LEAP OF FAITH
A documentary team follows a Good Samaritan on a mission to save the suicidal对话《南京天使》导演，为南京长江大桥自杀救援者陈思拍纪录片
Chen Si is one of the few in China willing to tackle the growing problem of suicide head-on, patrolling the Nanjing Yangtze River bridge (the world's top suicide spot) to comfort potential jumpers. TWOC chats with the two filmmakers who documented Chen's efforts in Angelofnanjing
On June 7, the first day of the gaokao entrance exams, a 22-year-old “repeat” student leapt to his death in Liaoning province, the latest victim of what the Ministry of Health fear is an epidemic of suicide among Chinese youth. Suicide is the leading cause of death among 15 to 35 year olds, reported the Legal Daily, but the subject has long been considered taboo in society.
Nanjing resident Chen Si (陈思) is one of the few who have stepped up to take responsibility. Since 2003, Chen has prevented more than 330 suicides on Nanjing’s Yangtze River Bridge, now the world’s most popular suicide spot. Jordan Horowitz and Frank Ferendo set out to capture the emotional toll of Chen’s mission in their award-winning documentary Angelofnanjing, and spoke to TWOC about portraying this sensitive issue and the project’s ongoing developments.
CAN YOU TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT HOW THIS BEGAN?
Jordan Horowitz: I first heard about this story because a really good friend of mine showed me a small article that she had found on a website. This was probably around 2004…I printed it out and put it in a drawer. In 2010, I read another article by a different author, and when I realized [Chen] was still doing that, and the number of prevented suicides had increased, I decided I had to do something about it, so I shared it with Frank and together we decided to see if we could do something with it.
HOW DID YOU GET IN TOUCH WITH CHEN? JH:
Chen keeps a blog of the people he saves on the bridge…it’s basically a diary, so that if depressed people find his blog, his number is on there, they can call him and he can help them. Frank Ferendo: One day, we just bought a ticket. I said, Jordan, I think we should go try to find this guy. We hadn’t even gotten in touch with him, until the day before we set out…we asked him out to dinner and told him the plans, we said: ‘We want to make a movie about you,’ he was like, ‘OK, sure’.
WHAT WERE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES? DID OPERATING IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY POSE OBSTACLES? FF:
We definitely thought there were going to be obstacles to getting permission from the government to shoot, so we decided to risk it and do it on our own. At the beginning, we had two sets of [hard] drives we kept in separate places; we were afraid maybe we would get in trouble. Ultimately it wasn’t really a big deal that we were running around with cameras and shooting stuff. I think the language barrier caused some minor problems. We had a translator, but Jordan and I don’t speak Chinese, so a lot of the time
we were shooting and we had no idea what we had captured until afterwards. JH: The translator would give you a rough sense of what happened in the overall scene or something, but usually it would be poorly translated…it wasn’t until many months later, when everything was transcribed and subtitled, that we knew which scenes were the most powerful. I’d say one of our biggest challenges was hiring the right translator. We went through a couple who didn’t work out for various reasons. The biggest was that it was a really tough job. All the time Chen was on the bridge, Frank and I were on the bridge following him, it’s very difficult—it’s really, really cold in the winter, it’s really hot in the summer. I don’t think most of the translators were cut out for that. After a couple of months, we found a young filmmaker named David Ding, just out of college. A lot of people around town didn’t speak very good English, but he did. He asked us to teach him filmmaking, that’s what he really wanted. He did such a good job, we ended up giving him a co-producer credit as a way of thanking him.
ANY DIFFICULTY GETTING INTO THE LIVES OF THE PEOPLE CHEN HELPED? WERE SOME HESITANT OR RESISTANT? JH:
When Chen initially approached somebody to save them on the bridge, we kept our distance. We filmed it almost hidden-camera style…chen has an electronic scooter he rides up and down the bridge; Frank and I each got similar scooters and were following him from quite a distance. When something happened, we would pull off to the side and film from very, very far back on very long lenses. So most of the time they didn’t know we were there at first. FF: We initially thought we would then be able to check up on them, and tell their story…but once Chen saved them, they weren’t so comfortable letting us into their world.
WHAT WERE SOME OF THE MOST MEMORABLE MOMENTS WHILE FILMING? JH:
There’s one deleted scene…as I was going home, I noticed this guy crying and pulled over. Something about his expression just looked all wrong. I asked David to eavesdrop on him, and he did, and he told me he is saying goodbye to his family, giving away the password [to his cards]—it’s happening right now. I told David, you need to talk to him. David, being 20, 21 at the time, was very shy. He said, ‘I don’t know what to say to him’ and I said, ‘You gotta be Chen right now, you’re the only one that can do this,’ and he did…we eventually had to end up calling the police, and have them remove him, because there was no other way to get him off the bridge.
DID YOU FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM? JH:
We didn’t, and that happens a lot with Chen. He gets someone out of immediate danger, and then he never knows—who is to say if they go back or not? And that was the case with us. The cops took him away and said they held him for observation and that was it, we never heard from him again.
