A European filmmaker in China
by Boyd van Hoeij
- After Shanghai Trance (in competition at Rotterdam) and R U There (Un Certain Regard section at Cannes 2010), the Dutch director has returned to China for Club Zeus.
David Verbeek’s first cinema feature, Shanghai Trance, played in competition at the Rotterdam Film Festival. R U There [+see also:
interview: David Verbeek, director of …
film profile] played in Un Certain Regard at Cannes and was set in Taiwan but Club Zeus [+see also:
interview: David Verbeek
film profile] is again set in Shanghai.
Cineuropa: For this film, you’re back in Shanghai.
David Verbeek:: Actually, the idea came to me in Japan. I was in Tokyo’s Shinjuki district, where the streets are dominated by host clubs. The director Fow Pyng Hu (Paradise Girls, and an assistant director on R U There) showed me a documentary about them: The Great Happiness Space. This film was a gold mine in terms of material that I could relate to and that I felt expressed something about how big Asian cities function today. But it would have been very expensive to shoot in Japan, so I looked for a similar setting in Shanghai, which wasn’t too difficult because Japanese trends are often copied there.
Did you research the local clubs?
I went to a few of them in the company of women and talked to some people in the business. Then I wrote the script, about thirty pages, in two weeks. The opportunity to shoot came when my other, bigger project (R U There) was delayed for six months. I felt that I had to make this now, quickly and on a budget. The Shanghainese crew was excited about it because the project appealed to them. It was shot in nine days.
Why are host clubs a good subject?
Because I could relate to what they stand for after having lived in Shanghai for three years and having had girlfriends there. This film is about my own life. It’s about truth versus lying and the manner in which people are willing to trust each other and find a basis for a relationship. The star host Sly has made a career out of telling people what they want to hear. After he comes back and has to explain his absence, people are not sure if he’s lying, that is, if he’s working or not. This has happened to me too; there was no money involved but I can relate to these kind of trust issues in relationships.
How did funding come together?
The Dutch DKVB fund granted us an initial €20,000, then a Dutch producer, Raymond van der Kaaij of Revolver Media, came on board and then I went to my co-producer on R U There, Natacha Devillers, who’s based in Shanghai. The whole process didn’t take more than a couple of months.
How did you cast the film?
The people who helped cast Trance also worked on this one and I also went to Beijing. I simply set up shop in a coffee house and had coffee with ten or so possible leads. I was very lucky that I found all the right people in such a short time.
Shanghai Trance was released in China. What about this one?
It’s unlikely. It’s much too dark. The censorship committee cut 25 minutes from Shanghai Trance but, here, if they’d cut everything they don’t like about the dark side of life in the big city, there won’t be anything left! But the film played in Rotterdam and at the Cannes market, so it will have an international career.
Do you feel you’re a Chinese filmmaker or a European one working in China?
The latter. Films like Shanghai Trance and this one aren’t made by Chinese directors. It can be an advantage to have some distance to observe the rapid pace of change of the country. I also don’t speak Mandarin well enough to fine-tune the performances, I have a translator on set who helps me out. That said, I don’t have to shoot in Asia. My next project is not set there.