WILL YOU STILL LOVE ME TOMORROW? Director Arvin Chen Talks Families, Stereotypes, And Coming Out As Gay In Taipei
The Lady Miz Diva: Where did the idea for WILL YOU STILL LOVE ME TOMORROW? come from?
Arvin Chen: I knew that I wanted to make a film about families. I had seen a lot of Japanese films that dealt with families and what makes a family, and I wanted to put my own twist on that. How it turned into a story about this man coming out started with conversations with a gay friend of mine living in Taiwan, and he was telling me about people he knew who were gay men being in a straight situation for years.
It felt like Kismet to see the film when I did; I learned only days before that Taipei is one of the most gay-friendly cities in Asia.
AC: It's probably the most open city. What we wanted to show in the film, too, was that it's a weird dichotomy in that it's still kind of conservative when it comes to families, but the city itself is quite progressive and liberal.
You said you initially wanted to make a film about families, but regarding the gay aspect; it is not a widely discussed subject in Asia and some places still debate whether homosexuality actually exists. Was part of the motivation for making the film to promote dialog?
AC: I wasn't trying to do something that was too overtly social or political. I think its part of the movie was that it's not supposed to be so much making a statement, as just saying 'Well, this is the kind of situation and this character is probably like this in real life - although our characters are kind of like funnier versions of those characters.' When we do Q&As, especially in Taiwan - right now gay marriage rights are an issue in Taiwan - there are people who ask me if I support it. If you watch the movie, pretty much what I'm saying is, you don't have to have the traditional family structure to make it work, because, in fact, the traditional family structure is not working for these characters. I try to not to be too preachy about it, but obviously, there's a viewpoint in this movie. So yeah, I could say it's something to be discussed.
Knowing there is that conservative viewpoint across Asia, were you worried about creating controversy?
AC: It's funny cos I think one of the benefits of being seen at festivals, especially if it's outside of Taiwan, our film goers are usually a little bit more worldly, or international, or they've seen a lot of film, which also means that they probably have a bit more open viewpoint about culture in general. But I think even if it's seen in conservative places such as Korea, we won't have that problem because I think the people who'll watch it are actually the people who've seen different types of movies and so are a little more culturally open anyway. And in Taiwan, I think some audiences didn't see it at all just because it had the gay aspect to it. I've had gay friends who told me that it's almost like a gay film for straight audiences. I didn't think it was going to be a controversial movie; to me it was just the story about a family, in which one of the characters was gay and obviously he's dealing with a long-delayed coming out. But to me it's as equally a gay romance as much as it is a straight romance, showing those silly romantic issues.
Why does Weichung have these feelings now all of a sudden, when he seemed to be going through his life well for the past decade?
AC: I had thought of it about being sort of a midlife crisis, but a very different midlife crisis. To me, I felt like this was a guy who had oppressed who he is for so long, his midlife crisis might've been longing for who he was, and who he was was obviously not a straight man. I thought of a few triggers where that might happen, using my experiences and other people's experiences, like his sister's getting married, which is a huge thing in his life, his wife wants to have a second son, he's completely devoted at work. All these things are a reminder that his life is coming to a crossroads, and then all these things happen that he's really going to be revealed for who he used to be. So it's kind of like a midlife crisis.
Were any of the male stars in your cast hesitant to play a gay character?
AC: I think actors, especially, they're around so many gay men and women in entertainment - even in Asia, when you talk to the actors, like Richie Ren, he's a pop star, he'll say, "I've known so many gay friends that I've worked with in my twenty-five years in entertainment." It never occurred to him that he shouldn't take this role just because the character is gay. I think it's a pretty great thing about these actors that the sexual identity of the characters never was an issue. I think the bigger issues would've been that they didn't want to offend any of their gay friends or gay audiences with their characterisations. So they were almost sensitive in the other way, in which they were totally willing to play their characters, they were just afraid they wouldn't do it justice.
Keeping that in mind, why were most of the gay characters effeminate? Were you conscious of stereotypes when creating those characters?
