Dazed Digital

Shanghai

Gu Changwei

May 31, 2011

The influential director talks about Love for Life, his blockbuster film tackling Aids in China

  • Text by Satellite Voices

Guest feature by Nicola Davison

You may not have heard of him, but Gu Changwei’s contribution to Chinese cinema – mainly as cinematographer on classics such as "Farewell my Concubine" and "Red Sorghum" – casts him as one of the most important filmmakers working in China today. His latest film, "Love for Life" (which made 48.9 million RMB in its first 13 days in cinemas) is about two lovers coping with Aids, starring Zhang Ziyi and Aaron Kwok. It’s the first time that Aids, a previously taboo topic, has featured in mainstream arts in China.

Satellite Voices: Why did you want to make a film about Aids?
Gu Changwei:
In contemporary China, people still turn pale at the mere mention of Aids. You know there is an old saying in China that people ‘turn pale at the mention of a tiger’ [meaning that people grow fearful if something bad is merely mentioned]. This film is attempting to get people over that fear.

The official statistic is that China has 700,000 Aids patients, but only half of them are monitored and treated in hospitals. We don’t know where the other half is. They are probably just ordinary people around us. When we were shooting the film, several crewmembers quit, because they thought it would be dangerous to their health to stay – they lacked even basic knowledge about Aids.

SV: How are you hoping to redress that with your film?
Gu Changwei:
When you only have a short time left in the world your core humanity is magnified. I want my character’s humanity to shine through; to show that everybody fights for life, everybody loves and every individual has the right to live with dignity. I just hope that audiences share in the emotions of my characters, and that the film helps cut down discrimination in China.

SV: "Love for Life" is backed by the government. Why the change in policy?
Gu Changwei:
The film has the support of the government because they’ve realised if people still turn pale at the mere mention of Aids it will be difficult to control the spread of the disease.

SV: Should films be made for arts’ sake or for the greater good of society?
Gu Changwei:
I don’t know what others think, but for me I think I make films for myself and for my friends around me. I think the biggest challenge is how film directors retain artistic merit and survive in a commercial environment, because, obviously, every filmmaker hopes their film will attract huge audiences.

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