Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Nov 29 2007

Breath premiere

breathThe Taiwan premiere of Breath, a Korean film starring Chang Chen, was held at a West Gate District theater last night. I was waiting outside the lobby for Eric, who had the tickets, when I noticed a bunch of people with cameras were loitering purposely around a parked VW van with tinted windows. After a while a girl dressed in white with brown, ankle-length argyle socks got out and walked into the lobby, illuminated by the flashes of one of the photographers. I think she was sent out to test the waters, as all the other photographers ignored her and kept their sights on the van and whoever was in it.

Eric showed up and we shunned the crowded elevators, taking the stairs to the theater, where a press conference was being held. When we were finally let into the theater itself, we found that the row we were supposedly sitting was made up not of actual seats, but wide, furry divans of questionable taste. The numbers on the tickets didn’t match, so Eric went to find an usher while I stood around. The argyle girl was there with a similar quandary, complaining that she couldn’t find her seat. “I have the same problem,” I said, but she ignored me. Eric came back with a manager and we all ended up just sitting randomly and awkwardly in the divans.

A press guy made an announcement, and Chang Chen was called upon to make a speech. “Thanks for coming,” he said. “Uh, just watch the movie. I’m going to get something to eat.” The lights went down and we watched the film, which was about a Korean woman who might have been insane and her infatuation with a death-row prisoner (Chang Chen) who was kept in a cell with three other men and one sharp object, with which he kept trying to kill himself, nearly always spraying his roomies with blood in the process. There are some laugh-out-loud moments which quickly become sad when you realize what’s really going on, and the plot seems to challenge every idea you come up with to explain what you’re seeing as you go along. Director Ki-duk Kim filmed the movie in just 11 days, as is his style, keeping the locations and story quite simple. I have to say I was a bit jealous when I heard that.

After the movie we caught a taxi over to Chaochang, the very bar on Heping East Road where I attended the wrap party for Hayashi Kaisho’s Umihoozuki (coincidentally also title The Breath in English) way back in 1994, when the second-story venue was still called Fenchang, or “Cemetery”. When Eric told the cabbie the name of the bar, the driver said, “Oh, I know that place, it’s Jay Chou’s place, isn’t it?” In fact, it’s now partly owned by Chang Chen, but we didn’t correct him.

Inside, I chatted with Chang Chen, whom I met when we were both working on Mahjong, and he said he remembered me, though I wouldn’t be surprise if he didn’t as I’ve changed a lot since then. We talked about filming of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and he said the costumes were a royal pain. “But shitting in the middle of the desert,” he said, smiling, “now that is truly a pleasure.”

ChaochangI also met Jimmy, the artist whose illustrated books are published by the same publisher that published my book, Locus. Jimmy’s a small, thin man, with thick glasses and an easygoing manner. The bar was full of film people, producers, directors and many people who seemed to do many different things. I had an interesting conversation with Roger Huang, who produced Exit No. 6, Formula 17 and Betelnut Beauty. It turns out that, like with Chalaw, we are almost exactly the same age; he was born four days before I was. It was gratifying to talk with people who are passionate about the prospects of Taiwanese cinema.

As the night progressed, wine was handed out, and the guests became drunker. Shouting erupted occasionally from the more boisterous tables. I found myself talking to a certain member of the cast of Mahjong, who was quite drunk. “You remember me?” I said. He said he did, but seemed uncertain. I told him I was the one foreigner at the table who kept screwing up his lines by speaking them in Taiwanese* and his face lit up.

“Oh, yeah, right!” He leaned in drunkenly, and asked: “So when are you getting married?”

“Huh? Who told you I was getting married?” I said.

“You’re not getting married?”

“Uh, I don’t have any immediate plans, no.”

“Do you like girls or boys?” he said suddenly. This caught me by surprise. I’m not used to people being so blunt. Then again, I’m not in the habit of denying my identity either.


“Ah!” he said, and hugged me, and then stumbled off. It was a strange encounter. Eric had left by this point, and it was getting very late, so I said good-bye to Chang Chen and Roger and navigated the steep stairway down to Heping East road, where I caught a cab back to Bitan. An interesting night.

*Edward Yang had set things up in the movie so that all the Taiwanese would speak English to the foreigners, while all the foreigners would speak Mandarin to the Taiwanese, and there I was messing with the plan by speaking Taiwanese. This lasted for a few takes until Yu Wei-yan, the producer, came over to speak to me.

“TC, you’re not doing it right,” he said. “Do you know what you’re doing wrong?”

“I have a pretty good idea,” I said.

“Ok, then,” he said, and returned to the gaggle of crew at the other end of the room. I did my lines in Mandarin, and the shot went off without a further hitch.

posted by Poagao at 4:36 am  


  1. Wow…you know so many film people..so many celebrities..so envy…how did you get there I wonder….

    Comment by Steve — November 29, 2007 @ 8:54 am

  2. […] Poagao attends the premiere of Breath. […]

    Pingback by David on Formosa » Links 3 December 2007 — December 2, 2007 @ 8:35 pm

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