The metaphysics of film
( 2004-01-14 09:15) (eastday.com)
Satisfied with his approach to making art films, Cui Zi'en is not afraid to be himself. The China's foremost homosexual author and filmmaker is enjoying success one quiet work at a time, writes Michelle Qiao.
As one of the earliest people in the Chinese mainland to share his homosexuality with the public, Cui says he prefers not to classify himself. ``People have an unfortunate habit of separating themselves into only two sexes -- male and female,'' Cui says, whose 12 movies were screened at DDM Warehouse last week.
``For me, there are at least three genders in the world, and probably four. From the point of view of an alien, human beings dividing themselves into genders must seem funny and very unintelligent.'' Cui did create an alien from Mars in his newest movie, ``Star Appeal,'' to challenge what he views as the outdated concept of sexuality. The film revolves around an unusual love story.
A boy from Mars named ET meets a pair of lovers on Earth, Xiaobo (male) and Wenwen (female). Without knowing any of the workings of love on Earth, ET finally falls in love with Xiaobo and convinces him to reciprocate. ``Traditionally sex happens when the love between two people reaches a climax,'' says Cui. ``I try to avoid this outdated tradition.
The sex in this movie happens in a quiet mood, after they discuss human beings' ways of expressing love: how they caress and kiss, how sex is accomplished. Without any feeling of dramatic climax, the sex in the film is psychological, while discussion is the most profound way in expressing love.
The sex comes from ideas, not from desires.'' Frequently using obscure post-modern terminology, Cui adds that in this modern society of mass production and unoriginality, the simplest way of expressing love has been neglected by most people, who can hug, kiss and have sex at will. Therefore he used an alien ignorant of even kissing to remind the audience how to express their love. ``The actors and actress speak in kiddy talk (in ``Star Appeal),'' says Cui.
``Their psychological age is under 10. I try to remake childhood for the audience.'' Although Cui says this movie is his easiest to understand, as it contains some dramatic elements, it still might be too much for ordinary audience.
After the screening, audience members contributed their feedback.
``I think the movie should be shortened to 15 minutes,'' one person suggested. It may not have been a bad idea, as it is a startling slow film, with long and childish dialogue and sometimes jumpy scenes, mostly accompanied with only natural noise as background. Cui defends his work. ``Ordinary film is driven by drama, but mine is driven by talk and ideas,'' he explains.
``Traditional film creates gorgeous, complicated, high-tech scenes, which may be designed to push people to seek enlightened moments; they are ambitious to be the first, the most powerful and the most wealthy, and they overlook their most essential human nature.
I try to show the audience only simple scenes.'' Cui is also quick to note that although film is subject to being considered as art, many popular films are produced with the only interest being potential box office yields.
``We should not make movies simply for money,'' he says. ``When audiences leave the cinema, they should have gained something from the film they just watched.''
``He lavishly uses a lot of still scenes, with moving scenes only appearing at the end,'' says Wu Hao, a TV journalist. ``This is a metaphorical film. Furthermore, even though it is very esoteric, it is more understandable to me than some European art films. I agree with Cui's opinion that complicated scenes in commercial films have ruined the audience's taste. I think his film was not made to please but rather as a response, as a call for the reformation of taste.'' Born in 1958 to a Catholic family in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, northeastern China, Cui was baptized when he was two months old and has remained a Catholic for his whole life. ``The first memory I have is the image of Jesus on the cover of the Bible at my home,'' Cui recalls.
``My father is a surgeon, and therefore I saw him as a god. I believed, like God, he could save everyone. Whenever a friend of mine was ill, I took him to my father to save. When I finally realized that he was not capable of saving everyone, I was disappointed for a very long time.'' After receiving a master's degree in literature from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Cui began teaching literature and screenwriting at the Beijing Film Academy.
Now he is also a film critic and a screenwriter as well as an associate professor at the Theory Study Office in the film academy. In a sense, his works are a summary of homosexuality, threaded together through movies and literature that express his inner-most aspirations -- to show homosexuality as normal and to directly address homosexual love and sex.
``I think the world contains many different things, and we must maintain this variety,'' says Cui. ``If the world becomes dominated by one mindset, by straight or gay people, human beings will soon go the way of the dinosaur.'' Cui published his first novel that dealt with homosexuality, ``Pink Lip'' (``Taose Zuichun''), in China in 1997 and declared his sexual preference to the media. Dai Jinhua, a literature professor at Peking University, once commented that ``Reading this novel is like gliding under moonlight. After getting over the initial shock, you will encounter a derailed yet beautiful world.''
In 2000 Cui and a Chinese lesbian painter took part in a program at Hunan Network TV Station, the first homosexuality-themed talk show in the Chinese mainland. Also in that year his novel ``Uncle's Life'' won the Best Radio Fiction Award at the Deutschen Welle (Voice of Germany) Prize for Literature. Another one of his films, ``Old Testament,'' which follows three tales of homosexuality in China, was an entry in the 53rd Berlin Film Festival last year. ``He is a rare director with a childish heart,'' says Andrew Cheng, a local director, Cui's good friend and collaborator. ``He is a very kind, gentle person who writes incisive works.
He is considered to be a strange man by some, a Chinese version of the pioneering British director Derek Jarman. ``I appreciate his insistence in sticking with what he believes,'' Cheng adds. ``No matter how difficult, he has always stayed true to his vision.
He is a unique scholar, someone who is not afraid to be himself, and, in doing so, he has also opened the door for many other Chinese filmmakers.'' Cui prefers to focus on his creativity rather than on his homosexuality.
``When I create, I often close my eyes and let the thoughts flow, let the natural light from the center of my heart illuminate me,'' says Cui, meditatively. ``My films have the power to guide me to a clean and sacred realm.''
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