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Lindsay R. Bellinger


Lindsay is a film journalist and an aspiring playwright currently based in Berlin.

Attending film festivals, reviewing films and collecting vinyl keeps her busy. Let her know what you think of her reviews.^^


Cannes: A chat with Midi Z and screenwriter/actress Ke-Xi Wu about Nina Wu

(Still from Nina Wu, © Luxbox Films) 



If only the films in Competition and those films in other sections such as Un Certain Regard, where Midi Z's ambitious and somewhat disorienting film Nina Wu premiered could also be up for the best actor  awards. If that were the case, then Ke-Xi Wu's dynamic turn as Nina Wu would have hands-down gotten the best actress award, especially since I watched the winning actress's performance and was only mildly impressed. Not only did Wu carry the film as lead actress, she also wrote the story and co-wrote the script with director Midi Z.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Ke-Xi Wu and Midi Z on the rooftop of their glitzy hotel on the French Riviera when the sun was finally shining after many days of rain. Luckily their PR lady fit me in even though I got completely lost while finding the location, having to stop and ask several people along the way before someone finally gave me their map which led me to their somewhat hidden hotel. Due to my ability to easily get lost, I lucked out with a private short interview rather than getting bunched together with four other journalists in the planned group interview.
Mr. Quentin Tarantino was also in attendance at the premiere of Nina Wu, even sitting in my row although a bit far as he was seated smack dab in the middle of the cinema while I was off to the far left. That seems to have been a great honor for Midi Z, having such an acclaimed genre film director like Tarantino show up  for the world premiere of his first genre film. Before the screening, Midi Z even gave Tarantino a shout-out saying how they met just a few days prior and when he asked what film he had screening at Cannes Tarantino said that he'd come and check it out. It's a shame that the stars of QT's film, Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie could not also enjoy the premiere of Midi Z and Ke-Xi Wu's Nina Wu. The audience was clearly at attention and engrossed, perhaps a bit stunned, throughout the screening. It was interesting to hear Midi Z and Ke-Xi Wu discuss their collaboration on the film and what their next plans entail.

(Lindsay Bellinger and Midi Z, © Lindsay Bellinger 2019) 

I was at your film's premiere in Un Certain Regard and I was really taken in by the story and the way you filmed it. It's actually still haunting me a bit, questioning what happened and the order in which it happened and how much was Nina's imagination. Ke-Xi Wu, I was particularly impressed by the physicality of your acting which melded so well with the fast-paced camerawork and slower-paced editing. The fact that you were the lead actor and also wrote the script is a tremendous feat. Can you both talk a little bit about the collaboration on this film because you (Ke-Xi Wu) have acted in other films by Midi Z and now you also had the role of screenwriter. Was this collaboration more challenging than your previous work together?
Midi Z: I think that the film for me was a challenge because I haven't made any genre film before. My previous film is safe arthouse. Safe means the style, the cinematography language, the crew and everything is quite familiar with an arthouse way. But Nina Wu is very special because it's a very special story, very unique, private female point of view to tell a story. So when I received this script from Ke-Xi, I was surprised because...I insisted to request that I should be free to decide the lead actress, not like you finish the script and ask me to direct and you will be the lead. 
Oh, I thought that perhaps that was the deal going in. 
MZ: No, the deal was not like this. So we did audition, casting but finally why I could still see her (Ke-Xi) as the role is because, you know, I am a producer with this very clear vision. There is obvious emotionality of Nina Wu. It's really a bit of her. 
Of course, writers usually write from their lives.  
MZ: Yes, and someone who has not been educated, has not studied scriptwriting she just wrote the script, especially to build the character from quite instinct way. That's why you know just for me, if I cast an actor to work with me I prefer to train him or her to be more similar like the character.  
Right, that makes sense. 
MZ: For Ke-Xi we went back to the script and yeah, she might not (have) needed to be trained because she is already that (Nina). She has been trained for more than thirty years to be Nina Wu, so it's more easier for us. 

