Back in 2007, I watched a short film entitled Mei, created by a young Taiwanese American filmmaker by the name of Arvin Chen. The production was memorable for the heartfelt and endearing emotions captured through the simple fleeting expressions between boy and girl working in a Taipei night market stand. What struck me even more was finding out that Arvin was able to direct his short film without having full command of Mandarin language skills. Three years later, his first feature-length film, Au Revoir Taipei, is making its American debut at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, and once again, he brings to us an acclaimed romantic comedy completely set in Taiwan.
I’m pleased to share this brief interview with Arvin on the eve of Au Revoir Taipei‘s screening as the closing night film of the San Francisco portion of this film festival and the opener of the San Jose portion!
H: Hi Arvin! Thanks for taking the time to share with the audience members of TaiwaneseAmerican.org! It seems you’ve been busy traveling the world recently with all the attention that Au Revoir Taipei is drawing!
A: Hi, thanks for catching up with me. Yeah, a little busy – I just got back from our world premiere in Europe a few weeks ago, and now our local release in Taiwan is coming up on April 2nd, so I’ve been busy with all the promotional stuff here….
H: Which film festivals have you been at recently? And how have those experiences been?
A: So far, just Berlin which was great, especially the reaction from audiences and seeing our actors and crew interact with all the festival-goers.
Next up is the Dauville Asian Festival in France,which I won’t be able to attend unfortunately, then the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival which we’re closing, the Hong Kong International Film Festival, and then the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival which we’re opening… Somewhere in there is the Taiwanese theatrical release.
A: That’s actually a good description. It’s equal parts absurdist, screwball-comedy, and also a bouncy little bittersweet romance. Somewhere in there is a story about a kid trying to get to Paris to see his girlfriend, but then finding love in Taipei again. Oh, and there’s some gangsters…
H: Gotta have the gangsters! So, I remember watching your short film Mei several years back on the film festival circuit and was amazed that even though you had little Mandarin language skill, you were able to create such a memorable piece. So, I find it interesting, but not surprising, that you as a Taiwanese American have chosen to make your first feature-length film a Taiwanese film. Can you give us a glimpse into your thoughts behind that?
A: It happened pretty naturally really – I had a such a good time shooting that short film, and was so inspired by that experience that extending the short (very loosely) into a feature seemed like the right thing to do.
H: Well, I’m excited about what you’ve created! Au Revoir Taipei features an eclectic cast of characters. Tell us about your inspirations for these folks?
A: Each character is basically a slightly abstracted version of a character I’ve seen in Taipei and found intriguing. What’s unique about our film, I think, is that we bring a lot of characters together that seem to be from different worlds – for instance, a cute bookstore girl and a bunch of wannabe gangsters – together in the same film just to see what would happen…
H: Just out of curiosity, where did you grow up, and where do you call home now?
A: I grew up in Foster City, which is a utopic little suburb about 30 miles outside of San Francisco. I still think of the Bay Area as my home, though lately Taipei is becoming more and more of a second home… I almost feel equally comfortable here.
H: What was your “Taiwanese American” growing-up experience like? I mean, did you know you wanted to go into the arts? And how did your parents respond?
A: Pretty boring and safe, but nice… just like a lot of middle-class Asian American kids. My parents weren’t very supportive when I first suggested the idea of becoming a filmmaker, mostly cause they probably thought it was still just a dream. But to their credit, once I really started focusing on this path, they were very cool about it. The thing about them is that they love the arts, so I think deep down there’s something quite appealing to them about me making movies.
H: Yes, I think it’s interesting that our parents tend to come around and support what we do once they see our dedication to it. The glimpses of success don’t hurt either. So, what’s next project-wise for you?
A: Hopefully a project called Nanjing East Road, which is another romantic comedy set in Taipei (though circa 1981). This time there might be some more English dialog and even some American characters.
H: Exciting! You’ve definitely proven yourself with the first short film Mei, and now with Au Revoir Taipei, so I’ll be looking forward to the next project! Oh, so I gotta ask – what’s your favorite Taiwanese food?
A: Lately, I’ve been really into sesame noodles.
H: Yum! Hey, Arvin, thanks for taking the time today! We’re excited that your film is the closing night film at the 2010 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival! We’ll be watching your films and your career blossom over the years!
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Check out the Film Website (Mandarin): http://www.aurevoirtaipei.com
Join the Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/pagetaipei
An Interview on Radio Taiwan International: