China’s Wang Xiaoshuai Goes Low-Budget and Improvisational ‘The Hotel’

Wang Xiaoshuai, the director of “A Long Time Reunion” and “Red Amnesia,” will become the most senior director from mainland China to present his new films at major Western film festivals this year.

This may reflect the growing political and economic separation between China and the West over the past few years – with the coronavirus being an additional stimulus. But tough times can also breed innovation.

Wang’s latest work, Hotel, is a chamber music about a small group of Chinese tourists trapped in a hotel in Thailand in the early days of the pandemic, inspired by events that Wang himself experienced in 2020. It was almost improvised, with a script written in a hurry and filmed with available crew.

The film was financed and produced entirely outside mainland China, without the “Dragon Seal”, the hallmark of Chinese censorship approval. That means the film isn’t (for now) released in China, but its performance at the Toronto International Film Festival is unimpeded.

While the production may have been almost spontaneous, as his compatriots simmered in the hotel’s conservatory, Wang showed them his familiar, quietly critical glance. Faced with the difficulty of getting home, they exposed their dark traits, hidden behind a supervisory attitude, and were largely unable to sympathize with each other’s pain.

Are fatalism, depression, fear and boredom the emotions you intend to convey here?

There is a feeling of not entirely real, if not very magical realism. For the first time in their lives, these characters are trapped in unfamiliar surroundings, and it’s not known how long this will last. So, there’s the fear, but there’s also the comedy.

You’ve gone through some of these yourself and created composite characters based on people you know. Why don’t you have screenwriting credit?

Wang Xiaoshuai

Dongchun Pictures

It was a complete, but also a very short reunion. very special. Everyone felt they should take the chance and make just one movie. Screenwriters and screenwriters work together. I am willing to give them freedom and do my duty as a director.Also, I have to make changes in the field [and in post-production] Just like a director.

The film is set for April 2020. When did you actually shoot?

Early 2020. Filming took 14 days. We also did 10 days of preparation, but most of the preparation time was spent looking for equipment.

We were really lucky because there was a small group of people who just finished shooting an ad. Chiang Mai has just closed the city, and the Thai team cannot leave. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they are not working.

It’s an extraordinary and brave role for the heroine, Ning Yuanyuan, who only starred in her second film as an adult, but is the anchor of the entire film.

I have known her through her father Zhang Yuan since she was very young [who directed her in 2006’s “Little Red Flowers”]. Now she is at the Beijing Film Academy, studying in the Department of Directing and Acting [and directed and starred in 2020’s “An Insignificant Affair”]. She was also trapped there with her father. I built the character around her and built it on a sentence, an idea of ​​a real young woman facing the whole world. Yuan was very brave and devoted himself. This whole thing is like the members of a band just picked up their instruments and played together.

You use some specific equipment to tell the story: black and white, an aspect ratio close to 4×3, and chapters out of order. what is the reason?

I want to blur the distinction between reality and non-reality. Black and white offers a sort of throwback in time and space, meaning the viewer knows very little about the specific year it is in. The 4×3 ratio seems to be a good fit for Chiang Mai, a city without high-rise buildings. Also, it gives the impression of an old movie. For the order of the story, well, I wanted to maximize my creativity in this bizarre little space.

If the film is not a mainland Chinese film, what is its nationality?

It’s a very low-budget movie, and it’s clearly not a commercial movie. We can get money from Hong Kong, and Hong Kong has its own movie rating system. If the film is to be released in China, we will have to work with distributors in mainland China. It will be considered an imported movie – albeit a Chinese movie.

Why do you think there are fewer and fewer Chinese films coming to overseas film festivals these days?

Of course, unlike the 1990s or 2000s, the major film festivals had more Chinese-language films. However, there are still a lot of very good authors producing very good works. I believe they will end up in music festivals. I really hope that art cinema and art will look a lot more in the future.

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