Academic journal article CineAction

The Days of Frozen Dreams: An Interview with Wang Xiaoshuai

Academic journal article CineAction

The Days of Frozen Dreams: An Interview with Wang Xiaoshuai

Article excerpt

I first met Wang Xiaoshuai, one of the emerging sixth generation Chinese directors, at the Toronto International Film Festival in 1999, where he was promoting his 1998 film So Close to Paradise. At that time he was relatively unknown in North America and overshadowed by the more established fifth generation directors. Under these circumstances other directors would probably have tried harder to promote themselves, but Wang was comfortably low key. In the beginning of our discussion he was polite and reserved but as we continued he became more animated and passionate. He talked openly about his being blacklisted by the Chinese censorship bureau and how he, along with many of his peers, was forced to go underground. It seems absurd for those of us in the West who grew up with super-8 home movies that capturing moving images with a camera could cause such a commotion.

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In April of 1989 student-led protesters gathered in Tiananmen Square demanding the government institute economic and political reform. In the early morning of June 4th the army entered Tiananmen Square and crushed the student-led movement. The government reaffirmed its control of the arts. Fifth generation directors who had the support of the state-run studios were still able to make films as long as their ideas did not run counter to government policies but the new generation of more freethinking and radical directors were completely shut out. Being denied freedom of expression only toughened their resolve and so they began their journey as illegal underground filmmakers. Chinese officials condemned the grim subject matter of their films, disregarding the fact that it was precisely their ill treatment of these directors that had fuelled their discontent. As most of them were born after the Cultural Revolution, their personal life experience may not have been as austere as the fifth generation directors but their artistic journey was one of frustration and turmoil. These personal experiences are duly portrayed cinematically by Wang. His stories are down to earth and his characters are close to reality like the loser next door, the confused school kid or the regrettable stubborn father. For Wang to have succeeded as a sixth generation director and to have consistently produced quality films is a testament to his talent, passion, and dedication.

Today, Wang is still modest, passionate and approachable, despite the fact that Shanghai Dreams (2005) garnered the "Prix du jury" in Cannes. In my conversations with him he takes us on a journey of how a young artist who took film as just another form of aesthetic expression, like painting or sculpture, found his calling as a filmmaker. He is still looking for the optimum balance between his artistic vision and public recognition, a challenge that has remained with him since day one of his film journey, like a dream frozen in time.

The following article has been assembled from material gathered during two conversations I had with Wang, between September, 2005 and February, 2006. The interviews were conducted in Chinese and I'd like to thank Yan Woo and Winny Zhang for transcribing the Chinese text.

AS: Why did you choose film as your career?

WX: I learned drawing when I was young. It wasn't because I wanted to have fun, but it was my father who pressured me into it, and I complied. It wasn't my real inclination. Maybe the pressure was too much when I was a boy, I somehow rebelled against it. Later I went to a high school which was tied to the China Central Academy of Fine Arts to study professional drawing, but when I was applying to university, I hesitated in choosing fine arts as my future career. I felt that my interest in drawing only came out of harsh discipline, and my basic techniques had flaws. I didn't feel much sense of achievement while doing drawings, so my inclination slowly shifted.

At the time, I hadn't actively pursued other universities, as all our graduates would apply either to the China Central Academy of Fine Arts, or the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (now renamed The China Academy of Art). …

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