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(Yonhap Interview) Taiwanese writer-director: new attempts lead to new opportunities

All Headlines 12:02 October 11, 2016

By Chung Joo-won

BUSAN, Oct. 11 (Yonhap) -- For Neal Wu, a successful Taiwanese online youth romance writer, there is no limitation of media in storytelling.

He has composed songs for his novels, made music videos and most recently made a directorial debut based on his own online novel, "At Cafe 6."

The film was screened in the "Open Cinema" category of this year's Busan International Film Festival. The section is for showing both critically and commercially acclaimed films from around the world.

But directing was not the only thing he did for the film. He also wrote the lyrics for the film's theme song.

"I don't have a brain for market forecasts," the Taiwanese writer-director said during an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Monday in Busan, wearing a faint smile. "Instead, I keep trying new ideas, such as adapting my own novel into a feature film and writing songs for my own novels."

Taiwanese author and film director Neal Wu poses during an interview with Yonhap News Agency at the 21st Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) in Busan on Oct. 10, 2016. (Yonhap)

According to the 40-year-old, new attempts lead to new opportunities, as seen in his first feature film, "At Cafe 6," starring Chinese actor Dong Zijian and Hong Kong actress Cherry Ngan.

A light novelist's silver screen debut is quite uncommon both in South Korea and Taiwan, but Wu found himself ready.

After directing a short film, "Poetry of Summer," in 2008, Wu widened his scope to making music videos. With the quick success of his original novel "At Cafe 6," Wu sought to get investors to fund a film adaptation of his novel in 2008 but failed. In a lackluster market, investors were not sure if Wu's bildungsroman would yield commercial success. After the coming-of-age film "You're The Apple Of My Eye" hit the jackpot, investors finally offered Wu the director's position to cinematize "At Cafe 6."

"At first I wasn't expecting the director's job -- I vaguely thought I'd be able to monitor the filmmaking as sort of a shadow staff," Wu said.

But investors told Wu that the writer would best understand how the film should be made.

"I was worried that I may lack experience for directing, but they even offered to have other experienced hands to assist me, if I needed them."

A still from the Taiwanese film "At Cafe 6" (Yonhap)

Launched in July in Taiwan and mainland China, "At Cafe 6" is often compared to the mega-hit Taiwanese coming-of-age film "You're The Apple Of My Eye" (2011). As a writer of the original novel, and the film's director and screenplay author, he emphasized that the film reflects the multilayered labyrinth of youth and its turmoil.

In "At Cafe 6," high school student Minliu, played by Dong, falls for his classmate Xinrui, played by Ngan. Fostered by a single mother in a humble family, the two end up attracted to each other, but after entering different colleges in faraway regions, their relationship begins to crack. At the age where small hurdles look so daunting, the two young lovers grieve and suffer from the growing pains that seem endless.

A day prior to the interview, Wu presented the film at the outdoor theater of the Busan Cinema Center, the main venue of the Busan film festival.

A still from the Taiwanese film "At Cafe 6" (Yonhap)

As the director joined the audience to watch his film played on the jumbo silver screen, he noticed that certain scenes engendered different responses among Koreans and Taiwanese.

"I think Koreans picked up all the codes of Taiwanese humor, but there were certain scenes where Koreans laughed and Taiwanese did not."

In the film is a scene where Minliu studies hard to go to the same college as his smart girlfriend, managing to raise his grades from 30-some points out of 100 to 60-some points. But the miracle does not happen, and Minliu ends up in the same incompetent college with his best friend Bozhi, who flunks all of his subjects. Korean watchers burst into laughter when Bozhi happily tells Minliu that they will attend the same college, pulling out the axiom, "There are those who are meant to fail." To the Taiwanese audience, on the other hand, the scene is a mere indicator that shows the two buddies will keep staying close.

The film was intended to follow the original novel as closely as possible, according to Wu.

The author plans to continue film directing, although writing is his primary engagement. He is considering directing another film next year. The new work could be another adaptation of one of his novels. He is also open to cinematizing different writers' works as well.

Wu is currently working on his next novel of a completely different genre.

"I focused mostly on youth, growth and romance. Right now I'm scribbling something new -- a mystery, with assassination and conspiracy," Wu said, estimating that the work most likely will end up being published.

Determined to continue his exploration of different genres and combinations of multiple media, Wu hoped his work would make Korean movie lovers happy.

"I'd like to thank all Korean watchers of my film. Also, I'd like to ask them to sit through the end of the closing credits."

jwc@yna.co.kr
(END)

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