Q1 Was Nina Wu influenced by David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001) or any of Stephen King’s works?
Midi: I have seen the film Mulholland Drive but I don't think It has influenced Nina Wu. The conversation with Ke-Xi Wu and we interviewed people that been through similar trauma have more influenced towards the film. I get more influenced by works of literature and life experiences. For example, the idea of the film title comes from an Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig's novella Burning Secret (1913, original title: Brennendes Geheimnis).
However, when we were at Cannes Film Festival, Director Quentin Tarantino also said Nina Wu’s narrative style is very similar to Mulholland Drive but the film style is like Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968). I do like those 60 and 70’s films from America and would be very interested to make a film similar to those styles.
I haven’t read Stephen King's works other than the film 1408 (2007) directed by Mikael Håfström.
One of the scenes written by Ke-Xi is that Nina walks into a hotel foyer with no one else but her. The high heels echoing on the busy floor pattern that makes her dizzy. Nina pushed the elevator and the other side opens up with a little girl dressed in red just like herself. The little girl’s mother yelled, “Why didn’t you do a good job on that scene”. Nina sways and the people in the elevator disappeared. She walked into the elevator and the walls become transparently looking into the night sky of the Taipei City. The elevator reaches level 28 but with such puzzling hallways, it took her 20 minutes to find the room number 2816. This was the original script by Ke-Xi.
I discussed with the artist team if we want to do this scene in one shot, it will cost at least 650,000 USD. We edited the script to level 14 which is much easier to find and also lower the cost as well. Plus, because I have seen 1408 and ironically this film is by Harvey Weinstein’s company. It metaphorically related to the women who have been sexually harassed in the hotel room. So we decided to change the room number from 2816 to 1408.
Q2 Why is Nina Wu’s opening scene at Taipei’s Jingan station?
Midi: I have been living around Yongan Market station for many years (one station before the Jingan station). This is the first time I filmed everything in Taiwan. So naturally, I wanted to add some scenes around those two areas. We shoot a lot of scenes in the market where Nina is doing her grocery shopping. But we didn’t use it in the end because we want the film to be like a thriller and surreal environment.
What’s fun about a movie is that we can rearrange time and space. The beginning scene is the end of the story, where Nina is suffering from the trauma. But we as the audiences are following Nina to rediscover what’s happening to her, to relive through the trauma again with her.
Q3 There is a scene in the trailer that Nina is screaming in the MRT station. But this scene didn’t show in the movie?
Midi: The film took about 50 days to shoot, but not every scene appeared in the film. During post-production, we have done 13 different versions of the film. The one that’s showing at the Cannes Film Festival and in Taiwan is the 103 minutes version. Ke-Xi’s original script has a lot of chapters about Nina’s mental conditions and her 12 dreams. They are fantastic but if include all of it in the film, the storyline will become too enormous and disrupted the main subject. So we decided to take them out of the film.
Q4 Which version of the film is your favourite?
Midi: The 103 minutes is my favourite version and it’s showing in Taiwan and all the other 32 countries. To be honest, this version will be very challenging for the audiences. I think most audiences would probably only understand 80% of the film. But I’m confident to say that the audiences in Taiwan are fit for this challenge.
If you get to watch the film a few times, you will notice some of the hidden hints through the film in Nina’s life such as the kettle boiling, producer eating the dumpling and Nina pretending to bark like a dog. I don’t think it’s too difficult to notice it but could also be just me who has seen the film like 200 times.
Q5 Why the sad ending at the end of the film?
Midi: This version of the film is coming from the mysterious and thriller point of view. From what happened to Nina on the night of audition and the audiences follow her to relive that moment. Slowly uncover the trace and situations as the film goes along until the audiences found out what caused the trauma. So I think it is necessary to have an ending like this in a very realistic way.
I think being an artist to express those pain and suffering, not necessarily want the audiences to feel the pain but even just that one minute for the audiences to have compassion and understanding that people around the world are suffering. The viewers are watching it in the cinema with popcorn in their hands for just few minutes. But for the real victim, it’s a lifetime of pain. That’s the central message of the film I want to create.
Either you like the film or not, I hope Nina Wu’s message could lead the audiences to think, discuss and share.
Q6 In the movie, what is real and what is not？
Midi: When you don’t see the scar on Nina’s body, means this is part of her illusion. When you see the scar on her, means it’s back to real life.
