Berlinale-Blogger 2017 Interview with Liu Jian: "There is no short cut."
The first Chinese animation to enter the Competition section of the Berlinale, Liu Jian’s “Have A Nice Day” is a beautifully orchestrated black comedy about a group of unrelated people chasing a bag of cash. With stunning images, a stylish soundtrack and vivid details of everyday life, it is an animated tableau that assembles characters with different professions and priorities yet with the same desire for wealth. In Berlin we talked with the director Liu Jian about cinema, observation in life, and art.
The use of multiple narratives in “Have A Nice Day” and its visual style is reminiscent of other films such as Guy Ritchie’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”, Ethan and Joel Coen’s “No Country for Old Men”, Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs”, as well as a number of comics and animated works such as Derf Backderf’s “Trashed” and Daniel Clowes’ “Ghost World”. Which films, and in particular which animation films, influence your work the most?
There is no single film that I would say influences my work the most, because I have been generally influenced by a lot of works. I started making animation films because I was inspired by Mezame No Hakobune’s Ghost in the Shell 1 – only the first one. I thought it was such a great film. After that I watched Kon Satoshi’s Tokyo Godfathers, which I really liked. That’s why I decided to devote myself to animation films. These two animation films had a great impact on me. Of course there are films by other filmmakers that I really like, such as Clint Eastwood, Takeshi Kitano, the Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarantino.
Can you tell us more about the two stream of consciousness segments? In one segment, when two characters who encounter each other in an elevator start talking about Shangri-La, the film cuts immediately to a musical sequence. In the other segment we see a fixed frame of waves accompanied by music for one minute.
Take the Shangri-La segment, for example. There are two layers of meaning to it. On the first level it serves a narrative purpose, while on the second it enhances the film’s aesthetics and adds something to the overall film structure. It is like adding flavourings to food while cooking. As this is a film with black humour, these elements are the strong flavours in the film. As for the long take on river waves, it is there because we need a buffer zone at that point, emotionally speaking. It is like breathing. We all need to breathe and take a break from time to time. This is the same as the concept of “leaving unpainted space” in Chinese paintings. Everyone is free to have their own interpretation. When I was creating this film, I had my own ideas but I would not tell the public what I thought. If I told you how to read the film, the film would lose its meaning, so I would encourage everyone to watch the film with an open mind.
The film is set in an unspecified city that could be any one of many different places in China. Is this intentional?
The setting is supposed to be a small town on the margins of a city in the south of China. There are a lot of similar cities in China that have outskirts like that.
The characters of Uncle Liu, the gangster boss who was the meant to be the recipient of the bag of money and his childhood friend, the painter, who has been captured by the painter because of an affair with his wife, are quite notable. At one point there’s an interesting discussion between the two about the art world being full of sarcasm and humour. Did you create the characters for reasons of self-mockery and self-reflection?
I am also a painter so I am familiar with the art scene and as such do have a deeper understanding of these characters. I can therefore portray them in a more accurate way. The other reason why I chose these characters is that I wanted to give a sense of different generations. Uncle Liu and the painter belong to the older generation in the film as compared to the other characters.
The rest of your characters are also presented in very rich detail in terms of their differences and individualities. Where did you observe them?
I did not observe them in specific places, but rather came up with the idea for them from my daily observations and own understanding of life.
While the film industry as a whole is tending to divide filmmaking into different segments, each of which is becoming increasingly specialized, you follow the opposite approach, carrying out different roles and making the film almost single-handedly. What do you think about interdisciplinary arts?
For me it is all the same. I did not have a very strong sense of crossing disciplines. Even today I still regard film art as merely one part of my artistic creation, though I do see it as the most enjoyable, challenging and worthwhile part. At its core, film art is the same as contemporary art and paintings, so what it expresses should also be the same. In other words, this is a very natural process for me.
What is your mode when you are working?
My mode is exactly the same as in big production. It’s just that there are a lot of practical matters that I need to handle myself. Things need to be done step by step. There is no short cut when making animation films. The images must be painted one by one.
Can you tell us how you started working with the producer Yang Cheng?
Yang Cheng entered this film project in 2013, though he was still working for another company at the time. Although he was very keen to promote this film project, there were some difficulties and obstacles. It was only when he founded his own company, Nezha Bros. Pictures, and had full decision-making power that our collaboration became smoother. After that the project moved forward much more quickly.
What will your next film be?
My third film is at the pre-production stage. I cannot reveal the content yet.