AIFF caught up with deeply insightful writer director, Zhong Ermao, in Shenzhen, China, to discuss his debut film, Three Wishes. The story follows a woman who embarks on a journey to experience her late husband’s fantasies.
AIFF - Can you talk about why you wanted to bring your short story to the screen and how that process evolved?
Zhong Ermao - Three Wishes is adopted from my short novel. Before I entered the film industry, I was a novelist. I wrote a lot of novels and won many literary awards. However, with the popularization of the Internet, Chinese people’s entertainment has become more diversified, such as watching movies, watching TV, playing video games and indulging social media. At the same time, literature, especially serious literature, has been neglected, and the number of people who read literature has been decreasing.
The question is, how do I make the story I wrote become accessible to more people？ My answer is by making a film, and adapting the novel into a film can ensure more people learn about my writing. This is the starting point for me, to study film and turn my stories into films.
This story is very suitable for adapting into a film, because it has a very clever story that is filled with suspense and curiosity: A countryside woman did three things in a big city: eat lobster, live in a presidential suite of a five-star hotel and hire a prostitute. Why? I told this story to more than a hundred listeners. They were all astonished and moved.
The filming went very well and smoothly because I adopted a documentary style of filming during production. There aren’t many specialized shots. Most crew members are students who I met at Beijing Film Academy. They are very professional and dedicated. However, there are also some regrets, for instance, the presidential suite. We could not afford to rent a real presidential suite because of a tight budget. Therefore, it does not look so luxurious in that picture.
AIFF - Your main actor, Wang Yajun, gives a very soulful performance in the film. What type of direction did you give to help her find her character?
Zhong Ermao - The leading actor of my film is a well-known actor from the National Theatre of China. She didn’t need my help at all. All I did was to tell her the reason that I wrote this story, what I want to explore, and my understanding of people and art. I am very lucky to have Ms. Wang act in my film.
AIFF - Because of the challenges Chinese filmmakers have, is it difficult to make films that have foreign appeal or does it force you to be more creative in how you tell stories.
Zhong Ermao - When I shot this film, my purpose was not to appeal to a foreign audience or a Chinese audience. I just wanted to make a film that I am happy about. This is not for commercial purposes; therefore, I don’t need to think of appealing to an audience per se. Even if I shoot movies for commercial purposes in the future, appealing to audience is not the most important thing for me because the ultimate mission of art is to provide a new experience.
AIFF - Have you considered making this into a feature length film?
Zhong Ermao - Yes, I will consider to make this into a feature length movie when the right time arrives.
AIFF - What do you hope your foreign audiences take away from your film?
Zhong Ermao - I do not want foreign audiences to connect this movie with the reality of China too much. I hope that foreign audiences will see this as a "human" story, a wife's story, a family story, and a love story. Only the story of a "human" can make the film become art.