Interview with Zhou Zhou, director of ‘Meili’

Meili portrays an intense human tragedy and a desperate universal truth, since disasters in her life soon becomes inexorably predictable

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Image from the movie
© 2019 − All right reserved.

Zhou Zhou was born in Anqing, Anhui Province in eastern China in 1984.

Poster for the movie "Meili"
© 2019 − All right reserved.

He graduated from Radio and Television Journalism at Huazhong University of Science and Technology.

Zhou has been a critic and editor for many years and previously worked for CCTV’s movie channel. He is currently in charge of consulting scripts for Jiaying Film.

Meili is Zhou Zhou’s first feature film.

The movie is set and shot in Changchun city, Jilin province, during springtime in an everyday way, as a northeast Chinese city that everyone wants to escape.

The main character is Meili, a young woman beset with problems in a bleak life.

She faces a series of difficult and pressures up that denied her to change her own life.

Her girlfriend decides to go alone on a business trip to Shanghai and leaves Meili behind with her own misfortune.

The script wrote by director Zhou Zhou and actress Chi Yun, is female-centered stories that point up the heaviness of life and how lonely and depression wrap Meili in a downward spiral that continue to get worse on all fronts: love, work, and family.

The film was nominated for the Best Narrative Feature, Best Performer and Spirit of Freedom awards at the 12th Xining International Film Festival. Meili’s lead actress, Chi Yun, won the Best Performer category.

Interview by Dominique Musorrafiti

China-underground: You have been a critic and editor, you are currently in charge of consulting scripts for Jiaying Film. What motivated you to become a director?

Zhou Zhou: When I was young, I was more introverted, I liked fantasy, and watching movies. When I was fifteen or sixteen, I was very fascinated by the vision of the French-Spanish movie “La teta y la luna” by Bigas Luna.

The film tells the story of a boy who is attracted to a sensual circus dancer.

The film was full of imagination, courage, and innocence, and I was very impressed. So I started looking for artistic films. I think that the film was a seed, which led me to get closer to the cinema.

Later, the temperature and the soil allowed that seed to germinate after a period of about five years of frustration and depression: I was very disgusted by this phase and I was lucky enough to meet Schopenhauer whose philosophy allowed me to restore my vision of life, the vision of the world, the values, a true rebirth.

I think Schopenhauer’s philosophy has given me a new insight into others and to the world, and I think this aspect is the most important factor as a director.

Who influenced you as a person and film director?

I believe that in my life, both as a director and as a man, there were four lighthouses that guided me: Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Bach, and Schopenhauer. Bergman’s truth, the integrity of Akira Kurosawa, Bach’s calm and Schopenhauer’s loneliness always remind me not to lose myself.

“The film explores the traits of human selfishness through the story of the main protagonist Meili. Meili’s struggles and efforts never seem to be resolved or rewarded.”

Meili, the main character of your film is a victim of psychologically abuse. Why did you choose to address this issue?

First of all, I identify myself with the character of Meili. She is morally intact, a character with a relationship of love and hate, she is able to hold-control her deepest desires to grow, a beautiful flower that grows in the soil of suffering.

What were the biggest challenges of your movie? How was the film process?

Having created an independent and low-cost production, I think we have to overcome the difficulties one by one, and when the film was completed in eight days, it was really like a dream. I don’t remember which was the major difficulty, or if there were any.

If there were, surely they should be about the female star and screenwriter Chi Yun. She has many dramatic parts, not only very long performances but also those that require effort. I believe she has great talent and potential.

“I used a realistic lens to reveal the sad existence of the characters.”

Can you share with us a story from the backstage of your film?

While we were preparing this work, a day after dinner, lead actress Chi Yun said that if the opera were poorly executed she would die.

I can understand that she could not prove her talent before starting filming, the pain of being rejected and ignored, and her strong temper would not have allowed her to accept the stigma of failure.

But then it became so calm and direct, I was shocked. Later, and when she won the FIRST award for this film (the film won the Prix du Meilleur Acteur at the FIRST International Film Festival, ed), I reminded her of this episode. She said he didn’t remember.

“Meili” is an eloquent magnifying glass of life in contemporary China, by touching themes such as family ties, the relationship with money and sexual identity. How much have these realities changed in China over the years?

In recent years, I feel that society has begun to reflect on our vision of life, values and if there are big contrasts in our beliefs.

I think this happens because too many contradictions have been exposed, and this reflection takes place in a forced manner.

I think a change is very difficult because society as a whole is too materialistic, money and dignity are intertwined, and ideas are often too weak in the face of everyday life.

But after all, there is always more meditation on reality, and this indicates that we are passing the stage of blind worship of material.

meili

“The key to connecting reality and drama was the performance of the main actress. That was our biggest challenge. I feel very fortunate I met Chi Yun, an outstanding young talent. Her brilliant interpretation has brought life to the film.”

Meili’s drama highlights a Contemporary society, which despite technological advances and hyper-connectivity, in which it’s complicated to be different. There is a lack of empathy towards others, that inevitably leads to the most fragile ones in isolation. Do you think the number of those facing this kind of difficulty has grown?

Due to the widespread distribution of mobile phones, this sense of alienation ended up exploding. Sometimes I observe people playing with their cell phones, I really feel that human beings have gradually become slaves of technology, and have become slothful and insensitive.

Although many people express their love or empathy on the Internet, they are essentially part of the market.

People who are really empathetic should be equally brave to face suffering, should not be paralyzed by mobile phones. I believe these people are really diminishing.

How do you expect audience reaction will be to Meili drama?

I think the film will be received with a lot of controversies. Some will be very involved in a sentimental and empathic level.

Many others will remain uncomfortable and will not understand these stories and characters.

I think a certain part of the audience will appreciate it and others will hate it. I also think it will be more appreciated by women.

Meili – 美丽 in Chinese means “beautiful”. Her name means beauty, but her life is ugly, since she has been constantly psicologically abuse.

meili

Can you tell us something about your next project?

The next is still a female-themed film called “Red Flower“, which tells the story of a girl who dances Latin dances and fights epilepsy.

It is very appropriate to use the words of Schopenhauer to explain the central theme of this film, namely that “the bravest warriors go to battles that they know are lost”.

 Thanks to Fortissimo Films for the collaboration

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