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

The World of Chinese - - NEWS - BY DAVID DAW­SON

给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.

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