Zero Chou is the director of Spider Lilies, a compelling psychodrama released in 2007 that explores Taiwan’s online culture in the early 21st century. It remains influential to this day as one of the earliest queer films in Taiwan. Winner of the 2007 Teddy Award for Best/Gay Lesbian Feature Film, Spider Lilies was streamed at The Austin Asian American Film Festival (AAAFF) in a virtual, six-film series celebrating the past and present of queer Taiwanese cinema available September 4-13, 2020 on aaafilmfest.org. Here, Zero Chou gives TaiwaneseAmerican.org a reflection on Spider Lilies and the evolution of queer cinema in Taiwan.
DIRECTOR ZERO CHOU, PHOTOGRAPHY BY ERIC TSUNG-LIN TSAI
Congratulations on being selected for the Austin Asian American Film Festival. Can you quickly introduce yourself?
Hello everyone! I am Zero Chou from Taiwan. In Taiwan, I am labeled as the lesbian director, probably because I have filmed many queer films.
How do you feel about this “lesbian director” label?
I don’t mind it because I did spend a lot of energy advancing the LGBTQ* movement. But, our society needs to reach a point where we no longer need this label. There is no need, not at all!
What was it like releasing Spider Lilies in 2007?
Taiwan was very conservative then. Casting was extremely difficult. Movie investors want celebrity actors to generate a profit, but casting them for queer roles creates conservative backlash. Oftentimes, you must offer higher salaries and exceed your budget.
How did the audience react to Spider Lilies when it was first released?
We received both positive and negative feedback. The positive was that we saw a lot of young people find warmth and support in our portrayal of same-sex love. The film was also successful in Singapore and Hong Kong. Audiences there said the film gave them immense strength, particularly since those societies were even more conservative than Taiwan.
As for the negative feedback?
Older audiences would say: “Aiya! Why did Zero choose this perverted topic!?” But, once they got into the movie, they realized that these “perverts’” lives are pretty similar to their own. They even started going: “Rainie Yang is so cute! Isabella Leong is so handsome!” But, if you go a step further and ask: “What if this was your own child?” Then, they might say they’ll first take them to a psychiatrist to see if it can be fixed. But, that’s a good thing because the psychiatrist will tell them: “Mom and dad, you’re wrong. The person with a problem is you not your child.”
So you think the best way to communicate is through film?
Yes, I like to communicate philosophies through storytelling and film. If a story is not grounded in philosophy, it just becomes commercial. That’s not what I want to create.
Since Spider Lilies, you’ve continued to explore LGBTQ* topics in your work. Has the way you convey these stories changed over time?
I find it impossible to repeat what I’ve done before. I always aim for change. What remains constant are my philosophies on equal rights and social justice. I stay rooted in those but seek aesthetic changes.
Has the evolution of your LGBTQ* portrayals influenced the development of your own lesbian identity?
I never questioned my own identity. I never suspected that nature made errors. 90+ animals have records of homosexual behavior. Not only do they not become extinct, they also do not experience discrimination. Only humans like to categorize homosexuality as an unnatural behavior. What about it is unnatural? This kind of thinking is unnatural.
What do you wish to see in the future of Taiwan’s LGBTQ* cinema?
I hope more people will create LGBTQ* films. America has many popular LGBTQ* television dramas, such as Orange Is The New Black, but Asia has barely any. Though Taiwan is viewed as a place with a developed LGBTQ* community, we still don’t see a commercial television channel that is willing to produce a LGBTQ* drama.
What do you think it will take for us to reach that stage?
Currently, no one is willing to invest the energy and capital to produce a new LGBTQ* market. This is because Taiwan’s entire film and television industry is still largely led by conservatives. To help them see that we need more LGBTQ* stories, we need more young people in positions of power in the industry.
What do you want your American audience at AAAF to take away from Spider Lilies?
I want my American audience to see more LGBTQ* stories from Asia so they can have a multidimensional view of Asians, rather than resorting to stereotypes, such as the idea that we emphasize family and tradition. Westerners fail to recognize the individuality of Asians, whether it’s regarding sexuality or gender. Highlighting Asian diversity will strengthen communication in this globalized world.
How can we continue to support your work?
America’s streaming platforms can purchase our movies, so audiences from other regions can view them. We are also working on Over the Rainbow, a series of six LGBTQ* internet dramas shot in six different Asian Cities (Beijing, Chengdu, Taipei, Singapore, Penang, and Hong Kong). Three have been completed (We Are Gamily, The Substitute, Handsome Stewardess) and we plan to release the Taipei one this year. These are available across multiple streaming platforms.
Is there anything else you want to share with us?
Enjoy the movie!
The above interview with Director Zero Chou was conducted, translated, and condensed by Joy Chiu.