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Friday, June 17, 2016, 09:23

There will be blood

By Chitralekha Basu.

Elaine Xia’s debut short film, "Metamorphosis" – a dark tale involving crimes of passion and cannibalism, set in HK – is having a good run of the international film festival circuit. Interview by Chitralekha Basu.

There will be blood
Elaine Xia picked up the Best Director of a Foreign Language Short award at the International Filmmaker Festival of World Cinema in London this year.(Edmond Tang / China Daily)

Hong Kong-born Elaine Xia surprised herself when her first short film, Metamorphosis , picked up the Best Director of a Foreign Language Short award at the International Filmmaker Festival of World Cinema, London this year. She had trained as a film editor at the New York Film Academy (Los Angeles campus) and was, at best, expecting a nod from the awards committee for the best original screenplay. The big win was in fact a bit of a shock.

As Metamorphosis – disturbing tale in which a wronged woman makes mincemeat of the slaughtered bodies of her husband and his lover and feeds them to the patrons of her restaurant – continues its journey across the festival circuit, Xia took time out to speak to China Daily about her film, winning prizes and what the future holds for her. Excerpts from the interview:

How Metamorphosis happened ...

The idea came to me from watching news about incidents of cannibalism. What fired my imagination was an incident in 1992, of a woman killing an entire family in Hong Kong.

I had also watched The Untold Story (by Danny Lee and Herman Yau, 1993) and Dumplings (Fruit Chan, 2004), (films by Hong Kong directors on the theme of murder followed by ingesting human flesh).

My co-writer Feiyang Sun and I first wrote a feature film, 90 minutes long. Then I didn’t want to spend every penny in my pocket to make a low-budget feature with low production values. So I decided to go for a short. While the feature film we wrote was about the cruel and selfish nature of human beings, the short I made was more about bad karma.

The unrelenting darkness in Metamorphosis ...

In the beginning we see May Wong (played by Cici Lau, who won the best actress award for her performance at the 2016 Asians on Film Festival of Shorts) cooking, shot from high above. She looks really small and weak. This is her situation, bullied by her abusive and unfaithful husband. In the end, she is shown cooking again, but this is post revenge, so she looks strong and confident, wearing the red dress of her husband’s dead lover.

The film’s called Metamorphosis because May Wong overcomes the state in which she was weak and oppressed to become maybe a butterfly, although who knows if she isn’t just a fly. Sometimes when you think you have overcome your situation, maybe you are doing better, in reality you might be dripping into a state that gets darker and darker and then you start to fall into a limbo.

There will be blood
Cici Lau, who plays the murderous protagonist in Metamorphosis , won the Best Actress award at the 2016 Asians on Film Festival of Shorts. (Photo provided to China Daily)

Shooting in China Town, Los Angeles ...

The landlords of the property I shot in spoke a version of old Cantonese that was beyond me. I had told them the story was about a divorced woman trying to find a new way of living her life. I asked my crew to refer to blood as corn syrup (lest the landlords objected to shooting something so gory).

The excess of violence and gore was okay for me, but maybe not for my crew members. Some of them went vegetarian for a month afterward. The three elderly people shown eating human meat in the film are in fact the landlords. I asked them to just be normal, answer the phone, if they had to.

Getting Cici Lau on board ...

When Cici Lau came for the auditions, she seemed to know the character already. I would tell the contenders for the role: “Imagine you are May Wong. Do you think you still love your husband?” While others had said things like, “Yeah, I think she might,” Cici said, “She used to love him, but not anymore.” That was the clincher.

Future projects ...

I would like to extend the idea of Metamorphosis into a feature, but that’s going to be totally different from the short. It’ll probably have the same storyline and structure, but will be even darker.

There will be blood
A scene from Metamorphosis . (Photo provided to China Daily)

I have a sci-fi film in mind, set in the future. It’s about parents being ambitious on behalf of their children and how people understand the idea of success in different ways.

I also want to write comedies, leaning more to the commercial side. I am currently writing about a loser. Every girl he falls for finds another guy. The film will explore the meanings of success and failure.

Also I would like to make a road trip movie – a bit of a combination of The Hangover trilogy (Todd Phillips, 2009-2013) and The Truman Show (Peter Weir, 1999), a movie in which everything happens in the realm of imagination.

What winning means ...

Maybe Metamorphosis won because it fits someone’s type. So thank you for the award but even if I didn’t get it I’d still have the passion to carry on making films.

Actually I was very surprised when I got the best director award, because all my co-winners were very experienced filmmakers, with 10 to 20 years’ experience of working in films, whereas I had just graduated and didn’t know a lot about filmmaking.

If awards will help bring in the funds …

Finding someone who actually understands film as an art, and respects the filmmaker is quite important. Right now I am trying to focus on creating a story rather than look for the money. As soon as I get a good story in place, I am hoping there would be someone interested in making it happen.

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