I recently talked with Cinematographer and Photographer ShihChieh Wei about his work and inspiration. I first watched his short film ‘Boy Toys‘ at the International Center of Photography a few years ago and found it fascinating. His latest short film, “The Instant Noodles”, was selected to be in the Portland Short Fest (US), and as well as the International Shorts film festival in Australia. ShihChieh is also a talented photographer who has won awards internationally.
Can you talk about how you got involved in the film “The Instant Noodles”? Why did you want to tell this story?
ShihChieh: The main reason is that I love to eat instant noodles. I wanted to combine the love of food and the love of humans. When Taiwanese people travel around the world or live in a different country, we usually bring instant noodles with us. That’s our solution to nostalgia, a hometown-reminding taste. I crave that taste when I miss Taiwan. I’ve eaten instant noodles a lot during the time I’ve lived in the US.
One night, while I was eating instant noodles, I was watching a Taiwanese film, “The River”, which is about a father and son’s relationship. The father hides his gay identity and pretended he liked women and had a fake marriage in the 90’s. The film is so sad and powerful. I felt the depression of that period and wanted to tell a story about this feeling.
I came up with the idea to make a film about a Taiwanese man (Ming) who loves instant noodles. Ming is living with his lover, Yo, while Yo’s wife, Violet, is away on a business trip. One day, while Ming is eating instant noodles and drinking wine at Yo’s place, Violet comes home unexpectedly. Ming immediately hides. Violet sees the wine glass and suspects that Yo is cheating on her.
When Yo arrives home, he acts as if nothing has happened. Violet drags Yo to bed and they start making out.
In the meantime, Ming is hiding nearby, still eating instant noodles, and hears everything. It’s a heartbreaking moment for them. Ever since, Ming has not been able to eat instant noodles.
The story is about Taiwan’s past, when gay marriage was not allowed. Men continued their family line because of their parents’ and society’s pressure, so it was common for gay men to have fake marriages. In 2017, Taiwan was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage in Asia.
I noticed your other short film, ‘Boy Toys’ is also related homosexuality. Why did you decide to make a film about Koko?
ShihChieh: “Boy Toys” is one of my “Taiwanese in NY” projects. I look for Taiwanese immigrants who have a unique and fascinating lifestyle to document because I want to to tell the audience about my country, Taiwan, through their stories.
I did both photography and videography on Boy Toys; it was my first documentary. At that time, I didn’t have enough money to get the appropriate equipment. I only had one lens and one digital camera that could shoot low-quality video and audio. However, this small camera became my advantage. I was like an invisible person to the people I was documenting with this tiny camera. I got the most natural reactions from all my characters at real events.
I followed and documented Koko for around two years. I tried to photograph every detail of her life experience. I went to every event that she went to; I met every boyfriend she had; I even lived in her place sometimes. Hence, I recorded numerous unexpected footage of her life to make this documentary.
Koko has a bold life, she doesn’t care about how people think or talk about her. She just wants to be her true self. Her lifestyle is totally different from mine. She made me want to understand more about homosexuality.
How do you decide whether you want to work on a project or not?
ShihChieh: I’m interested in topics that relate to humanity; a story of a person’s struggle or happiness; an event that reveals people’s desire. I want to tell a story that has good influences on people and make them act or think about the topic of this story.
What project(s) are you currently working on?
ShihChieh: I’m writing a script about insomnia. I want to make a short film about it. I have been suffering from insomnia for years, I want to show people how I feel about it. The story is like a conversation where I talk to myself.
What’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on?
ShihChieh: ” The Instant Noodles” is my favorite project so far. It’s not perfect and has some flaws, but it conveys feeling I want to express. Audiences don’t need to understand the dialogue (Mandarin) to feel the emotion of this film.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
ShihChieh: Edward Yang, a Taiwanese director. I wish I could be his cinematographer to shoot his films.