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New Year film offers message of hope and courage

Updated: 2021-02-10 08:19 ( CHINA DAILY )
Lulu Wang's film, Nian, features the beast that, according to legend, is scared off from attacking villagers by Lunar New Year celebration fireworks. CHINA DAILY

The latest work of Lulu Wang, Chinese-American director of the Golden Globe-nominated film The Farewell, may surprise audiences with not just its content, but also its production format.

Footage for the short film, Nian, made to celebrate Lunar New Year, was captured using just an iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Wang hopes that the fantastical tale brings people hope and courage in facing the unknowns of the upcoming new year as much of the world still grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, she says in a video interview with China Daily.

The film tells a tale about the Nian, a mythical beast that is purported to live in the mountains and, at Spring Festival, would stalk humans in nearby villages. Ancient Chinese legend has it that people invented firecrackers to scare the beast off.

However, the movie sees a little girl, Ating, become friends and keep in touch with the Nian, despite her parents' constant warnings that the Nian eats children for food.

Having developed a close bond, Ating calls the beast "Anian" as a nickname-the actual name of the film in Chinese.

While set in a mountainous village somewhere in China, the short film explores a universal dilemma: How do parents balance the encouragement of their children's curiosity about the world, and an instinctive desire to protect their offspring from harm?

After the 37-year-old director's film The Farewell hit the screen, it was often suggested to Wang's parents that they must be very proud and happy upon seeing their daughter's success.

However, Wang's mother told her that it was like seeing her climbing a ladder. The higher Wang gets, the more scared the mother becomes, because it would get harder to ascend to new heights, and the daughter could fall in the process.

Wang says that she always remembers her mother telling her that and has attempted to connect her own experience with what the film tries to convey.

Based in Los Angeles, Wang and her director of photography, Anna Franquesa Solano, had to work remotely with the shooting team in Southwest China's Guizhou province.

She created as immersive a space as possible so that it felt like they were on set. By putting a "witness camera" and setting up a projector against the wall, they were not only able to see the entire set, but also get a live feed of what they were filming and what everyone was doing on the ground.

Wang says it's the first time she has worked on a commercial, and the price and convenience of smartphones enables more amateurs to accomplish their own work.

"My advice is to collaborate with people around you that are passionate about what you are doing and replicate what people do on professional sets," she says.

One example, she points out, is to attach the phone to a wheelchair and push it, just like they did to shoot a close-up of the Nian rolling around on the hillside.

It's the fourth year that Apple has created a short film to celebrate Lunar New Year. Previously it has cooperated with directors Peter Chan and Jia Zhangke, and actress Zhou Xun.

Lin Jiashu, an advertising director and vlogger, says the use of ancillary devices in the four celebration movies is decreasing year by year, and the phone's flexibility has made some complicated operations that were once the preserve of professional equipment much more accessible to the public.

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