Dazed Digital


Zhao Liang on Gu Changwei's Til Death Do Us Part

May 3, 2011

Chinese film takes a humanitarian turn as we go behind the scenes of a major new film tackling Aids in China

  • Text by Satellite Voices

Guest feature by Nicola Davison

As Til Death Do Us Part, one of the year’s most buzzed-about films opens in China, it marks a philanthropic shift in Chinese cinema. Directed by veteran Gu Changwei (who’s filmography includes Farewell My Concubine), Til Death Do Us Part is a film about a couple suffering from Aids – China’s top infectious killer that has been somewhat taboo in mainstream arts. With its all-star cast (Zhang Ziyi of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame) and Government backing, the film is likely to be one of the biggest films of 2011.

Accompanying it is an 84-minute documentary, Together, a ‘making of’ by one of China’s most daring indie documentarians, Zhao Liang. The idea for Together came from Gu, who wanted to increase understanding of the disease among his cast and crew by having HIV-positive people work on set. He invited Zhao to film the results.

Satellite Voices: What was the biggest challenge in making Together?
Zhao Liang:
The really difficult thing was finding [Aids sufferers] to be in the film. I looked for several months but couldn’t find anyone willing to be interviewed or to join the crew. They were very protective – they really didn’t want other people to know. I asked Gu Changwei if people don’t want to show their faces what should I do? He said: if it’s like that it’s no problem, if no one wants to reveal their face it shows how serious the discrimination is. This way of thinking gave me a lot of inspiration.

SV: You don't often get social issues, such as Aids, explored in mainstream Chinese film. Is Til Death Do Us Part important for Chinese cinema?
Zhao Liang:
No one has made this kind of film about Aids in China before. Of course, there have been some excellent independent documentaries made about Aids, for example, about people being infected because of blood transfusions and going to the Government for compensation. But there’s not been a film as public as this before.

SV: Is the Government attempting to change public perception of Aids?
Zhao Liang:
Together is backed by the Ministry of Health. The Government realises that if Aids spreads in a malignant way, then it’ll be hard to control and could really scare people. They’ve been investing huge amounts of money in the fight against Aids but with hardly any results. Gu Changwei suggested making a film about it, and the Ministry felt it was a great creative idea.

SV: Your earlier work has been independent, made outside Government control…
Zhao Liang:
Every film I make is different. Previously, the films I’ve made have always been on topics that I’ve chosen. This film is an anti-discrimination documentary, and needs to be shown in cinemas, so this brought obstacles. The other difference is that this film [is Government-backed], which meant it had to go through censors – my first time with a film. From an artistic point of view, it’s not an excellent work, but in terms of its function in society, it’s good – we feel it’ll really make people understand the situation for Aids sufferers.

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