The talented Burmese-Taiwanese director Midi Z brought his latest film, ICE POISON, with the lead actor Wang Shin-hong and actress Wu Ke-xi, to the 68th Edinburgh International Film Festival.
The film focuses on two young people’s lives in Lashio, a large town in Burma. Without a harvest from the field, the farmer and his unnamed son (Wang Shin-hong) exchange their cow for an old motor scooter from Uncle Wang. The son starts to work in the station everyday to look for passengers. However, it is also hard to make a living with the motor scooter business. The young man cannot find any passengers for his motor scooter until he meets Sanmei (Wu Ke-xi), a Burmese woman who is tricked into marrying an old man in China. In order to earn more money to bring her son back from China to Burma, Sanmei begins to sell drugs. With the motor scooter, the man drives Sanmei to different places to do this business. Using and selling drugs, the two young people start a journey to an unknown destination. With a placid pace, the director portrays a picture of a harsh life in Burma in a haunting and powerful way.
Tianyi Shen: Do you think your hometown Burma plays an important role in your films?
Midi Z: I moved from Burma to Taiwan at the age of 16. Those memories have had a great impact on me. Filming is like writing diaries for me. I use the camera to depict my memories about the life and the people in Burma. In the face of globalisation, I am also trying to explore the kind of role that Burma is playing in the contemporary world.
TS: Did you face some difficulties and restrictions when shooting the film?
MZ: We always faced difficulties in looking for funding to make the film. The worst situation was that we did not have shooting permission from the government, while also facing budget shortages. Shooting the film secretly in Burma, we always had to be prepared for the situation that tomorrow we might not be able to go to the same place to continue shooting or for the sudden absence of extras.
Another difficulty for me is how to get a breakthrough of my own. ICE POISON is my third film. Apart from overcoming the same difficulties (without sufficient budget and shooting permission) in my previous filmmaking, I hope I can achieve some development in shooting techniques and in the script.
“For artwork creation, I sometimes think that it is better to separate yourself from market demands.”
TS: I heard that you spent only 10 days before finishing shooting the film?
MZ: At first we went to Burma just to shoot BURIAL CLOTHES (a short film also shown in the EIFF as a segment of the omnibus film LETTERS FROM THE SOUTH). I felt that the characters are, in some way, quite complicated and 15 minutes is not enough time to depict them. I then started shooting more scenes to enrich and expand the characters which, we think, developed the story enough to make a film. Hence, after obtaining funding, we completed ICE POISON.
TS: Like ICE POISON, your second film and your new film are, in a way, also about drugs. Is there any special reason why you are interested in this subject?
MZ: I always want to record people. In ICE POISON, my focus is on the drug users, not the drugs themselves. In future, my films will always involve people and their joys and sorrows.
TS: You have been to many international film festivals. What do you think about the relationship between Taiwanese (and Asian) films and western audiences?
MZ: Recently, in Taiwan, young filmmakers have tended to make vulgar films which connect more easily with local audiences. I am happy about this because some of them have even sold better than Hollywood films in Taiwan. A similar situation has developed in China and some other countries in Asia. However, these locally popular films may find it hard to communicate with non-national audiences. For artwork creation, I sometimes think that it is better to separate yourself from market demands. You may need to first satisfy demand to tell stories and then consider how to please audiences.
TS: How would you describe ICE POISON when recommending the film to audiences?
MZ: I think ICE POISON could be a telescope for audiences, providing a different vision for them. The story happens in Burma, far away from the UK. However, after seeing it, you may feel that the film is closely related to your personal experience. This is a story about movement and we all experience movement.