. Did you have any particular stylistic influences for the film?
I grew up watching many Hollywood movies, however, what truly influenced my choices and preferences in film aesthetics are from Central and South America (i.e. Mexican) and Brazilian films and directors. For example, works by Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón: “And Your Mother Too”, “Great Expectations”, “Children of man’, “Gravity’; or works by director Alejandro González Iñárritu: “21 grams”, “Babel”, “Biutiful”, “Birdman”. I am very fond of Brazilian movies such as the outlaw “City of God”, “Central Station”,” Elite troops” and so on …
I am much influenced by the visual impact of these works. I find that these movies of Central and South America carry strong realistic style: they are vivid, wild, and do not pursue the beauty of formality. And most of the themes are about reality; brutal, naked, realistic forms of living, reflecting social, cultural and human nature. It differs from the style of the Taiwanese films that I grew up with. The aesthetics that the latter pursue are clean-cut, nice, conventially beautiful, and formal. Not my cup of tea. I prefer wear and tear, dirt and sweat, wild, un-tamed, disordered elements.
How has growing up and living in Taipei influenced your filmmaking? Is there any particular aspect of Taiwanese culture that affects your creative process?
Strictly speaking, I was little influenced by Taiwanese culture and Taiwanese films. Nevertheless, if from a different angle, Taiwan happens to be a multi-cultural country, much influenced by China, Japan, the US, Southeast Asia and other cultures. As far as I’m concerned, this place that I grew up is in fact very liberal in film-making compared to some countries. As long as there is funding, you can film whatever you want, and the variety is rich.
The last booming of Taiwanese movie is so-called “the new wave” in 80’s. It has insignificant influence on me. Maybe the only influence, I think, is in the actors’ performances. People in Taiwan often say we are passionate, but the Taiwanese are simply terrible and awkward when expressing themselves or the feelings from their hearts. Often (when they even attempt to express themselves at a crucial moment) it comes across as a split personality, insincere, or simply beating around the bush. They seldom speak from the heart or to the point they intend to; the divorce rate in Taiwan is among the world’s top ranks. Therefore, if the actors in my film looked or performed very depressed, perhaps this is relevant.
What makes a good film?
To present, or speak of the subject (topics) you wish to say in all sincerity and honesty, through the skills manifested, then echo or resonate the viewer’s sympathy. This makes a good film.