AE: I have heard that there is quite an active butch/femme community in Taiwan,
and some of that is in Drifting Flowers.
Can you tell me more about that and why you put that in the movie?
ZC: Right. Why did I have to make Spider Lilies as well as Drifting Flowers? Because in Spider Lilies, the distinction between the butch and femme characters was not very clear.
But in Drifting Flowers, the main
character was actually a very typical butch. For example, she didn’t like
having female breasts, and she bound them.
There are very few movies
in which the way butch women feel about their bodies is discussed or actually
shown at all. So Drifting Flowers has
a more humanistic, realistic style, not quite the same as the style of Spider Lilies.
Serena Fang (left) and Chao
Yi-lan in Drifting Flowers
AE: Chao Yi-lan, who plays the
main butch character, makes a very strong impression in the movie. Can you tell
me a little about how you came to cast her in that role?
ZC: Because she herself is a very typical
butch. She is a student in the drama department at Taiwan National
University of the Arts. …
After some training, she was able to be very natural in this role.
But in Spider Lilies, I wanted a more
beautiful-looking butch, not a realistic butch, so I found Isabella Liang.
AE: For me it was really
great to see Chao Yi-lan. I really enjoyed it. You don’t often see that kind of
ZC: Yes, she’s very sexy, very
AE: You are one of very few
openly lesbian Taiwanese filmmakers — in fact I don’t know of any others. Do
you know of any others?
ZC: Openly lesbian? There aren’t any
other openly lesbian ones. There are a great many closeted ones [laughs]. I also
don’t know why they are not out.
AE: How does it feel to be the
ZC: I can’t go around with a mask on
— faking it is very tiring. When I was a journalist and people would ask me, "Are
you or are you not?" I would lose patience and say: "If I am, I am.
Don’t keep asking!" [laughs]
AE: Do you feel any
responsibility to speak for lesbians in Taiwan?
ZC: At first I thought there wasn’t
any question of responsibility, because I was only speaking for myself. Then
later I found it was not that simple. So whenever there are LGBT events or
parades, people are always asking me to go and appear and speak, and I never
thought it would be so complicated.
AE: [laughs] True. Are
there any Western lesbian films that you’ve seen that were influential to you
as a person or as a filmmaker?
ZC: Let me see. There are many good
films, but at the moment I can’t really think of anything that has had a
AE: How about television? Do
you get The L Word in Taiwan?
ZC: Oh, yes! I’ve seen some of it. It’s
very popular in lesbian circles in Taiwan. I even asked Isabella and
Rainie to watch The L Word as part of
their homework. I have only seen a couple of the episodes myself — I haven’t
seen it all — but we couldn’t find enough lesbian films to give them for
research, because there are too few of them.
AE: That’s why your movies
ZC: [laughs] Really? OK, I will
finish making all six colors!
AE: Do you have anything you’d
like to say to the Chinese-American lesbians who are watching your films?
ZC: You know, my films cannot be shown in mainland China, so my
films have all been pirated and shown underground. I heard that in 2007 the
pirated version of Spider Lilies was
ranked No. 5 in sales among underground movies. Of course it didn’t do us any
good financially, but I’m glad more people could see them.
AE: I guess maybe you didn’t
understand my question — I wondered whether you had anything to say to
Americans watching your films.
ZC: As far as I know, for many
Chinese Americans, the pressure from their family is even stronger.
AE: Oh, yeah.
ZC: If my films can help our gay and
lesbian friends to connect with their families, that would be something I
really would want to do.
Invaluable translation assistance by Catherine T. Lo.