Interview with director Liao Jiekai from the movie "Light of a Burning Moth"

Special Interview with the film director Liao Jiekai from "Light of a Burning Moth"

"... I feel that all the old artist had the wisdom and experience longer than the younger one. But both of them have many things to learn from each other."

Director Liao Jiekai after interview in Tokyo International Film Festival 2020 (Photo: InStyle Asia)

"Light of a Burning Moth" (蛾の光) is one of the films in Tokyo Premier category at Tokyo International Film Festival this year (2020). By the courtesy of TIFF, we got a chance to have special interview with mr. Liao Jiekai, a Singaporean film director from movie "Light of a Burning Moth", to express the struggle of the old and young artists through the performance arts and their inner spirits. This film is made when he was a student at Tokyo University of the Arts graduate school, his first Japanese movie as a filmmaker.

The story of a female dancer who lost her mother and then she stopped speaking by herself but interacting by dancing with an old mime artist.

InStyle Asia: What is your original idea to make this film?

Liao Jiekai: Actually this film begin with a leading actress "Ha Young-mi", do you remember a dancer in first half quarter in the film? She and I knew each other before. I met her, may be 3 or 4 years ago in Hong Kong and journey. We decided that we want to make a film together. Because i have working with dancers from different dance film from Singapore, from Europe, From Hong Kong. So, Young-mi and I wanted to make a film about dance as a theme. And i was really interested in the film that portraits the world of artists. Because I feel that Young-mi looking at them and they're looking at her as a unique performance artist. I always moves by this. I wanted to make a film to show this artist. 

In the same time, i was also inspired by a german book "Rainer Maria Rilke's『Letter to the Young Poet』,telling about a poet named "Rilke" and his young admirer who are also poet and looking at him, responsed him by letters. I'm also interested in this idea, about the artist who communicate each other by their poems. In case of this film, the dance can share the line of artists who communicate each other and we can see their inner wills.

©2020 Tokyo University of the Arts, Graduate School of Film and New Media

InStyle AsIa: Thank you so much. You also knew the actors before making this film?

Liao Jiekai: My artist, mr. Arai Han. After i looked the script, i casted him.

InStyle Asia: Thank you so much. The film also reminded us some famous Asian films' works, like "Goodbye, Dragon Inn" (2003) by Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang" or "Farewell to my concubine" (1993) by Chinese director Chen Kai-ge , telling about the traditional topic which is probably gone with the time and the old generations. So "mr.Kawatase", an old artist (starring by Arai Han) in this film is dying together with his stunning abilities and wisdom but in the same time another young artist continue her performance without speaking any words. Because she decided to stop talking by herself. What do you want to tell about the traditional arts between the old generations and young generations?

Liao Jiekai: Talk about the old and young artists' corresponding, i feel that all the old artist had the wisdom and experience longer than the younger one. But both of them have many things to learn from each other. I made this dance film based on a famous book. She recalled her dance when she was young last 30-40 years, it was very interesting because this one dance changes her, transformed her and it is the same dance she performed when she was 20-30 years old, she performed it when she felt something and when she study something she felt another thing. Dancing is like a living thing. When you grew old as a performer, your life changed bigger on the way you performed. i think that what i find its interesting to portray this artist.

Actor Arai Han and Akko Tadano (Photo: InStyle Asia)
©2020 Tokyo University of the Arts, Graduate School of Film and New Media

InStyle Asia: What is your idea behind the story about the beach in Ose where many people died?

Liao Jiekai: i wany to say about the curious relationship. From fear, it can be transformed into something looks curious and somethings you may want to know more about it. If you remember in the film, there is a kind of the dream scene at the beach and he saw the boat. There are big bodies in the boat. It linked to the place to die.

©2020 Tkyo University of the Arts, Graduate School of Film and New Media

InStyle Asia: Why you picked this kind of performance arts (mime dance)?

Liao Jiekai: I think the performance chose me. Last 3-4 years ago, when i started making dance film. It's my first times to be invited to a dance workshop and we worked together with the dancers. This workshop is in Hanoi, Vietnam. At that time, i don't know much about dance. But I'm so curious "why it's me?, Why it's me?" because i didn't have any relationship with the dance. But i want to try something new so i went to the workshop and started to do the dance film. I guess, for me, Dance express what is inside the performer, we can see the soul of each person. It not different from acting. I think actor and dancer is similar, acting and performance is the same.

