Friday, April 9, 2010

Arvin Chen's Au Revoir Taipei opens to sell-out audience at SF premiere

On March 18, Bay-Area filmmaker Arvin Chen premiered Au Revoir Taipei to a sell-out crowd at the Asian American Film Festival in San Francisco. Selected as the closing movie at the 28th festival, it also opened at the San Jose portion of the festival the following day. Since opening in Taiwan on April 2, the film has gained an instant fan base there. After seeing the movie, Taipei’s mayor Hau Lung-bin, praised Chen for doing such a wonderful job of promoting the local lifestyle.

Set in Taipei, Au Revoir Taipei is a campy romance combining elements of film noir, classical musical and Taiwanese gangster films. The movie highlights Taipei’s vibrant nightlife as a lovesick boy and a bookstore clerk search for love in different pockets of the city.

According to Chi-hui Yang, the festival’s director, Chen first impressed festival audiences in 2006 with his short film Mei. Ever since, Yang has looked forward to screening another work by Chen. Growing up in Foster City, the Bay Area native had many family and friends in the San Francisco audience. Taiwan Insights caught up with Chen and asked him about the making of Au Revoir Taipei.

An obvious first question was to learn how Chen became fluent enough to write a full-length script in Mandarin, not to mention the sprinkling of Taiwanese. Chen explained, as a budding filmmaker, he studied with legendary filmmaker Edward Yang in Taiwan and also visited the island throughout his childhood. Even though fluent in Mandarin, Chen still wishes he was more advanced. However, when he begins writing a script, he first pens it entirely in English. “The English script serves as a template and then we fine-tune it,” he said. After he is satisfied with the English script, Chen will then translate it into Mandarin or Taiwanese, depending on which might have the greater impact. “Often I talk to my assistant director and actors and ask, ‘How would you say it? Which would have more meaning, Taiwanese or Mandarin?’”

This year, Au Revoir Taipei was selected as the Best Asian Film at the Berlin International Film Festival. With this honor to his name, Chen is now eligible for the NT$1.5 million (US$47,000) award from Taiwan’s Government Information Office (GIO), a reward given by the Taiwan government to promote the island's films and filmmakers. The money will help Chen as he begins working on his second movie, a romantic comedy set in the 1980s at a time when Taiwan’s trading companies were experiencing rapid growth. Much of the dialogue will be in English to reflect the many foreign buyers coming to Taiwan at that time.

After the San Francisco premiere, Chen introduced some of his film crew. They were a diverse bunch, made up of Germans, Americans and Taiwanese. According to Chen, everyone felt really at home in Taiwan, which is unique for an Asian film setting. Chen attributes this to Taiwan’s openness and the fact that the country “doesn’t have a history of conservatism, so it’s a very open culture, compared to the rest of Asia. It doesn’t have a lot of baggage.”

When asked about the most difficult part of making the movie, Chen said it was the fundraising and the marketing, in essence, the beginning and the end. Both issues touched on the question of how well the film was likely to sell. Shooting and making the film, was not surprisingly, the most fun part, he said. Although an exhausting experience, Chen now says he is better prepared, so it should not be as difficult the next time around.

Nowadays, Chen’s time is spent mostly in Taipei, where he is teaching and working on his next film. Currently, Au Revoir Taipei has a Facebook fan base of more than 14,338 after opening a week ago.

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About Me

The Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco represents the Government Information Office (GIO), Executive Yuan, Republic of China (Taiwan). GIO maintains nine Press Divisions in the United States, including the San Francisco office. The Press Divisions are in charge of promoting Taiwan's public relations and cultural exchanges. This blog is updated by the Press Division, TECO in San Francisco.