Xin Yukun:

Shoot­ing the Heart­land

NewsChina - - CONTENTS - By Liu Yuan­hang

Xin Yukun's 2014 de­but film The Cof­fin in the Moun­tain (also known as Deep in the Heart) won awards both in China and abroad. This year on April 4 the 34-year-old di­rec­tor fol­lowed up with the re­lease of his sec­ond di­rec­to­rial work, Wrath of Si­lence, a crime thriller.

The ac­tion crime thriller is based on har­row­ing true sto­ries about the min­ing in­dus­try in Bao­tou, In­ner Mon­go­lia Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion – Xin's home­town. It pro­vides a dark and pun­ish­ing ac­count of the strug­gles of those on so­ci­ety's bot­tom rung through the in­ter­wo­ven lives of three seg­ments of so­ci­ety: mine own­ers, work­ers and vil­lagers.

“Nowa­days most main­stream films fea­ture a fast rhythm and overuse of vis­ual ef­fects. I hope movie­go­ers will re­de­fine film and get a dif­fer­ent feel­ing from my work,” Xin said dur­ing a pro­mo­tional event in Chengdu, Sichuan Prov­ince, on April 3.

“I al­ways hope I can pro­duce a film with my own logic, of­fer­ing a chance for movie­go­ers to touch the dark side and evils of hu­man so­ci­ety and re­treat safely,” he con­tin­ued.

Sound of Ex­plo­sions

The im­age of a mine blow­ing up flashes over and over in Xin's mind, he says. When he was in a high school in Bao­tou, he could of­ten hear the noise of ex­plo­sions from a nearby mine.

Xin tried to re­pro­duce scenes of the ex­plo­sion in Wrath of Si­lence. How­ever, this proved dif­fi­cult and Xin was forced to re­sort to com­puter-gen­er­ated im­agery. Xin ad­mit­ted this was one of his re­grets about the film.

“In com­par­i­son with Deep in the Heart, the big­gest dif­fer­ence in the new film is that it has a com­plete metaphor­i­cal sys­tem, and there are sev­eral tri­an­gu­lar re­la­tion­ships,” Xin told Newschina. “To add flesh to the fig­ures in the film, I had to draw from my per­sonal life.”

In the 2000s, the min­ing in­dus­try in the Bao­tou sub­urbs where the film was shot was boom­ing and many pur­sued money un­scrupu­lously. Some vil­lagers re­ceived wind­falls from their mines and be­came rich overnight. How­ever, many were un­aware of the neg­a­tive ef­fects of min­ing, in­clud­ing the toll on the en­vi­ron­ment and their own health.

Xin had friends and rel­a­tives in­volved in the min­ing in­dus­try, and sev­eral shared bizarre and ghastly sto­ries with Xin. At that time, the in­ter­net was rel­a­tively new in China and many of the sto­ries that took place in the mines were un­known to the out­side world. The vi­o­lent con­flicts be­tween mine own­ers, how­ever, left an in­deli­ble im­print on Xin's mind.

Sev­eral years later, the lo­cal gov­ern­ment brought the chaos in the min­ing in­dus­try to a halt and most mines sus­pended pro­duc­tion. “The derelict mine pits were like scars on the land ev­ery­where,” Xin said. In the film, the pro­tag­o­nist, who does not speak, scours these wasted pits as he searches for his miss­ing child.

Film Dreams

When Xin was at school, com­po­si­tion was one of the few sub­jects he en­joyed. Ev­ery time the teacher pro­posed a com­po­si­tion, Xin would work tire­lessly to write some­thing im­bued with imag­i­nary el­e­ments. The writ­ing sam­ples gained praise from his teacher, which mo­ti­vated him to con­tinue writ­ing to this day.

Xin per­formed poorly at school and in the sum­mer af­ter his first year in high school, he came to re­al­ize he would not at­tend a good uni­ver­sity. He hap­pened to learn that a film train­ing school in Xi'an, Shaanxi Prov­ince,was tak­ing ap­pli­ca­tions. Af­ter get­ting the nod from his par­ents, Xin took the train to Xi'an.

It was 2001 and Xin was just 17. But it was a turn­ing point: film has been cen­tral to his life ever since. The pri­vate school was un­der the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the West­ern Movie Group, which was the cra­dle of many of China's fifth gen­er­a­tion direc­tors, in­clud­ing Chen Kaige and Zhang Yi­mou.

The school had top teach­ing staff and many of its teach­ers came from the West­ern Movie Group. The great­est ben­e­fit for Xin was learn­ing to tell sto­ries in a man­ner that was ap­peal­ing to movie­go­ers. In ad­di­tion, Xi de­vel­oped a friend­ship with Feng Yuan­liang, who later co-wrote the script for Deep in the Heart.

