This month, Cinema Asian American on Xfinity On Demand presents the second feature film from Taipei-based filmmaker Arvin Chen, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” A follow-up to his hit romantic city-symphony-caper film “Au Revoir Taipei,” “Will You Still,” a madcap and lighthearted comedic romp, made its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival and has traveled to film festivals worldwide.
Taiwanese singer and actor Richie Ren stars as introverted optometrist Weichung, who begins to question his marriage with his wife Feng (Mavis Fan), upon learning of her desire to have another baby. At his sister’s engagement party, Weichung bumps into an old friend, Stephen (Lawrence Ko), a wedding photographer who, though also married, is living the high life of a younger, single gay man. When Stephen teases Weichung for his newly straightlaced lifestyle, dormant emotions are awakened in Weichung, setting him off on a quest for true romance and desire.
Chen discussed the making of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and his future projects:
You’ve said that for this film you wanted to make a film about family and were also inspired by a story you heard about gay men in Taiwan who were living straight lives. What were the dramatic and narrative elements within these subjects that indicated to you that they were rich terrain for a film?
AC: Yep, the original idea just came from stories I had heard about these marriages in Taiwan where men who know they are gay still marry straight women for the sake of confirming to traditional family structures. I immediately imagined this kind of character (a gay man living a straight family life), and what kind of situations he would face if he were to have a second coming out, how it would feel to have romance back in his life after so many years of repression, and how this reawakening would shake up his family. Just with those few conflicts in mind, I could see that there would be enough romantic, dramatic, and comedic things to play with while also being able to deal with greater themes of family and modern love.
You have assembled a cast in “Will You” that includes not only some of the top actors working in Taiwan and Hong Kong like Richie Ren, but also performers like Stone, who is best known as the guitarist for Taiwan’s biggest rock band, Mayday. How were you able to draw so much talent for this independent film? Does your position as an inside/outsider within the Taiwanese film industry help with the business of making films there?
AC: To be totally honest, there aren’t tons of Taiwanese films being made (compared with other markets), and most stars are very willing to work with younger filmmakers and support Taiwanese films. As you mentioned, often in my films the actors are also pop stars with bigger off-screen careers, and they really aren’t doing the films for the money at all, which is really cool. That being said, I was lucky for this project that many of the leads (Richie, Stone, Mavis) had also seen my first film “Au Revoir Taipei” and liked it enough to meet with me and talk about making this one. I was also lucky that I worked with a really established producer (Lee Lieh, who is also a veteran actress), that I think also added a lot of legitimacy to the project. Though I’m not originally from Taiwan, I’ve made an effort to really be involved in Taiwan film’s community, and I think that has definitely been beneficial, because it is a very supportive community and a lot of the films only get made at all with everyone helping each other out.
“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” and your previous film “Au Revoir Taipei” come from a sensibility that one might describe as romantic or possibly fanciful; your films’ narratives embody this, but likewise, you incorporate dance sequences and moments of poetic fantasy that take this further. Where would you say this sensibility comes from?
AC: I think it’s just a result of me trying to emulate the films I really love, often which have mixtures of romance and whimsy. I think another thing that I reacted to when first came to Taiwan was the more somber and realistic tone to a lot of the films, and for some reason or other, I wanted to try injecting stuff like musicals sequences and magical realism into my stories just to see what would happen. I think maybe I went a little overboard with “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” in terms of fantasy, but what I’m most proud of in that film is that it also has a kind of sad or melancholic tone throughout as well. I think in the future I’d like to inject even more sadness to balance out the romance and whimsy.
You were born and grew up in the US, but have been based in Taipei for the past several years. What is exciting to you culturally in Taiwan? What kind of things stimulate you creatively?
AC: Taiwan was a great place for me creatively because it was both a foreign and familiar world to me…just comfortable enough so that I feel a sense of belonging, but also different enough from where I grew up that I could see things in everyday life here (characters, situations, environments) that I was excited to capture in a film. It’s just such an interesting mix too: Taiwan is a combination of Chinese, Hokkien Japanese, Western, Aboriginal cultures (traditional and modern), and that’s still constantly shifting, which is always a good thing if you’re searching for stories. A lot of it has to do with my own background, growing up in a very homogenous, upper-middle-class suburbia in the USA, where I always felt a bit uninspired and perhaps too comfortable.
What are you working on now?
AC: My next one will probably be a project called “Grooms”, which is my first non-Taiwanese, English-language film, mostly set in the USA. It deals with modern Chinese immigration, failed American dreams, and same-sex marriages…and it’s a comedy!