Written by Lucie Wang
“Life-enhancing for all, life-changing for many.” – self-described on 4 Deserts Official Website
If you’ve never heard of Chen Yen-Po (also known as Tommy Chen), Run for Dream directed by Taiwanese Director Huang Mao-Sen is the most insightful introduction to the first and youngest ever Taiwanese athlete who not only completed the 4 Deserts Ultramarathon Series, the most prestigious and toughest human endurance footrace series of four 250-kilometer races across deserts around the globe according to TIME magazine, but also earned himself the title of World Champion at the age of 30 in 2016. This more than your average documentary about sports and athletes is the most inspirational prescription one can receive during the uncertain and depressing coronavirus pandemic.
Many love the quote“We grow great by dreams. All big men are dreamers.” by Woodrow Wilson and few people like Tommy Chen let his action speak louder than words. Yet, even fewer people like filmmaker Huang Mao-Sen and his Producer Fish Lin dreamed to bring a fraction of Tommy Chen’s journey across the Arctic Ocean (18 crew members) and Antarctica (7 crew members) to the screen by embarking on the challenging journey and following his footstep with the help of local production service company and Chen’s long-time personal cinematographer after becoming fascinated with Tommy Chen’s zealous story – running for a cash prize-less ultramarathon. Much like Tommy Chen who initially struggled to find himself sponsorship, Huang and his producer were also faced the difficulty of film financing in development in the small-market Taiwan where average production budget ranges from $677 thousand to $1M USD and feature film production volume runs from 40 to 50 on top of roughly 10 documentaries each year, in addition to the lack of supportive measures from the government – an issue that has long been languishing on the island. Huang shared, “I feel the scale of Taiwanese documentaries are limited no matter what topics they are. I want to make a documentary that’s world-class quality that can be shown to the global audiences. The topic doesn’t need to go into too deep, such as sportsmanship that everyone can relate to and understand. This is what I always want to do. I applied for the funding and went for the interviews. I told them why I want to make this film and it’s not for winning awards. Sadly, none of my funding applications were approved. The film cost around $1.5M USD. I ended up becoming my own boss to fund this film. Even if the film did well at the box office, it is still impossible to break even - and we have foreseen this in the first place. But because we are our own bosses, we have the freedom to do whatever we want. The total cost is around $2M USD.” We cannot thank them and the financiers enough for believing in the story and overcoming obstacles in their way so we can have another excuse to join the Kleenex race. *tears*
In six months of time, Huang and his crew, along with Chen, constantly tried to push the limits of the human body and witnessed how far they can push themselves to achieve their goals as both runner and filmmakers while exploring Tommy Chen’s grit, perseverance and resilience each time he made the impossible possible in the most physically, mentally and emotionally excruciating situation. Huang stated, “I think there are people like Tommy Chen in every country. I was very inspired in one particular afternoon when I was in Antarctica with them. There was a quiet moment when all the athletes were making plans for the competition. I suddenly realized that everyone on the ship is just like Tommy.” Without a question, there were many equally strong-willed, determined and like-minded candidates competing against Tommy Chen in the race. However, what was unusual was the absence of aggressiveness and competitiveness among athletes. Instead, camaraderie was beautifully captured throughout the event in the film. “I was so touched by their passion and so much effort to reach the same goals. After each competition, they became friends. I think it’s very special and rare to be able to make friends with the same goals and visions. I was also touched by the competition that it shows the primal nature of running. It’s not running around the circle like a robot. The origin of running should be like this, if you live next to the beach, you run on the beach; if you live in the mountains, you run in the mountains. I think the competition reminds me of the primal nature of running,” Huang added with sentiment.
Every once in a while, an uplifting film such as Run for Dream is much needed to celebrate dreamers who are also doers. It is exactly what we need to watch to not lose any hope amid the coronavirus, and to keep us excited for future as well. If you need a quick pick me up to get you out there and pursue your dream, Run for Dream is the prescription. It is sure to remind us why mankind is different than other species. Huang concluded, “when you are running or doing things, there would always come with struggles and difficulties. But if you can overcome it, then keep going with more confidence. With more confidence, you can overcome more difficulties. It becomes a positive cycle of life. We should do what we are passionate about and work as hard as possible. Even if it fails in the end, you will not regret it because you tried your best. I think that's a more realistic approach for life, because you can’t succeed in everything you want. I will say, Go crazy! I think everyone nowadays is way too rational. We are also searching for something crazier to work on, but we haven’t found it yet.” Let’s hope his next film is crazier than Crazy Rich Asians!