Chinese Poet Han Dong Cultivates Dark Humor in ‘One Night on the Wharf’

"One Night on the Wharf"
Courtesy of Busan Film Festival

A keen admirer of Luis Bunuel’s “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” Chinese poet Han Dong makes an appearance this week in Busan with “One Night on the Wharf,” his first attempt at directing a movie. Produced by art-house darling Jia Zhangke, the film debuts in the Busan Film Festival’s main New Currents competition.

At heart, “Wharf” is a tale of thugs versus poets, and Han describes it as a black comedy about the ridiculous happenings in a small town. “Chinese films these days are either far too realistic, or have too much fantasy. I wanted to achieve something in the middle,” Han told Variety, though the source material, one of his own short stories, is actually 20 years old. The specifics of the wharf and the period are not his priority. “It is about the Chinese people and their particularities. Their humor has not changed in 20 years.”

In that time Han had, unknowingly, been taking baby steps towards his new career. Trying to keep his writing fresh, Han experimented with screenplays and cultivated a friendship with Jia (“Platform,” “Still Life”) along the way. (Han makes a guest appearance in Jia’s “A Touch of Sin” and Gao Qunshu’s bomb disposal drama “Old Fish.”)

When it came to “Wharf,” Han threw himself all in. “It’s all I’ve been doing for the past two years. I got involved with every aspect of the process including meeting with the investors and the censors,” Han said. “Poetry had allowed me to be very self-centered, but this involved many people and lots of teamwork. I was a long way out of my comfort zone, but it had to be done.”

The film has cleared all necessary regulatory processes in China, but has yet to secure a theatrical deal. Han says releasing specifics and marketing issues are the holdup, rather than censorship approvals.

Han says he is keen to do another film. “But the next will see me more focused on the creative aspects,” he said, adding that a stage play may be his next diversification.