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Park Shanghai
By Jul 29, 2008 Arts
Park Shanghai is director Kevin Kai Huang's first feature film. The movie received a nomination at the Moscow Film Festival. The majority of the film takes place on the roof of a building while a high school reunion party rages on downstairs. Principal characters Dong and Rerey reminisce beneath Shanghai's expanse of high-rise apartments and spaghetti highways while gazing at the city park with its Ferris wheel and promenade. Ciga, editor of SmartShanghai's sister site, sat down with director Huang to talk about making the movie and the current surge of independent film making in China.

Louder: Is Park Shanghai your first feature length film?

Yes. It's very hard to produce a feature film when you're a full-time university student, so initially I filmed four discrete sections with four separate story lines. It was only later on that I connected the pieces through characters' personal relationships. I had an upperclassman friend who helped me contact an investment company. They were quite interested in the story and wanted to invest tens of thousands of rmb. However, after viewing the short version, they suggested I make it a full-length feature. So they invested 200,000rmb and that's how I was able to make the film feature length. I had just graduated when I wrote the screenplay and we started to shoot within a year.

Louder: The narrative seems to examine the intersection of dreams and reality. Was this your intention?

About the narrative - actually, at the beginning it was a simple story about a man and his ex-girlfriend: he asked her out to karaoke. But as I developed the plot I thought it would be more interesting to let them meet each other in a high school reunion setting to more closely simulate real life.

As the plot progressed it became about making the choice between the dreams of one's past and the reality of the present. Every aspect of the movie is about choosing a path that may determine the rest of the characters' future. What road will these individuals walk? Do they choose to live in their dreams or to face reality? What is the appeal about returning to an ex-lover, and is this appeal based purely in fantasy?

Louder: So, do you consider Park Shanghai an "indie film"?

Yes. Park Shanghai is indie. Initially a network company invested in the movie but the company backed out so Shanghai University took on the project. Obviously, Shanghai University is not a production company, let alone a filming studio. So, to this effect, Park Shanghai is as indie as it gets. The University only invested 200,000rmb on the project from start to finish.

Also, the stars of Park Shanghai are mostly non-professionals. The male and female leads are professional, but the others are not. Most of the "actors" are friends. The person who played Da Qing is a half-professional -- a stage actor.

Louder: Can you talk about the independent film scene in China?

The film scene in China is changing rapidly. The situation used to be that only those who owned a filming label could produce a movie. Like, if there were an individual group that wanted to make movie, they would have to be marketed to the Shanghai Film Studio, who would then invest.

But recently the policy has been opening up. With the government encouraging the film industry, the concept of independent film has become pervasive. Before, all indie movies were considered illegal.

Louder: Are there many indie movies in China?

Yes, those from the 6th generation are actually all indies.

Louder: What's the 6th generation?

Chinese directors that graduated from Beijing Film Academy and the Central Drama Institute in the late 1980s and 1990s would be considered 6th generation. Their films tend to focus on contemporary society. Zhang Yi Mou is from the 5th generation. Everyone after him, like Jia Zhangke, would be considered 6th generation.

Louder: So, Park Shanghai was nominated in the Moscow Film Festival?

Yes, but it didn't win.

Louder: What was the response like there? How is our culture understood?

The audience was very attuned, very sensitive to many of the movie's nuances. It also seems that they related to Chinese culture. For instance, the female star, Du Raray, was born in China, went to England to study, but ultimately married some Chinese guy. The audience thought she made the traditional choice...very Chinese, also very Russian.

Louder: Are you working on any other movies?

I am. My next film is about a married couple, a Chinese man and French woman. The marriage is on shaky ground. It's my plan that the entire film takes place during the course of a single day.

Louder: That sounds like a similar narrative structure to Park Shanghai.

Yes, I love making movies at this pace. Park Shanghai takes place during a single night.

Louder: Why did you choose a Chinese man and a French woman? Is this a typical couple you've seen?

No, not at all. I developed the story from parts of my own life. The story is not just about relationship problems, it's about the inevitable conflict between two different cultures, which I find fascinating.

And of course, getting the French involved is a way to open the film to the European market... it does upset me that Park Shanghai won't appear in cinemas.

Louder: Why won't it appear in the cinema?

Not enough people will go to watch this type of movie in a cinema. It's just not financially viable.

Louder: So, where can we buy Park Shanghai?

I can't confirm that Park Shanghai is in DVD stores yet. CCTV 6 will run the movie on television first and then I'll get back to you when the movie is officially released in Shanghai.

Read SmartShanghai's review of Park Shanghai here (Feb 2009)
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  • john6174

    Was the central point and high point of the film the kiss? A foreigner, with a hat to boot, shared a kiss with his Chinese girlfriend. He suggested the kiss, she recoiled initially and then enjoyed it – western style! Around them was aimless chaos, where Chinese people were enjoying the freedom to do whatever they wished. There was nothing in the world that they collectively wished to to more than what they were doing – hence the title. And yet in the world of complete freedom everything seemed aimless, unfulfilling and boring. The boredom was a conscious part of the film, in spite of everyone having interesting lives and achieving what they had wanted to achieve at school.

    The central character was totally lost. What is this life about? I am doing what I want to do and yet the only woman I love is not with me and I do not know whether having her with me is the success I am looking for. The whole message encompassed in the final taxi scene; his internal doubts made it impossible for him to break away from the conventions that he adopted as a school child and that he was fulfilling in going to Hong Kong (ShenZhen).

    The young children on the roof were aimlessly doing what they wished to do, like the people at the party and they were doing it at a symbolic high point in Shanghai with the symbolic dart board there for people to decide what was the objective of their lives. The beautiful woman he took there could not even stick the dart in the board – find an objective in life - parallels up the waking scene in bed, not with her dreams, but with her husband: reality! She is married to a lump of meat and the scene in the taxi echoes the dart board. The target is the man she clearly loves and yet she is incapable of saying the words to take this man into her arms.

    The other man in the dark clothes, Nick,who kept speaking English in the long scenes on the roof and who was looking for girls and invited our hero to go off with him to another club seemed to be the temptation of drowning his uncertainty in hedonism and indulgence, and probably suggesting that the West had nothing better to offer. But there were many aspects of that relationship that I did not catch. The scene on the roof with the waiter only emphasised the success of China and the vast hinterland who were queuing up to try to join in with that success.

    Yes the film was boring. The commentary was that life for most people in China is aimless and boring. The positive streak was this young American with the hat who was trying to take photographs. He seemed to have a mission in life and embraced the beautiful Chinese girl with a kiss and she him.

    There is so much more to say about the film developing the kiss and the conversations with Nick and the waiter but this is enough.

    My own view is that this art is like the art of the last half of the 20th century in the West asking all the same questions of success; the vast canvasses covered with chaos and meaningless colour and shapes. Is it appropriate for China today? I think not. I think it reflects the vast gulf that exists between the sciences and the non sciences.

    In China and in the world today science is changing the world. The non scientists only see the purposeless material changes of the mobile phones, sky scrapers, sat navs and i-players. They do not see the enormous changes that are taking place in all areas of understanding making it possible to feed the growing population, raise the standard of living of all, combat diseases like malaria and AIDs, increase life expectancy and start to understand the dynamics of human interactions across the world in markets to control these too. Many scientists are involved to a greater and lesser extent in a mission to humanise the world and are excited about what they are doing. There was a cameo nod to the people in this other world with the Maglev train speeding past the taxi to the airport in the last scenes of the film or was it a vision of an accelerating future of much the same. There were none of these scientists in Park Shanghai.

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