×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Chinese Director Diao Yinan Drills Down on ‘The Wild Goose Lake’

Diao Yinan is the only Chinese director with a film in the main competition this year at Cannes. He’s already a known entity on the arthouse circuit, having won the Golden Bear in Berlin in 2014 for his hardscrabble, coal-blackened detective thriller “Black Coal, Thin Ice.” Now he’s made the leap to the Croisette with a bigger-budget, more choreographed gangster film.

Diao had the idea for the film even before “Black Coal,” but it wasn’t until afterwards that he saw a news item so similar to his original concept that he knew he had to go ahead with the project. “My first idea — about a character wanted by the police who hopes to give the prize money for his capture to the woman he loves — was overly romantic. It was a bit too sweet and I don’t like sweet,” he told Variety, with a laugh, in Cannes.

Why return again to film noir? What do you think it allows you to express about China today?

China’s development — its societal changes and its gap between the rich and the poor, between the urban and rural regions — has given us so many stories that we can create from. These stories align themselves easily with the essentials of film noir. It’s not that I’m forcibly fitting the framework of film noir onto a Chinese story; it’s that Chinese society is such that when I go to tell a Chinese story, it very naturally comes out as film noir.

This film was heavier on style than it was on a broader message or social commentary. Is that kind of commentary important to you?

I’m not so interested in dealing with sociological questions, because I feel that’s the job of sociologists. What films express is the experience of life and living. Movies give no answers. They’re not fieldwork. Films are just there for you to digest, to give you inspiration, to become yours as part of your memories. That’s enough. 

How was the film impacted by censorship?

It was all routine business. The fact that we’re here at Cannes shows that everything was very successful. The film as it stands is pretty much as I imagined it, because it’s mostly just me telling the story of a particular incident.

Is it easier for you to finance your work after winning the Golden Bear?

Yes. This one had a higher budget, which allowed us to do things like the nighttime motorcycle-gang chase scene. We had to shoot a whole month to get those few minutes, because the time you’re able to shoot at night is very short, and it’s very hard to shoot action sequences — you’ll shoot forever and can only use a few seconds of it. If you’re doing a small-budget, smaller-scale production, your shooting schedule won’t allow you to work in this fashion.

How have you innovated within the film noir genre?

Other film noirs like those by Howard Hawkes (“The Big Sleep”) mostly just portrayed the bare bones structure of a story — that is, they tell the story without a single extraneous word or detail. Now, what I want to do is not just give you the bare bones of a story or just a single plot-line. I also want you to see a whole world, to see the things that are happening all around this story. So there’s a lot of information I’ve included that you could still tell the story without. But I hope to pull this information in to make it seem like this is a really immersive world. This is the point where I think I differ from previous film noirs.

What interests you most as a filmmaker? 

I’m more interested in a film’s formalism, not just its realist elements. I’m more into a film’s style. Of course there’s art that moves people, that elicits empathy. But there’s also art that makes people think, where a lot of your feelings about it come to you afterwards – art that doesn’t affect you at all because of its story, but still touches you emotionally nonetheless. I think the purely formal can also be just as touchingly beautiful.

What’s next?

Of course I’m preparing my next project, to come out in two to three years. It’ll still be in my own style, and again about a real event. I’ll wait until I’m old to shoot costume dramas, because you can shoot most of those in the studio.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez's 'Criminal' Striptease: How 'Hustlers' Landed the Fiona Apple Hit

    Contrary to what you might be expecting, the number of songs by Jennifer Lopez, Lizzo and Cardi B in “Hustlers,” their newly released acting vehicle, adds up to … zero. Meanwhile, the standout music sync in a movie that’s full of them belongs to no less likely a choice than Fiona Apple. The scene in [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8

    'Game of Thrones,' 'Avengers' Win Big at 45th Annual Saturn Awards

    As Jamie Lee Curtis picked up her first trophy ever at the 45th Annual Saturn Awards Friday night, she had a good luck charm on her arm: former manager Chuck Binder, whom she said was the reason she became an actor. “I was in college and had no thought of being an actor,” Curtis told [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu star

    Box Office: 'Hustlers' Dances Toward $32 Million Opening Weekend

    “Hustlers” is eyeing the biggest opening weekend ever for STXFilms, following a Friday domestic ticket haul of $13.1 million from 3,250 theaters. If estimates hold, the stripper saga could take home around $32 million come Sunday, marking the best live-action opening of Jennifer Lopez’s career. “Hustlers” follows a group of former strip club dancers, led [...]

  • Hustlers intimacy coordinator

    Meet the Stripper Consultant Who Gave 'Hustlers' Authenticity, Dignity and Sexual Freedom

    At last week’s Toronto Film Festival premiere of “Hustlers,” an audience of Hollywood heavyweights and Canadian locals applauded as a statuesque woman strutted on stage, rocking six-inch platform heels and a pastel tie-dye bodysuit. This adoration was not for stars Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu or Keke Palmer, nor was it for the film’s acclaimed writer-director [...]

  • Kristen Stewart

    French Director Olivier Assayas Pays Tribute to Kristen Stewart at Deauville

    French director Olivier Assayas paid tribute to Kristen Stewart, whom he directed in “Clouds of Sils Maria” and “Personal Shopper,” at the Deauville American Film Festival on Friday evening. Stewart received a honorary award in Deauville before the French premiere of Benedict Andrews’s “Seberg” in which the actress stars as Jean Seberg, a French New [...]

  • Liam Gallagher: As It Was

    Film Review: 'Liam Gallagher: As It Was'

    Liam Gallagher is nearly as fascinating a rock ‘n’ roll figure as he thinks he is … which is saying a lot. After the breakup of Oasis, one of the most self-avowedly arrogant stars in pop culture found himself severely humbled, fighting to become relevant again without the help of Noel, his ex-bandmate and, for [...]

  • The Vast of Night

    Toronto Film Review: 'The Vast of Night'

    It’s the first high school basketball game of the season and all of Cayuga, N.M., population 492, is cheering on the Statesmen at the gym. Except for the town’s two brightest kids, Everett (Jake Horowitz) and Fay (Sierra McCormick), who are strolling through the empty darkness to their respective jobs as a radio DJ and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content