InStyle AsIa: What kind of performance arts you are interested in recently?

Liao Jiekai: Talk about the dance, when i doing research, i was looking in different forms of performance in Japan like Kabuki, Noh, Rakugo. I was very open in term of what kind of performance and artists says. I got to know about Noh performance which was a case study, i went to Atami, a seaside town and very tourist onsen city, i saw the Noh performance at the beach site, normally we can see Noh dance inside the theater but this one was played on the beach. It was very beautiful. I knew that there are many different performances, also many interesting traditional form of arts.

InStyle Asia: There are many traditional performance in Japan, but less popular among young generations. It's great to hear that you loved Noh performance, so you can make a new film, to attract them the Japanese tradional arts and Noh performance.

Nowadays, many kind of old performance disappearing along with the old generations, or less popular among young people like Chinese Opera or Noh dance, What do you think about this?

Liao Jiekai: I think in Japan they can do very good job in culture. Before i came to Japan, I didn't know about Japanese culture. I saw Kabuki in movie theater. It's like the Kabuki is showing live at the theatre. I think they are presenting in modern way and accesses the audience by arts. I'm interested in more traditional forms of culture, from the efforts they try to preserve it, or some traditional performance is popularizing by manga or comic books. I think there is a possibility to use a popular culture and open up this world to the younger audience.

Director Liao Jiekai, Actor Han Arai and actress Akko Tadano on the stage (photo: InStyle Asia)
©2020 Tokyo University of the Arts, Graduate School of Film and New Media

InStyle Asia: What is your most favourite scene in the film?

Liao Jiekai: The ending scene, there is a man dancing on the beach. Because it was so hard and it was shot after the big typhoon came. When we were on the way to the beach, the highway was blocked. It's like a nightmare during we try to get that location. When we got there, it was like the typhoon just disappeared. And then there were the light, the sunlight we shot that scene is really beautiful, i think, because it just after typhoon.

InStyle Asia: What do you expected the audience after watched the film?

Liao Jiekai: Actually, I want people watch this movie with open mind. I think it's different from  typical romantic film. Just let the film speaking. I created something and audiences came in and it's your job to find something for yourselves.

InStyle Asia: You means let the audience interpreted the story by themselves?

Liao Jiekai:.Yes, I'm sure that each person who watched the film are different and also interpreted in different image.

InStyle Asia: Currently, do you plan to make some next project or movie?

Liao Jiekai: Actually i also have a new film that will be released next month. It's a documentary film titled "Faraway My Shadow Wandered", shot in Ishikawa prefecture, about a young man and the relationship with his family jinja (Shinto shrine). I shot this film for two and half years. At the end of this month (November 2020), we will  premiere this film in Singapore International Film festival, so next week i have to fly back to Singapore and do my quarantine two weeks.

InStyle Asia: After you released this upcoming film in Singapore, you plan to show in Japan?

Liao Jiekai: Yes, hopefully we can show this film in Japan. I didn't sent this film to Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) because they don't do about documentary film (laughing), but I'm sure that there are other film festivals in Japan, definitely i want to show this film in Japan because we shot here and it's Japanese story.

InStyle Asia: The filming location is in Japan, so it might attract more Japanese audience.

Liao Jiekai: The story is also about Japanese and Shinto shrine.

InStyle Asia: Do you have the plan to make a film in Southeast Asia's countries or make a new story related to Southeast Asia and Japan in the future?

Liao Jiekai: I knew, i have some friends who can do with me half shot in Singapore and half shot in Japan. But I'm sure that i continue making films in Singapore. After the world premiere my new film in December, i start shooting a new documentary film next month in Singapore, actually i was granted the money by them to do a documentary film.

InStyle Asia: So we're pretty sure that your next film is documentary film.

Liao Jiekai: Yes, this December i will shoot a new documentary film about "Yeng Pway Ngon", a Chinese writer and he is well-known novelist in Singapore. I'll make a documentary film about him.

InStyle Asia: Thank you so much. We are looking forward to watch your new film soon.

Interviewer: Teerapat Permprayoon
Photo/text: InStyle Asia

Movie Title: Light of a Burning Moth (Japanese Title: 蛾の光)
Film director: Liao Jiekai (廖捷凯)
Released date: 2020 Spoken language: Japanese
Length: 120 minutes
Cast: Ha Young-Mi, Han Arai, Akko Tadano

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