When Nina walked pass by auditioner number 3 in the hotel hallway, that’s the only time that Nina met with her. As Nina walked into the room 1408, she saw number 3’s photos on the table, which means number 3 has already been selected. Later on, the producer abused his power and raped Nina. So that’s how Nina got the main role in the end instead of number 3. Nina is living the pain and fear through the film. She is afraid number 3 will come back and accuse her of stealing the role and make public that Nina was raped by the producer.
Nina remembers number 3’s face from the hotel and feels tremendous guilt toward her. That's why whenever Nina starts to have illusion or personality split, number 3 always shows up because that’s where Nina’s fear originated.
Lizards, cockroaches and some of the red-light scenes are all Nina’s illusions. The colour red is to emphasize Nina’s fear and trepidation. The night she got raped, she woke up and saw the red carpet in the hotel room. Also, the red dress is worn by number 3.
Q7 Kiki and Nina are in a same-sex relationship, any particular reason for this arrangement?
Midi: In the film, Nina is constantly requested to present her “feminine side”. The feminine side defined by the male gaze, such as threesome acting and the naked scene. For a lesbian who doesn’t want to be labeled by the male gaze, but then was raped by a male. I want to emphasize Nina’s trauma and a more convincing way for her to have a personality split. That’s why we set up the characters the way it is now.
Kiki represents the innocence who stays at her hometown but doesn't dare to go into the city to try new things. Number 3 represents who Nina wants to become, a person who will do anything for the producer. Nina is stuck in between those two characters.
Q8 Did Nina’s puppy, Oscar die in the end?
Midi: No, Oscar is alive. From the original script from Ke-Xi, when Nina received the phone call from Kiki. Kiki said “You know what? I have Oscar with me here in Taipei too”. But in the post-production, we decided to cut that line off.
During the research of traumatic and post-traumatic syndrome, I found out the victims sometimes have difficulty identify what’s real and what’s not. That’s why the whole film gives this kind of uncertainty to the audiences too.
Normally the main steam film will arrange the narrative as Nina goes into the dream after in bed with Kiki. And in the dream, Nina is auditioning for the role again. But she will wake up from Oscar’s barking in the dream. But in Nina Wu, the barking didn’t wake her up. It took Nina into another dream that she heard the father screaming, saw Oscar’s dead body and Kiki holding Oscar’s coat full of blood. Until Nina got the call from Mark who wants her back in Taipei, that’s when she woke up to reality.
Q9 Any particular reason for choosing Kimi (Yu-Chiao) Hsia to play number 3 and Vivian Sung to play Kiki?
Midi: Vivian was first selected and later on, we added Kimi. It seems the whole internet is talking about the similarity of their looks, even said by their parents. Because of that, we twisted the script a little bit based on their similarity. There is one scene that Kiki (play by Vivian Sung) all the sudden become number 3. It lets the movie seems like a reincarnation that one minute Nina is looking at the person she loves the most and suddenly becomes the person she fears the most.
Q10 Any particular reason that Nina sinks into the water for the film she was acting for?
Midi: Not really, it isn’t too important or relevant. It’s just a normal soapy drama and later on, got selected into a major film festival. I just want to make it a little bit ironic to the current film festival industry. However, the script is co-related with Nina. Like when she read the line from the script “I can’t take it anymore. They’re not only destroying my body but my soul.” And also, when she was eating the dumpling and found a piece of paper in it, this reflects the secret of Nina being raped. Another scene where the producer wants two to act as lovers who have been apart for many years and finally meet up. This is a reference to Nina and Kiki’s relationship.
If you get the chance to watch Nina Wu a few more times, you will realize a lot of details are correlated with each other.
Q11 When Nina is doing the broadcasting in her room, there is a photo on the wall. It’s Nina in the red dress for the audition.
Midi: That’s correct. This means Nina is already raped and also back from touring the film at the festivals. Again, at the beginning of the film that everything has happened already. When she is doing the broadcasting, she is already sick and has illusions. When the phone’s alarm rang and reminded her to do the broadcast. That’s when she went back to the past and the illusion of nothing has happened yet.
For me, this film is like a circle that goes around. No matter which point of view you are looking at or try to the puzzle it. The main thing is the beginning is the end and the end goes back to the beginning.
[Original Q&A comes from Midi Z's live video on Facebook.]
Translated by Benson Wu.