Af­ter grad­u­a­tion, Feng joined the petro­chem­i­cal sec­tor of a State-owned en­ter­prise in Bao­tou and wrote scripts in his free time. Xin, how­ever, was pre­par­ing to con­tinue his study and ap­plied to the Bei­jing Film Academy without suc­cess. He de­cided to try a sec­ond time and be­gan to study at home.

“Af­ter care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion, I de­cided to choose film pro­duc­tion as my main pro­fes­sion,” he told our re­porter.

Two months later, one of Xin's class­mates, who was work­ing for the lo­cal tele­vi­sion sta­tion, asked Xin to write some scripts. Be­fore long Xin was shoot­ing, writ­ing and edit­ing pro­grams for the sta­tion by him­self. He later helped write and shoot some short thrillers about gang­sters and drug traf­fick­ing, which gained high au­di­ence rat­ings.

Xin was later in­spired af­ter be­ing ex­posed to non-lin­ear films. He tried to pro­duce a thriller with a disjointed nar­ra­tive, but was turned down by the TV sta­tion be­cause the plot was too com­pli­cated.

In 2008, Xin was of­fered a place at Bei­jing

Film Academy. He spent the ma­jor­ity of his time on film pho­tog­ra­phy but found the tech­niques were even­tu­ally re­placed by dig­i­tal tech­niques. “I was al­ways not fa­vored by the times,” he said.

Min­ing His Life

In 2012, when Xin fin­ished the script for Wrath of Si­lence about a miner's search for his miss­ing son, he pre­sented it to Ren Jiangzhou, man­ager of a small film pro­duc­tion stu­dio. Ren liked the script but thought it would need a big bud­get, and of­fered Xin the chance to shoot an­other story first: Deep in the Heart.

Ren was born in He­nan Prov­ince and hap­pened to hear a story from his mother about a charred body be­ing found in a vil­lage in the prov­ince in the 1990s. One fam­ily claimed it was their son, but as the fu­neral ap­proached the son ap­peared alive. The body was later claimed by three fam­i­lies and it was not un­til two years later that the po­lice solved the case.

Ren fin­ished the script quickly and in­vited Xin to shoot the film. Xin mod­i­fied the plot by adding some non-lin­ear and sus­pense el­e­ments. Mean­while, Ren suc­cess­fully sought a pro­duc­tion bud­get of one mil­lion yuan (US$158,000). But be­fore shoot­ing be­gan, the in­vestor with­drew and only of­fered a bud­get of half the amount. To make mat­ters worse, the rel­a­tives who pledged to lend money also with­drew. Xin had to hire a large num­ber of non-pro­fes­sional ac­tors from the vil­lage.

“Dur­ing post-pro­duc­tion, even the film crew wanted to quit. Af­ter the fi­nal edit, the sub­mis­sion dead­line of the FIRST In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val was draw­ing near,” Xin said. “It was the last straw for us.”

The FIRST In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, held in Xin­ing, Qing­hai Prov­ince, was de­vel­oped from a col­lege film fes­ti­val which is open to young film direc­tors only. Deep in the Heart was crit­i­cally ac­claimed at the fes­ti­val, scoop­ing its best film and best di­rec­tor prizes, with judges prais­ing the film's struc­ture and pre­sen­ta­tion of hu­man na­ture.

The film also won at sev­eral other film fes- tivals, in­clud­ing the Jury Prize and the Best Ac­tor Award at the In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val & Awards in Ma­cao, and the Grand Prix award at the 30th War­saw In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val in Poland in 2014. In 2017, Wrath of Si­lence was the clos­ing film of the FIRST In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val.

“The boom­ing film in­dus­try has pro­vided great op­por­tu­ni­ties for young and tal­ented direc­tors. The busi­ness and the de­mands for young direc­tors, how­ever, have given young direc­tors few chances to fail,” he said.

Xin is a fan of direc­tors such as Park Chan­wook, Quentin Tarantino and Christo­pher Nolan who stay true to their vi­sion and are crit­i­cally ac­claimed.

From the very be­gin­ning, Xin said he wanted to pro­duce ab­sur­dist and noir-tinged thrillers fea­tur­ing cor­rup­tion, poverty and so­cial in­jus­tice in ru­ral ar­eas that fit within the moral bound­aries of China.

Work­ing in this gray area amid the threat of cen­sor­ship, he must con­stantly weigh the risks and gains. “It is a trek and ad­ven­ture at the bor­der zone,” he said.

Xin Yukun

Ac­tor Jiang Wu plays the main villain in the Wrath of Si­lence

The pro­tag­o­nist in Wrath of Si­lence, played by Song Yang, searches for his miss­ing child

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.