(Lindsay Bellinger and Ke-Xi Wu, © Lindsay Bellinger 2019) 


Ke-Xi, did you have many concerns about playing the role of Nina, having spent so long writing this personal story? Or were you ready from the get-go? 
Ke-Xi Wu: While I was writing I never thought that this could be made into a film. I even never thought that I could star in the film. If it was another actor that could star in it, then I would feel very happy because the thing is, is that the script is my baby.  
Yeah, so many writers say that.
KXW: I wanted to it to be perfect. So I was like, "No problem, you go cast anybody else in it." And we talked and had several meetings to talk about maybe me playing Nina or maybe Girl #3 or maybe even Kiki, about what role I was going to perform. And then the dream when he (Midi Z) and the producers and the financers are sure and ready to go (with me) I was really shocked. And I started to think if I'm going to play Nina what will I feel, maybe a little bit bored.
Is that because you felt as if you had already spent too much time with Nina as a character, on the written page?
KXW: Actually it's because in Nina they are all different stages of me because I started my performances as a hip-hop dancer and then stage performances, performing little things and then I played a fox for kids for free.  
Ah, similar to the Little Prince part of the film. 
KXW: Yeah and so many times we were like pure and naive and loved theater. We took our own money to hire a teacher to play.. and to show it to elementary school kids. They were very adorable. 
That is amazing. Did you (Midi Z) get to see any of those performances or was that before you two started collaborating?
MZ: No, not yet. 
KXW: And some of them were pains in the asses. 
Yeah, I get it. I was a teacher.   
KXW: "You aren't a fox. Your beard is so fake." 
Kids are so direct and without a filter, telling it how it is. Honest. 
KXW: (Laughs) Yeah, some movements they would just laugh out loud. And that is what I loved about it and we didn't make money. And then I jumped to the film industry. I started doing extra work for years and I was being put down and I had some bullied experiences. When I was in the theater, I was Kiki and then when I was in the film industry I split into Girl #3 and then Nina Wu. Because in the industry you got to face lots of different, very complicated difficulties or obstacles. There it has nothing to do with pure art.
Yeah, unfortunately.
KXW: And then after the #metoo Harvey Weinstein stuff I started watching interviews about those women, some of them are  interns and some of them are very beautiful actresses in the beginning who were at the head of huge, bright careers ahead of them if they decided to do his offer. They didn't and is there regret or is there confidence? Is she still thinking about that? There are so many stories, so many voices and emotional stuff. After I read all of their speeches and they really inspired me to write about Girl #3 and Nina Wu.   
I very much enjoyed the delicate handling of the lesbian storyline, without making anything too unnecessarily graphic. Can you both discuss a little about that aspect of the film and how you think it fits into the Asian cinematic landscape? Do you find that lesbian storylines are getting prominent in Asian or world cinema? 
MZ: I think that we have many in Taiwan. Yeah, in Taiwan already they just announced legalizing the same-sex marriage, maybe on the same day as our premiere. It's a coincidence. I think that in Asia it is already happening but of course you know some traditions, some conservative values, pressures from family. It's not only Asia but America like Ohio and Austin, it's the same situation. I think that human beings always fear to face what they originally are. 
I completely agree, it's a worldwide issue of people being fearful.
Finally, what projects do you both have planned for the future? Will you collaborate on your next project, maybe something a little less intense? [We all laugh]
KXW: We don't know yet. 
MZ: Well, we don't know yet. I'm preparing my new project. It's a love story set in Burma or maybe Beijing. 
KXW: I just got signed by CAA (Creative Artists Agency).
Wow, congratulations. 
KXW: Thank you. I will probably have some projects in LA or I might have projects in Beijing, I don't know.
That all sounds great. Thank you for sitting down with me and good luck with the rest of the festival and bringing Nina Wu to a wider audience. 
MZ and KXW: Thank you, thank you. 


(Still from Nina Wu, © Luxbox Films
Director: Midi Z
Screenplay: Ke-Xi Wu, Midi Z
Editing: Matthieu Laclau, Yann-Shan Tsai 
Cinematography: Florian J. E. Zinke 
Music: Lim Giong 
Production design: Chih-Da Kuo  
Cast: Ke-Xi Wu, Tu-Hua Sung, Yu-Chiao Hsia, Ming-Shuai Shih
Production companies: Seashore Image Productions, Harvest 9 Road Entertainment, Jazzy Pictures
Producers: Sheng-Wen Lin, Molly Fang, Claudia Tseng, Andi Lim  
International sales: Luxbox fiorella@luxboxfilms



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