Photo courtesy of Film Movement
Arvin Chen’s experience as an Asian American filmmaker gives new meaning to the term “cross-cultural.” The San Francisco native’s new film, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, was the only Mandarin-language film to debut at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival in April, though Chen admits that even after five or six years living in Taipei, his own language skills are not up to par.
But, he explains, maintaining that sense of “otherness” has actually helped him to tell a fuller story on the screen. “My first few jobs [after college] were in Asia, and my experiences in Asia were probably more interesting than my experiences in America, to be honest,” he said. “Because in America, I just grew up in the suburbs, in nice middle class Foster City, a suburb just outside San Francisco. So choosing to shoot films in Asia was a result of not having something cool to cling onto from where I’m from, whereas in Asia, things were always more interesting being an outsider.”
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow tells the story of a straight-laced middle-aged man living in Taiwan, who enters a sham marriage in an attempt to reconcile his past life as a gay man. However, things take a turn whien he falls head over heels for a handsome young stranger. It’s an unconventional narrative by Taiwanese standards, but a story that Chen felt was important to tell.
“I really like family movies,” he explained. “Not family movies like cartoons, but movies about families. And I thought a sham marriage would be an interesting way to tell a story about families because in a way, you kind of have an artificial family. So how would a person deal with something like that?”
Hyphen: You mentioned wanting to tell a story about family. How did you develop the intertwined storylines?
I started thinking about how we have a main character who has a family -- but he’s missing a main component of it, which is that he can never really love his wife, and his wife can never really be loved, not in that way. It was definitely initially a focus on his storyline, but then in thinking about his wife, I realized that it was actually about her just as much, if not more so, than it was about him rediscovering this side of himself. It was about the wife saving the husband and not so much about a family breaking apart.
There are several fantastical elements incorporated throughout the film. Was that a conscious decision from the start or did that develop with the film?
I think that originally, I was afraid of making a movie about regular everyday people. And so at some point, I just thought that I wanted to write these fantasy sequences in just to show you what they might be thinking. The first fantasy sequence was when Weichung (Richie Ren’s character) flies away after he gets a kiss from his crush. I wanted to set it up in the beginning of the movie that in our world, in the realm of this movie, anything could happen at any time. And we wouldn’t have to explain it, because that’s the beauty of magical realism.
You also broach the topic of gay culture in Asia, something that is still not as often portrayed in mainstream media there. How did you go about doing that?
It’s tough because you have to be more sensitive because you don’t want to be too stereotypical and you also don’t want it to be too heavy, so it was a lot of taking the script around to friends and showing them and saying ‘Hey, is this offensive or is this not offensive enough?’ Sometimes you don’t want it to be too sanitary. I come back to the idea that this movie isn’t about gay or straight characters, it’s just a movie that has gay characters in it.
What has the reception been like abroad? What about in the States?
It’s a tough thing because in Taiwan, it’s supposed to be a relatively commercial film, but I always try not to think about it, because I feel like if I’m trying to make it a certain kind of film for a certain kind of audience, then it’ll be obvious. So I just made it. And luckily, it’s sometimes considered an arthouse movie outside of Taiwan -- it’s definitely not a blockbuster. There’s a lot of people who I showed the film to in Taiwan, and they didn’t understand the ending. They literally complain that there’s no ending.
Film Movement picked up the US rights for the film, so it’s hopeful that Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow will get a bigger audience and reach more people. To learn more about the film, check it out here.