Utopians, the controversial erotic drama by prolific Hong Kong filmmaker Scud, portrays a young man who falls for his college professor and discovers his own sexual identity along the way. The film plays at 9:30pm on Friday March 4th at the Egyptian Theater as part of the Outfest Fusion Film Festival.
There are so many elements in Utopians and in all your films (nudity, sex, drugs, pansexuality, etc.) that run counter to the conservative Chinese culture. What drives your curiosity, and do you feel that with the rise of the Millennial generation, the Chinese and Hong Kong film audiences and the film industry have become more accepting of those elements?
I was born in China and lived there until I was 13. I suppose that background helps to lead me to be a bold filmmaker, more inclined to defy any taboos than otherwise. I am heartened that my films have been so widely viewed in China, despite no official screenings or distribution, and I’ve been told that’s because my films’ values are much embraced by the young generation in that country. There have also been predictions that China will become liberal enough to screen my films within my lifetime.
What has the reception been like so far for Utopians?
The reception at the Palm Springs International Film Festival last month was great, as was the premiere screening in Tokyo. Two dozen of my friends (and critics, even) paid a thousand dollars US each to fly from Hong Kong just to be the first to see it on a big screen. It has just passed the censorship of Hong Kong (content of both the film and the photo album), and we’re expecting a wider release than my earlier work.
Can you talk about the inspiration for Utopians? What was your motivation for telling this story, and creating these characters?
Utopians is my sixth film, and also the most spontaneous one. I was in a mild depression after making Voyage, occupied with the thought of ending my filmmaking career altogether. Suddenly a 19-year-old boy came to me with his story about his relationship with a 32-year-old policeman, which I reckoned was not quite suitable to be made into a film, but was inspired by his mentioning of the great Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, whose work was ground-breaking when I was young. I therefore came up with the idea of making a film paying tribute to some of the greatest intellects of our history, while exploring ways to live an Utopian way of life.
I’ve never written such a cheerful story with an almost happy ending, and I’m interested in putting myself in the position of a reader/audience. We shot the film almost entirely in longshots like Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s; the opening scene lasts 4 minutes 20 seconds uninterrupted, and the canteen scene involved 14 actors. I hope such efforts (especially from my actors and camera crew) would be both appreciated and entertaining. My favorite character is actually Swan, the complicated accomplice.
Are there elements of you in either the character of the student “Hins” or the professor “Ming”?
Certainly. I was kind of like Hins when I was his age, and like Ming nowadays.
Are your stories often based on your life experiences, or do you find inspiration from current or past events?
In the case of this film I would say, its 90% inspired by real life (though that number was actually 100% for my 2011 film). In my opinion, there’s so much in our lives that hasn’t yet been made into a film, so inventing a scenario is so unnecessary. I’ve been drawing from my own experience, as well as those confided to me by people close to me.
Your films often deal with the darker side of relationships and romance. You strip your characters of their layers so their choices always feel authentic. What draws you to revealing that element of the human condition that so many people shy away from?
Your question is also my answer. Precisely because most of the films nowadays are merely fabrications of life, sometimes even hypocritically so, that I’m inclined to do the exact opposite. If a film cannot lead us to face our genuine self, I don’t see the point.
Utopians seems to be the most mainstream of all your films. Was this a conscious effort to make a film that would be more accessible to a wider audience, both from a story and distribution perspective?
No, not at all, and I hadn’t expected the “mainstream” label until being told by early viewers. The format, style and storytelling of this film does differ from my earlier ones, but I’ve been merely following my flow, no different than when I was making each of the others.
What is next for you?
I am aiming to start shooting my next film in April or May. It’s about reincarnation. As with all of my films, it will focus on LGBT people of color.
Outfest would like to thank Christopher Chou for this interview. Christopher Chou has a diverse background that includes creating and producing content for film, television and the web. Having spent the better part of the past ten years mired in the development and production of some of the guiltiest of guilty pleasure reality television shows, Chris is excited to be getting back into his first love of producing and directing documentaries. After four years on the programming team at Outfest, Chris is still excited by the thought of bringing filmmakers with interesting and unique voices to the masses.