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For his debut feature, THE LOOMING STORM, director Dong Yu created an atmospheric, imposing backdrop to heighten his story of the fears and foreboding of Chinaís changing society in the late 1990s.  At the New York Asian Film Festival, Director Dong spoke with LMD about insanity and obsession, and praying for rain.

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Director Dong Yue


The Lady Miz Diva: THE LOOMING STORM is based on a real incident, the Baiyin case.  What was in about that case that inspired this film to be your first feature?

Dong Yue:  When I started researching for the movie, I researched on a lot of things from the 90s.  When I looked at a lot of criminal cases -- because I thought they were interesting, and they could make an impact on the movie -- and I found the Baiyin case, and it jumped out at me, and I started reading a lot on it. 

In fact, when I was constructing the plotline, the Baiyin case was not solved at that point.  They had not discovered who the real killer was, when I was still writing the story.  After I started looking into the case, and I really developed my story.  I only based very loosely on the real case; it wasnít a strict replication of the Baiyin case


LMD:  While youíve set this awful series of murders as the backdrop, I think the real heart of the story is revealed at the beginning, with Yu explaining that his name literally means Ďunnecessary remnants of a glorious nation.í  1997 was a year of tremendous upheaval in China, and people had to adapt very quickly.  Was Yu was meant to represent those who had trouble adjusting?

DY:  Your interpretation is accurate.   


LMD:  Is inability to adapt one of the reasons Yu is so manic?  I was unnerved by his Party-perfect enthusiasm for the factory.  Giving a big cheer after winning the award in front of the other workers.  I feel like he represents the China of the past, while his lover, Yanzi, looks forward to the future, and is already making plans to move away from their town and start a new business.

DY:  Yes, they are individual cases in two communities.  Two groups of people whose ideologies are fundamentally different.  I wanted to use an extreme way to show the extremities that could happen to two people.  The decisions they make in the circumstances they were facing were extremely different because of their fundamental differences.


LMD:  One of the most frustrating things about Yu is his refusal to see heís wrong in any way.  He just will not stop his investigation even after the police tell him to cut it out.  Heís very bullheaded, and it causes terrible results for his partner, Yanzi, and a complete stranger.  I wondered if his refusal to see sense or bend was also part of the larger allegory of his character? 

DY:  Yes, I would say that.  He is just one of a very large group of people whose whole sense of honor and pride were molded into their current state by the political regime.


LMD:  Itís chilling to watch him slowly going mad and disguising his insanity and obsession as justice or law.  I began to wonder if he hadnít done the killings?  Was that something viewers were supposed to think?

DY:  No, that was not my intention.  My intention was to tell a story of the process of becoming mad.  Of an average individual who has become so obsessed with this one mission that he loses himself in it.  And because of the specific social context and atmosphere that he was in at that time, he was not able to think or reflect on his own actions.  So, he just goes down this route, and becomes more and more buried in his obsession.

If were talking about culprits, I actually wanted to explore the role of the environment that these individuals are in as partly what drove these individuals to their demise.


LMD:  Part of my thinking of that theory came from the moment after he is released and returns to the abandoned factory, and the old man doesnít know him. The old man tells him no one from Yuís department would have received the model worker award?  That made me wonder if the whole idea of himself being this upstanding, respected security guard wasnít all a dream?

DY:  There is no right answer to the question of whether it really happened or not.  What I wanted to explore in that scene was that Yu has been living in his own head for so long, obsessed with his own story; that moment of glory was so important.  When somebody else who is not himself comes out and tells him that his story is not right, he is stuck, because he cannot verify it in any way. 

I also believe that we as individuals also sometimes have experiences like this, where we cannot go back to verify whether something we remember is indeed true, or not.  So, the only thing we can do is to leave it in the past.  Perhaps, in some cases, we will reassess ourselves in relation to this different account of our own memory. 

We donít know whether Yu will be able to do that for himself; to reassess and review his life in that way, but for the audience, I want to show that even though the award ceremony was the most glorious moment for Yu, for other people, for outsiders, it was worthless.  That it was not even worth remembering, at all.


LMD:  Please tell us about working with your actors?  You have the great Duan Yihong as Yu.  Did you have a very set idea of the characters in mind, or did Mr. Duan collaborate with you to create different sides of Yu that perhaps you havenít seen before?

DY:  I admire Mr. Duan a lot.  He is already an extremely popular actor in China that everyone knows of.  A household name.  But even so, he still holds himself to a very high standard in acting.  So, for me, as a first-time director, to be able to have him in my movie is exciting, not just because of how famous he is, but because of the high standards of acting that he brings to this film.

Of course, we have our disagreements when it came to discussing how his role should be acted, but they were technical disagreements that we will have a lot of discussions on, including how his performance should be in a specific scene, or what the logic of the character is at that moment in time. 

So, when you watch this movie, you will see a character whose full being is onscreen, and that is not actually who Duan Yihong is as a person.  He put in a lot of work to get there, and through our discussions I was able to have a very clear idea of my demands of how the character should be played in every scene.


LMD:  The film is beautiful despite being almost entirely rain-soaked and gray, and having almost no colours. The long shots off the railroad tracks and the tower of the factories reminded me of German expressionist films, with the stark lighting and buildings, and industrial structures looming overhead like monsters. 

DY:  Yes, yes, yes!  When I started filming and starting the chase scene into the factory, and then on to the railway tracks, I was talking to my crew, the art director, and cinematographer, about how I wanted to show the factory as a monster.  I used the exact words that you just used.


LMD:  Of course, we must talk about that knockout chase through the factory.  How long did it take to rehearse and film? 

DY:  It took eight days, for the actual filming.  We used all real location shooting, there was no studio.  It was just eight days, yes.  Even though we were using rain towers for a lot of the rain scenes, for this chase scene, the area is so large that the towers would be sufficient, so we had to wait for real rain.  So, in those eight days, we actually had to get God to give us a big enough rain so that we could shoot the scene.  We were lucky that we got it.

I think that actually, for me, shooting the chase scene was actually not very challenging.  The most challenging part for me was how to handle the relationship between Yanzi and Yu.  In fact, the actress {Jiang Yiyan} joined the crew a while later, after Duan and I had already been shooting for a while.  I knew Mr. Duan very well, but I was not very familiar with her, and Mr. Duan was not very familiar with her, so when she first joined the crew, it was a bit difficult for me to figure out exactly how to explain to her just what I wanted.


LMD:  I was interested in the information at the end about the evacuations and displacement of millions due to weather related conditions.  Was that meant to be a chastisement against provoking global warming, or that not enough had been done to protect citizens from these weather-related problems?

DY:  Actually, not really.  My intention was actually to use this news blurb to draw the audience back into reality.  To land the back into the real world at the end of the movie, having brought them through somewhat of a fantasy mixed with reality, and having them question reality in the scene that you talked about.  So, I wanted to give them a dose of hard reality at the end to bring them back, and maybe to also have that reality have further synergy with the semi-reality and semi-fantasy of the movie, itself.


LMD:  How do you feel about showing your directorial debut in New York City?

DY:  I would like the New York audience to be able to see and learn about the social context of the people in the movie, and the history that the movie discussed through watching it.  Because the living conditions of those characters in the movie have commonalities with othersí experiences from all over the world.  I hope that it can echo in the hearts of people from other places, not just China.  I hope people can associate with it in that sense.


LMD:  What is next for you?

DY:  My next project is in development.  Itís a movie about a Chinese investigator participating and getting involved with an international smuggling case.  I hope that very soon I can bring that to New York for everyone.


~ The Lady Miz Diva
July 10th, 2018


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