AC: It's a tough balance, especially as it's a comedy. Like Lawrence Ko's character, he's much more effeminate, much more flashy. It was hard to figure out if we should tone him down more. He was actually based on a friend of mine who is almost like that. At some point, I thought that the whole point was that the character is he's totally himself and if people thought, 'Well, why is he so effeminate?' I would say, 'Well, look at Richie Ren's character who I don't think is effeminate.' You can have effeminate gay characters. You can have characters who are repressed and not effeminate. I was trying to find a little bit of balance, but even I think maybe Lawrence is a little bit of a stereotype, but then at the same time, the whole point is that he's the contrast to Weichung. If he wasn't so campy, he wouldn't make Weichung so uncomfortable. This is not the best situation, but if those four characters weren't flashier and campier, or a little sunnier, then it wouldn't be so funny that the straight guy that's hanging out with them would have no idea that they're gay. It's a little bit of trying to find justification in terms of the comedy or in terms of the contrast. So far no gay friends of mine have told me they were offended, but I also know that probably that part of the storyline, especially Lawrence, does veer into camp.
Your first feature, Au Revoir Taipei was executive produced by Wim Wenders. What did having him on board teach you about filmmaking?
AC: Well, he's such an artist. To be around someone who's already made so many films and is so accomplished, to see his attitude towards making films; he's so relaxed, easygoing and very generous as a person to younger filmmakers. He came to Taiwan right before we shot Au Revoir Taipei. He did a lot of Q&As with the students and a lot of promotional stuff to help us. I think the way he interacts with people who love his films and the way he talks to critics and journalists, it shows you that you can be this kind of artist and he didn't seem crazy. We talked about the films he's made and how he looks at film and how he feels he always needs to learn something new before he makes a new movie. His approach to things was very soothing and calming. He helped me not worry too much about my one film. It's just one of hopefully a lot more and hopefully I can find this balance of life and art that he has.
I understand that the Taiwanese director, Edward Yang was a very big influence on you.
AC: Right. Actually, they have very different attitudes about filmmaking, which was very interesting. Edward was a like a pure, crazy artist. When he made movies, he was so obsessed and methodical and precise and he knows exactly what he wants. I think that why his movies are so carefully crafted. And then Wim's approach to movies is much more open; he doesn't storyboard, he works a lot with the actors. So it was interesting. Both of them are great amazing filmmakers and so revered, but the way they approach filmmaking was so different. So also that was very inspiring to me at the time to think, 'Well, there's no real right way to do it because obviously they both make great movies and they're both great directors and yet they aren't the same kind of people and they don't make movies the same way.'
What is next for Arvin Chen?
AC: There are a couple of projects that I'm working on; one is a road trip movie set in China with Taiwanese characters, housewives. And then there is another more artsy movie that I want to do in Hong Kong that's a little bit like Before Midnight or Before Sunrise. Very much like a pure romance, almost no comedy. The movie that looks like it will probably be my next one is a movie that's set in the US about modern immigration and that's more of a comedy.
Will that be made with an Asian company or a US one?
AC: Right now, it's with ... Do you know a Hong Kong director called Pang Ho-Cheung?
Yes, I interviewed him at the New York Asian Film festival.
AC: He's is the executive producer of that project, but we'll shoot in the US. It'll be an interesting collaboration.
Coming from America and making films in Asia, do producers and other filmmakers kind of shake their heads when you suggest something that might not have been done before, or if you show some kind of sensibility that they're not used to?
AC: You know, it's so weird, I live in the middle of that, I think. There's some people who I think like the fact that I have kind of a western take on things and there are people who don't like it. And that goes for audiences and other filmmakers; I get probably equally as much praise as criticism for the fact that my films aren't purely Taiwanese. So, for me I think I've given up on trying to find the right answer.
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The film is now playing in New York at the Quad and the AMC Empire, and also in select theaters in Los Angeles. It opens in Chicago and Seattle on Friday, January 24.