Taiwan-based director Midi Z has become a star of the art-house scene in Asia. The appearance of his film “Nina Wu” in Un Certain Regard in Cannes – already getting strong buzz ahead of its screening Tuesday – is the highest-profile festival berth for the helmer and for lead actress Wu Ke-xi, who recently signed up with CAA.
The film is a departure from Z’s usual register of ultra-low budget, self-penned, Myanmar-set dramas and documentaries. For a start, it’s the ethnic Burmese director’s first film set in Taiwan. It’s also his first with a professional-level budget (of $2 million) and his first from a third-party scriptwriter.
Wu, Z’s lead actress in most of his fiction titles, told him back in 2016 that she was working on a script for him, and then surprised Z by actually delivering. “So many people say they are working on something for me, but then never come through. She simply sent me a full script by email,” said Z, whose real name is Zhao Deyin.
“She was not professionally trained as a writer,” Zhao added. “Instead, she wrote from her heart, from her imagination and without self-control. Had we shot every detail with all the secondary characters and extras, it would have been quite a lot more expensive.”
The film features an actress who is humiliated as she achieves her breakthrough role, and then flees to the countryside to escape bullying that could be real or imagined.
While the film has been touted as part of the #MeToo movement and as a response to the Harvey Weinstein scandal, Z insists that all the characters are fictional or composites. “It is not about real people who are going to feel uncomfortable. But it is timely. The position of female filmmakers in Asia, Japan and Korea is still so troublesome.”
Z has no trouble explaining why a man should have directed this tale. “If a woman had directed, it would have weighed more heavily to the female point of view,” he said. “The character of the woman from the countryside, working in the big city, is like my own situation as an outsider, a Burmese in Taiwan.”
While promising to revert to the stripped-down style of his previous films “Ice Poison,” “Return to Burma” and “Poor Folk,” which Z calls “direct cinema,” he clearly had fun making a genre movie.
“I’m aiming for a new cinematic language. We actually did shoot with lots of coverage, dollies and cranes. But I cut out a lot of that in the editing room,” Z said. “There is an eight-minute take, but it is not simply visually long. Every frame has drama. I promise this is not just a boring art-house movie.”