Interview with Liu Defu, Transnational Movie Director

Recently I had the opportunity to grab a beer with my good friend, Liu Defu, a Chinese movie director working out of Seoul, South Korea. It's been a while since we have talked shop, so I was eager to hear what he was up to.

Beer with Liu Defu and Brian A. Crandall

He recently released a transnational melodrama called "By Chance," a production casting actors from China and Japan and shot with a Korean crew. As transnational co productions are kind of my thing, I was eager to interview him on his approach to this production.

The web series, distributed on Korean based platform NaverTV, tells the story of a struggling PHD student who can't seem to get her dissertation approved.  Just when she is about to have a nervous break down she suddenly receives an odd message from a wealthy Japanese man. He informs the female protagonist that she resembles his deceased fiance and tells her that if she would be willing to meet him in Japan, he would provide a no-expense luxury vacation. He wants to take pictures of her that he wasn't able to capture when his fiance was alive. This seems like just the escape the traumatized student needs, so she makes an impulsive decision to take up the widower on his request.

 I conducted the first part of the interview with Google translate and transcribed the rest below.

Liu Defu and Brian A. Crandall talk transnational coproductions

Brian : This drama is about two people from different countries' falling in love, right? The girl is from China and the guy is from Japan. I like this sort of theme too. I made a movie about a Korean American man falling in love with a Chinese woman. I was wondering why you chose to make a web series utilizing this sort of relationship.

Liu Defu : Firstly, I have lived in Korea for a long time. So I originally planned on writing a script about a Korean man and Chinese woman. Because of the investor we changed locations.

Brian : So why the international love relationship?

Liu Defu : Well, I wanted to tell a story about escapism. Right now in China the population is booming and competition is tough in school and in life. It made sense to depict her departure from her troubles my traveling to another country.

Brian : How did the differences between Chinese and Japanese culture contribute to the development of the story?

Liu Defu : Chinese women are very open and independent. They express their minds, but Japanese women are shy and are hesitant to express their emotions. This contributed to the tensions between the characters.

Brian : As we all know there has for a long time been political tension between the two countries. Do you think a web drama like this can serve to mitigate those tensions?

Liu Defu : I don't like to think like that. In love we are all the same. So I think in this context it is important to remove ourselves from those political thoughts.

Liu Defu

Brian : Whenever you make a movie or a drama that involves various languages, it begs the question, 'which audience is this made for?' Does your audience lack a clear identity?

Liu Defu : I think movies that contain several languages have a larger target as opposed to a more specialized target. Both Chinese and Japanese audiences can watch and enjoy this. And romance is perfect for this because it is universal.

Brian : So rather than being a specialty genre, do you think this kind of work represents a wider trend of the future?

Liu Defu : I think you will see more and more relationships like this in dramas. It is a fact that more and more people are getting married internationally. People of different languages are being connected with technology especially through Google translate (laughing)

Brian : Maybe in some drama we work on together in the future can involve google translate some how.

Liu Defu : Actually we were thinking about making a scene like that, but we didn't have wifi at the time. We were in some old school area that didn't have modern conveniences available.

Brian : What do you think the value of making a production that involves people from all over the world and in so many different shooting locations is?

Liu Defu : I see this type of production as a type of education maybe even a tool of friendship to bring people together all over the world.

Brian : Any words of wisdom for people who would like to tell this kind of international story?

Liu Defu : Before I started this project, it sounded really fun. But after starting, it was kind of a headache with all the languages. The actors spoke Chinese and Japanese, but the crew spoke Korean. We always had to code switch between the languages and cultures. The wall dividing us was hard to pass over. Same for me.

Brian : What did you do to overcome that obstacle?

Liu Defu : Overall every phase of production just becomes longer. This is just the reality. As soon as multiple languages enter the picture you are talking about things taking twice as long. So if I were to offer any advice before you start prepare as much as possible. If you anticipate the difficulties you can save time later.

Brian : Is Love universal? Or does it change cross culturally?

Liu Defu : I think love is the same anywhere you go. The difference is how people express it. Even if you perceive differences to the emotions it all comes down to people's surroundings. It affects the way they communicate the same love.

You can access the first episode of By Chance below.