YIDFF 2017 New Asian Currents
In Memory of the Chinatown
An Interview with Chen Chun-Tien (Director)

The Final Moments of Living Architecture, and Those Who Live There

Q: What was it like to watch your film at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival?

CC: In Memory of the Chinatown was screened here together with the Korean film The Slice Room. Between that film and mine, I found a shared theme of the city and the poor who live there. But the method of approach was completely different. I don’t know how the Korean director felt about it, but I thought it was really interesting that the film festival had a certain vision, and put these two films in the same slot.

Q: It felt like this wasn’t just a film documenting buildings being reduced to ruins, but rather, something raising questions about the state of urban development.

CC: It’s certainly true that my method of narration aims to throw questions at society. However, I see architecture as living things. That’s why I see it as something that will naturally decay. Here, I treated Chinatown as an organic life form. I came across that life form in its final moments, in the process of dying out, and I filmed those circumstances. There are many different opinions, from different standpoints on the demolition of Chinatown. I’m not a townsperson, nor am I a resident, so from a neutral position, I filmed Chinatown as it was, and the process of it facing its final moments.

Q: You make frequent use of monochrome still images—did you have a particular design in mind for using that form of expression?

CC: In my last film, where folk houses in Taiwan were about to be torn down, I used a video camera and an ordinary documentary touch to film the people who had initiated the opposition movement, as well as the circumstances that had emerged out of the social movements. But when I tried to film with an ordinary method, I felt that it was extremely difficult to incorporate my designs. That’s why with this film, I tried to build on those experiences, and incorporate my own perspectives and individual thoughts. Then, by using a rather abstract form of expression and throwing outwards to society, I aimed for a film that was different from others. That form of expression was the still images.

Q: Did you film the animals in video?

CC: I filmed the animals dynamically in video, and filmed the humans in still images. This is because I feel that even if Chinatown ceased to exist, the animals would be taken in by someone, and go to live somewhere else, whereas the humans would be crushed by the present circumstances, and be rendered completely powerless. I wanted to express that powerless existence under quiet circumstances.

Q: The sound, which ran in the background of the still images of ruins, left a really distinct impression, as if there were something frightening about it.

CC: I was quite particular about the sound design. I recorded the sounds onsite, and by replaying them anywhere from 50 to 100 times slower, I created some really strange sounds. By making it transform like that, I could match the slow sound to the idea of time running out for Chinatown, which was disappearing that very moment, as well as portray the fate of Chinatown as it came to an end.

I think a film deals with the question of how the director’s perspective should be presented, and a good deal of that is expressed visually. I think there’s a limit to this, but when I thought about how I could express things not only visually, but by using the five senses, I ended up choosing a method of expression based on sight and sound for this film. By emphasizing sound in particular, I tried to give voice to my views as a director.

(Compiled by Sato Tomoko)

Interviewers: Sato Tomoko, Nagayama Momo / Interpreter: Higuchi Yuko / Translator: Joelle Tapas
Photography: Oki Kayako / Video: Oki Kayako / 2017-10-07