WHAT STAYED WITH YOU AFTER FILMING? JH:
It made me realize how small my problems were. The things that I was stressing out about were nothing in comparison. Some of these people had nothing except the shirt on their back…it made me think about compassion. There are invisible people that we walk past every day, 99 percent of the people pay them no mind, and Chen is the one guy who does. FF: During the film festivals, Jordan and I would sit, and when the film would play, we would go out and present [and] say, ‘Let’s watch the first scene or two to see if it’s playing OK.’ Jordan and I would end up sitting there every time, watching the full movie…what we went through in that entire year, it brings back so many emotions. JH: Another deleted scene…after Chen had saved another woman. I pointed my camera at him and didn’t say anything, but he turned to the camera and started talking. I only found out later that, as he was looking below, there was a playground, and he was talking about the kids playing down below. He spoke about how it was breaking his heart, thinking these kids would grow up and would be these people who might have all these problems. He was crying and super emotional…even though it didn’t make it into the film, it was probably the defining moment of the film for me.
I “f the way of Go is ‘100,’ I only know about seven,” Japanese Go master Hideyuki Fujisawa once remarked. Humility aside, the recent defeat of world champions Lee Sedol and Ke Jie by Alphago has arguably proven Fujisawa’s point. “I only know about
two percent... mankind’s knowledge of Go is far too limited,” Ke admitted at a press conference in May.
Ancient Chinese viewed Go with awe. Faced with its infinite possibilities and abstract thinking, pushing the limits of the human mind, they coped by mystifying the game. A description of Go’s invention in the Comprehensive Mirror of Immortals in History, a 18th-century collection of legends, states, “The chess board is square and still, while the Go pieces are round and mobile. They represent the Earth and Heaven. Since the invention of the game, there’s none who can figure out a universal solution.” According to the book, the legendary emperor Yao was seeking to teach his dim but aggressive son a lesson. He met two immortals by a river, who suggested using Go, 围棋 ( w9iq!, lit. “encircling chess” ).
棋 ( q!, chess) alone can refer to any type of chess—象棋 ( xi3ngq!, Chinese chess), or国际象棋( gu5j# xi3ngq!, lit. “international chess,” the kind with bishops and queens). Go’s English name came from the Japanese pronunciation of the character , a variant of 棋 ( q!) in Chinese. The former makes more sense referring to Go, given the stone radical, 石 ( sh!), at the bottom of the character, since Go pieces were often made of stone.
Traditionally, 弈 ( y#) was the Chinese character referring specifically to Go. Although 围棋 is used in most discourses,弈is still found in a series of phrases related to Go: For instance, playing chess can be下棋( xi3q!) or 对弈 ( du#y#). The term 博弈 ( b5y#), originally referring to playing Go, could also mean “to gamble,” while game theory in modern mathematics is translated as博弈论( b5y#l&n). In this sense, 博弈 refers to the act of two or more opposing parties utilizing certain strategies to gain advantage or profit.
A major form of entertainment in ancient China, Go has left linguistic traces in many phrases and idioms. Those having difficulty making up their mind are often said to be举棋不定( j^ q! b% d#ng, lit. “holding a Go stone, but unsure where to put it), the implication being that one must not allow doubt and hesitation to interfere with one’s goals.
It is said that a bad Go player only focuses on picking off an opponent’s pieces from the board, while a good player seeks superior advantage with a long-term strategy. In such circumstances, every turn could be life or death. One false move could see the loss of the whole game, or棋错一着，满盘皆输( q! cu7 y# zh`o, m2n p1n ji8 sh$)— a truth that could be applied to any endeavor.
Any competition can be described like a game of Go: one may meet one’s match, 棋逢对手 ( q! f9ng du#sh6u, lit. “to encounter an equal opponent at Go”), or encounter a stronger opponent, 棋高一着( q! g`o y# zh`o, lit. “an opponent who is a notch above you at Go”).
Since Go often involves complicated strategies, a game is referred to as a棋局( q!j%, lit. “a situation confronting players in a chess game”). Overly focused players may turn a blind eye to what’s hidden in plain sight, a phenomenon called 当局者迷，旁观者清 ( d`ngj%zh0 m!, p1nggu`nzh0 q~ng), which translates to “spectators see the game better than the players”.
Yet while a player in the midst of making moves may miss the bigger picture, it could also be argued that those who are directly involved know the game better. That is why spectators are referred to as 局外人 ( j%w3ir9n, lit. “people outside the context”), a term which also refers to outsiders in general—it’s the Chinese title of Camus’s The Stranger.
Go terminology has even managed to find its way into everyday communication. A game is divided into three stages, 布局 ( b&j%, opening moves), 中盘 ( zh4ngp1n, mid-game) and 官子 ( gu`nz@, final stage). 布局 can also mean any kind of arrangement, layout or composition, while 官子 or the verb 收官( sh4ugu`n) is also used to refer to the final stage of any large project. For instance, the fifth year of a government Five-year Plan is always referred to as 收官之年( sh4ugu`n zh~ ni1n, a final-stage year).
From mystic origins to modern-day politics, Go is not only a game––it’s a whole way of thinking.