Interview With Zero Chou

Photo credit: The 3RD Vision Films

Out director Zero Chou is
one of the few openly lesbian filmmakers in the world, and the only one in Taiwan.
Her first film, Splendid Float
(2004), which was about drag queens, won three of Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards, including
Best Taiwanese Film of the Year. Her second film, Spider Lilies (2007), won the
Berlinale Teddy Award for Best Queer Feature, and comes out on DVD in the United States
on May 6.

Chou’s next film, Drifting Flowers, which premiered at the
Berlinale in February 2008 and will be screening at festivals this year, brings
together three loosely connected stories about sexuality and gender. It stars
newcomer Chao Yi-lan, a Taiwanese acting student who brings an authentic,
natural butch presence to the screen.

Last month, I spoke to
Chou with the assistance of a translator, and we talked about Taiwan’s lesbian
community, her own coming-out story, and her dream — with her partner, Hoho Liu
— to make six LGBT films overall. You started out working as a journalist; what drew you
to making movies?
Zero Chou:
Even though when I graduated from college my first job was as a
journalist, in my heart I always knew I really needed to be creative. Working
with words, for me, was too easy. I wanted to have a much more creative and
challenging career, so somehow I chose filmmaking [laughs].

AE: What drew you to the story for Spider
At that time I wanted to make a movie about young people. So there
would be tattoos, webcam girls — young people were often involved in these
things. … So these two things became the topic of the film.

AE:Was it difficult to get
funding to make this movie, given its subject matter?

ZC: Because this was my
second movie — usually it’s very difficult for young directors to get funding —
I was able to apply and get some government funding. Of course it was not
enough. The government grant covered about 25 percent. For the remaining 75
percent, of course, I had to find a way to get investors.

AE: For the government
grant, did they know about the lesbian story line?
Of course they knew [laughs].

AE: The Taiwan
government is supportive of this?

ZC: This funding is awarded by an
independent review board of experts. The review board decides which screenplay
is good and decides on the merit of the story.

Chou (left) with Rainie Yang of Spider Lilies

Photo credit: The 3RD Vision Films

AE: Tell me how you came to
cast Rainie Yang and Isabella Leong in the movie.

ZC: I first selected Rainie Yang, but
afterward I realized that finding another person who could play opposite her
was very difficult, because Taiwan’s young women are all made up to look very
cute and pretty, but none of them are sexy in a more masculine way. So since I
couldn’t find anyone in Taiwan,
I went to Hong Kong to find someone.

AE: How did they feel about
the lesbian story line when they were cast?

ZC: I asked them to read the screenplay
first, and if they were interested, then we could continue talking. They were
very interested. I felt that it was only in this situation that we could
cooperate and work together. Actually, Isabella had been looking forward to
acting in a gay film.

AE: Oh, why?
ZC: Because before doing Spider Lilies, she had acted in a lot of
rather trashy movies in Hong Kong. She told me
she had been waiting for an opportunity to act in an art movie, and if she had
the chance to play a lesbian role, then she would be very happy.