On the 4th day of the Udine Far East Film Festival, CUEAFS had the honour of speaking to one of the greatest Chinese film directors of his generation, Lu Chuan, whose latest film ‘The Last Supper’ had its Italian Premiere at the festival.
Eva Spirova: Were you happy with the audience’s reaction and reception of the film at its Italian Premiere at the festival last night?
Lu Chuan: I was very happy. The audience was so warm and passionate. I was very touched; it was an amazing experience for me to see the film on a big screen with Italian subtitles. I was very emotional; I can’t even describe the feeling.
ES: I would like to talk a little bit about your previous films. ‘Mountain Patrol’ is a very politically-charged film touching on challenging issues. What were the difficulties in getting the film produced?
Lu Chuan: There isn’t a film that is easy to produce. ‘Mountain Patrol’ is my second film. It took me two and a half years in Tibet to shoot it. It was very difficult as the altitude there is very high and it’s extremely difficult to breathe because of the lack of oxygen. But the film was educational for me as I was very young then and I didn’t know how to make films. But experiencing this movie taught me how to be an honest filmmaker.
ES: Your previous film, ‘City of Life and Death’, is also touching on sensitive social issues. The film received some criticism in China because of the portrayal and the representation of the Japanese. Was this done with the intention of making the film more challenging and controversial?
Lu Chuan: I didn’t do this on purpose actually. At the beginning, in the first draft of the script the Japanese were represented very badly. But during the process of preparing for the film I researched and read a lot. I read some of the letters that the Japanese soldiers wrote to their children and from a husband to his wife and I realised they are human beings just like us.
And so I decided to change my script because I wanted this film to be against war, not against nations and people. War is the actual enemy. And so once again step by step I was teaching myself how to make honest films. Actually the storyline was changed step by step.
ES: Your films seem incredibly well-researched and crafted with a focus on detail and accuracy. Could you talk us through the process of research and preparation for the historical drama ‘The Last Supper’?
Lu Chuan: Every time I’m working on a historical topic I get ambitious and want to create visually beautiful scenes to appeal to the audiences and so they require loads of details such as clothes and behaviour; loads of details are needed in order to create this reality.
I’ve spent months doing the research and preparing by watching documentary films, went to many museums, and had different consultants. There was also a team of young actors who were rehearsing the scenes. Therefore, research was a very important part in this film as I learned a lot.
ES: I am very curious about the Western title of the film. ‘The Last Supper’ certainly has got religious connotations in the West. Was the film consciously named like that? Is there any metaphor in the title itself?
Lu Chuan: To be honest with you, the translation of the title was decided by me but made by Daniel, a big actor in my film who was raised in the United States. Initially there were so many variations of the title, but one day Daniel called me and proposed ‘The Last Supper’.
I am very satisfied with the final decision. It’s not so tightly linked with the Christian meaning, but in this movie there is a king and he was a commoner, a farmer at first but he became a king; he killed a dictator and became a dictator himself; he killed his friend and betrayed his belief. So I think there is something similar between the film and the Christian story. I think it is a very powerful title.
ES: In terms of your influences and inspirations, who influenced you when you first started your career and have your inspirations changed through the years of directing?
Lu Chuan: I spent three years in the Beijing Film Academy. Many great directors influenced me such as Pasolini, Kurosawa, Bleson and other great European directors. Many Chinese directors from the 5th generation also gave me a direction and inspiration. But Coppola influenced me the most as he is making both commercial and artistic films and he is successful in both. He is a modern director and a pure artist.
ES: Your films have been very well received in the West. Would you say you have managed to find this balance between the commercial and the artistic? Also, when you are making your films are you thinking about how Western audiences would respond or are you more conscious about China?
Lu Chuan: I thought ‘City of Life and Death’ should be aimed at an international audience but ‘The Last Supper’ was made for a Chinese audience. There is so much Chinese history and so many different characters in the film that I think it is difficult for Western audiences to make a distinction between them. I hope all my films can be understood by Western audiences. At the beginning I was trying to keep a balance between the commercial and the artistic but in the process of film-making I just forgot to and concentrated on the film itself.
Interview by Eva Spirova
Transcript by Eva Spirova
Photography by Andreea Dascalu