Weaving a Spell
Writer-director Ann Hu unveils the secrets of
For her first feature film, writer-director
set herself up with an
incredible challenge: return to the country of her birth, China, with an
international cast and crew to work on a multinational production about
the dawn of the Chinese film industry early in the 20th century. The film,
charts the friendship that develops between an
), who introduces movies — the "shadow
magic" of the title — to China and a young Chinese photographer (
). With stunning locations that include the Great Wall and fascinating
characters like the real-life opera singer turned silent movie star, Lord
), and the Empress Ci Xi (Li Bin),
entrancing look back at a pivotal moment in China's history.
made its San Francisco debut with two sold out shows at the
San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. While she was in town for the
festival, Hu sat down with Reel to talk about the pain and pleasure of making the film
and what it was like to revisit China.
What inspired you to make
in the first place?
It was just a subject manner, in the beginning, nothing more. Once you acquire
a subject and start writing and everything, the subject becomes you. The subject is no
longer important. The subject is only a carrier, a backdrop, and everything else you just
fabricate, or create, as they call it, which is very nice.
It's your first feature film. It involved an international co-production and going back to
China to shoot it. Did you find that prospect daunting at all? Your film is very ambitious
for a first feature.
It was like a battle. Before getting to it, you don't know what you're getting into. It
you had known that there were thousands of soldiers marching towards you with guns
in their hands, you would be terrified. And you wouldn't think you'd be able to come out
alive. For me, I went into it totally blind. I didn't know what's involved. Once you're in it,
and you have to make the next step, you have to just make it through. Everything's
impossible. You have to jump onto the opportunity that makes it possible. I was
sentenced to death many times, not even once was I given a chance to live, until they
said, "We can probably give you two more years."
More miracles like that happen and you add them up. Eventually it became an
international co-production, involving many countries. My next partner would give me