Award-winning Filmmaker Chin-Wei Chang Welcomes Diversity in Today’s Cinema
Hollywood-based filmmaker Chin-Wei Chang’s highly acclaimed animated White Tunnel earned a film nomination in 2016 from the prestigious Golden Horse Awards, which is the Asian equivalent of the Oscars, and he cites our shared human experiences for the rise of Asian filmmakers’ influence on Western culture and film.
Chin-Wei, who has some eclectic films (Corn, and Dolly) slated to enter upcoming festivals in America, grew up in “a culture blended environment in Taiwan that built me a sense to see the commonality in differences.” So, he’s inspired by the increasing foreign influence in film circles, suggesting: “I see diversity starting to be practiced in Hollywood, the biggest film industry in the world, and it’s wonderful to see the positive message that they’re trying to convey to the world. For me, Asian-centric stories are really an attractive section of cinema. In dealing with day-to-day conflict, these films usually reflect the typically traditional standards of restraint and tenacity of Asian lifestyle in the storytelling, directing, and in the actors’ performances.”
He explains the storyline of White Tunnel which can resonate with all of us: “It seems like a family conflict story but actually raises the question — are we really in control of our lives while we are making decisions for that life? Or is it actually controlled by the value of modern society? Walking through a white tunnel is a metaphor of mindless greed along a path that we can see clearly but goes to nowhere.”
Indeed, when you view the films of Chin-Wei and his partner, Lan-Chi Chien, through their own Bicycle Studio film company (founded in 2013), you sense a different take on the similar issues we humans all face worldwide. These issues have been played out through their eclectic mix of animation, comedy, and now increasingly through their live-action films.
Chin-Wei, who looks up to legendary directors in Hollywood and in the West — including Billy Wilder, John Schlesinger, Ken Loach, the Dardenne brothers, Danny Boyle, Mike Nichols, and Martin Scorsese — explains: “Rather than just amplify our differences. It’s just like a coin. We usually focus on the two sides, but forgot the middle that connects the two sides. Therefore, bridging gaps between extreme things or social issues in an artistic way is the thing I use for the style of my work.”
The filmmaker, whose past animation background included being inspired by director Satoshi Kon and his animated works like Millennium Actress, got a life-changing taste of the live-action field when he first visited California in 2013. Chang’s animation short Huhu was selected by SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival, the world’s biggest conference on computer graphics. During his visit, he was mesmerized by the top CGI and VFX companies sharing the new technologies they used in blockbuster movies that year, movies like Iron Man, Pacific Rim, Frozen, and Monsters University. He admits that the cool CGI technology totally “blew my mind” but something unexpected happened, something that triggered him and partner Lan-Chi to get into the live-action field.
Like anyone who visits Hollywood for the first time, he went on eye-opening studio tours, explaining, “As a kid, my parents would take time off from their 24/7 workday to let me watch movies in a two-hour box of time — it was precious family time for me to laugh, cry, and enjoy entertainment together without any interruption from their work. So, when I visited Paramount, Warner Bros, and Universal studios. I was first fascinated seeing the classic movies titles on the outside of sound stages. And then on the studio lot, I saw a crewmember open a truck full of fake bleeding humans arms and legs. There were golf carts whizzing around everywhere. Huge fans and lights overhead. I spotted a guy sitting in the corner of a set, reading his notes on a script. As a movie lover, who grew up watching those Hollywood movies, it’s really hard to describe how profound these new experiences were to me. But I felt a strong simple pure pleasure inside me.”
In 2017, White Tunnel, which had earned wide recognition at numerous film festivals, was also featured in the Los Angeles Pacific Film Festival where it was regarded by Visual Communications as a “unique animated piece.” With those credits in hand, and also in 2017, he and his partner attended a film school in the USA, starting a new chapter in their filmmaking lives: “I kept that feeling from those life-changing studio tours with me. But I never really had a chance to practice filmmaking until I got into the live-action field, and I was eager to learn hands-on skills. Therefore, going to a film school was an efficient way for me at that time to gain the overall skills of filmmaking in the USA.”
When Chin-Wei and Lan-Chi worked in animation production, they spent much time working on computers, and pre-planning was kind of everything in their work, as they had to accurately pre-plan for the time of actions, shots, and even character emotions. But a whole new world has opened up with Chin-Wei explaining: “By contrast, when I got into the live-action field, communication is more important than pre-planning, it doesn’t mean pre-planning isn’t important in the live-action, it means there are many unexpected problems that will happen on set. And, then communication is the key solution. On the other hand, something unexpectedly wonderful will often happen, which is the thing I like the most about filmmaking. Getting to the live-action field let me learn the art of communication and embrace any surprises that happen on the set. Furthermore, learning filmmaking in America gives me a hard-won experience to work with people around the world.”
Bicycle Studio’s productions to date, include: intriguing and upcoming Dolly, Corn, and The Woman in the Darkness (directed by Lan-Chi), along with Phoenix, Angela, White Tunnel, Herself, Big Girl, Omar, Silent Night, Happy New Year, Nature Dance, Huhu, among others. With more to come.
As for Chin-Wei’s goals moving forward, he enthuses: “I hope my expertise in storytelling through films, live-action and also animations can benefit our lives in the modern society by helping people start discussions about important issues in our society relating to art and culture.”