Writer and director Song Wen is co-founder of the Xining FIRST International Film Festival which, celebrating independent films and emerging filmmakers.
In 2015 he started his career as a producer and director. The Enigma of Arrival is his first debut feature work. Song Wen’s movie was produced by veteran Chinese filmmaker Xie Fei.
Interview by Dominique Musorrafiti
China-underground: Subjective points of view, lack of communication, wrong decisions. Where did the idea for the script of “The Enigma of Arrival” come from?
Song Wen: The story unfolds around the sudden disappearance and death of Li Dongdong and the way in which four friends face this incident, involving us in the story, trying to reveal the points of view of the various protagonists.
Dongdong’s death in the Yangtze caused by Da Si turns her into a kind of heroin.
Is there any subjectivity in her gesture of pushing her?
This is the ambiguity of his character. Of course, his fate is to live a distressing existence and become depressed, a kind of punishment. In the film, he has many prejudices against Li Dongdong, prejudices that lead him to push the girl into the river. The central inspiration is that over time, even an unintended event can turn into profound malice.
– Did you face any unexpected moment during the shooting? What were some of the biggest challenges of the movie?
While we were shooting the scene of Zhao Xiaolong holding “Wuyi” under seizure, the male protagonist must go back and forth through the ship’s hold several times.
Once it happened that the protagonist accidentally hit his head with an iron bar that caused a bump. It is a fundamental location for the film’s history, the wound was not serious, but this incident made me realize how important the safety of the staff is while shooting because it can be really dangerous to shoot along the banks of the Yangtze.
Due to the limited costs of production, I tried to recreate the style and atmosphere of third-tier Chinese cities of the 1990s, but I still have some regrets. For example, the boats we see in the Yangtze are more modern and recent than those of the time.
We had to adapt to what we had.
“The Enigma of Arrival had its world premiere at Busan International Film Festival”
– We understand Xiaolong’s feelings for Dongdong, from his gestures and behavior. After her disappearance, After her disappearance, he investigates and searches for the truth even years later. After many years the lives of the other friends moved on. While Xiaolong’s life seems to have stopped forever at that night as if he had been trapped. Is his love, or has she become an obsession?
In the original version, we shot, in the scenes of Xiaolong and Li Dongdong in their unique embrace and during the Dongdong scene with the dragon-shaped necklace, their feelings were more explicit.
In the editing, I hope that the emotions of Xiaolong and Li Dongdong seem more elusive so that when Dongdong takes the photoshoot to save Xiaolong, this situation can generate a greater emotional charge.
Xiaolong senses that his good friend Fangyuan is also attracted to Li Dongdong, but at the same time feels hampered by his actions, because he is aware that Fangyuan is somehow unstable.
Rumors have caused Xiaolong to hide his feelings for Li Dongdong. Xiaolong loves Dongdong from the bottom of his heart.
– Dongdong, the female protagonist, is a positive character. She gets off the bus for them. She even gives up the money earned from a photoshoot, hoping to fix the trouble they’ve got themselves into. She ends up becoming an involuntary martyr. Her disappearance is the cause of the beginning of the end of the guys’ friendship. She is the pivot that unites but also divides. In the film, she is looked at with desire, but also with suspicion and prejudice. Why did you decide to outline her figure with these traits?
I remember that for a while there was in our lives a girl who had moved from Shanghai, a metropolis, to a third-tier city in a school for boys and children of migrant workers.
At that time, we experienced many moments together, then, at a certain point, she disappeared from our lives, perhaps the girl returned to Shanghai.
Obviously, the girl who was thrown into the river by a friend is only a narrative expedient.
This story reminds us of how each of us may have told lies in the course of our lives, and that these lies are like a bundle, that crushes us and takes our breath away.
The image of the girl is therefore derived from an original prototype. And this prototype in our memory is shrouded in mystery, a fragment of memory that has become pleasant.
I hope one day to be able to meet this prototype, it will certainly be a very happy moment. I have a “sense of justice” towards women, and this is a very important thing for me.
– Can you share with us a story from the backstage of your film?
Originally the film had to be titled “野蛮 生长”.
It took almost two weeks to shoot it and I had not yet obtained the license to shoot the film. While we were shooting, I thought about the fate of the film. Although the film has some chance of being successful, it was not a good experience.
There is a scene where there are many young people watching a porn movie in a cinema, to make the performance more real our troupe has taken the scene showing the authentic atmosphere of the place.
But unfortunately, the scene was partially edited because erotic performances could be seen.
In any case, there were real scoundrels among the extras.
They thought that this possibility that the crew had offered them was an opportunity not to be missed since there are no porn cinemas in China, they had never seen such a stimulating film on the big screen. They had only seen them on computer monitors.
“Song is co-founder and president of the FIRST International Film Festival, the most important Chinese independent film festival. Wong Kar Wai was jury presidents in past editions.”
– The four friends spend a lot of time together but don’t have a direct relationship with trust and communication. This leads them to have no clarification even after many years. These youth are those of the pre-digital era. What do you think are the main differences in the emotional field (feelings, friendship and love) with nowadays youth?
There are many main points of the plot that have variously weakened. For example, when there is a brawl in the mud of the countryside, this scene showing the emotional sides of the various characters has been edited for some reason.
The main difference is that in 1970 people were not controlled on the internet and expressed their emotions relatively implicitly.
Today, young people are enthusiastic about virtual worlds, and perhaps they are indifferent to the real world. At the same time, we threw away a lot of time between us.
– You are co-founder and president of the FIRST International Film Festival. What did motivated you to start this project?
I love the cinema. The festivals are used to give voice to the new filmmakers and to find the truth in the cinematographic evaluation.
When shooting a movie, I have to say that it’s like lying, and some lies have given bad results.
Even simple relationships between people become complicated, and this can cause some kind of “growth” or a break, this makes people less lovable.
– How has the festival developed over the years? How much has it changed since the beginning? Can you tell us about this experience and what brought you?
In the last 13 years FIRST has continued to discover the debut work of young directors. This principle has not changed.
We have three main sections: one dedicated to high-quality films by young artists, presenting them to industry and fans; then we have a film market where we connect companies with high-quality screenplays and projects, publishers, film festivals, and so on with regard to low budget films that have already been produced.
The third point is the education of the public, we rely on this path through training sessions, short film festivals, workshops, etc. also giving the practical possibility of shooting feature films or short films.
The biggest challenge is that we have gradually evolved from a film festival for short films to a platform for the discovery, selection, and cultivation of young talents. 《八月》 (August) by Zhang Qiankun, 《暴裂 无声 by Qiankun, and 《我不是药神》(Dying to Survive) by Wen Muye were selected as representative writers of many Chinese films.
– What are the main opportunities for new Chinese directors, compared to the past? Do you think that social media can help emerging authors?
The biggest advantage of social media is that they allow jobs of a certain level to reach a large number of loyal fans.
Social media allow you to find the ideal fans for new authors, establish communication channels, speed up the process.
To find new audiences, but also for the possibilities offered to their creative works and the film projection cycle.
Thanks to Fortissimo Films