Warrior of Heaven and Earth directed by He Ping has registered as one of the candidates for the Best Foreign Language Film award of next year's Oscars. Jiang Wen, who plays the leading role in the film, is also one of the most acclaimed directors in China. In an interview with South City News, he talked about his ideas on filmmaking.
South City News (SCN): In films you participated in the making, whether as an actor or a director, there is always a strong flavor of Jiang Wen style. But we didn't see it in your latest film: Warrior of Heaven and Earth. How did you handle that when you cooperated with Director He Ping?
Jiang Wen: Maybe you got the impression from the two typical Western-Region films I shot. Actually, I want to make my films taste like strong liquor; I don't like stuff of "soft-drink" kind. I am unlikely to shoot that kind of movies as well. I am a man neither too simple, nor too complicated, and there's no way for me to pretend to be muddle-headed.
Since I played my first role in The Last Empress in 1985, I have kept doing things that a professional actor should do, or in other words, I know whom the film belongs to and I am just an actor in the film. As an actor, I would make comments and suggestions that I'm supposed to make, and I did make many suggestions. However, I never tried to cover up the director's original intention with that of my own. In fact, I maintained my style in Green Tea and Warrior of Heaven and Earth.
SCN: Once you said that actor is the center in filmmaking. Such a point of view is very bold and may displease some directors. What do you think of that?
Jiang: If someone is displeased, he probably lacks the knowledge in the history of filmmaking as well as in the performing art. Maybe he is over self-esteemed. A good director should be a hospitable host. Since you invite the guests to your house, you should certainly take the situation under your control, make your guests feel at home, letting everyone enjoy a happy time.
As for myself, I acted as jury member in several international film festivals as well. When choosing the best film and best director, other jury members and I all agree that the director should die for the work and the actor should die for the role. Any extra effort to show off his or her talents means nothing. Let me watch your work, it doesn't matter even if you disappear in the film. For directors who like to show off, they just can't find their position anywhere in the world. China, who has been poverty-stricken for a long time, is still a developing country. It's a good thing that people have enthusiasm and passion. However, if everyone is eager to show off himself unreasoningly, it will be wrong. A director is only the organizer of a film, or the one who creates an environment for the making of the movie. He is not the soul. I'm sure film direction is a noble profession and I respect it. But it doesn't mean that I have to respect someone only because he is a director. Actually, many people who engage in filmmaking are unqualified.
SCN: So who is the genuine soul in a film?
Jiang: The screenplay. The work is the spirit, very important. Whether He Ping, Zhang Yimou or I, all of us would spend much time on discussing and arguing about the details of the play. A filmmaking group who can only say "yes" and "no" is not a qualified one but is like a construction team, sometimes even worse.
Usually, people easily overstress a specific part of a film, due to their superficial knowledge. Whenever I recognize it, I would make corrections.
SCN: Can you tell us something about your own style in your work, such as In the Heat of the Sun and Devils on the Doorstep?
Jiang: No creator would sedulously work out a style. Usually it comes from the appreciators' review and criticism after they watch the film. For instance, a mother gave birth to a baby, if it really looks pretty, people will praise it. But it doesn't mean the parents had designed its appearance before the baby was born.
SCN: Do you have any criterion for agreeing to shoot a new film, or, what kind are you interested in?
Jiang: First, I will read the play. If I can read it through, from beginning to end, I will accept it. If I even have no intention to finish the reading, affirmatively I wouldn't take it.
SCN: What's your ambition in performing?
Jiang: I don't have any ambition. All I want is to create a good role. But there are few wonderful roles in China and even Asia. It's not the problem of the filmmakers but the backward self-awareness in the whole area during past 500-600 years. The films we shot during the period from 1920s-50s are rather jejune. Not only those from China and Japan, all the other Asian films produced then are very superficial and immature. Impatience can't help as it is decided by the basic background of the area.
(China.org.cn translated by Lixiao November 3, 2003)