Christine Yuan - DIYU 地獄

Li Xia spends her days trapped in purgatory in an experimental exploration into the fragility of the human mind

Director Christine Yuan’s obsession with life after death takes form in her latest short film DIYU 地獄 – premiered here today. Translating to 'Hell' from Chinese mythology, Yuan’s protagonist is the 17-year-old Li Xia. Existing somewhere between heaven and hell, in purgatory, Li Xia, her boyfriend and her mother spend their days seemingly waiting to be taken. Where? We’re not exactly sure. But the experimental film is a dark window into the fragility of our state of mind as we search for purpose and meaning, and how that can manifest itself into our outside world. Below, we spoke with the California-based director to find out more.

What inspired the story line for DIYU 地獄?

Christine Yuan: Last summer I became obsessed with the idea of life after death and reincarnation. I started reading Ram Dass’s Be Here Now which affirmed a lot of things I was experiencing spiritually. I was also getting deep into yoga which brought upon a lot of self assessment. DIYU is semi-autobiographical, semi-experimental fantasy, and is also inspired by the intimate darkness one can experience as a young woman.

What is it about death that draws you to it?

Christine Yuan: I’ve always been into religion and philosophy and I think one of the biggest questions of life is life after death because it is such a great unknown mystery – if not the greatest. I find a lot of comfort in the idea of an afterlife, even if it’s just a story we tell ourselves. The reality of death is scary and DIYU was a way for me to channel that energy into something tangible.

Is there a difference in how China views death compared to, say, the English or Americans?

Christine Yuan: I think for the Chinese, especially practicing Buddhists, the concept of reincarnation is not questioned – it’s an accepted part of reality. The Chinese are very superstitious and the idea of past lives and purgatories are real. In America, it’s a lot more common for people to deny the afterlife or a higher power all together.

The characters exist in an in-between, a purgatory – what is this world they're inhabiting?

Christine Yuan: The characters of the film are living in this “in between” world and it brings up a lot of questions of hell on earth – or hell as a state of mind. The location is set in purgatory but still looks like the real world, leaving space for the viewer to make their own judgment about it. I personally align with the idea of hell as a state of mind.

What's the symbolism behind the colour red?

Christine Yuan: Red as a theme was a conscious decision my DP (Director of Photography), Doug Porter, and production designer, Alexis Johnson, made together. The red personifies this dark, holy, feminine quality. It’s period blood. The divine quality of the feminine that represents life and death all in one.

What happens to Li Xia once the camera has panned out for the final time?

Christine Yuan: Aha! That’s the question. What happens to anyone once the camera stops rolling? It seems like she’s still stuck in her world, very much how we continue to live our lives in the real world, one day at a time.  

What's the closest you've ever come to death?

Christine Yuan: Mushrooms.