Taiwanese director Chung Chieh Chiang came up with the idea for his most recent film, “Big Day”, while on an evening jog. In front of him, he noticed a middle-age couple who seemed to be bickering. Chiang assumed that it was most likely a man out with his mistress.
“I passed by them like an eavesdropper,” Chiang tells Pancouver in Mandarin. “And then I had a sudden inspiration.”
The Taoyuan native wondered what might happen if a married couple was out in the afternoon doing an errand or taking care of some business. Then, they reflect on the past few decades of marriage—and realize that they must find a solution to their problems.
In Chiang’s emotionally charged short film, which screened at the Vancouver International Film Festival, that solution is divorce.
“Usually, with a title like ‘Big Day’, we would think it’s a very beautiful day—a very important and joyous occasion,” Chiang says. “But I was thinking, for the female partner, this divorce would also be a very ‘big day’ in her life.
“It’s a very brave decision she is making,” the director continues. “It’s a very difficult decision, but it’s important because this decision might be what leads her to live the rest of her life the way she wants.”
Chiang films in Keelung
He became interested in the subject of marital breakdown a few years earlier. Chiang had heard on the news that the divorce rate had doubled in Asia and some Western locations in comparison to two decades ago. He also learned that most of these divorces were driven by women.
“In Taiwan, there didn’t seem to be a lot of films—short or feature—touching upon this topic,” Chiang says. “I thought maybe I can do something on this.”
The director admits that sometimes, inspiration is hard to come by. Like many creative people, he enjoys writing scripts in cafes as he speculates about what others around him might be thinking.
Chiang also consulted widely. He came across stories of many people, including seniors who no longer feel anything for their partner yet still remain married.
He filmed “Big Day” around Keelung, a beautiful port city on the northern tip of Taiwan. Chiang had previously vacationed there and was captivated by the history and the look of Peace (Heping) Island, including its landmark bridge and Mazu temple.
“I felt like I had to find an opportunity to do a project at Heping Island,” Chiang says.
Taipei Film Festival honours “Big Day”
The film stars Li li Pan and An Shun Yu as the aging couple, Wang-fang Qui-xia and Wang Wen-lang. They walk through an alley, over a waterway, and by the temple on their way to get a divorce. Their characters bicker in between long silences, often punctuated by mournful music. Expressions on their faces tell their own story of marital fatigue.
According to the director, when they cross a bridge, it can be interpreted as the couple passing through a certain point in their life. And when Qui-xia leaves the Mazu temple, it might be the last time that she’s ever in the area.
This very authentic story is reinforced by gorgeous imagery, thanks to Li Cheng-feng’s cinematography and Li Shan-chun’s art direction. All the pieces came together to earn “Big Day” the Best Short Film award at the Taipei Film Festival. It also secured a nomination for Best Drama Short at the Golden Horse Awards.
But Qui-xia and Wen-lang are not the only couple having a big day. Inside a government office, a young couple is getting married in “Big Day”.
“Even though I was telling the story of a middle-age couple’s relationship and marriage, I think the film also resonated with a lot of women’s feelings and realities,” Chiang states. “During the screenings in Taiwan, many people actually came up to me to tell me that they were moved to tears! And you could even hear hitched breaths at the live screenings.”
The Vancouver International Film Festival continues until Sunday (October 8). For more information on screenings, visit the website. For this article, Pancouver art director Jessica Sung interviewed Chung Chieh Chiang in Mandarin; Pancouver associate editor becky tu translated his words into English.